Saturday, February 7, 2015

A Double Standard: Oaks and Holland plead for religious freedom while denying it to students at BYU

Below I analyze the recent LDS news conference from the perspective of BYU's practice of expelling, evicting, and terminating LDS BYU students who change their faith.  

OFFICIAL STATEMENT
Transcript of News Conference on Religious Freedom and Nondiscrimination
Published January 27, 2015
This is a transcript of a news conference held January 27, 2015 that included three members of the governing Twelve Apostles and one woman leader of the Church. Leaders called for a “fairness for all” approach that balances religious freedom protections with reasonable safeguards for LGBT people — specifically in areas of housing, employment and public transportation, which are not available in many parts of the country.

Welcome and introductions by
Elder D. Todd Christofferson 
Good morning and thank you for coming. I am Elder D. Todd Christofferson, and I’m here to introduce this news conference in my capacity as one of the Twelve Apostles of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. Sister Neill Marriott, a member of the Young Women general presidency, and Elder Dallin H. Oaks and Elder Jeffrey R. Holland, of the Twelve Apostles, will each take a few minutes to share their remarks. 
Although the Church has many daily interactions with news media, we don’t hold news conferences very often – perhaps every year or two when we have a major announcement to make or something significant to say. And today, we do have something to say. We want to share with you our concerns about the increasing tensions and polarization between advocates of religious freedom on the one hand, and advocates of gay rights on the other.
To those who follow the Church closely and who are familiar with its teachings and positions on various social issues, it will be apparent that we are announcing no change in doctrine or Church teachings today. But we are suggesting a way forward in which those with different views on these complex issues can together seek for solutions that will be fair to everyone. 
Following our remarks some of us will remain behind to allow you to ask any clarifying questions individually. 
Sister Marriott, in her capacity as a member of the Church’s Public Affairs Committee, will begin, followed by Elders Oaks and Holland. 

Sister Neill Marriott 
My name is Neill Marriott and I’m pleased to be here today with Elders Christofferson, Oaks and Holland on behalf of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, to share our views on the ongoing discussion of religious freedom. While we speak primarily to an American public, we include our own members who number 15 million worldwide, many of whom reside in other nations wrestling with the same issues we face here in the United States. 
This nation is engaged in a great debate about marriage, family, individual conscience and collective rights and the place of religious freedom in our society. The eventual outcome of this debate will influence to a large extent whether millions of people with diverse backgrounds and different views and values will live together in relative harmony for the foreseeable future.  
In any democratic society, differences often lead to tensions. Such tensions are not to be feared unless they become so extreme that they threaten to tear apart the very fabric of society. While that's happened sometimes in our history, we're at our best as fellow citizens when the push-pull of different viewpoints, freely and thoroughly aired in national debate, lead ultimately to compromise and resolution and we move on as a nation, stronger than before. 
The debate we speak of today is about how to affirm rights for some without taking away from the rights of others. On one side of the debate we have advocates of LGBT rights. This movement arose after centuries of ridicule, persecution and even violence against homosexuals. Ultimately, most of society recognized that such treatment was simply wrong, and that such basic human rights as securing a job or a place to live should not depend on a person’s sexual orientation.  
Importantly, these human rights should also not depend on a person's expression of religious faith. LDS BYU students are human entitled to these rights. However- when they publicly change their faith, BYU terminates them from their campus jobs and evicts them from their housing. This is an excerpt from the letter that such students receive from the honor code office:
"Effective immediately, you are no longer eligible…  to attend daytime or evening classes, to register for other courses, to graduate from BYU, to work for the university, or to reside in BYU contract housing."
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.
This commandment and doctrine comes from sacred scripture and we are not at liberty to change it. But, God is loving and merciful.
His heart reaches out to all of His children equally and He expects us to treat each other with love and fairness. There's ample evidence in the life of Jesus Christ to demonstrate that He stood firm for living the laws of God, yet reached out to those who had been marginalized even though He was criticized for doing so. Racial minorities, women, the elderly, people with physical or mental disabilities, and those with unpopular occupations all found empathy from the Savior of mankind.
It's for this reason that the Church has publicly favored laws and ordinances that protect LGBT people from discrimination in housing and employment.  

