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Compromise, not division, is the way to protect religious and LGBT rights, BYU conference speakers say

First Published      Last Updated Aug 16 2016 12:53 pm

Conference on religious freedom’s focal point is seeking ways to solve divisions.

Provo • In the three years since the U.S. Supreme Court ruled against the Defense of Marriage Act, religious-freedom laws have been defeated in several states, Tim Schultz, president of the 1st Amendment Partnership, said Thursday.

Beyond evolving public opinion and legal precedent, Schultz said, the defeat of religious-freedom efforts is due in part to a failure of proponents to clearly describe what they're striving to protect.

Many religious conservatives object to people losing housing or jobs, he said, or being denied services because of their sexual orientation.

But in public debate, he said, the rights of lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people are seen in opposition to those of religious people and groups, resulting in continued threats to religious liberty.

"If it is successfully defined as a right to discriminate, religious freedom will lose," Schultz said. "The issue has been defined, and not in a way that a religious-freedom supporter would recognize."

Schultz's comments came during a conference at Brigham Young University on the subject of religious freedom.

The conference, sponsored by BYU's International Center for Law and Religion Studies, continues Friday.

Several speakers commented on the divisive efforts of groups lobbying in isolation for greater legal protections for religious Americans or LGBT Americans. The division often creates a stalemate, Schultz said, which leads to continued intervention by the courts and a loss of "legislative bargaining."

"Both sides are going to have to realize that, to get what they want, they're going to have to come together and see compromise," Schultz said.

Thomas Berg, a professor at the University of St. Thomas School of Law, said religious conservatives likely will continue to face pressure to adhere to secular and progressive values.

Practical arguments that respect the views of nonreligious people will be key to preserving religious freedoms, he said, like the option of medical professionals to excuse themselves from abortion procedures or for government employees and religious organizations to object to facilitating same-sex marriages.

"Religious-liberty arguments, to be successful, I think have to take into account the interests of the other side of the dispute," Berg said.

Speakers and audience members at the conference made frequent mention of national cases in which religious individuals had faced lawsuits or fines for refusing to accommodate LGBT people and same-sex marriages.

Brett Scharffs, a BYU law professor, said the most effective strategies are those that lower the volume of contention surrounding the controversies.

"We don't expect the fires to be put out by people whose tools are matches and gasoline," he said.

The military has shown that the United States is capable of accommodating conscientious objection without the country's national security apparatus collapsing, he said.

In a similar way, he said, there is room for people of faith to disagree with other sentiments on marriage, sexuality and secularism with their rights intact.

"It is not true that any opposition to same-sex marriage is, ipso facto, hatred toward gays," Scharffs said.

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