Dallin Oaks

President Dallin H. Oaks of the First Presidency delivers the 2021 Joseph Smith Lecture in the Dome Room of the Rotunda at the University of Virginia on Friday, Nov. 12, 2021.

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Though he dedicated most of his professional career to the courts, Latter-day Saint apostle Dallin H. Oaks argued Friday that when disputes arise between religious freedom and nondiscrimination, the best remedies are found not through litigation but through legislation.

”Courts are ... ill-suited to the overarching, complex and comprehensive policymaking that is required in a circumstance like the current conflict between two great values,” Oaks, a former attorney, law professor and Utah Supreme Court justice, said in a speech at the University of Virginia. “Notwithstanding my years of working with judicial opinions, I prefer the initial route of legislative lawmaking on big questions.”

That will require some compromises and earnest talks between competing parties, said Oaks, first counselor in the governing First Presidency of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.

“People of faith should not contest every nondiscrimination law or policy that could possibly impinge, however insignificantly, on institutional or individual religious freedom,” he said in a transcript provided of his address. “Likewise, proponents of nondiscrimination need not contest every religious freedom exemption from nondiscrimination laws. The goals of both sides are best served by resolving differences through mutual respect, shared understanding and good faith negotiations.”

Oaks pointed to two negotiated, church-backed measures from the Beehive State that he said struck a better balance. In 2009, Salt Lake City adopted protections for LGBTQ individuals from discrimination in housing and employment. Six years later, Utah enacted a breakthrough compromise that also provided these protections while shielding some religious liberties.

“While the law gave neither side all that it sought,” he said, “its reconciliations did grant both sides significant benefits — a win-win outcome — that could not have been obtained without the balancing of interests made possible by the dynamics of the legislative process.”

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