Steven Collis: Freedom To Live Our Beliefs
The first time Steven Collis needed the protection of religious liberty came when he was a teenage boy with questions about God and the purpose of life. His thirst for truth as a youth led to deep convictions as an adult. Since joining the Church, Collis has devoted his professional life to protecting the rights of others to also find and live what they believe.
Here we have a man who has pondered, prayed and come to this deep conviction about the existence of God one way or the other, who is willing to stand by that conviction, no matter what. That's a man of integrity. That's a man of honesty. That's the very type of person we want, right? Serving on juries and being a witness in court. It's the opposite of someone who doesn't have that deep conviction, who's willing to just throw away whatever they believe, just to get a job.
You can find Steven's new book, "Deep Conviction," here.
You can read more about Steven's conversion here.
5:16- His Conversion
17:33-Anti-establishment and Free Exercise
20:05- Atheism as a religion
24:44-The Value of Belief
26:33- Why the Church Cares
31:17- Early Latter-day Saint Legal Cases
36:01- The 11th Article of Faith
38:58- What does it mean to you be "All In" the gospel of Jesus Christ?
0:00 Morgan Jones: A Catholic priest in 1813, an atheist in 1959, a Klamath Indian man in 1989, a Jehovah's Witness in 2010 and a Christian Baker in 2017. What do all these people share in common? In his new book "Deep Conviction," Steven Collis explains, "What binds the stories together from a dusty prison in 1813 Manhattan to a cake shop in Lakewood, Colorado, is one unbreakable thread that stretches and twines across the United States. The principle that religious liberty is liberty for all of us, one that births other liberties, one that allowed the formation of the most religiously diverse country on Earth, one that protects us regardless of our beliefs, and one we must not take for granted." Stephen Collis is an equity partner for the law firm Holland & Hart and chairs the firm's nationwide religious institutions and First Amendment practice group. He received an undergraduate degree from Brigham Young University before graduating with a master's degree from Virginia Commonwealth University and a juris doctorate from the University of Michigan Law School. This summer, he will join Stanford Law School where he will be a research fellow and executive director of Stanford's Constitutional Law Center. He and his wife are the parents of four children.
1:38 This is "All In," an LDS living podcast where we ask the question, what does it really mean to be "All In" the Gospel of Jesus Christ? I'm Morgan Jones and I'm thrilled to have Steven Collis here with me today. Steven, welcome.
1:54 Steven Collis: Thanks for having me. Glad to be here.
1:56 MJ: I love what you've done with this book; you've essentially taken four cases that deal with religious liberty and made them into novel-like reading? Why was that important in what you were doing with writing "Deep Conviction"?
2:11 SC: Well, I am a storyteller at heart. My background is in creative writing and writing fiction. And it's funny when I first pitched the book about religious freedom to various publishers, I had pitched it as kind of just a straight religious freedom explained for non-lawyers and all of the publishers came back and said, "That would be the most boring thing on earth."
2:30 MJ: They're like, not interested.
2:32 SC: Yeah, right. And then my current publisher, Shadow Mountain, reached out maybe three months later and said, "Well, would you be interested in telling stories?" and I was both pleased and ashamed, ashamed that I had not come up with that idea on my own because I love telling stories and writing fiction, and pleased with the idea. So I said, "Yeah, I'd love to do that. And I put down the stories, put them together, pitched some of my writing to them and they loved it. And that's kind of where it came from. But what I realized very quickly is just the way you can bring these cases to life and help readers really be in the shoes of the people experiencing them really makes it compelling reading. It's like reading, you know, "Seabiscuit" or "Unbroken," by Laura Hillenbrand, books like that. That's the style of writing that I was going for here.
3:15 MJ: Yeah, you do a great job. I love, I feel like it's very visual, you can see certain parts of the stories. And I think that you did a beautiful job on that. I think that there are, I think sometimes when we talk about religious liberty, we're like, oh, that's like a snooze fest, you know? But first of all, for those listening, that may be like, "I don't want to hear a podcast about religious liberty," why should people care about this topic?
