6/5/2015 11:00:00 AM
My public involvement in moral issues has varied considerably over the years. It has never been more important to me than proclaiming the truth of the Gospel and the power of the Holy Ghost, but there have been times when I have been relatively prominent in the public square and times when I have seen less need to be there.
You can be sure, however, that I will speak out when issues that impact the fundamental role of the Church are at stake. I cherish the First Amendment freedoms we all enjoy as Americans, and will do whatever I can to defend and uphold them.
That is, in part, because I exercise those freedoms myself. But like the Founding Fathers, I am convinced our life as a nation requires the free expression of ideas, without government interference.
Two stories this week with First Amendment implications caught my attention. First, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that the Abercrombie & Fitch clothing store was guilty of religious discrimination when it refused to hire Samantha Elauf, a young Muslim woman who wore a hijab, a type of head scarf, to her job interview. Ms. Elauf did not request an accommodation to wear her hijab on the job, but interviewers rejected her because of an existing “Look Policy” which prohibited employees from wearing “caps” and black clothing. They reasoned, likely correctly, that she would request to wear the hijab to work. The case is called EEOC v. Abercrombie & Fitch
The court ruled, correctly in my view, that the employer violated a federal law which prohibits a for-profit employer from refusing to hire an employee “because of” that employee’s religion. Essentially what that means is that people of faith – any faith – cannot be disqualified for jobs because of their faith, and that’s the way it should be. Although I am a Christian, I realize that if I want the protection of our nation’s laws I must enthusiastically support their application to men and women of other faiths.
The other story I noted with First Amendment implications is more sobering. It concerns a 2010 Supreme Court decision, Citizens United v. FEC
, which upheld the First Amendment as it relates to individuals’ and organizations’ participation in political campaigns. Specifically, it ruled that federal laws restricting how much money one could spend on a candidate or issue, and when it could be spent, were invalid.
This might not affect you directly; most people don’t give money to political candidates or issue committees. But contrary to what you may hear from some people, mainly those who have a vested interest in restricting the speech of their political opponents, money is speech. The ability to advocate for or against a candidate or issue is meaningless without the means to advocate that view. Money provides the means, and it’s simply none of the government’s business who says what in the days leading up to a campaign.
A New York Times
/CBS poll released this week provides some cause for concern on this issue. More than 80 percent of those surveyed – 80 percent of Republicans and 90 percent of Democrats – believe money has too much influence in American politics. I can understand the cause for concern. A candidate needs money to campaign, and of course those who provide the money have the right to have their views known to the candidate. But I’ve been around long enough to know that there is no direct correlation between how well a candidate is financed and how well the candidate performs at the polls. Often what happens is that a well-financed candidate can do a great job letting his or her views be known with the electorate, and the electorate responds by rejecting those views in favor of those of the other candidate. A marketing guy once told me that the best way to kill a bad product is through good advertising, and that principle often comes into play in elections.
A major candidate for president has made a lot of public statements about wanting to remove the influence of money from politics. Whether you believe that candidate or not, this week’s poll indicates that there’s some public sentiment in agreement with it, and I think that has the makings of a bad and likely unconstitutional policy.
But another finding in the poll gives me hope. Less than 1 percent of those polled said money in campaigns is the most important issue facing the country. In other words, they see campaign finance as an important issue but they aren’t invested in doing anything about it. That’s a good thing, because nothing should be done about it in my view.
I don’t know about you, but when I am choosing between two candidates for an office I want to know as much as I can about both of them. I certainly don’t want the government artificially restricting what I can and can’t know about one or both candidates.
The First Amendment gives Americans numerous freedoms not available in other nations. And I will defend them all. Because a government that can restrict some candidate’s political speech today can restrict my right – and yours – to preach the Gospel tomorrow. And the Gospel’s too important for me to sit idly by and let that happen. To coin a phrase, I will be silent no more. Our times demand it, our history compels it, our future requires it and God is watching.
- June 5, 2015