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Research and Projects


The RFHD student fellows engage in various projects to further their understanding of global issues—past, present, and future— and promote initiative interests regarding religious freedom and human dignity to the wider community. These endeavors include, but are not limited to: international case studies, conference reports, research papers, and attendance to seminars, symposiums, and dialogues that seek to advance awareness for domestic and global events.

Case Studies and Country Profiles

Student fellows contribute to the ICLRS (International Center for Law and Religious Studies) international database. These profiles attempt to identify the government framework for addressing religious issues and religious organizations in all major countries in an overview, not in-depth analysis.

Research Papers in Progress

  • Mila Stanley, Troy E. Smith, and Michael G. Murdock

    Proposal: Human dignity and religious liberty are principal concepts and fundamental values in many global and domestic forums. Yet, on some occasions, they stand in contrast to one another and create rather than ease tensions. This is particularly evident in some disputes between The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints and LGBTQ+ groups. Claims from both sides are often based on diverse definitions of human dignity (that is, what defines individual worth and humiliation), and very different worldviews. We propose to unpack many of those definitions and worldviews to better understand the differences, disagreements, and commonalities. By doing so we hope to promote more understanding, civil, and compassionate dialogue consistent with human dignity and religious liberty. To do this, we draw on a framework developed by Doron Shultziner and Itai Rabinovici with fundamentals of human dignity based on the findings of Leon Kass and associated authors. This approach allows an objective assessment of the debate that does not take sides or seek to advance the agenda of either group.

  • Thomas Nebeker and Troy E. Smith

    Proposal: In our modern era, most see liberty and freedom as interchangeable. Yet, a clear distinction between liberty and freedom was understood at the beginning of the United States’ political development. Restoring that distinction and favoring religious freedom may foster self-restraint, responsibility, and a more friendly, accommodating environment that respects differences. Religious liberty is usually understood as a type of civil liberty. Civil liberties are areas protected from government interference. Civil liberties are based in a legal or constitutional framework often resulting from a philosophy of liberalism. Liberalism comes from the word liberty, which means unattached or without restraint, and favors an emphasis on individualism, autonomy, and “authenticity”. Civil liberties tend to create an idea of entitlement to do as one wishes without restraint from government or others and can become quite extreme. Few actions, however, impact only the actor(s). Even religious practices may have consequences and repercussions that affect others beyond that religious community. If severe enough, those consequences can justify government or other external interventions that restrict religious practices. In contrast, freedom comes from the same root as friend, and entails belonging, attachment, responsibility, and a relationship between free people. Freedom acknowledges the existence of others and the responsibility to recognize their dignity and rights. Understood in this way, religious freedom values the free exercise of religion, while expecting its practice to be respectful of others, and generally accommodating differences with others without compromising essential principles. Religious freedom is more durable and less extreme, because it requires and supports a friendly environment that respects and accommodates differences.

  • Troy E. Smith, Michael Murdock, and Jennifer Kajiyama-Tinkham

    Research Question: Does discrimination against LGBTQ+ members by religious organizations violate Christian love, freedom, or human dignity?

    Religious liberty and human dignity are fundamental and cherished values. Yet, occasionally these values appear to contradict each other. For example, respecting the dignity of some may appear to require restricting others participation and practice. Often these conflicts are created by a superficial understanding of these values. The problem was demonstrated by some of the reactions to a speech given by Elder Holland on August 23 at Brigham Young University in Provo. A specific question raised by that speech and the reactions to it is this: What do Christian love, individual freedom, and human dignity require of Christian organizations? Specifically, do these values preclude distinctive policies by those organizations vis-à-vis LGBTQ+ members?

    In this century the term “exclusive” and its derivatives all carry strong negative connotations. Most view the term to mean discrimination, “treatment of a person or group in unjust or prejudicial manners.” Thus, many took Elder Holland’s remarks as evidence of injustice and prejudice, hypocritically sullying the very notions of Christian love, individual freedom, and human dignity by excluding LGBTQ+ members and their supporters.

    However, exclusivity and concomitant policies that distinguish between the “included” and “excluded” represent the most basic and fundamental “right” of any community. Indeed, the capacity to distinguish separating lines or boundaries is a necessary precondition to the very existence of any and all communities. Every community “differentiates” and “distinguishes.” In this sense, what some decry as “discrimination” is the fundamental power to create a community and build excellence, unity, cohesiveness, uniqueness, and quality within it. This is consistent with the principle of equality, which is to treat like things similarly and unlike things differently. This often laudable form of “discrimination” requires expertise, attention to nuance and context, and consideration of short- and long-term consequences to identify and distinguish between relevant similarities and differences. Without exclusivity, ironically, we have no community.

    Through a close and careful definition and understanding of these three basic values, we conclude that exclusivity by Christian institutions (and specifically the LDS church) does not necessarily violate Christian love, freedom, or dignity. Our argument should not be understood as saying that church policies or actions never violate the fundamental principles of Christian love, freedom or human dignity, rather we are arguing that exclusive terms and boundaries defined by an organization do not inherently violate those fundamental values. In this paper, we do not consider the question of whether a religious institution should discriminate against LGBTQ persons, which is an entirely separate question to be decided by the procedures and processes established by an organization for setting policy.

  • Angela Morales, Taylor Nikolaus and Troy E. Smith

    What is the basis for religious freedom? We think that grounding religious freedom in human dignity and philosophy rather than a legal or constitutional framework provides a more solid foundation, speaks more powerfully to a general and young population, and counters many of the popular beliefs that are increasingly antithetical to religious freedom. In this paper, we explain and examine the scholarly support for the four foundational tenets of the Religious Freedom and Human Dignity Initiative at BYU-Hawaii. That Initiative’s purpose is to advance international awareness and support for religious freedom and human dignity for all. These four foundational tenets are as follows:

    1. The basis of human dignity lies in the human soul — its very being and vitality. Dignity, from the Latin dignitas, means worthiness, distinction, esteem. Each human soul is of invaluable worth and thus equally deserves respect and the freedom to pursue happiness and meaning as they deem best.

    2. Human dignity requires religious freedom. Religious freedom, also known as the free exercise of conscience (D&C 134:2), allows individuals to find and adopt values, ideals and direction that give them meaning and purpose greater than self.

    3. Religious freedom is a foundational freedom that fosters individual and societal flourishing. Where religious liberty is protected, individuals and societies enjoy greater freedoms and security, increased social trust and respect for diversity, higher economic prosperity, and more happiness and peace.

    4. As BYU-H students and members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints, we have the responsibility to promote human dignity and religious liberty. President David O. McKay prophesied that BYU-H would foster peace internationally. Enduring peace requires respecting human dignity and protecting religious freedom. We can fulfill our responsibility to advance peace by understanding the value of human dignity, identifying threats to religious liberty, and developing the skills to be pro-actively engaged in promoting these concepts worldwide.

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Circle logo for the Religious Freedom & Human Dignity Initiative at BYU–H. Includes image of hands holding globe with olive sapling growing out of it.
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"Since Auschwitz, we know what man is capable of. And since Hiroshima, we know what is at stake."
Viktor Frankl
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