3:44 SC: Well, religious freedom protects every single person living in this country, regardless of their beliefs, or non-beliefs. And we as a country are kind of losing sight of that. And what's at risk then is all of our freedoms. And we don't have to look very far to see what happens when those freedoms go away. Human history is filled with bloodshed, up to and including today in other countries, where religious freedom has not been recognized. So I think it's important for people to care about it and understanding it. Also, there's a misconception today that when people hear the phrase "religious freedom," they think it's just code word for allowing people to discriminate. That's not what it is. And that's not how it works. And my hope is that people will just enjoy this book as just great, compelling, fast-paced reading. But my my bigger hope, also is that they'll takeaway from it a better understanding of what religious freedom is and the role it's played in our country.
4:35 MJ: Well, that leads directly into what my next question was going to be. What are some of the most common misperceptions about religious freedom
4:46 SC: Around the year 2019 at least, I think the most common misperception is, is what I just said that religious freedom is code to allow people to discriminate particularly against the LGBT community. The reality is that religious freedom is not that first of all, and it is infinitely more than that. Religious Freedom is what allows us to survive peacefully, in the most religiously diverse country in human history. And so I think that's the biggest misconception right now. There are others, but I think that that's the biggest.
5:16 MJ: Okay. So, for you personally, Steven, your experience with having the right to worship how you choose, began when you were in high school, and you began investigating The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. Can you tell us a little bit about that?
5:35 SC: So I grew up in a home in a little town in New Mexico, it was probably 90%, 95% Catholic, there was a number of atheists and non-believers in my hometown, and then just a smattering of other religions. The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints has an incredibly small presence there. And when I was going through high school, there was maybe only one actively involved family, maybe two in the whole high school. I grew up in a family that was mostly not religious at all. My dad was a lapsed Catholic and really didn't have any involvement with the Catholic Church. My mom really didn't have much religious participation whatsoever. And as I got into high school, my high school at the time and continues to this day had the highest teen pregnancy rate of any high school in the country, which is a pretty staggering number if you think about it, but it's the result of a certain lifestyle that was pretty prevalent in the high school. When I got to high school, I didn't feel comfortable with that lifestyle, but I didn't really have a good reason for why I didn't feel comfortable. So I didn't drink. I didn't smoke. I didn't go to the parties. I didn't sleep around. And as a result I ended up not having a lot of friends. I had some very close friends but I wasn't spending a lot of time on the weekends in various settings. What I ended up spending my time doing is playing basketball. And then alone at night, each night, studying about different religions. About my junior year in high school, I started to look around and think there's got to be more to life than what I'm experiencing so far. There's got to be a deeper meaning and purpose. So I studied a lot of different religions, Buddhism, Islam, you know, mainstream Christianity, Hinduism, Taoism, which you could argue if that's a religion or not, but a lot of different traditions. And I just didn't find anything, they all spoke to me and they all had great things that I learned, but none of them really resonated as something that I felt like was the truth that I was going to live my life by. And interestingly enough, my friend's gonna kill me if if he ever hears this, but interestingly enough, I met two members of the Church. This family had moved into my town and I met two members of the church who were different, I noticed right away that they didn't drink, and they didn't swear. And just the way they lived their lives was different on the track team.
7:46 MJ: You're like, these are my people.
7:48 SC: Right. So I said, so I started gravitating towards them, we started spending a lot of time together. And I asked one of them for a copy of the Book of Mormon. So you have to think about that for a second. You know, I went up to him and I said, like, you know, I'm studying all these different religions. I don't drink. I don't smoke. I'd love to study your religion. Can I have a copy of the Book of Mormon? He's like, sure. And then he never gave it to me. And then he left on his mission. So I guarantee you, he didn't meet anyone on his mission more ready than I was to hear that message. So to this day, I give him a hard time. And he always asks me, "Do you have to bring that up?" And I'm like, "It's too funny. I can't not bring that up."
8:23 MJ: Yeah. It's like, that's what people dream about, like having that moment handed to you on a silver platter and then he dropped the ball. Name and shame. Just kidding.
