Elder Robert S. Wood said the United States is a model
for the ways religion can flourish within a country that doesn't have a
state-run or state-established faith.
Elder Wood, of the Quorums of the Seventy, was the concluding
speaker Saturday at the annual conference of the Center for Studies on
New Religions, an organization based out of Torino, Italy.
Academics from around the world attended the conference, which was held
for the second time in its 22-year history in Salt Lake City.
Elder Wood said freedom of conscience and assembly have led to a
"remarkable religiosity" in the United States that isn't present in
other industrialized nations.
"Even in the United States, belief in liberty and free conscience has
not always been sufficient to ensure religious tolerance," he said.
"I've often said that we have one other thing that is useful, and that
When men and women left England for the Americas in the 1700s, they did
so because they were told that if they didn't like the state religion,
they should leave. And yet when many arrived in the Americas, they set
up similar, unwelcoming societies, telling those who were different to
either "love it or leave it."Because of the plentiful land and space
in America, people with different religious views have been able to
pick up and leave when needed, spreading themselves out and allowing
them to get along in relative peace, Elder Wood said.
Because many people identify themselves in terms of the religion they
practice, "religion ultimately gets heavily involved in the life of the
community, and therefore it always has sort of a quasi-political
dimension," Elder Wood said.
Because of that political dimension, the key issue has always been "How
do you accommodate freedom of religious conscience, speech, assembly,
within a fundamentally secular state, and in such a way that it does
not become itself an instrument of political combat and political war?"
"I would commend the model of which Salt Lake City has become a
representation, which is strict adherence to the disestablishment of
religion — no state religion — and the freedom of conscience and more
importantly the ability for one to express their convictions in the
public or civic forum."
Elder Wood said the U.S. operates on a sort of civic religion, which is simply
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