LDS attorney lists what Mormons need to know about religious freedom today

By Tad Walch, Deseret News

Published: Fri, Aug. 8, 2014, 7:20 p.m. MDT

 Hannah Smith, a Mormon and senior counsel for the Becket Fund, which has secured some historic federal and U.S. Supreme Court rulings defending religious freedom, spoke about key areas for current concern at the FairMormon Conference on Friday.

Hannah Smith, a Mormon and senior counsel for the Becket Fund, which has secured some historic federal and U.S. Supreme Court rulings defending religious freedom, spoke about key areas for current concern at the FairMormon Conference on Friday.

(Alex Brandon, AP)

PROVO — Religious freedom has always been a priority for Latter-day Saints, who should seek to defend it in their communities, an LDS attorney said Friday at the FairMormon Conference.

Hannah Smith, who as senior counsel for the Becket Fund for Religious Liberty has helped secure some major court victories for religious freedom recently, provided a thorough list of areas for concern in U.S. courts today.

But first she said LDS commitment to religious freedom for people of all faiths began at the beginning of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints with founder Joseph Smith, who declared he would die to defend religious rights of members of other denominations.

Religious liberty remains a priority for church leaders today, Hannah Smith said. She provided quotes from Elder Dallin H. Oaks and Elder Quentin R. Cook of the church's Quorum of the Twelve Apostles.

Elder Oaks said believers should "unite more effectively to preserve and strengthen the freedom to advocate and practice our religious beliefs whatever they are."

Elder Cook said one reason attacks on religious principles have succeeded is that people of faith have been reluctant to express their views. "Extraordinary effort will be required to protect religious liberty."

Church members should be engaged in those efforts, Hannah Smith said.

"I urge each and every one of you to think of ways you can be involved in your community, to stand up for religious freedom, whether it's in your school board, in your library committee, or whether it's in other ways.

"Find ways where you can get out and be involved in the community, to link arms with our brothers and sisters of other faiths, as Elder Oaks encouraged us to do, and to find ways to stand up in your own ways for religious freedom."

Smith titled her presentation "Religious Liberty: What Latter-day Saints Need to Know to Preserve Our First Freedom."

One thing they should become able to do is recognize problems, she said during the question-and-answer period after her presentation.

One of the crowd of about 500 at the Utah Valley Convention Center asked what might happen to LDS temple marriages in Utah if gay marriages become legal in the state.

Temples are sacred to Latter-day Saints, and temple marriage is one of the faith's most important ordinances.

"I think it's really important to recognize what's a problem and what isn't a problem," Smith said.

"I don't ever think we'll get to the place where the government would step in and say, you have to perform a same-sex marriage within the temple. That is something that is so sacred and so much at the heart of the religious practice of our faith that I don't think that will ever happen."

The Becket Fund is a nonprofit, nonpartisan, public interest law firm that operates under the principle that religious freedom is a God-given right. It works through the courts, through public opinion and in academics.

It recently opened a religious liberty clinic at Stanford University's law school.

Smith provided a detailed description of seven prominent areas of concern in what she called the "battle for religious freedom."

Those areas are:

The Health and Human Services mandate that all employers pay for contraceptives, sterilization and "emergency contraceptives." The narrow exemption for churches doesn't include many religious organizations.

About 100 court cases related to the mandate are winding their way through the courts — 50 about for-profit companies owned by religious people and 50 about nonprofit religious organizations.

The Becket Fund, with Smith playing a role, won a U.S. Supreme Court ruling on June 30 for Hobby Lobby, a for-profit business owned by a religious family whose members felt their consciences would be violated by providing drugs to employees that they believe could cause an early abortion.

The effort to restrict the freedom of churches to organize and choose their own leaders free from government intrusion.

The Becket Fund won a historic 9-0 Supreme Court victory in 2012 protecting this right.

Discrimination against faiths that want to use private property or to access public property on equal terms with secular groups.

Government regulations that require pharmacists to dispense drugs that violate their religious convictions.

Efforts to redefine anti-discrimination laws without sufficient corresponding protections for religious freedom.

Efforts to expunge religion from the public square, like trying to eliminate the words "under God" from the Pledge of Allegiance.

Denial of religious rights to prisoners.

The Becket Fund will argue before the Supreme Court this fall on behalf of a Muslim prisoner in Arkansas who has been denied the right to grow a half-inch beard required by his faith, even though more than 40 states and the federal prison system allow such beards.

The mother of four, who had the rare honor of clerking for two U.S. Supreme Court justices — Clarence Thomas and Samuel Alito — called religious freedom an "American miracle that was the creation of an all-powerful, all-knowing God."

She directed those interested in religious freedom to "a collection of some really high-quality materials" at MormonNewsroom.org and to a Facebook page supporting religious freedom.

Email: twalch@deseretnews.com

1. Tekakaromatagi
Dammam, Saudi Arabia,
Aug. 8, 2014

Religious liberty is the liberal / human rights issue of our time. The Becket fund is in the position that the ACLU once was.

I like the fact that they are defending a Moslem prisoner's right to grow a beard. The sign of sincerity in protecting civil and human rights is when the unpopular causes are given as much concern as the popular ones.

2. Stormwalker
Cleveland , OH,
Aug. 8, 2014

Here's the real test: North Carolina prohibits churches from performing (non-legal) commitment ceremonies for gay and lesbian couples. Will she take up the cause for their religious liberty?

3. skrekk
Dane, WI,
Aug. 8, 2014

The lawyer representing The Becket Fund is being disingenuous. Not only did Becket defend the New Mexico photographer who tried to use her homophobic religious views as an excuse to violate public accommodations laws, but they've also filed numerous amicus briefs with our courts in an attempt to deny gays the civil right to secular marriage.

If anything the Becket Fund is trying to use our secular government to enforce the sharia laws of right-wing Christian extremists. That's the exact opposite of religious liberty.

4. KellyWSmith
Sparks, NV,
Aug. 8, 2014

Apparently the Church of Christ in North Carolina sued the state for the right to perform same-sex marriages (it was on a FB post today). Many members (and leaders) of the LDS Church are concerned that such actions by gay groups might eventually lead to trying to force the church to perform same-sex weddings in the Temple. The author states that she does not feel that it will ever come to that, but how can she say that with any kind of confidence. This group, though quite small, will stop at nothing that they feel infringes on their rights and makes what they are doing a sin or anything less than normal behavior.

Do we really realize what a slippery slope we are on? This is not going to end well and I never thought I would see the day when the prophesied destructions would come upon the world. Just as Mormon and Moroni witnessed the destruction of their people in their day, we are in a similar situation.

Please wake up people. Wake up and realize what is happening and where this is leading.

5. BYU Joe
Aug. 9, 2014

Not everything is about the Gay Community. Yes I get it - it is an issue, but it's not the only issue. Why is it that every time this type of article comes up the comment boards go right to the LGBT community?