8:32 SC: There will be no naming but I just thought it was funny. So anyway, a year later, we're in school. Here I have been secretly studying all these religions. And my best friend was trying his best to get the interest of this one active Latter-day Saint girl. So we all ended up hanging out together. And she invited us all to come to church. So when she invited me, I said, you know, basically, in my mind, I was thinking, "Wow, you know, I thought this would never happen, I thought you'd never asked, you know...because he never gave me the Book of Mormon. I kept thinking like, what kind of stuck up religion is this? You know, they won't let me come. But she invited me, I was thrilled to go. I went and the ward there, at the time especially, it was more really just a branch. I mean, it's a very small chapel, very small congregation. But when I went and what was happening is she was speaking that Sunday. And so she invited a whole bunch of us to come and speak and incidentally, incidentally, I should say, she, as kind of one of the only active members in the whole high school had just moved there and was actually feeling very lonely. And so she was praying, to find someone that she could just talk to about the gospel that she could share, you know, spiritual conversations with and she had that in the place that they had moved from. Her family had moved from the Dallas area where there were lots of active members, to a place where there really weren't any, so she was desperately praying for that. Here I was seeking for something, not knowing what I was seeking for, right? So she invited me and a group of us to go hear her speak. And I went, and I just had the most powerful feeling when I was there, listening to her speak, and I don't remember a thing she said, and I don't remember what anyone else said that day. But what I remember is having this feeling as if there was this, during the closing hymn, as if there was this massive choir singing, right? And I look back and I know there couldn't have been a choir there. But that's the way it felt. I know now that that was the Holy Spirit. But at the time, I didn't know what it was, I just wanted to learn more. And so I asked for a Book of Mormon. This time, they gave it to me. And I was able to start studying. I investigated the Church for about nine months, along with other religions at the time. And this is where religious freedom comes into it. During that period, a lot of other people found out that I was studying about the Church. And they tried to persuade me not to join the Church. And so I found myself in the middle of lot of different arguments from different people, right? Atheists, Catholics, people who maybe weren't...just agnostic, all arguing and making their arguments, and I was taking them all in and listening. That was religious freedom, for me, in my life at the time, it was an environment where the government was playing no role whatsoever in trying to persuade me, which put everyone on an equal playing field, to try to teach and persuade and argue against each other. And I thought it was great, all these friends are doing it out of my best interest. And they were all trying to teach and persuade. And the reason religious freedom played such a big role is religious freedom is all about an environment where government plays no role in prohibiting, or promoting religion, as much as possible government stays out of it, if that makes sense. That's really what religious freedom is. So here, all of us were in a school, where you had one student praying and seeking, living her religion and trying to find someone that she could talk to about her faith. You had me there in a public school, a government setting, searching all these different religions, and you had a whole bunch of other people from other faiths and what we might consider non-faiths doing their own preaching. And all of us were able to do all of that activity without public school teachers, or any form of government playing any role whatsoever. And I should emphasize, it would have been easy for a public school teacher in that setting to play a role. There were plenty of times where we were all together in one classroom, and I was asking questions of everybody, and everyone was making their arguments. And a teacher could have said, "Ah, what she said there doesn't make any sense." To their great credit, none of the teachers ever did that. They left all of us without government influence to really explore these things. So I continued to explore. And time passed, and I was worried that the only reason I really, that the church was resonating with me was because I really liked the people I was meeting from the Church. And that was a worry to me, I wasn't going to change my life and convert to a religion, simply because I liked the people in it. That wasn't enough, I needed more. Meanwhile, I was being challenged to pray and ask Heavenly Father if what I was learning was real. I didn't even know if I truly believed in a God at the time, much less a God who answered prayers, that was a very unique idea to me. And, you know, a God that answered prayers in the sense of, you could actually have feelings right from him. That was just something that was completely foreign to me. But I was trying it, I was willing to give it a try.
