Home Features The importance of compromise in religious freedom

The importance of compromise in religious freedom

The BYU Campus hosted the Religious Freedom Annual Review on June 16 with presenters from all backgrounds, religious leaders, lobbyists and policymakers.

The conference highlighted religious freedom legislation and court cases on the federal and state level. The class titled “Legislative Initiatives: Problem Solving by Negotiation” stressed the need and progress of federal legislation to protect religious freedom, as well as the history of attempts to do so in the last three decades.

At first, religious freedom legislation sought only to protect the rights of religious groups. In 1993, President Bill Clinton signed the Religious Freedom Restoration Act. According to Congress, the law “Prohibits any agency, department, or official of the United States or any State (the government) from substantially burdening a person’s exercise of religion except in cases of strong government interest.

During the 1990s, the LGBTQ civil rights movement began to become more mainstream. More legislation and Supreme Court cases began to rule in their favor and incorporate their rights into civil rights law. In the 2015 case Obergefell v. Hodges, the Court legalized same-sex marriage. In the 2020 case Bostock v. Clayton County Georgia, the Supreme Court ruled the Civil Rights Act protected homosexual and transgender individuals from employment discrimination.

Courts and legislatures equipped the LGBTQ community with rights embedded into the law. Religious groups have not been afforded the same protections, often because the needs and interests of both communities appeared directly at odds with one another.

Building bridges

Utah began bridging the gap in 2015 with its Fairness for All initiative. According to the initiative’s website, “One measure, SB 296, bans discrimination against lesbians, gays, bisexuals, and transgender individuals, while the second, SB 287, protects the right of individuals and religious institutions to maintain the character of their faith communities. Neither compromised the core principles of these communities.”

After Utah implemented Fairness For All at the state level, individuals such as Marcus G. Faust work to implement similar legislation at a federal level. Faust is a registered lobbyist in Washington D.C, advocating for the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints and religious freedom. Last year, legislation began to take strides forward on the national level. The Fairness For All Act, which bears resemblance to the Utah law, was introduced in Congress on Feb. 26, 2021.

Faust believes the politics towards religion and religious freedom is changing.

“How did that shift happen?” Faust asked. “Since we began the effort federally, the first thing is taking an interest in on the part of both religious protagonists and LGBT individuals to try and find common ground. We have gone about reaching across the aisle, forming friendships and alliances with individuals and groups, including those forces who really control America’s politics.”

Why not use the Supreme Court?

Much of the policy regarding religious freedom and application of the First Amendment derive themselves from Supreme Court opinions.

“Three years ago, I was particularly discouraged about our legislative solutions,” Faust said. “I came to the conclusion the only way we were really going to effectuate protective change was by appointing more conservative judges, taking these matters to the Supreme Court and winning there. Elder Von G. Keetch came over to my office and we had lunch. He said Marcus, I sure hope that you can give me some good news on the legislative front because I don’t see any hope for the courts. We need to have more faith in our legislative efforts. I’ve seen the Lord move mountains on religious liberty issues.”

Even though the Supreme Court is ruling more in favor of religious freedom now, that is not guaranteed in the future. It is easier to overturn a Supreme Court opinion than to amend federal legislation.

“Our approach is to amend the 1964 Civil Rights Act and embed those religious protections into that statute, together with protections for LGBTQ individuals,” Faust said. “We’ve gone title by title by title and found a great compromise.”

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