Elder Dallin H. Oaks 
Meanwhile, those who seek the protection of religious conscience and expression and the free exercise of their religion look with alarm at the steady erosion of treasured freedoms that are guaranteed in the United States Constitution. Since 1791 the guarantees of religious freedom embodied in the First Amendment have assured all citizens that they may hold whatever religious views they want, and that they are free to express and act on those beliefs so long as such actions do not endanger public health or safety.
Note how Elder Oaks explicitly constructs First Amendment religious freedom as the freedom to hold whatever religious views they want, and that they are free to express and act on those beliefs.
This is one of America’s most cherished and defining freedoms. Yet today we see new examples of attacks on religious freedom with increasing frequency. Among them are these:
  • In the state of California, two-dozen Christian student groups have been denied recognition because they require their own leaders to share their Christian beliefs. The university system is forcing these groups to compromise their religious conscience if they want recognition for their clubs. 
  • Recently in one of America’s largest cities, government lawyers subpoenaed the sermons and notes of pastors who opposed parts of a new law on religious grounds. These pastors faced not only intimidation, but also criminal prosecution for insisting that a new gay rights ordinance should be put to a vote of the people.
  • Evicting, and terminating LDS BYU students who change their faith belongs on this list right next to the others. It is itself a conspicuous example of abrogating the very freedom Elder Oaks articulates- the freedom to hold whatever religious views they want, and that they are free to express and act on those beliefs. LDS BYU students are not free to express and act on their religious beliefs- their expression is burdened by the risk of subsequent expulsion and termination.
  • Several years ago, an Olympic gold-medal gymnast—a Latter-day Saint, as it happened—had been selected to lead the American delegation to the Olympic Games. He was pressured to resign as the symbolic head of the team because gay rights advocates protested that he had supported Proposition 8 in California. Ironically, he was denied the same freedom of conscience that commentators demanded for the gay athletes he would symbolically represent.   
  • More recently, the head of a large American corporation was forced to resign from his position in a similar well-publicized backlash to his personal beliefs. 
Sadly, the list is expanding. Accusations of bigotry toward people simply because they are motivated by their religious faith and conscience have a chilling effect on freedom of speech and public debate.
Indeed it does. That chilling effect exists on BYU campus- chilling public debate, freedom of speech, and academic freedom. We have examples of BYU students being called into their Bishop's office to confront a comment they made about feminism on their Facebook wall, a BYU law student who had to self-censor his book on homosexuality in order to avoid expulsion, and many more. LDS BYU students who experience a faith transition frequently report feeling afraid to raise their voices and express their opinions in BYU classrooms due to fear that others will discover their true religious beliefs, leading to their expulsion.
When religious people are publicly intimidated, retaliated against, forced from employment or made to suffer personal loss because they have raised their voice in the public square, donated to a cause or participated in an election, our democracy is the loser. Such tactics are every bit as wrong as denying access to employment, housing or public services because of race or gender.
If such tactics are every bit as wrong as denials based on race or gender, why does BYU employ them against LDS BYU students who express a change of faith?
Churches should stand on at least as strong a footing as any other entity when they enter the public square to participate in public policy debates.
It is one of today’s great ironies that some people who have fought so hard for LGBT rights now try to deny the rights of others to disagree with their public policy proposals. 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. 
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 faith communities and individuals against discrimination and retaliation for 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.   
Because we are frequently asked for our position on these matters, The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints asserts the following principles based on the teachings of Jesus Christ, and on fairness for all, including people of faith:
  1. We claim for everyone the God-given and Constitutional right to live their faith according to the dictates of their own conscience, without harming the health or safety of others.
  2. We acknowledge that the same freedom of conscience must apply to men and women everywhere to follow the religious faith of their choice, or none at all if they so choose.
BYU expels, terminates, and evicts LDS students who choice a religious faith besides Mormonism, including choosing no faith at all. BYU's policy is inconsistent with this official position of its own sponsoring institution: The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. 
  1. We believe laws ought to be framed to achieve a balance in protecting the freedoms of all people while respecting those with differing values.
The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints enjoys nearly unfettered discretion in framing the Honor Code, which functions as a local law at BYU (Bishops are the judges, and offenders are punished by expulsion). It's leader is also the Chairman of the BYU Board of Trustees, yet that Board persists in framing the honor code to burden the religious freedom of the majority of its students: despite a formal request and inconsistency between LDS teachings and the policy.
  1. We reject persecution and retaliation of any kind, including persecution based on race, ethnicity, religious belief, economic circumstances or differences in gender or sexual orientation. 
The LDS Church may reject retaliation based on religious belief: but BYU embraces the same by expelling, terminating, and evicting LDS BYU students based on their (new) religious beliefs.
We call on local, state and the federal government to serve all of their people by passing legislation that protects vital religious freedoms for individuals, families, churches and other faith groups while also protecting the rights of our LGBT citizens in such areas as housing, employment and public accommodation in hotels, restaurants and transportation—protections which are not available in many parts of the country.  
Your call would be more powerful were it made by an institution that did what it is asking other institutions to do: protect religious freedoms, especially in housing and employment.  Instead, BYU burdens expressions of religious freedom by depriving students' ability to enroll, graduate, retain their campus jobs, and remain in their BYU contracted housing. 