13:34 And time passed. Eventually, there were no full-time missionaries in this little town for most of the time that I was learning about the church, which was actually a really good thing for me, because I did not want to be pressured. And missionaries operate on very short timelines, right? They're worried about their next transfer. And so they're always pushing, pushing, pushing. I did not, I did not want to be pushed, and I don't think I would have reacted well to that. So I actually do think it was a tremendous blessing that at the time, the mission president had not assigned anyone to that area. Near the end of this nine months, missionaries finally were assigned and they challenged me to fast about everything that I was learning. And I agreed to do that, I figured I can try, I'd never fasted before, it seemed like kind of, I'll be honest, it seemed like kind of a strange thing to me. It wasn't something that our family ever did. But I decided I would do it. And so I fasted for 24 hours or you know, two meals within 24 hours and then I was done. I prayed really trying to know if the things I was learning truly were from God. And keep in mind during this whole time, I was taking discussions with the ward mission leader and his family and really learning about doctrines and what not and comparing them. I was listening to lots of anti-church material and reading those materials, people were giving me videos, I would actually take that to this ward mission leader, and we'd pop in the anti-church videos. And we just go through them point by point, learn about them and talk about them. I had concerns about, you know, certain aspects of church history, I mean, all the things that we've all heard about, I had concerns about all of that, and slowly went through it. And then I got to this point where I was fasting, and nothing happened during the fast. It ended, I went to Taco Bell and got dinner, you know, there was nothing amazing that happened. But two days later, I was sitting at home with my best friend who was not a member of the Church. And we were just having a conversation, just talking, I don't remember what we were talking about. But right in that moment, I had this experience, where I saw in my mind's eye, what my life would be like with the Church and what my life would be like without it. It was a very powerful moment for me. And what I saw with my life with the Church was, you know, warm family relationships, loving family relationships, the kind of warmth that comes if you're truly doing your best to really live the gospel, what I saw, what my life would be like, without the Church, was a lot of coldness quite frankly. I saw worldly success but I saw a broken family, and a lot of heartache. And, you know, I look I'm not going to suggest that that's what would happen to everyone who joins the church, it was very personal to me. And knowing my personality now, it doesn't surprise me what I saw that day. But at the time, I had this just really quick moment of seeing this for myself. And I knew right then I needed to get baptized because I wanted the one and not the other. And so I told everyone in my family and started telling my friends. I was baptized, actually, it was 23 years ago this month that I joined the church. And what's neat now is 23 years later to look at my life and to see it playing out what I saw that night, that has actually been a really neat experience for me. And I'd been given a very rare gift to see what my life would have been like without the Church. So that that is how I joined the church in a nutshell. And the beauty of it from a religious freedom standpoint, is what I said earlier: I was allowed to do that, I was allowed to explore, and listen to arguments from all sides. My friends of all different faiths and backgrounds were allowed to persuade me. This young woman who was a member of the church was allowed to proselytize and live her religion so that I was attracted to how she was living her life. And government allowed all of that to happen. In this case, government manifested itself in the form of a public school. But all of that was allowed to happen on an equal playing field. And that really is what religious freedom is at the end of the day.
17:33 MJ: Yeah, I think that's such a powerful example. And I, there are so many points that I love about it. But I think the fact that you had that experience, and I was going to ask, has your life measured up to what you saw that night but you said that it has that you've seen that play out, and I think as a high school student, what an incredible experience to have. So I want to delve a little bit deeper into this idea of religious freedom. I feel like, like I said earlier, that this is a topic that we sometimes shy away from, maybe because we don't completely understand it. But I love how in the book, you explain that it's really embodied in two important principles working together: anti-establishment and free exercise. Can you explain to listeners what those two things mean?
18:27 SC: Sure. So there are two clauses in the constitution that really form the bedrock for religious freedom. One is the Free Exercise Clause. And that basically limits how much government can burden our exercise of our religion. How much it burdens that is something scholars debate, and we don't need to get into but it limits that. The other clause is called the establishment clause and that essentially prevents the government from establishing a state religion at base. That's what it does. Now, again, scholars debate how far that goes. But at the minimum, that's what it does. So if you take those two clauses together and the principles that come from them, what that means is, we live in a world where, or we should live in a world if religious freedom is truly thriving, where government is not burdening people's exercise of their religion and government is not promoting any one religion or religious beliefs above another. I like to think of it as like two pillars standing together. And those two pillars together are supporting religious freedom. If you knocked out one of those pillars, you're probably going to lose religious freedom. In other words, it's not enough just to say, we're not going to let government burden people's exercise with their religion, but we are going to let government favor one religion over all the others. If government starts to favor one religion over all the others, it's just been proven that the very next step is to burden the exercise of all the other religions, you really have to have both pillars in play to support religious freedom. The United States is probably closer than any other country in the world at actually achieving that but even then, we're not perfect, but by and large, we've done it. And that's how we've been able to live in peace alongside each other as long as we have.
