Tuesday, October 13, 2009

LGBT Religious Freedom Threatens LDS Religious Freedom

In his 13 October, 2009 speech to BYU-Idaho, Elder Dallin H. Oaks warned of two forces that could have the potential to erode religious freedoms--1) increasing atheism in society and 2)the rise of LGBT civil rights. Oaks focused primarily on the latter.

The crux of his concern with gay rights seems to be expressed in this passage from the speech:
The so-called “Yogyakarta Principles,” published by an international human rights group, call for governments to assure that all persons have the right to practice their religious beliefs regardless of sexual orientation or identity. This apparently proposes that governments require church practices and their doctrines to ignore gender differences. Any such effort to have governments invade religion to override religious doctrines or practices should be resisted by all believers. [Emphasis added]

Elder Oaks suggests that "apparently" measures to eliminate discrimination and harm unto LGBT people, and in this case specifically religious freedoms for gays and lesbians, may actually advocate governments to force religions to "override religious doctrines and practices."

The Yogyakarta Principles is a set of 29 international principles launched as a global charter for gay rights in Geneva, March, 2007 and presented to the United Nations in November, 2007. The Principles, intended to address documented evidence of human and civil rights abuse of lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender people, was influential in a declaration on sexual orientation and gender identity presented to, but not officially adopted by the United Nations General Assembly in December, 2008.

Some of the rights declared in the Yogyakarta Principles include:
The Right to the Universal Enjoyment of Human Rights
The Rights to Equality and Non-discrimination
The Right to recognition before the law
The Right to Life
The Right to Privacy
The Right to a Fair Trial
The Right to Freedom from Torture and Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment
The right to Work
The Right to Adequate Housing
The Right to Education
Protection from Medical Abuses
The Right to Freedom of Opinion and Expression
The Right to Freedom of Peaceful Assembly and Association
The Right to Freedom of Thought, Conscience and Religion
The Right to Freedom of Movement
The Right to participate in public life
The Right to Participate in Cultural Life

Here is the actual passage in the English version of the Yogyakarta Principles that Elder Oaks referenced:
PRINCIPLE 21. The Right to Freedom of Thought, Conscience and Religion

Everyone has the right to freedom of thought, conscience and religion, regardless of sexual orientation or gender identity. These rights may not be invoked by the State to justify laws, policies or practices which deny equal protection of the law, or discriminate, on the basis of sexual orientation or gender identity.

States shall:
a) Take all necessary legislative, administrative and other measures to ensure the right of persons, regardless of sexual orientation or gender identity, to hold and practise religious and non-religious beliefs, alone or in association with others, to be free from interference with their beliefs and to be free from coercion or the imposition of beliefs;
b) Ensure that the expression, practice and promotion of different opinions, convictions and beliefs with regard to issues of sexual orientation or gender identity is not undertaken in a manner incompatible with human rights.

The Yogyakarta Principles in general, and Principle 21 in particular, seem to be reasonable expressions of human rights that should be extended to all people. Why should they not be also extended to gays? Do LDS religious freedoms trump LGBT religious freedoms?

One critic of the Yogyakarta Principles, Piero A. Tozzi, from the Catholic Family and Human Rights Institute, sees a sinister intent in Principle 21 to undermine religious freedom (PDF):
Under the guise of affirming “the right to freedom of thought, conscience and religion” without regard to sexual orientation or gender identity, the Principles undermine religious liberty. Principle 21 explicitly states that such rights “may not be invoked by the State to justify laws, policies or practices which deny equal protection of the law, or discriminate, on the basis of sexual orientation or gender identity.” . . . What would be the practical application of such a Principle, for example, with respect to a church, mosque or synagogue whose “practice” was to refuse to perform same-sex weddings or commitment ceremonies? [Emphasis added]

Elder Oaks obviously has the same concern as the above critic, yet neither provides any substantive argument why governments would be forced to impinge upon the religious freedoms of one group over the other. Piero A. Tozzi merely throws out a question based on fear and Elder Oaks suggests that such governmental mandates "apparently" will happen. Such fearful logic provides a fragile foundation upon which to build a case for denying basic human rights to LGBT people.

The Yogyakarta Principles are aspirational visualizations of global human rights policy designed to help bring an end to "violence, harassment, discrimination, exclusion, stigmatisation and prejudice . . . directed against persons in all regions of the world because of their sexual orientation or gender identity." But it is important to note that they are not binding in any way, nor has the UN adopted any similar measures. The Catholic Family and Human Rights Institute notes that:
. . . the Principles reflect only the views of a narrow group of self-identified “experts” and are not binding in international law: The Principles have not been negotiated nor agreed to by member states of the United Nations – indeed, not a single UN human rights treaty mentions sexual orientation and repeated attempts to pass resolutions promoting broad homosexual rights has been repeatedly rejected by UN member states. Insofar as they represent an attempt by activists to present an aspirational, radical social policy vision as a binding norm, however, the Principles merit closer scrutiny.

Is this aspirational vision of "freedom of thought, conscience and religion, regardless of sexual orientation or gender identity" the frightening boogyman that precipitated the LDS involvement in Proposition 8 and which may ultimately destroy our collective religious liberty?

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