Elder Jeffrey R. Holland 
Accommodating the rights of all people—including their religious rights—requires wisdom and judgment, compassion and fairness.
LDS BYU students are a subset of "all people", and the accommodation of their religious rights does require wisdom and judgment, compassion and fairness. Does the current policy demonstrate that the BYU Board of Trustees employs these characteristics?
Politically, it certainly requires dedication to the highest level of statesmanship. Nothing is achieved if either side resorts to bullying, political point scoring or accusations of bigotry.
These are serious issues, and they require serious minds engaged in thoughtful, courteous discourse. 
What kinds of religious rights are we talking about? To begin with, we refer to the constitutionally guaranteed right of religious communities to function according to the dictates of their faith. This includes their right to teach their beliefs from the pulpit and in church classrooms, share their views openly in the public square, select their own leaders, and minister to their members freely.
This construction of religious freedom is inconsistent with that expressed by Elder Oaks. The religious freedom of an individual often conflicts with the religious freedom of a religious institution. For example, the LDS Church fired a gym employee in a famous Supreme Court case that sided with the institution. In that case, the religious freedom of the gym employee was burdened while the religious institution's right to discriminate was vindicated.
So whose construct represents the Church's position: Oaks or Holland? It is hard to say. What we can point out is that the overwhelming majority of authoritative LDS statements from Joseph to the present, including the scriptural ones, have extolled individual religious freedom. This is the freedom of God's children to express and live their faith, rather than the freedom of incorporated entities to fire employees who change their faith or expel students who choose to leave Mormonism for Islam.
They include the right to use church properties in accordance with their beliefs without second-guessing from government. Of course such rights should never be exercised in ways that jeopardize public health or personal safety. They would embrace such matters as employment, honor code standards, and accreditation at church schools.

Even if Elder Hollands institutional construction prevails, it is not clear that honor code and accreditation standards should be immune from regulation- especially when there are such clear impacts on the quality of the academic environment and programs offered at church schools. How can secular degrees awarded by an institution retain their credibility when the institution burdens academic and religious freedom? 

Importantly- even if we were to agree that such immunity were merited, it does not follow that the LDS church should expel LDS BYU students who change their faith. Might does not make right in the context of religious freedom, as the Church itself reiterated as recently as 2014 (see In Honor of Human Rights). 


That is because church-owned businesses or entities that are directly related to the purposes and functions of the church must have the same latitude in employment standards and practices as the church itself.
Certainly, religious rights must include a family’s right to worship and conduct religious activities in the home as it sees fit, and for parents to teach their children according to their religious values—recognizing that when children are old enough they will choose their own path.
LDS BYU students do not enjoy the right to worship and conduct religious activities in the home as they see fit. An LDS BYU student who converts to Islam risks expulsion and eviction if she practices daily prostration, one of the five pillars of Islam. When one spouse in an LDS BYU student marriage converts to atheism and refrains from family prayer, his spouse's report to their Bishop can result in the expulsion of the atheist spouse.   
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.
How about continuing one's chosen education path? An LDS BYU student mere months from graduation should not be deprived of the opportunity to graduate merely because she chooses to follow her religious conscience by embracing another faith. Freedom to complete one's education, keep one's job, and remain in one's home should not be threatened because one's religious conscience changes.
For example, a Latter-day Saint physician who objects to performing abortions or artificial insemination for a lesbian couple should not be forced against his or her conscience to do so, especially when others are readily available to perform that function. As another example, a neighborhood Catholic pharmacist, who declines to carry the “morning after” pill when large pharmacy chains readily offer that item, should likewise not be pressured into violating his or her conscience by bullying or boycotting.
With understanding and goodwill, including some give and take, none of these rights guaranteed to people of faith will encroach on the rights of gay men and women who wish to live their lives according to their own rights and principles.
Let us conclude by emphasizing this point as an alternative to the rhetoric and intolerance that for too long has come to characterize national debate on this matter. We must find ways to show respect for others whose beliefs, values and behaviors differ from ours while never being forced to deny or abandon our own beliefs, values and behaviors in the process. Every citizen’s rights are best guarded when each person and group guards for others those rights they wish guarded for themselves.  
There is no simpler or more applicable articulation of principle for religious freedom at BYU. The LDS church wishes protection for the religious freedom of its adherents; it should protect that same freedom for others (specifically, ex-LDS BYU students).
Today we have spelled out the Church’s concerns about the erosion of religious liberties, while at the same time calling for fairness for all people. We remind everyone of an official statement made by the Church in 1835, a statement formally incorporated into its sacred text known as the Doctrine and Covenants.  The text of that scripture asserts both elements of the position we are taking today.
First, that all of us are accountable to God for the responsible exercise of our religious beliefs and we are calling on our fellow citizens to be responsible in exercising their religious freedom.
To the extent that religious freedom is institutional rather than individual, as Elder Holland articulates, then the LDS church should itself be responsible in exercising its religious freedom- including the privilege it enjoys to legally expel and terminate students based on those students' religious expression.
Secondly, that scripture sets out the proper role of government in protecting the public interest without encroaching on free exercise, what it calls “the freedom of the soul.” 
This statement contradicts Elder Holland's earlier construction of free exercise. Free exercise cannot refer to both the freedom of a soulless entity (an institution such as the LDS church) and the freedom of the soul (e.g. an actual child of God), when those two freedoms are incompatible.
Some 180 years later, the determination of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints to be responsible citizens while also defending religious liberty remains undiminished.
Undiminished in word, perhaps- but the LDS message would be louder and more effective were it not diminished by failing to live up to its own standard in deed.
Thank you for listening.
STYLE GUIDE NOTE: When reporting about The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, please use the complete name of the Church in the first reference. For more information on the use of the name of the Church, go to our onlinestyle guide.