20:05 MJ: Yeah. I love in the book, you give an example of, you give several examples of people with different, various religions. The book opens with an introduction about a woman who's a Jehovah's Witness. And I thought that story was fascinating. Those listening should read the book to get that one. But another example is of an atheist who needed religious freedom, the protection of religious freedom, and I think that that's fascinating, because I don't think that we think of an atheist needing that protection. Can you kind of summarize that case, and give us a little bit of an explanation of why religious freedom was needed in that situation?
20:49 SC: Sure. And in case I forget, I would also like to flesh out a little bit why, for religious freedom purposes, we have to think of atheism as a religion. So if I don't do that, remind me but but let me flush out the story a little bit. So Roy Torcaso was a middle aged father in Maryland. He was a good man, he was a dedicated father and husband, he loved chess, he actually refinished his basement to turn it into a giant chessboard with like, giant, you know, four foot high chess pieces so he could play chess with his son down there. He was a veteran of two world wars, he'd served his country faithfully served in both World War II and the Korean War. And he also had spent a lot of time pondering religion, including trying to pray, studying scripture, really trying to figure out his place in the universe, quite frankly, just the same way I was. And at that point in his life, he had come to the conclusion that there was no God, it was something he had spent a lot of time thinking about, and pondering and praying. He was asked by his employer to become a notary public, because it would help him get a job promotion. And do better for his work. So he goes to do that which, you know, notary public is not, it's not the most high profile job, should be relatively easy to do. But when you go down to the courthouse, they asked him to sign an oath. And the oath was, you know, to be loyal to the Constitution of the United States, loyal to the Constitution of the State of Maryland. But it also, there was one sentence required that said, he had to sign something that said, You know, "I do declare that I have a belief in a supreme being." And that's where he couldn't do it, he couldn't sign that document. And he wasn't going to lie and say that he believed something he didn't just to get the job promotion. So if you think about it, his situation is just like what anyone's situation is when it comes to religious belief. He was being asked to either lie, and say he believed something he didn't just to get a job, or to not be able to get the job because of his religious beliefs. So he put the pen down, he said, I'm not going to do this. And he eventually then filed a lawsuit that went all the way to the US Supreme Court. You needed religious freedom there to protect him. Just like anyone else would need religious freedom to protect them when they're being asked to say that they believe something that they don't just to get a job. And we see that same scenario play being played out, right up until our present day, certain people being denied certain professions, because they don't share the beliefs of the majority around them. And the atheist needed that protection. In that case, Roy Torcaso did, just like a member of the Church might today or people of any other number of religious beliefs might today. To get back to the point of why we think of atheism as a religion. If you stop and think about it for a second, first of all, I think that describing his story should help people understand more why his beliefs should be protected, just like we would protect any other religious beliefs. My personal view is that, to be an atheist requires just as much faith as to believe in a God. Right? You can't prove it one way or another so you're both taking an act of faith there. And so the two religious beliefs from a legal standpoint are co-equal. But there's another reason you have to treat atheism as a religion. If you don't, then you could essentially establish atheism as the state religion. Right? If atheism is not considered a religious belief, atheists would get no protection under the Free Exercise Clause. And the rest of society would get no protection from atheism under the Establishment Clause. And that's not some fantasy that we don't need to worry about. That is precisely what the Soviet Union tried to do during the Soviet era, they established atheism as the state religion and then use that to crush all other forms of other believers. So you have to treat really any religious belief the same under the religion clauses if we each want to be protected. And if we each want to be protected from everyone else.
24:44 MJ: Yeah, I love this example. And I love in the book, you say "there were many sacrifices he would make for his family," referring to Roy, "but signing a document saying he believed something he didn't was too much, in fact, he believed it would harm his family. He set the pen on the paper and informed the clerk that he would be happy to sign the oath without the declaration that he believed in the existence of God." And that made me think, what is the value of belief? Whatever our belief is, what is the value of that? Do you have any thoughts on that?
