Elder Oaks Calls for Civility during Election, Actions That Foster Freedom

Contributed By Marianne Holman Prescott, Church News staff writer

  • 13 September 2016

Elder Dallin H. Oaks of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles speaks in BYU’s Marriott Center in Provo, Utah, Tuesday, September 13, 2016.  Photo by Hans Koepsell, Deseret News.

Article Highlights

  • 1. Concentrate on what we have in common with our neighbors and fellow citizens.
  • 2. Strive for mutual understanding and treat all with goodwill.
  • 3. Exercise patience.
  • 4. Speak out for religion and the importance of religious freedom.
  • 5. Trust in God and His promises.

“I am convinced that a worldwide tide is currently running against both religious freedom and its parallel freedoms of speech and assembly.” —Elder Dallin H. Oaks of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles

PROVO, UTAH

Amid a “current ugliness” in the political arena and growing criticisms in institutions of higher learning, Church members must act civilly and press forward with hope in the future, Elder Dallin H. Oaks of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles declared during a campus devotional at Brigham Young University on September 13.

Forty-five years after giving his first devotional address, in 1971, Elder Oaks spoke to more than 15,000 people in the Marriott Center, focusing his remarks on elections, hope, and freedom.

“This opportunity comes at a unique time,” he said. “I am the only General Authority assigned to address this BYU audience between the beginning of school this fall and the election November 8.”

Watch or read Elder Oaks’s entire address.

One’s right to vote

Recognizing the thousands of students who will soon have their first opportunity to vote, Elder Oaks encouraged listeners to participate in a civil way in the election.

“The few months preceding an election have always been times of serious political divisions, but the divisions and meanness we are experiencing in this election, especially at the presidential level, seem to be unusually wide and ugly,” he said. “Partly this results from modern technology, which expands the audience for conflicts and the speed of dissemination.

“Today, dubious charges, misrepresentations, and ugly innuendos are instantly flashed around the world, and the effects instantly widen and intensify the gaps between different positions.”

Despite the current political climate, the First Presidency always reminds Church members of their responsibility to become informed about the issues and candidates and to independently exercise their right to vote, Elder Oaks said. “Voters, remember, this applies to candidates for the many important local and state offices, as well as the contested presidential election.”

Elder Oaks spoke of focusing on doctrine and applying it to the differences each person faces in diverse circumstances in the Church, in family, and in public. It is through living “in the world but not of the world” and avoiding contention—while still maintaining a commitment to the truths of the gospel—that individuals can be an example of civility,” he said.

Hope

He said it is crucial for people to trust in God and His promises and hold fast to the vital gospel teaching of hope.

Elder Dallin H. Oaks of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles speaks in BYU’s Marriott Center in Provo, Utah, September 13, 2016. Photo by Hans Koepsell, Deseret News.

An ASL interpreter signs as Elder Dallin H. Oaks of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles speaks at a BYU devotional September 13, 2016. Photo by Hans Koepsell, Deseret News.

BYU students smile as Elder Dallin H. Oaks of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles speaks in the Marriott Center in Provo, September 13, 2016. Photo by Hans Koepsell, Deseret News.

A student takes notes as Elder Dallin H. Oaks of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles speaks during a campus devotional in BYU's Marriott Center in Provo, Utah, September 13, 2016. Photo by Hans Koepsell, Deseret News.

Elder Dallin H. Oaks smiles and waves to the crowd after addressing students in a campus devotional in BYU’s Marriott Center in Provo, Utah, September 13, 2016. Photo by Hans Koepsell, Deseret News.

“When we trust in the Lord that all will work out, this hope keeps us moving,” he said. “Hope is a characteristic Christian virtue.”

Freedom

Elder Oaks spoke of the vital constitutional guarantees that government authority shall make no laws or regulations “abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press, or the right of the people peaceably to assemble.”

“Those rights are fundamental to our constitutional order—not just to protect citizens against repressive government action but also to foster the cherished open society that is the source of our freedom and prosperity.”

He said for many years he has paid close attention to the social and legal trends that are vital to fulfilling the Church’s mission and accomplishing the educational mission of BYU.

“I am convinced that a worldwide tide is currently running against both religious freedom and its parallel freedoms of speech and assembly,” he said. “I believe religious freedom is declining because faith in God and the pursuit of God-centered religion is declining, worldwide. If one does not value religion, one usually does not put a high value on religious freedom. It is looked at as just another human right, competing with other human rights when it seems to collide with them.”

Elder Oaks said freedoms of speech and assembly are also weakening because many influential persons see them as colliding with competing values they now deem more important.

He reviewed examples of threats to free speech in higher education today.

“Free speech has always been highly valued in education, but open inquiry and communication are currently being replaced on too many campuses by a culture of intellectual conformity and the silencing or intimidation of opposition,” he said. “This culture even includes formal or informal punishment of those with political views not currently in favor.”

College campuses are constantly being faced with threats to free speech. Examples include denying funding to students of private colleges and universities that rely on religious exemptions, policy debates filled with “hate speech,” and intolerance or censorship of any creed, belief, or opinion that differs from what is politically correct.

Institutions of higher education are faced with pressures to conform—especially when faced with accreditation—and have to deal with public shaming, boycotts, and other actions of punishment and intimidation.

“Although often invoking the popular rhetoric of equality and rights, those who employ these tactics erode the vital protections of freedom of thought, speech, religion, and assembly and diminish our country's beacon light of freedom to the world,” he said.

Elder Oaks spoke of the “unique religious mission and of the method of learning” inherent at BYU.” BYU's Academic Freedom Policy says that “individual freedom of expression is broad, presumptive, and essentially unrestrained.” Special responsibilities of BYU include some limits on academic freedom, Elder Oaks explained. But limitations are common to all universities; BYU's are related to its unique mission and are well publicized.

Five actions that foster freedom and hope

“And so, I have spoken of elections, hope, and freedom,” Elder Oaks concluded. “In these distressing times our freedom and hope can be fostered by five actions: One, we must concentrate on what we have in common with our neighbors and fellow citizens. Two, we must strive for mutual understanding and treat all with goodwill. Three, we must exercise patience. Four, we should all speak out for religion and the importance of religious freedom. And five, we must, above all, trust in God and His promises.”

Elder Dallin H. Oaks of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles speaks in BYU’s Marriott Center in Provo, Utah, September 13, 2016. Photo by Hans Koepsell, Deseret News.

Elder Dallin H. Oaks of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles speaks in BYU’s Marriott Center in Provo, Utah, September 13, 2016. Photo by Hans Koepsell, Deseret News.

The BYU choir sings during a devotional assembly in the Marriott Center September 13, 2016. Photo by Hans Koepsell, Deseret News.

The BYU Choir sings during a devotional assembly in the Marriott Center September 13, 2016. Photo by Hans Koepsell, Deseret News.

Elder Dallin H. Oaks, left, Peggy Worthen, center, and BYU President Kevin J Worthen at the Marriott Center in Provo, September 13, 2016. Photo by Hans Koepsell, Deseret News.