Sunday, December 21, 2014

LDS statements again at odds with BYU's religious freedom policy

Earlier this month, the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints published the "Fourth in a five-part series on why faith matters to society" entitled In Honor of Human Rights:


Earlier this fall, the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints also published "I Knew What I Had to Do," a story about a young man who was kicked out of school for distributing LDS pamphlets:


Since both are relatively short, I will reproduce them here: followed by commentary that applies their reasoning to the issue of religious freedom at BYU.


In Honor of Human Rights

“It’s a great affirmation of the possibility of overcoming conflict through reason and good will.” — Mary Ann Glendon[1]

Sixty-six years ago a document graced the world that set new horizons for human relations. It is called the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and was the first global expression of its kind.

Leaders from different nations, cultures, religions and political systems came together to establish standards of humaneness that apply to everyone, everywhere. The opening lines proclaim that “the inherent dignity” and “the equal and inalienable rights of all members of the human family” are the “foundation of freedom, justice and peace in the world.”[2]

Built in the ashes of World War II and the Holocaust, this declaration provided a collective aspiration to develop “friendly relations between nations”[3] and to bring out the highest and best in our common civilization here on earth.

Why we should care about human rights

Every person, regardless of religion, race, gender or nationality, possesses fundamental rights simply by being human. They include the right to life, liberty, security, equal protection of the law and the freedom of thought, speech and religion.

These human rights protect the weak from the abuses of tyranny. They act as a buffer and arbiter between the lone individual and the concentration of power. These norms and principles defy the natural tendency to dominate one another. Human rights help us move beyond the harmful idea that might makes right.

The strength of the universal declaration lies not so much in enforcing these rights but in its role as a teacher that shapes ideals and molds incentives toward the common good. Human rights bolster our obligations toward one another and give dignity to how we work, worship, interact with our communities and raise our families. Accordingly, human rights complement our civic and democratic engagement. Rights without relationships and responsibilities can only go so far.

Keeping the faith, in private and in public

Article 18 of the declaration is brief but powerful: “Everyone has the right to freedom of thought, conscience and religion; this right includes freedom to change his religion or belief, and freedom, either alone or in community with others and in public or private, to manifest his religion or belief in teaching, practice, worship and observance.”[4]

Freedom of religion is not just some abstract concept that floats in the minds of lawyers and legislators. Rather, it moves and grows in the common soil of our everyday lives. We take our beliefs everywhere we go. They form who we are and drive us to share them with others. We want to influence our communities and the world around us. In this way, our private and public lives are intertwined. It is a paltry freedom indeed that allows us to practice and voice our faith in the privacy of our own home or church, but not in the open exchange of the public square.

The legacy of the universal declaration

The establishment of human rights is an achievement to be proud of. They play a vital role in managing the conflicts and differences so prevalent in our pluralistic world. They help keep us on the same civilizational page. The aims they promote ennoble human existence, inspire decency and urge accountability.

Legal scholar Mary Ann Glendon explained: “Practically every constitution in the world that has a bill of rights is modelled or influenced in some way by that core of principles that were deemed to be fundamental” in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.[5] Legal frameworks and moral norms of countries around the world have drawn from this document. It continues to put international relations on a more equal footing.

The world is far from perfect in honoring human rights. Injustices and atrocities still occur, but the universal declaration makes it possible to prevent, contain or diminish them. Like all things worth keeping, human rights will forever require our faith and vigilance.


In Honor of Human Rights- applied to religious freedom at BYU

“It’s a great affirmation of the possibility of overcoming conflict through reason and good will.” — Mary Ann Glendon[1]

Sixty-six years ago a document graced the world that set new horizons for human relations. It is called the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and was the first global expression of its kind.

Leaders from different nations, cultures, religions and political systems came together to establish standards of humaneness that apply to everyone, everywhere. The opening lines proclaim that “the inherent dignity” and “the equal and inalienable rights of all members of the human family” are the “foundation of freedom, justice and peace in the world.”[2]

Importantly, these standards are limited to actual people: members of the human family. This is consistent with other statements by LDS authorities, which consistently affirm the importance of the religious freedom of God's children: again, actual human persons. Hold on to this point, as we'll return to it below. 

Built in the ashes of World War II and the Holocaust, this declaration provided a collective aspiration to develop “friendly relations between nations”[3] and to bring out the highest and best in our common civilization here on earth.

Why we should care about human rights

Every person, regardless of religion, race, gender or nationality, possesses fundamental rights simply by being human. Agreed. Though obvious, it is important to point out that LDS BYU students whose religious consciences change while at BYU are humans too. Which means that that they possess these fundamental rights merely by virtue of being human- more on that as well in a moment. They include the right to life, liberty, security, equal protection of the law and the freedom of thought, speech and religion.

These human rights protect the weak from the abuses of tyranny. They act as a buffer and arbiter between the lone individual and the concentration of power. LDS BYU students whose religious consciences change usually fit this description. Because publicizing their change in religious conscience risks their education, housing, and employment, they have to hide their conversion. They can't support each other since those in the same condition are similarly closeted. The power to decide whether they remain as a student is concentrated in BYU: specifically, the Honor Code Office has the power to unilaterally expel an LDS BYU student for publicizing her change in religious conscience.