25:20 SC: Well, what's going through my mind and I don't know if I'm addressing your question exactly, so feel free to ask it if I'm not. But I think the value here for someone like Roy, who had this deep conviction that there was no God was that he was a man of integrity, and good character. So later on, somebody made the argument that if you don't believe in God, you can't be someone who truly has integrity and good character, and therefore you shouldn't go to get these other jobs, and you shouldn't be able to ever be a witness in court, and you shouldn't be able to ever serve on a jury. And later on, one of the Justices of the Supreme Court pushed back on that and said the exact opposite. They said, here we have a man who has pondered, prayed and come to this deep conviction about the existence of God one way or the other, who is willing to stand by that conviction, no matter what. That's a man of integrity. That's a man of honesty. That's the very type of person we want, right? Serving on juries and being a witness in court. It's the opposite of someone who doesn't have that deep conviction, who's willing to just throw away whatever they believe, just to get a job.
26:30 MJ: To sign their name on the line.
26:32 SC: Yeah, just lie whatever they want to need to do to progress in their career. Those aren't the people we want. So this type of requirement at the time, wasn't really achieving what people might argue it would achieve, but what it was actually doing is encouraging people to either be dishonest, right? Or it was punishing people just because of their religious beliefs, which is something that is completely opposite of religious freedom.
26:33 MJ: Yeah, I think this is a perfect segueway into why does the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints care about religious freedom, and become involved in protecting it? We just recently saw an example of this in the opposition of the Equality Act, and reemphasizing the Church's position of fairness for all. On the surface, it seems that this bill is all about LGBT rights. Why could this bill affect religious liberty? And why was it important to the Church to become involved?
27:33 SC: Right, and I should emphasize, you know, I don't, even in my calling, I don't I don't speak for the Church. And I don't represent the Church in any capacity. So I can only guess that why the church is taking the position it is but having said that, there is something that we scholars in this field refer to as the Puritan mistake. And when we when we talk about the Puritans, we often say that they came here for religious freedom. And it's true, they did, they came to these shores for religious freedom. But the reality is they came really only for religious freedom for themselves. As far as they were concerned, everybody else could just move out of Massachusetts. Right? That was a mistake. They wanted liberty for themselves, but not for anybody else. And so scholars refer to it as the Puritan mistake. And by the way, it's not just the Puritans, my experience has been pretty much every religious group in human history makes that mistake long before the Puritans came along.
28:26 MJ: And long after.
28:27 SC: And long after. The Church, I think, is consciously aware of the tendency for people to make that mistake and is trying to avoid it here. So the Equality Act, they don't oppose, the Church does not oppose, and I think they were very clear about this in the statement, the Church does not oppose the protections for LGBT individuals. And I think the Church supports equal protection under the law for LGBT individuals, as do I. The problem with the current iteration of the Equality Act is that it is only protecting one side, it's protecting LGBT individuals, but it explicitly is jettisoning all sorts of religious freedom protections that are currently in place. That is a bill that exemplifies in many respects the Puritan mistake, you've got two swaths of society with very different beliefs regarding the morality of certain behavior, and you have a statute in place that's protecting one side of that, and not the other side. Now, we see this writ large across the United States, right now. In red states, there's all sorts of protections in place for religious freedom. And there's no protections in place for LGBT individuals. In blue states, there's all sorts of protections for LGBT individuals, and no protections for religious freedom. And we see this across the United States, there's only one state in the entire country that's been able to find a compromise, and that's Utah of all places. And it was because of the Church's position on this. The Church said, "Look, there's got to be a way to find a way to protect both sides." They were able to do it here. At the time that bill passed in Utah when they reached this compromise, there were more protections in place for LGBT individuals here than there were in the state of New York.
30:10 MJ: Wow!
30:11 SC: You have to let that sink in for a little bit. But that's pretty amazing. And it's because the Church looked at this and backed it, and then the legislature followed suit. Now, there's no other state in the Union where one organization like the Church has that type of influence so it's going to be very difficult to achieve that in other states. What we see in all these other states is the Puritan mistake happening. If it's in red states, it's happening one way, and if it's blue states, it's happening the other way. The question is, can we as a society, overcome the Puritan mistake, and find a way to try to protect all sides? It is possible, it has been done. We've done it throughout United States history and my hope is that we can do it in this context, as well. But I think that's why the Church took the position it did. The Church's position is we can protect everyone. Let's do that. Let's not just protect one side. So to flip it on its head if a statute were passed tomorrow that only protected religious freedom, and completely abandoned any protection whatsoever of LGBT rights, I don't think the Church would support that either. Now, again, I don't speak for the Church. But their position is we can achieve fairness for all.
