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.

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." 

Monday, May 5, 2014

Response to "Religious Freedom is Our First Freedom"

In case my comment is removed from the video, I paste below my response to:

What a touching video! This three minute clip from the J. Reuben Clark Law Society's channel drives home compelling points about religious people. I noted these:

  • We love what is good in the world
  • We live to make it better
  • We follow what we feel in our hearts
  • We express intelligence
  • We share truth
  • We serve others
  • We care for our families

I would make an important observation here that is relevant to religious freedom as a first freedom: all these points describe those who leave their religion as well. There is a growing population of people around the world who have exercised their freedom of religion by  either changing to a different religion, or by leaving religion entirely. These people share the attributes identified above.

This observation is especially important for the J. Reuben Clark Law Society, since the J. Reuben Clark Law School  (BYU Law) does not respect the religious freedom of a particular religious minority: those who leave the LDS faith. As I and others have amply demonstrated and argued in recent years (freebyu.org contains some of our writings), LDS BYU students who exercise their first freedom by leaving the LDS church, whether to follow Mohammed or join the ranks of the atheists or any other religious choice, are categorically (1) expelled from the university, (2) terminated from their on campus employment, and (3) evicted from their BYU-contracted homes, The current Honor Code singles out "former LDS" as being ineligible to attend BYU or leave the LDS church while living in BYU contract housing.

As a licensed attorney I have personally given legal advice to just such a victim of BYU's active persecution of a religious minority in its community. In 2013, this young man "followed what he felt in his heart," to use the video's language, and formally left the LDS church. Within a week the Honor Code office expelled him from the university, terminated his on-campus employment, and directed the young man's landlord to begin the process leading to the young man's eviction from his apartment (which the landlord proceeded to do- in violation of the Fair Housing Act, but that's another post). Ironically, the video cites a housing authority "giving the boot" and driving religious groups off campus, yet these are precisely the behaviors BYU enacts today on the unpopular religious minority that is former-LDS students. This stands in bitter contrast to the video's call that individuals enjoy the "freedom to think, to act, to follow our beliefs, to speak out." Even law students at BYU Law must muzzle their true religious beliefs on pain of expulsion from the law school, as they are subject to the same policy. 

As a member of the JRCLS, I hope that more JRCLS members will join me in encouraging BYU to reform its policy to reflect the LDS commitment to religious freedom. There are few things more unsightly than an institution that loudly talks the talk, but fails to walk the walk within its own walls. I'm convinced we can do far better. 

Sunday, May 4, 2014

My response to "Clay Christensen on Religious Freedom"

The BYU Law channel recently posted a video from Clay Christensen about religious freedom:

Vacuous scare tactic or good point?


I don't know whether my submitted comment will be posted, so I paste my response below.

"Clay's point that the democratic function relies heavily upon the compliance of the majority is well taken. A state where the majority does not voluntarily obey the majority of the substantive laws would  be inefficient at best, and dysfunctional at worst.

His second point, though, is poorly supported at best, and inaccurate and insulting at worst.  He said
"If you take away religion, you can't hire enough police," and explicitly drew a positive correlation between weekly church attendance + a belief in accountability to God, and obedience to laws.  I think a rather large proportion of those who either do not attend church or do not believe they are accountable to God would balk, despite the persuasive mellow tones playing in the background, at the suggestion that the only leash holding them back from law-breaking is the threat of police enforcement.  Religious folks don't have a corner on the moral market, and I am not aware of evidence that they are, on average, any more or less law-abiding than their non-church attending, non-theistic counterparts.

Though not acquainted with the relevant literature myself, I would also be unsurprised to find a lack of empirical evidence supporting Clay's claim- I can think of some relatively godless countries with much lower crime rates than some highly religious ones, for example. I would speculate that other factors (the corruptness of the government, the economic security of the actor, the efficiency and fairness of the country's laws, the cost of compliance, etc.) are more predictive of voluntary compliance with laws than one's church attendance.  If your aim truly is a functioning democracy, then you should focus on the factors that most powerfully predict that functionality: like economic opportunity, an efficient and accessible justice system, a strong and stable central government, etc.

Regardless of whether I've speculated well, what Clay's done is inappropriate: used the fear of law-breaking masses in order to promote religion, bereft of compelling evidence."

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