LDS apostle Dallin H. Oaks called on Mormon faithful last week not to be silenced by post-Proposition 8 intimidation, urging members to insist on the free exercise of religion.
What really is threatening religious liberty, four gay-rights groups countered Friday in a joint statement, is the church's meddling in a political campaign to deny rights to same-sex couples.
"We have always been taught that it is not 'just to mingle religious influence with civil government,' " wrote Cheryl Nunn, executive director of the Foundation for Reconciliation, quoting Mormon scripture. "How can I face my friends in other faiths if I stand by and do nothing?"
The four gay-rights advocacy groups -- Mormons for Marriage; Affirmation: Gay and Lesbian Mormons; the LDS Safe Space Coalition; and Foundation for Reconciliation -- include Mormons and former church members.
Their statement comes after Oaks' strongly worded defense in a speech at Brigham Young University-Idaho of the church's political push for Prop 8, last year's successful ballot measure eliminating the right of same-sex couples to marry in California.
The LDS leader, a former Utah Supreme Court justice, said students "must not be deterred or coerced into silence" by advocates for "alleged civil rights."
Oaks then condemned the protests, business boycotts, firings of church members and vandalism of LDS meetinghouses that followed the election, comparing them to voter intimidation employed against blacks in the South during the civil rights movement.
Those offenses, he urged, must not stifle the church's right to religious expression.
"We must insist on our constitutional right and duty to exercise our religion, to vote our consciences on public issues and to participate in elections and debates in the public square and the halls of justice," he said. "These are the rights of all citizens and they are also the rights of religious leaders."
But gay-rights groups argue the LDS Church overstepped its own policy of political neutrality and designated resources "we thought had been consecrated for the work of God."
"Support of policies that seek to force the morality of our belief system on others who believe differently and strip existing rights from individuals and religions," the groups' statement reads, "is contrary to core doctrines of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints."
The LDS Church declined to comment Saturday on the statement.
Gay-rights groups now are calling on Oaks to accept their statement in person on Nov. 4, when they mark the anniversary of Prop 8's passage.