31:17 MJ: Right. I think another thing that was interesting to me in the book that you pointed out is that the cases that have affected the law most regarding religious freedom involved members of our Church.
31:34 SC: Early on, yes, that's true. So when when you see religious freedom taught in America's law schools, you inevitably have to talk about what they call the Mormon cases. And oftentimes, if I'm speaking to a mostly LDS audience, or Latter-day Saint audience, they will ask me, "Are you only teaching us about these cases, because we're members of the church?" And I say, no. The seminal cases early on in the United States, well it wasn't that early on, in (the) 1890s dealing with the religion clauses, and in particular, the Free Exercise Clause were the cases involving The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints and the practice of plural marriage. Those cases defined religious freedom law in the United States, really until about the 1960s. So they were the first real tests in the Supreme Court of the religious freedom clauses. And those decisions, the rulings from the Supreme Court governed everything, until about the 1960s. Today, most scholars agree that most of those cases are probably considered bad law. But there's one—Reynolds vs. United States that is still regularly cited by courts as being good law and it's a constant source of debate as to whether or not that's the case, that (it) should be cited or not, but they inform everything that's going on in the United States right now.
32:53 MJ: So what was that case?
32:55 SC: All of those cases dealt with the question of whether or not the Church should be able to engage in the practice of plural marriage, even though there were laws, laws banning it. And I should say, all of these religious Free Exercise cases follow an almost identical pattern. You have a majority who passes a bill to meet some government interest that they're worried about and that bill, that law doesn't affect 99% of the people. That's why it got past and then you have some small religious group, or sometimes maybe even a bigger religious group, that it does affect, that the law affects. And that religious group then asks for protection from the law. Every single case, going back to the founding of our country pretty much follows that same pattern, and the cases involving the Church in the 1890s, it was the same pattern, government had passed the law, banning bigamy, it was called the anti-bigamy laws. The church was saying, under the Constitution, we should get a religious exemption for religious freedom purposes from this, and the Supreme Court came in and said no, now in one of the rulings that the Supreme Court issued, they essentially gutted completely any protection for religious freedom. And it was a case called Davis V. Beason, and in which essentially, the Supreme Court said, you know, essentially, if your religious beliefs or practices are repugnant enough to the majority, then we don't care, you don't get the exemption, you don't get the religious exemption. Thomas Jefferson had some writing once where if you read it, there's kind of a continuum he talks about, and at the top of it is conduct. And at the bottom of it is belief. And then in between, there's things like speech and membership in a church, that kind of stuff. And he said, Look, you know, we all agree that government has the right to regulate religious conduct. If I have a religious belief that says I've got to sacrifice a child, we would all agree that the government can stop me from doing that. So conduct can be regulated, right? But as you go down the continuum to belief, the government's authority to regulate should decrease. So what Jefferson said is once you get down to belief government should not be regulating anything, people can believe that they want to believe, right? In Davis v. Beason, and in 1890, the Supreme Court essentially said, we can regulate you all the way down to belief. And there was an Idaho statute that said, if you're a member of the Church, or if, if you believe even in a church that teaches plural marriage, you can't vote. And the Supreme Court upheld that. So that today, that's the kind of case that I think today is probably bad law. But at the time, it gutted religious freedom, what it meant was, look, if your beliefs are repugnant enough, we can regulate you, and the government can, can come in and crush you essentially. And thankfully, we've moved away from that but that did define the law for a very long period. And it hurt a lot of people, not just members of the Church, that way of thinking crushed a lot of Native American religions in our country to devastating effect and I write about that in one of the stories in the book, actually, one of the stories is about a Klamath Indian man who had to survive through that.
