Satan’s Rebellion and Agency

I want to draw attention to a fantastic article in this month’s Ensign called Satan’s Rebellion. The author discusses a tendency that he noted among some members of the Church to equate rules and consequences for disobedience with Satan’s plan. As the author notes, this is based on an unfortunately common misperception about the role of Satan in the Divine Council and human agency.

The author discusses some of the negative consequences of this misperception: parents feeling that they are coercive when they encourage their children to attend church, a rejection of the need to make sacred covenants, and support for “the legalization of serious moral sin.”

It seems to me that this error is a natural outgrowth of the Church’s focus on freedom during the Cold War. Soviet Russia stood for the proposition that Government needed to regulate every facet of life in a top down fashion. This government domination was deeply inconsistent with the plan of salvation and the importance for individuals to work out their own salvation.

Yet, the Gospel tends to avoid extremes of all sorts. Just as a society where the state regulates everything is part of Satan’s plan, so to is anarchy and the absence of government. The Book of Mormon makes clear that Satan is just as content with a society that has collapsed into anarchy (such as that pictured in 3 Nephi before the coming of the savior) as he is with one that is controlled by a dictator or tyrant (e.g. King Noah).

The rejection of Satan’s plan in the pre-mortal council should cause us to be cautious about either extreme. The Article quotes J. Reuben Clark who noted that Satan’s plan could have taken one of two forms: “Either the compulsion of … man, or else saving men in sin.” Either extreme would have been contrary to the laws of heaven. Satan’s second lie is echoed in his injunction to eat, drink, and be marry and in an extreme form of libertarianism which rejects any need for moral or social restraints. But “[h]onoring agency does not mean embracing anarchy.”

As I have read the words of the Founding Fathers, I am struck by their wisdom in realizing that the functioning of democracy requires a just and a moral society. Respect for the rights of others, respect for the rule of law and other hallmarks of a democracy require a citizenry with shared values and principles. They understood that “establishing righteous laws in society are all practices approved of the Lord and not part of ‘Satan’s plan.'”

This is why the Church has and will continue to call for legislation that can be seen as ‘legislating morality.’ For instance, the Church has repeatedly urged members to fight for legislation to limit the spread of pornography. In Utah, the Church has opposed making it easier to buy alcohol. And of course, the Church’s infamous involvement in Proposition 8 is exemplary.

In light of this, it seems to me that the urge to deregulate and to go to the libertarian extreme on social and legal matters is unwise. This has at times been very difficult for me to accept. I consider myself for instance pretty close to a free speech absolutist and so it has been interesting for me to attempt to reconcile that with the Church’s open call for members to fight against pornography.

Yet, it has become clear to me that God is displeased if we simply let society further decay into a libertarian and libertine pleasure paradise. As Saints and members of his Church, we must be a light unto the world and that involves fighting for legislation and doing our best to shape society according to Gospel principles. We cannot and should not give up the fight or abdicate this arena.

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Employee Protections in the new Utah Anti-discrimination Ordinance

The Church and gay rights groups such as the Human Rights Campaign both came out yesterday in favor of S.B.296 entitled Antidiscrimination and Religious Freedom Amendments. This bill strikes a good balance between anti-discrimination and religious freedom because it essentially just adds sexual orientation to existing legislation regarding race and gender which in Utah is quite protective of the Church.

There are a couple of nice new additions such as an exemption for the Boy Scouts which is Constitutionally required by the 2000 Boy Scouts v. Dale Case (though I though I found it strange that the Boy Scouts were singled out even though there may be other expressive organizations which fall under the Dale decision), and making it clear that “a religious leader, when that individual is acting in the capacity of a religious leader” is not an employer for discrimination purposes. There were also a couple of novel provisions needed for the addition of gender identity to the group of protected classes: Employers are expressly allowed to have separate gender facilities (bathrooms etc) and also allowed to have uniforms, but must offer reasonable accommodations to trans-gender individuals. I think all of this is quite rasonable and strikes the right balance.

There is one section which is substantively completely new that I have seen little to no focus on. It is a provision that I would expect would elicit much more controversy especially from libertarian groups who focus on employer freedoms. This section makes it illegal for an employer to fire an employee for the expression of religious belief in the work place and also prohibits firing employees for “expressive activity outside of the workplace” on “the person’s religious, political, or personal convictions.”

 34A-5-112. Religious liberty protections — Expressing beliefs and commitments in
workplace — Prohibition on employment actions against certain employee speech.
(1) An employee may express the employee’s religious or moral beliefs and
commitments in the workplace in a reasonable, non-disruptive, and non-harassing way on equal terms with similar types of expression of beliefs or commitments allowed by the employer in the workplace, unless the expression is in direct conflict with the essential business-related interests of the employer.
(2) An employer may not discharge, demote, terminate, or refuse to hire any person, or
retaliate against, harass, or discriminate in matters of compensation or in terms, privileges, and
conditions of employment against any person otherwise qualified, for lawful expression or
expressive activity outside of the workplace regarding the person’s religious, political, or
personal convictions, including convictions about marriage, family, or sexuality, unless the
expression or expressive activity is in direct conflict with the essential business-related
interests of the employer.

The first provision regarding religious speech in the workplace might be of limited applicability. It is clear that an employer can ban all expression of belief or commitments” such as discussion of politics,or religion. However, if the employer allows some such expressions he must also allow religious expressions. The speech must also be done in a “reasonable,” “non-disruptive,” and “non-harassing” way which gives pretty wide latitude to employers to determine that religious speech is not reasonable or unacceptable. Finally, if the speech conflicts with the essential business-related interest of the employer it can be prohibited. I think this provision will likely just cause employers to draft stronger policies against speech on controversial issues in the workplace. The threat of possible litigation might help deter an employer from firing a religious individual for mentioning her belief, which seems to me to be a net positive. It also sends a strong message that religious speech is equivalent to speech and can not uniquely be excluded

The second provision on expressive activity is on the other hand a really big deal. This would make Utah one  of a  select few states where individuals cannot be fired as a result of their political views. While Utah would not join Louisiana, California, Connecticut and South Carolina which guarantee employees the right to talk about politics in the workplace as well as outside, it would join a small group of states such as California, Colorado, New York and North Dakota which offer off-duty protections. The religious liberty protections also seem strong here, as it would likely prevent things such as the firing of the Atlanta Fire Chief for the publication of a book critical of homosexuality.or individuals fired for content on religious blogs. This provisions also has the exception for the business-related interests of the employer, but this seems much narrower in the context of off the clock expressive activity.

These changes are major and have significant implication, which is why I am surprised they have not gotten much attention yet.

I admit that I am really pleased by the second provision in particular. As one who blogs about religion and touches on controversial political and social topics such as gay marriage and abortion I am heartened and excited that Utah is passing protection for such speech. Though I do not hope to work in Utah for long after graduating law school, I hope that this approach spreads to other states. While I think employers should have great freedom about the employees they argue, I think that such provisions strike the proper balance in offering protection from termination over expressive activities unrelated to the business. It has always seemed somewhat wrong to me that individuals could be fired for private speech done outside of the confines of work.

I hope that this provision gets more attention and debate before the bill is voted on, and that these provisions become templates for other states as well.