Three panelists and a moderator, most of whom identified as Christian but none of whom are members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, tackled the issue of whether or not religious groups should take part in conversations on public policy.
The discussion was part of the Brigham Young University 2019 Religious Freedom Annual Review, titled “Religious Freedom for a New Generation.” Chelsea Langston Bombino, director of strategic engagement for the Institutional Religious Freedom Alliance and director for Sacred Sector, an initiative of the Center for Public Justice, discussed the issue with fellow panelists Randel Everett, founder and president of 21 Wilberforce, an organization that focuses on religious persecution abroad and religious liberty in the U.S., and Christopher Stevenson, president of the National Museum of American Religion.
The LDS Church has come under fire in recent months for statements made in opposition to Utah’s Proposition 2, which legalized medical marijuana for individuals with qualifying conditions. The church has also made statements in regards to LGBTQ policy and immigration, and commented on many other issues affecting politics, often causing a stir.
Much of Wednesday’s panel discussion centered around the rights of religious individuals, rather than entire religious groups, to involve themselves in public policy discussions when it comes to religious freedom and “fairness for all.”
Bombino said the Sacred Sector believes there shouldn’t be a “sacred square” or a “naked square” when it comes to discussing public policy — that is to say, public policy conversations shouldn’t be dominated by one religion, but they also shouldn’t be entirely devoid of religious voices.
Whether a person is shaped by their religious beliefs or secular philosophies, Bombino said, both kinds of persons should be allowed to participate in discussions of public policy.
“There should not be a civil religion that the government tells you is the national religion, but in the same way, we don’t believe there should be a ‘naked’ public square,” she said. “People whose ... belief system shapes their lives, they can bring that into the public square.”
Both religious and non-religious peoples, Bombino said, “hold up the rights of human dignity.”
Stevenson opened up the panel with an example of different faiths coming together for a common cause — protesting racial segregation in the ’60s. During the Selma to Montgomery march, a protestor held a sign that read, “We march together/Catholic/Jews/Protestant/for dignity/and brotherhood/of all men under God/now!”
Religion has been used to do great things, but it’s also been used to do terrible things, Stevenson said.
“Our history of religious freedom is very complex,” he said.
Panelists agreed on the idea that on “zero-sum issues,” such as abortion or LGBTQ rights where it seems like a win for one side is a loss for the other, it’s important to understand where the other party is coming from, and while compromise can be a good thing, it’s also important for religious persons to decide what things are “non-negotiable.”
“I think a conversation’s insincere unless we admit what our non-negotiables are,” Everett said. “Sometimes our non-negotiables are going to get (us) in trouble.”
Ultimately, panelists seemed to want to get the idea across that all beliefs and worldviews are important to consider — including ones that are religious.
“We can find common ground,” Bombino said. “I think it’s a matter of prudence that we don’t ask a vast majority of this country who have some sort of ... belief system to not bring that into the discussion.”