Bishop offers comments concerning LDS Church press conference

I applaud the leaders of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints in offering support for legislators to pass fair access to housing and employment for LGBT people. I also applaud the leaders for calling for the end of bullying those who may not believe as others may believe. I have steadfastly cried out to stop bashing philosophical opponents. That practice has become a hallmark of today’s political discussions. It is a brave thing they have done. I expect that in trying to establish a middle ground position, they will receive criticism from both directions.

I also note the LDS Church leaders concern over what they feel is an erosion of religious freedom. The words religious freedom, however, cause me prayerful reflection when freedoms may overlap between believers and non-­?believers of a faith, or if legislation ever allows public servants to use their beliefs to deny expected services to others.

I believe Elder Dallin H. Oaks summed up the Church’s position with the same quote used in the Church owned Deseret News as “Today, state legislatures across the nation are being asked to strengthen laws related to LGBT issues in the interest of ensuring fair access to housing and employment. The leadership of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints is on record as favoring such measures. At the same time, we urgently need laws that protect religions against discrimination and retaliation while claiming the core rights of free expression and religious practice that are at the heart of our identity as a nation and our legacy as citizens.”

Elder Oaks specifically stated “The precious constitutional right of free speech does not exclude any individual or group and a society is only truly free, when it respects freedom of religious exercise, conscience, and expression for everyone, including unpopular minorities.”

As the Episcopal Bishop of Utah, again, I give a prayer of thanks for the well thought out statement offering support for legislation that outlaws discrimination to LGBT people or discrimination directed at any people based on gender, sexual orientation, creed or color.

My position on some of these important matters differs with my friends in the LDS leadership. I agree in principle with Elder Jeffrey R. Holland who said, “In addition to institutional protections, individual people of faith must maintain their constitutional rights. This would include living in accordance with their deeply held religious beliefs, including choosing their profession or employment or serving in public office without intimidation, coercion or retaliation from another group.”

After examining Elder Holland’s statement, it is with those who voluntarily seek public office and the fulfillment of their duties that I am concerned about.

For example, a Justice of the Peace is a servant of our government. If he or she followed the teachings of the LDS Church, as again outlined by Sister Neill Marriott in today’s press conference, he or she could deny a marriage for LGBT couples. She stated, “The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints believes that sexual relations other than between a man and a woman who are married are contrary to the laws of God.” She continued, “This commandment and doctrine comes from sacred scripture and we are not at liberty to change it.”

I believe a law interpreting freedom of religion as a right for a Justice of the Peace to deny to marry an LGBT couple based on his or her religious beliefs would be discrimination towards the LGBT couple. There is no gray area. Gray areas are only created when there are qualifications to the legal rights afforded to all citizens. I recognize and support beliefs practiced within the walls of a church, within family homes, and within the hearts of private individuals, even when I don’t believe or practice them (such as the ordination of women, the acceptance of marriage equality, and others). However, I am bothered that that those who know their public service or government job may require them to give aid, comfort, or service to those who practice contrasting beliefs could possibly use their beliefs to deny service. That is a matter of civil rights.

I also pray that our legislators, who also are serving the public trust and representing me as much as all the rest of us proud to be Utahns, will not claim that their religious beliefs supersede the welfare and rights of those who disagree with them. In my opinion, that is not religious freedom. That is discrimination.

Blessings and grateful appreciation to the leadership of the LDS Church for today’s gracious statement. I hope that it advances the conversation in a civil and respectful manner.

+Scott B. Hayashi Episcopal Bishop of Utah

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