Don't be mean. Remember to vote. Value and defend freedom of speech and of religion. Find hope in the Lord. These are several of the words of wisdom Elder Dallin H. Oaks, member of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, shared at Tuesday's BYU Devotional in the Marriott Center.
Elder Oaks emphasized the distress he feels when institutions, political or other, infringe upon free speech, free association and the free exercise of religion. While giving a few examples within higher education, Elder Oaks argued there are many other examples within the media, arts, business and politics. Within higher education, he cited examples of universities labeling opposition arguments as hate speech, establishing institutionalized 'free speech zones' on campus while the rest of campus is a 'restricted speech zone' and advocating the right not to be offended in the public square and on campuses.
"Free speech has always been highly valued in education, but open inquiry and communication are currently being replaced on too many campuses by a culture of intellectual conformity and the silencing or intimidation of opposition," he said. "This culture even includes formal or informal punishment of those with political views not currently in favor."
He pointed to BYU as an example of a university that should remain free to pursue its mission and define the freedoms necessary to achieve that mission. Combining the two brings great responsibility and some limitations.
"Those special responsibilities include some limits on academic freedom," he said. "Limitations are common to all universities... but BYU’s limitations are express and well publicized... In that context, BYU students commit to a Code of Honor that prohibits speech that is dishonest, illegal, profane, or unduly disrespectful of others. The limitations on faculty expression apply to expression that 'seriously and adversely affects the University or the Church.'"
These limitations put very few restrictions on individual freedom of expression, perhaps even fewer than at other universities, Elder Oaks said.
"In many ways academic freedom at BYU exceeds that at many colleges and universities that pretend to have unqualified academic freedom," he said.
Elder Oaks suggested to students, many who may be first time voters, to be part of the political process by understanding the issues and the candidates, in both national and local elections.
"We have the responsibility to become informed about the issues and candidates and to independently exercise our right to vote," he said. "Voters, remember, this applies to candidates for the many important local and state offices, as well as the contested presidential election."
Elder Oaks discussed how the current elections, especially at the presidential level, have brought about contention and meanness. He suggested that we should refrain from such negativity.
"We should also remember not to be part of the current meanness. We should communicate about our differences with a minimum of offense," said Elder Oaks. "If the Church or its doctrines are attacked in blogs and other social media, contentious responses are not helpful. They disappoint our friends and provoke our adversaries.... [In] public discourse, we should follow the gospel teachings to love our neighbor and avoid contention. We should be examples of civility. We should love all people, be good listeners, and show concern for their sincere beliefs."
Regardless of what challenges we face by putting trust in the Lord, His message of hope will bring peace, Elder Oaks promised.
"With faith and hope and with God’s help, we will prevail against our challenges," he said. "As Elder Kim B. Clark told your teachers and leaders a few weeks ago, BYU and its values are under attack. We are all being asked to do hard things, for which we need 'greater faith in the Lord Jesus Christ,' who 'will open doors that are closed. He will inspire and guide and provide. He is in charge.'"
Elder Oaks concluded by listing five ways to continue to develop hope and defend our freedoms:
Concentrate on what we have in common with our neighbors and fellow citizens
Strive for mutual understanding and treat all with goodwill
Speak out for religion and the importance of religious freedom