Additionally, it would not be uncommon for that student to be the only one in her ward to be in such a position. A single man, her bishop, holds the key to whether she can continue to be a BYU student. In that case, she is very literally a weak, lone individual facing a concentration of power: the hands of the local pastor for the faith she no longer believes in. 
These norms and principles defy the natural tendency to dominate one another. Human rights help us move beyond the harmful idea that might makes right. Recently, the Salt Lake Tribune published a story about BYU's policy of expelling and evicting LDS BYU students who change their faith. The most common response was some version of "BYU is a private institution- it can do whatever it wants." Here, the LDS Church explicitly decries this "might makes right" argument. It has no place in the discussion about what the LDS Church should do to protect and honor the religious freedom of all BYU students.

The strength of the universal declaration lies not so much in enforcing these rights but in its role as a teacher that shapes ideals and molds incentives toward the common good. Human rights bolster our obligations toward one another and give dignity to how we work, worship, interact with our communities and raise our families. Accordingly, human rights complement our civic and democratic engagement. Rights without relationships and responsibilities can only go so far.
Agreed. The human right of religious freedom can only go so far unless people and institutions- including BYU and Mormons- live up to their responsibility to honor the same.

Keeping the faith, in private and in public

Article 18 of the declaration is brief but powerful: “Everyone has the right to freedom of thought, conscience and religion; this right includes freedom to change his religion or belief, and freedom, either alone or in community with others and in public or private, to manifest his religion or belief in teaching, practice, worship and observance.”[4]
This is the most applicable part of the whole article. Article 18 explicitly highlights the very aspects of religious freedom that are currently lacking at BYU- (1) freedom to change his religion or belief, and (2) freedom, either alone or in community with others and in public or private, to manifest his religion or belief in teaching, practice, worship and observance. It is precisely the freedom to manifest one's religion (in this case, one's departure from LDS belief) that is burdened. Mormon Stories Podcast recently published 507: Free BYU — Religious Freedom and Faith Transition at Church Schools, which includes an interview with a Mormon-turned-Muslim student named Jeff. Jeff explained how his freedom to proclaim his conversion to Islam, and to practice Islam (e.g. via five daily prayers), is burdened by having to hide his religion in order to avoid being expelled from BYU and evicted from his housing

Freedom of religion is not just some abstract concept that floats in the minds of lawyers and legislators. Rather, it moves and grows in the common soil of our everyday lives. Agreed. This is especially important in the context of religious freedom at BYU. The reason that BYU can expel a student merely for changing her religion is because the Constitution recognizes a right to religious freedom for- and this is important- religious institutions. BYU is not a human, and thus is not entitled to religious freedom via a human rights approach. It is, however, privileged to discriminate on religious grounds where a comparable organization (say, the University of Utah) would not: precisely because of that abstract concept that floats in the minds of lawyers and legislators that an organization is a person entitled to religious freedom under the First Amendment. 

In their statements, the LDS church focuses instead on the religious freedom of actual members of the human family, and how that freedom "moves and grows in the common soil of our everyday lives." In practice, however, at least at BYU- they burden the religious freedom of humans by virtue of the religious freedom granted to institutions. Many are convinced that the BYU Board can match what is practiced by BYU, to what is preached by LDS leaders.

We take our beliefs everywhere we go. They form who we are and drive us to share them with others. We want to influence our communities and the world around us. In this way, our private and public lives are intertwined. It is a paltry freedom indeed that allows us to practice and voice our faith in the privacy of our own home or church, but not in the open exchange of the public square.
This is precisely the environment imposed on LDS students at BYU. Many of them have experienced a change in religious conscience, and practice their new faith: but privately, out of fear of expulsion and eviction. It is in the movement and growth of the common soil of their everyday lives that these students suffer most- as evidenced by their compelling accounts. Having to hide one's conversion from roommates and friends, having to avoid statements in class that might betray that conversion, hollowly going through the motions of faithful LDS observance- is a heavy burden indeed.

The legacy of the universal declaration

The establishment of human rights is an achievement to be proud of. They play a vital role in managing the conflicts and differences so prevalent in our pluralistic world. Nowhere are the conflicts of pluralism more poignant than inside religious organizations. The establishment of human rights can help the BYU Board manage religious differences at BYU in a way that ennobles human existence, inspires decency, and urges accountability. They help keep us on the same civilizational page. The aims they promote ennoble human existence, inspire decency and urge accountability.

Legal scholar Mary Ann Glendon explained: “Practically every constitution in the world that has a bill of rights is modelled or influenced in some way by that core of principles that were deemed to be fundamental” in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.[5] Legal frameworks and moral norms of countries around the world have drawn from this document. It continues to put international relations on a more equal footing.

The world is far from perfect in honoring human rights. Injustices and atrocities still occur, but the universal declaration makes it possible to prevent, contain or diminish them. Like all things worth keeping, human rights will forever require our faith and vigilance.
Including the vigilance of faithful members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints in honoring human rights in their own institutions. If BYU administrators and the members of the BYU Board of Trustees don't honor the religious freedom of LDS BYU students whose religious consciences change while at BYU, who will?


