Elder Holland Speaks to Law Society on Faith, Family, Religious Freedom
By Jamshid Ghazi Askar, Deseret News
Elder Jeffrey R. Holland of the Quorum of the Twelve addressed the J. Reuben Clark Law Society in Washington, D.C., on February 15 as part of the organization’s annual conference. The event marked the 25th anniversary of the JRCLS—a nondenominational group that encourages attorneys to parlay personal religious conviction into meaningful public service and professional excellence.
“I had the good fortune to be part of the founding of the [Clark] law society during my presidential years at BYU and the creation of its first chapter here in Washington, D.C.,” Elder Holland said during his remarks. “This a particularly sweet moment for me, coming back to the maternity ward where this baby was born and noting what a dazzling 25-year-old that child has become.”
Justice Clarence Thomas of the U.S. Supreme Court also delivered remarks at the conference.
The bulk of Elder Holland’s address centered on three topics—faith, family, and religious freedom—that he described as issues “my Brethren and I talk about a good deal these days as we look at the world around us in the initial years of the 21st century. … They are not necessarily new issues, and they are not uniquely Latter-day Saint in nature, though they may increasingly be ‘latter day’ in nature.”
Faith, Family, Freedom
Elder Holland’s remarks delved into detailed discussions of faith, family, and religious freedom. His speech included the following highlights:
• About faith: Of the rise of atheism and agnosticism, Elder Holland said: “The cultural shift of our day, including in the United States, continues to be characterized by less and less affiliation with organized or institutional religion. ‘In the last five years alone, the [religiously] unaffiliated have increased from just over 15 percent to just under 20 percent of all U.S. adults,’ the Pew Forum on Religious Life recently reported. ‘Their ranks now include more than 13 million self-described atheists and agnostics (nearly 6 percent of the U.S. public), as well as nearly 33 million people (roughly 14 percent) who profess some kind of devotion to things spiritual but say they have no particular religious affiliation with an institutional church. This [trend] is more severe in the younger age ranges, with one-third of all U.S. adults under 30 now counted among the religiously unaffiliated.’ …
“In the face of such waning religiosity or at the very least waning religious affiliation, Latter-day Saints and other churches must be ever more effective in making the persuasive case for why both religious belief and institutional identity are more relevant than ever and deserve continued consideration and privilege within our society. Such appeals, however, will be met with increasingly sophisticated arguments, including from some in the legal profession.”
Elder Holland quoted George Washington, who, in his farewell address, said: “Of all the dispositions and habits which lead to political prosperity, religion and morality are indispensable. … And let us with caution indulge the supposition that morality can be maintained without religion. Whatever may be conceded to the influence of refined education on minds of peculiar structure, reason and experience both forbid us to expect that national morality can prevail in exclusion of religious principle.”
• About family: “According to Professor Amy L. Wax of the University of Pennsylvania Law School, decreasing commitment to traditional marriage and the declining birthrates that go with this pose an urgent and unavoidable challenge both to our continuation as a society and to our very conception of the worth of human existence.”
Further, Elder Holland said: “With current statistics telling us that worldwide there are 40 million abortions per year and that 41 percent of all births in the United States [are] to women who [are] not married, we should be declaring boldly that inherent in the very act of creation is, for both parents, a lifelong commitment to and responsibility for the child they created.
No one can with impunity terminate that life, neglect that care, nor shirk that responsibility. Paul wrote to Timothy, ‘But if any provide not for his own, and specially for those of his own house, he hath denied the faith, and is worse than an infidel.’ If Paul could see our day, surely he would repeat that counsel and would mean more than providing physical nourishment, essential as that is. If we want democracy to work and society to be stable, parents must nourish a child’s mind and heart and spirit as well. Generally speaking, no community of whatever size or definition has enough resources in time, money, or will to make up for what does not happen at home.
“So rather than redefining marriage and family as we see increasing numbers around us trying to do, our age ought to be reinforcing and exalting that which has been the backbone of civilization since the dawn of it.”
• About religious freedom: Elder Holland referred to Dostoevsky’s masterpiece, The Brothers Karamazov, in which the Grand Inquisitor tragically “yields to the thought that the truth which sets us free is too demanding, too insistent, ultimately a bridge too far. But as Christ Himself taught, so say we—that although freedom is demanding it is not ‘too demanding.’ The Father’s plan and His Beloved Son’s gift optimistically endow humans with both the ability and responsibility to make choices with the hope, indeed the confidence, that we will ultimately choose that which benefits the individual and the larger society in which those individuals live. … Inherent in liberal democracy is an assumption, a hope, a belief that free people will use their liberty to choose good over evil, right over wrong, virtue over vice.”
25th Anniversary of J. Reuben Clark Law Society
Earlier in his address, Elder Holland remarked about the creation of the J. Reuben Clark Law Society 25 years ago. “I have in my hand a copy of the program from that night in November of 1987 when we formed the first chapter here. To look at it is to take a delightful stroll down memory lane. What a wonderful—and, as it turns out, historic—evening that was, the significance of which is at the heart of our 25th anniversary activities this week. I am not sure any of us that night conceived of a society that would grow into what this organization has become.
“You are individually and collectively a very bright light. … You are among the finest and best trained we have to defend, to advocate, to plead and to appeal for the great faith, the strong families and the religious freedom for which and upon which this republic was founded. God bless you in the powerful and virtuous practice of the law.”