36:03 MJ: So in conclusion, Steven, I just have two final questions for you. One, this is something that we have talked about in our office recently, and I just selfishly want to get your thoughts on it. But going back again, to the early days of the Church, in the 11th Article of Faith, Joseph Smith wrote, "We claim the privilege of worshiping Almighty God according to the dictates of our own conscience, and allow all men the same privilege, let them worship, how, where or what they may." My co-worker Kensie recently told me that she had been thinking about that Article of Faith and she realized that it applies not only to those who believe in other religions, different religions than we do, but that it also applies to those within our faith and how they choose to exercise their faith and how they live it. How are we seeing the importance of that Article of Faith playing out today in your mind?
37:01 SC: Well, I think the principles from it are absolutely crucial. We live in a world today where the internet really is dividing people. And actually, the CEO of Apple, just yesterday, was speaking at Tulane University's graduation ceremony. And he talked about, he explicitly said, "My generation has failed you." And the reason he said that was he said that social media streams are designed to feed you more of what you're already interested in. What that means, from an ideological perspective, is you just keep getting fed more and more and more of what you think you already know. And you're never challenged to look at anything else, right? We all see the outcome of that. We have, as a society, a very hard time letting other people just live their beliefs the way they want to. There's a grand American tradition of live and let live. And we're struggling with that right now. That article of faith, I think, is the answer to that problem. The question is, of course, can we all free ourselves from the way social media and another things are manipulating us to allow that to happen?
38:04 MJ: To open our minds.
38:05 SC: Yeah and just be willing to understand other people's point of view, doesn't mean you have to compromise your own beliefs but you have to at least spend the time to hear other people's point of view and understand where they're coming from and what their concerns are, you know, and we struggle with that as a society right now.
38:21 MJ: Yeah, absolutely. Speaking of that, I saw a social media post just the other day, and it said, This is my opinion on this, I don't want to hear your opinion, this is not an invitation to hear your opinion. But this is mine. And I thought, "Come on, you've got to listen, you've got to be willing to not only offer your opinion, but also to hear the opinions of others." And that's how we inform our beliefs, right? If we just get served, like you said, the same beliefs that we already have, then there's no way to become more educated.
39:00 MJ: In conclusion, Steven, I just the last question that I have for you. And first of all, I appreciate so much your time and being willing to share something that you clearly know so much about with us. But in conclusion, what does it mean to you to be all in the Gospel of Jesus Christ?
39:18 SC: The reason I called the book "Deep Conviction," I mean, there were marketing reasons, but one of the reasons as well was because in order to do what you were just talking about, for example, having the confidence to or being able to listen to what other people have to say, and to be able to live in a society where you're comfortable not trying to use government to force yourself on other people, and to force your beliefs and other people, you really do have to have a deep conviction in your beliefs and a competence that they can hold their own on an equal playing field. Right? So it's this question of testimony and the difference between testimony and conversion, right? And getting to the point where you're so confident in your beliefs that you know you don't need government to back you and to oppress others, that you're willing to listen to other people's points of view, and know that that's not going to be a threat to you, in any way, right? I think for members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, we, as much as anyone on earth, have all the reason in the world to want to play on an equal playing field, to not want to use government to try to get an upper hand in the religious debates of our day. If we're all in on the gospel of Jesus Christ, we should know that just like my experience back in my high school, that we can all be on an equal playing field, and allow the beauty of the doctrines, and the spirit that people feel when they hear them, allow that to do the work and not try to use religion. It takes deep conviction to take that attitude. And I think you get that deep conviction by being all in in the Gospel of Jesus Christ and really trying to live it as best you can. It also takes deep conviction to stand up for your beliefs when someone else is trying to oppress them and use government against you. In both instances, you've got to have the competence that a power greater than yourself is going to be backing you. And I think that comes from Living the Gospel all in.
41:25 MJ: Thank you so much. Thank you for being here and for all of the work that you're doing to to share this. Thank you.
41:35 SC: Thanks for having me.
41:38 MJ: Thank you to Stephen Collis for joining us on this week's episode of "All In" and thank you for listening. You can find Steven's new book, "Deep Conviction" in Deseret Bookstores now. Thank you so much for continuing to listen, for leaving ratings and reviews and for sharing this podcast with your friends. I appreciate it more than you know and am so glad that we can keep this going. Stay with us. There's more great stuff to come!