Viewpoint: The Importance of Religious Freedom
Contributed By Church News
- The Lord established the U.S. Constitution to keep bondage out of the land.
- The First Amendment guarantees freedom of religion, and is vital to preserving agency.
- Religious freedom is increasingly under assault around the world.
“If one does not value religion, one usually does not put a high value on religious freedom.” —Elder Dallin H. Oaks, Quorum of the Twelve Apostles
In the midst of their suffering from mob oppression in Missouri in December 1833, the Latter-day Saints received instruction by revelation from Jesus Christ to importune their government “for redress and redemption” pertaining to the wrongs that had been committed against them (see D&C 101:76).
This should be done, the revelation stated, “according to the laws and constitution of the people, which I have suffered to be established, and should be maintained for the rights and protection of all flesh, according to just and holy principles” (verse 77).
The revelation goes on to say that the Constitution was established so that “every man may act in doctrine and principle . . . according to the moral agency which I have given him, that every man may be accountable for his own sins in the day of judgment” (verse 78).
It is not right that anyone should be in bondage to another, the Lord further declares, giving that as the purpose for which He has established the U.S. Constitution “by the hands of wise men whom I raised up unto this very purpose, and redeemed the land by the shedding of blood” (verses 79–80).
September is a good time for thoughtful remembrance of that event. It was on September 17, 1787, that the 39 delegates to the Constitutional Convention met at Independence Hall in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, to sign the document they had forged through earnest—at times impassioned—deliberation.
Two years later, on September 25, the newly created U.S. House of Representatives approved 12 articles of amendment to the Constitution. The last 10 were eventually ratified by the several states as Amendments 1 through 10 and today are known collectively as the Bill of Rights.
With final ratification taking place on December 15, 1791, the Bill of Rights applied initially to the federal government, but by virtue of the 14th Amendment to the Constitution, its guarantee of liberty would eventually apply to all governments in the nation, including state and local.
While the Lord has declared that He established the Constitution itself, it is the Bill of Rights, specifically the First Amendment, that most directly addresses His stated purpose that everyone may act “according to the moral agency” which He has given each individual.
The concepts enshrined in the U.S. Constitution and the Bill of Rights by no means are limited thereto. They are embodied in the constitutions of other nations as well. To the extent that documents and institutions, wherever they are found in the world, protect these divinely bestowed liberties, they may be seen by extension as being covered under the Lord’s approbation as expressed in Doctrine and Covenants 101. For He said they are “for the rights and protection of all flesh.”
Consider the wording of the First Amendment in the Bill of Rights: “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the government for a redress of grievances.”
At its essence, the First Amendment guarantees liberty to engage in activities by which we can ascertain and convey truth: freedom of religion, speech, the press and assembly, and to petition the government for a redress of grievances when these liberties are violated.
The First Amendment guarantees are vital to the protection of our God-given moral agency, for, without knowledge of truth, we are hindered in our ability to exercise our agency responsibly in a manner that blesses ourselves and others. In recent years, the Brethren have deemed it needful to emphasize anew the Constitutional principle of religious freedom.
To this end, they have directed the creation of an internet site, “Religious Freedom,” found at https://www.lds.org/religious-freedom.
“Religious freedom is more than just the freedom to believe what you want,” reads the introductory content on the website. “It’s also the freedom to talk about and act on your core beliefs without interference from government or others, except when necessary to protect health and safety.”
The website makes the point that “despite its importance, religious freedom is increasingly under assault around the world. That’s why the apostles have spoken about this topic dozens of times in the past decade. As prophets, seers, and revelators, they recognize the need to defend religious freedom. Each of us has a role to play.”
For example, in a speech at Brigham Young University on September 13 of last year, Elder Dallin H. Oaks of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles said he believes religious freedom is declining because faith in God is declining.
“If one does not value religion, one usually does not put a high value on religious freedom,” Elder Oaks observed. “It is looked at as just another human right, competing with other human rights when it seems to collide with them.”
At a Freedom Festival Patriotic Service in Provo, Utah, on June 26, 2016, Elder D. Todd Christofferson of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles warned that religious freedom is under fire.
“Although religious freedom lies at the core of what America is and what it stands for, critics now openly ask whether religion belongs in American public life at all.”
What to do about it?
The Church’s religious freedom website gives four suggestions: Become informed, live and respectfully share your beliefs, find simple ways to protect everyone’s right to act on their beliefs, and build trusted relationships.
For more on these suggestions and for a plethora of resources for safeguarding this important freedom, visit the website.