I Knew What I Had to Do


I go to a school run by one of the churches in my country. Some time back I was chosen by my classmates to be our class counselor. One day as I was planning what to teach, I came across a Church booklet about the law of chastity. I decided to teach my classmates about chastity and asked the full-time missionaries for booklets, which I gave out during the lesson.
After my lesson, many students wanted to know more about the Church, so I taught them and gave them more Church materials, including the Book of Mormon. I did not know that this was not approved by the head teacher.
One day she called me to her office and asked me which church I went to. When I told her, she asked why I was giving out the Church’s “Bible” to the students. I told her that I gave them only to those who asked for them.
After a long talk about the Church, in which she made it clear that she believed it was not the Church of God, she told me, “I know that you have no parents, but I am very sorry—you will have to leave my school because you will convert many of my good students to that church of yours.” She told me to choose between the Church and my education.
She called an assembly and told the school that I was not allowed in school anymore because I belonged to the Mormon Church and that any other students following me would have to leave.
After the assembly, she asked what I had decided: my church or my education. I felt the Spirit telling me to stand for what I know: that the Lord has restored His true Church. I shared my testimony with her as I was leaving. She told me to return the following week to pick up a letter showing that I no longer went to the school.
When I came the following week, she had changed her mind! She wasn’t making me leave the school anymore. I was very happy, mostly because I had stood for what I knew to be true.
This experience taught me to always stand for what we know to be true. The Lord will always be there for us. If I had denied the Church, the students would have said that what I was teaching them was not true, but now they know that I know the truth.


I Knew What I Had to Do- applied to religious freedom at BYU


I go to a school run by one of the churches in my country. Some time back I was chosen by my classmates to be our class counselor. One day as I was planning what to teach, I came across a Church booklet about the law of chastity. I decided to teach my classmates about chastity and asked the full-time missionaries for booklets, which I gave out during the lesson.
After my lesson, many students wanted to know more about the Church, so I taught them and gave them more Church materials, including the Book of Mormon. I did not know that this was not approved by the head teacher.
One day she called me to her office and asked me which church I went to. When I told her, she asked why I was giving out the Church’s “Bible” to the students. I told her that I gave them only to those who asked for them.
After a long talk about the Church, in which she made it clear that she believed it was not the Church of God, she told me, “I know that you have no parents, but I am very sorry—you will have to leave my school because you will convert many of my good students to that church of yours.” She told me to choose between the Church and my education.
In many ways, this is the message BYU's Honor Code delivers to LDS BYU students whose religious consciences change. "We don't believe your religious conscience is right, and you have to choose: either hide your religion and complete your education, or expose it and be expelled." This is not a choice the BYU Board needs to force upon its students. Instead, it is within their power to say through the Honor Code, "We honor religious freedom as a human right, and allow all men and women to worship how, where, or what they may. As long as you observe the Honor Code as do all BYU students, you can declare your change in faith and remain here in good standing." 
She called an assembly and told the school that I was not allowed in school anymore because I belonged to the Mormon Church and that any other students following me would have to leave.
After the assembly, she asked what I had decided: my church or my education. I felt the Spirit telling me to stand for what I know: that the Lord has restored His true Church. I shared my testimony with her as I was leaving. She told me to return the following week to pick up a letter showing that I no longer went to the school. 
When I came the following week, she had changed her mind! She wasn’t making me leave the school anymore. I was very happy, mostly because I had stood for what I knew to be true.
Sadly, many such stories at BYU do not have such a happy ending. Recently, one student boldly stood for what he knew, and received "a letter showing that [he] no longer went to the school." It looked like this:
Dear student,
Bishop __ has informed the Honor Code Office that your ecclesiastical endorsement has been withdrawn. Since university policy requires all students to have a current endorsement, we have placed a hold on your registration, graduation, and diploma until you are able to qualify for a new one. Effective immediately, you are no longer eligible to attend daytime or evening classes, to register for other courses, to graduate from BYU, to work for the university, or to reside in BYU contract housing. You cannot enroll in or be enrolled in any BYU course that could apply to graduation, including but not limited to Independent Study courses, until you are returned to good standing. Please note that you may not represent the university or participate in any university programs such as Study Abroad, academic internships, performing groups, etc. A hold has been placed on your record which will prevent you from being considered for admission to any Church Educational System school until you are returned to good Honor Code standing. Good Honor Code standing includes a valid, current ecclesiastical endorsement.
The Honor Code Office will work with Discontinuance to remove your classes. If you have any questions please call the Honor Code Office. If you are currently working on past incomplete grade contracts please notify the honor Code Office immediately. When you are ready to return to the university, you must work closely with the Admissions Office, A-153 ASB, (801) 422-2507, regarding readmission requirements.
During at least the next twelve months, Bishop ___’s clearance must be obtained before any other bishop can endorse you. Your Bishop must verbally notify the Honor Code Office as soon as your endorsement has been reinstated. Also be aware that you must stay in contact with the Admissions Office in A-153 ASB (422-2507) regarding readmission requirements if you are away for a full semester. Because the ecclesiastical interview is confidential, any questions regarding your church standing must be resolved with your ecclesiastical leaders. The withdrawal of your endorsement is independent of any investigation or action that may be taken by the Honor Code Office.
If you have any questions about the withdrawal of your endorsement, please contact your bishop and/or your stake president. Your classes will be discontinued immediately.
Signed,
Larry Neal, Honor Code Office Director
This experience taught me to always stand for what we know to be true. The Lord will always be there for us. If I had denied the Church, the students would have said that what I was teaching them was not true, but now they know that I know the truth.
We can do a better job of honoring the religious freedom we proclaim. If you feel to help erase the inconsistency between the LDS Church's position on religious freedom and the current Honor Code, please- get involved

Tuesday, December 2, 2014

The Ginormous Stackrank of Human Experiences

I've decided to accouche an idea that began over four years ago.

