Rising Tide of Safety-ism

In 2016, Dallin H. Oaks gave a devotional at Brigham Young University. In his speech, he pointed out the dangers in the arena of speech. Read this excerpt and think about what it could mean for the future of the Church and its doctrine (or the ability to teach it freely):

“A more common and more personal challenge to free speech in current policy debates is the labeling of opposition arguments as “hate speech” or “bigotry.” This kind of name-calling chills free speech by seeking to penalize the speech of opponents—personally, socially, or professionally. A legal scholar’s recent book, which advocates pluralism, mutual respect, and coexistence, states that the label “bigot” is a “conversation stopper” because it “attributes a particular [negative] motive to an action.” The author observed that this kind of labeling “frequently appears against religious believers and groups that maintain traditional beliefs about sexuality in their internal membership requirements.” Incidentally, my dictionary defines bigot as “a person who is utterly intolerant of any creed, belief, or opinion that differs from his own.” Who fits that description in this contest of motives and opinions?

3. Of greater concern are the institutionalized “free speech zones” established by some universities to provide a small designated space in which students may speak freely. The rest of the campus is then a restricted speech zone, in which certain words and ideas (including what are called “microaggressions”) are not to be spoken. Such general restrictions on campus speech seem unlikely to survive their current legal challenges. Academic freedom should not be limited to those who agree with prevailing political views. But the fact that some educators have succumbed to pressures to create such restrictions is worrisome.

4. Free speech and association are also chilled when campus pressures result in administrations canceling commencement speaking invitations or honors to persons whose prior actions or words are being attacked by faculty or students. Although institutions of course exercise judgment about whom to honor or invite, once invitations are extended, they should not be canceled just because a segment of campus is hostile to the ­honoree’s or speaker’s political views.”


It is also important to reflect on why President Oaks was chosen to give a speech on “Elections, Hope, and Freedom” on the month right before the most divisive presidential election ever held. After graduating from BYU, he attended the University of Chicago Law School, became the editor-in-chief of the University of Chicago Law Review. Later he clerked under Chief Justice Earl Warren in the Supreme Court of the United States. After that, he served on the Utah Supreme Court until his appointment to apostleship in 1984.

He was also awarded the Canterbury Medal in 2013, the Becket Fund’s highest award for his staunch defense of religious liberty and freedom. Becket is a revered law firm dedicated to protecting religious liberty, and some consider it to be the premiere in the nation. Their Canterbury Medal is awarded to people who: “most resolutely refused to render to Caesar that which is God’s.” This institution of people trying to follow God gave an Apostle of the Lord Jesus Christ their highest honor, which shows how much respect President Oaks commands in the arena of religious law.

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