Elder Dallin H. Oaks, member of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles, gave the BYU devotional on Tuesday, Sept. 13. He spoke about the upcoming presidential election, as well as the importance of hope and religious freedom in the modern world.
Living with political differences
Elder Oaks began by reminding the audience of the responsibility to vote in local, state and national elections. He said the dialogue of this election cycle is unusually ugly and encouraged students to avoid hostility.
“We should also remember not to be part of the current meanness,” Elder Oaks said. “We should communicate about our differences with a minimum of offense.”
He said contentious responses are an inappropriate reaction to negative media about the LDS Church. Angry responses disappoint the Church’s friends and provoke its adversaries, Elder Oaks said.
Having hope in times of uncertainty
Elder Oaks then spoke of the need to be respectful and remain hopeful, even in cases of disagreement.
“In the distressing circumstances that surround us, we must trust in God and his promises and hold fast to the vital gospel teaching of hope,” Elder Oaks said. “When we trust in the Lord that all will work out, this hope keeps us moving.”
He shared an experience he had as a young man. Elder Oaks belonged to the Utah National Guard, and he knew his group could be deployed to serve in the Korean War. He enrolled at BYU and paid tuition anyway, trusting in the Lord that everything would work out. Elder Oaks never went to war, and he later completed his formal education.
“Every generation has challenges that can cause discouragement in those without hope,” Elder Oaks said. “The future is always clouded with uncertainties. While some abandon progress, you of faith should hope on and press on with your education, your lives and your families.”
Advocating for religious freedom on college campuses
BYU students need hope in the face of modern challenges, Elder Oaks said, including the ongoing debate over religious freedom.
“I believe religious freedom is declining because faith in God and the pursuit of God-centered religion is declining,” Elder Oaks said. “If one does not value religion, one does not usually put a high value on religious freedom. It is looked at as just another human right, colliding with other human rights when it seems to collide with them.”
Religious freedom is closely linked with the freedoms of speech and assembly, Elder Oaks said. He provided several examples of religious freedom issues in higher education, inviting students to reach their own conclusions.
A chilling effect arises, Elder Oaks said, when individuals label opposing arguments as “hate speech” or “bigotry.” He listed other problems like the establishment of free speech zones on campuses, which imply that speech is restricted in other areas, and the new idea that people have the right not to be offended in public.
He cited a University of Chicago report on freedom of expression. The report emphasizes students’ and faculty members’ free speech rights but recognizes restrictions on speech that is “otherwise directly incompatible with the functioning of the University.”
Elder Oaks said he hopes that universities will uphold the principles in the University of Chicago’s report. He acknowledged that BYU’s policies place some limitations on academic freedom; however, he said these limits are narrow and support the university’s mission.
“In many ways, academic freedom at BYU exceeds that at many colleges and universities that pretend to have unqualified academic freedom and then apply or submit to the kinds of exceptions I described earlier,” Elder Oaks said.
He concluded by recommending that students treat others with goodwill and exercise patience in distressing times.
“We should all speak out for religion and the importance of religious freedom,” Elder Oaks said. “And we must, above all, trust in God and his promises.”
Ari Fleischer, former White House press secretary, will speak at BYU’s forum on Tuesday, Sept. 20, at 11:05 a.m.