Back then, I was freshly emerging from the ethics-heavy portion of my graduate education. The moral reasoning models I was learning copulated with the decision analysis tools I was exposed to, and my brain conceived The Carmack Vector Addition Theory of Ethics: Advancing the Ball.

In its first trimester, the idea was mostly geared toward enabling a more rigorous mathematical approach to ethical decision making. As the idea continued to gestate, I developed some alternative titles for the approach: "Mathematizing Morality" or "Quantifying Compassion." I also debated various designs and objectives. Eventually though, the example of Facemash from The Social Network (Mark Zuckerberg developed a website that allowed visitors to compare two student pictures side-by-side and let them choose who was “hot” and who was “not”) prevailed due to it's simplicity. My intention now is to create a giant stack rank of human experiences.

How would the system work? I'll go into greater detail below, but the crux of the system is pretty simple: users choose which experience they prefer out of a pair. For example, you might be asked, "Which do you prefer?" between (A) graduating from college and (B) falling in love. You select one, then move on to the next pair the system feeds you and repeat. The end result after millions of selections is a giant, robust stack rank of human experiences.

Below I detail (1) Rules, (2) Approach, (3) Next Steps, (4) Problems/Solutions, (5) Initial List, and (6) Further Commentary.

Rules

  1. You can only select between experiences you've actually had
  1. No experience in the list can exceed a "2" level of detail
    1. 1=Having coffee
    2. 2=Having coffee with a friend
    1. 3=Having coffee with a friend in the morning

  1. You must answer honestly

Approach

A user clicks on a link and arrives on the landing page/app home. There are two options: "View the List" or "Participate." If the user chooses "View the List", they are taken to the stackrank where they can search and browse.

If the user chooses "Participate," he or she is given a Batch (40 experiences). The experiences all have three options: "I have experienced this", "I haven't experienced this", or "this experience doesn't qualify, e.g. it exceeds the level of detail or is not an actual human experience" (the last option is for quality control). The default, "I haven't experienced this", is selected for all. The user selects the appropriate option for all 40 experiences, based on his/her own past.

The user is then fed a set of between 10 & 100 experience pairs (only experiences the user indicated s/he has had are presented to the user). Each pair has two options. For example, the pair is (A) graduating from college and (B) falling in love. The user selects A or B, and is then shown the next pair as well as a progress bar (e.g. pair 2 of 100). At the end of the set of pairs, the user is given the option to add a question of his/her own. If s/he chooses "no thanks," they are returned to the landing page/app home. If s/he chooses "add a question," they are taken to a screen where they submit a question (some brief submission guidelines display).

The system randomly-ish presents the new submissions to subsequent participants, and uses the results to update G-SHE (Ginormous Stackrank of Human Experiences) in real time, much as a chess ranking system would. The system also feeds pairs in a strategic way (e.g. doesn't often ask participants if they'd rather fall in love vs. lose your child) in order to elicit the most differential inputs, similar to the methodology for pairing opponents in large-bracket sport competitions.

Next steps


  1. Determine if G-SHE (or a list substantially like it) is already out there in the world somewhere. If so, consider abandoning or redirecting the effort
  2. Decide which ratings system to use 
  3. Most common- used to rank chess players
    Elo + ratings reliability
    Glicko + ratings volatility
    1. There may be a better rating system - these are just the first three I've researched so far
    2. I'm thinking Glicko 2
  4. Identify an existing list of human experiences to start with
  5. Develop the tool
  6. Distribute the tool
  7. Manage the tool


Problems/Solutions

This effort will doubtlessly run into numerous problems as it proceeds; I'll start capturing them in this expandable table.

Problem
Candidate solutions

Similar experiences submitted (duplicates)
-Use existing tech to detect similar submissions and have a human decide whether they're essentially duplicates, then merge if yes
-Whatever approach is taken to solve this problem in comparable settings, such as user feedback fora

Too little participation
-Could display leaderboards - e.g. who's submitted the most qualifying questions, who's submitted the most selections, etc.
-Could pay folks on mechanical turk to participate
-Could ask volunteers or ethics students to participate
-Could display the full list only if the user participates (only give a sample of the list until the user participates)
-Could exchange statistical analysis of the results for participation
-Whatever other solutions survey firms use to solve this problem

Quality of questions
-Enable a button on the selection screen for "recommend removing this experience (usually because it (1) is not an actual human experience or (2) exceeds a "2" level of detail)
-Enable a button on the "have you had this experience" screen to recommend removal
- enable Wiki-style comments, or some crowd-based moderation approach used in comparable settings such as wikipedia

Bots complete batches
Leverage existing human-detection tech and restrict participation to humans

Same person selects between the same pair 2+ times
Authenticate the users, or require a sign-in that signals the system not to present a pair to that user if that user has seen that pair in the past

Participant lies
    • Have the system refrain from including in the effective data set, all results that come from participants whose selection profiles vary more than 3 standard deviations from the median
    • Use some other "smart" techniques to detect likely liars and underweight or eliminate their responses from the calculations
    • Require a set amount of time on each question (similar to completing the blood donation questionnaire) to disincentivize speeding through the questions

Participant tires due to quantity of pairings
    • Allow users to complete a certain number of pairs per day/week
    • Allow completion in batches that don't exceed a  defined number of pairs


Initial List

I hope to find an existing list of human experiences that comply with rule #2, so I don't have to reinvent the wheel. However, the approach is scalable even if I do have to start from scratch. Here's a candidate initial list:

Being displaced due to a civil war
Waking up after a good sleep
Having sex
Skydiving
Giving birth
Mastering a foreign language
Being tortured for over six months
Losing a life partner
Going fishing
Having an accomplishment recognized at work
Eating lunch
Reading a book for pleasure
Your child dying
Voting in a meaningful government election
Having coffee with a friend
Taking a nap
Falling in love

Further commentary


  • I hope this list will be a useful tool for preference utilitarians. Though I'm not 100% sure yet of all the applications for this stack rank, I expect creative applications will be identified and developed by those who become acquainted with the result. I can imagine think tanks, policy analysts, ethicists, and others being interested in the data; demographers might collect rich data on the participants, then categorize and analyze the results. I also think the average person would be fascinated by the list itself- how interesting it would be to browse and see how various experiences rank! 
  • Q. Why the "2" level of detail? A. To engender consistency and simplicity. The greater the complexity, the more difficult (and potentially less reliable) the preferences become. Plus, constraining the base unit worked well for Twitter... 
  • Q. As sales and marketing professionals will tell you, people's actual choices are better measures of their preferences than what they choose in survey responses. How do you solve for that? A. I don't: that's a weakness in my approach. However, since not all experiences are chosen (say, being raised Catholic), my approach enables a comparison of a greater breadth of human experience than would be possible with a choice-based approach. 
  • Q. Your baby has a long way to go before it matures into a robust, mature adult. How will you get this effort there, given your limited expertise? A. I'm convinced that once smart people see what I'm going for, they'll identify and share improvements. I believe we only need a strong proof of concept to inspire better future versions (like how thefacebook.com of 2004 inspired the far more sophisticated version we now know in 2014 as Facebook).
  • In future iterations I'd like to provide a more sophisticated approach to letting the participant choose the experiences they've had, which populates the pool from which their presented pairings are drawn. 
  • I'd like to capture the data from the batch phase where participants indicate whether they've had the experience. That data element itself is interesting, in addition to being a useful basis for the system to decide what experience pairs to present to a participant (e.g. present several pairs that include rare experiences to participants who have had that experience).
  • So far the best title I have is "The Ginormous Stackrank of Human Experiences", acronym G-SHE; lmk if you have a catchier one.


Tuesday, May 6, 2014

Response to Bruce Hafen's Feb 2014 attack on gay marriage

In case my comment gets removed, below is my response to Bruce Hafen's attack on gay marriage.


http://youtu.be/-YRhcI_u0bk?t=44m10s
He starts the attack at about 44:10 in the video.

"Fantastic points about the positive social and individual consequences of marriage. I agree with his emphasis "that although building a marriage is difficult and demanding, it is also sanctifying and satisfying: through a lifetime of sacrificing for our marriage partner, we can become like Jesus Christ and realize "the abundant life of authentic joy." Supporting and protecting marriage culturally and legally can bring substantial benefits to marriage partners as well as society as a whole.

Elder Hafen's demonstrated understanding of the importance and meaning of marriage stands out in stark contrast to his position on gay marriage. Elder Hafen decried unmarried cohabitation: the 1 million+ children around the world who are being raised by unmarried cohabiting same-sex parents stand to gain from their parents' marriage. Elder Hafen emphasized the abundant life of authentic joy that can come from a lifetime of sacrificing for a marriage partner: that is no less true for married same-sex couples that it is for infertile opposite-sex ones. Elder Hafen discussed the social consequences of marriage, one of which is the caretaking role spouses play for each other: these benefits are as likely to accrue to society and marital partners for gay couples as they are for straight ones.


Despite appealing to "society's interest in marriage and children," Elder Hafen fails to show how gay marriage fails to advance those interests, let alone harm them, relative to opposite-sex couples. Homosexually oriented folks are generally cut out for marrying someone of same sex, just as heterosexually oriented folks are generally cut out to marry someone of the opposite sex. A more consistent position for Elder Hafen to take is to promote gay marriage, so that the same types of benefits we see from marriage of straight folks will be realized from marriage of gay folks." 

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