Elder Oaks promotes strengthening the free exercise of religion

Becket Fund honors LDS Church leader with Canterbury Medal

Published: Thursday, May 16 2013 12:00 a.m. MDT

Elder Dallin H. Oaks of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints speaks during General Conference in April 2010. Elder Oaks said in a speech Friday at Chapman University law school that religious groups should unite to protect the religious freedom guaranteed by the U.S. Constitution.


NEW YORK CITY — Religious teachings and religious organizations are vital to a free society and deserve its special legal protection, Elder Dallin H. Oaks affirmed in a speech May 16 upon receiving the Becket Fund for Religious Liberty's highest honor, the Canterbury Medal, during a program held in the Pierre Hotel on New York Citys Fifth Avenue.

Named for the cathedral in which Thomas à Becket, Archbishop of Canterbury, was martyred in 1170 by the knights of Englands King Henry II for his defense of religious freedom, the Canterbury Medal is given annually to champions for religious liberty. Elder Oaks, a member of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles for The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, was recognized for his "lifetime commitment to religious liberty for all."

Cardinal Francis George from Chicago introduced Elder Oaks, calling the LDS leader "one of the great defenders of religious liberty." Cardinal George commended Elder Oaks for his ambassadorial role in helping Catholics and Latter-day Saints "to see one another as partners in protecting principle."

The Becket Fund for Religious Liberty is a non-profit public-interest law firm that for nearly 20 years has attempted to protect the free expression of all religious traditions through strategic litigation.

More than 500 religious leaders, lawyers and financial supporters attended the gala black tie dinner, an annual fundraising event for the Becket Fund's litigation efforts.

Master of Ceremonies William Mumma, president of the Becket Fund, gave a sometimes humorous but consistently emphatic account of the mounting threats to religious freedom. "This is not about a value-free public square," said Mumma. "Government wants to prescribe its own moral code in order to trump religious belief. This is about power."

Reverend Eugene Rivers III, pastor of Azusa Christian Community and an advisor to Republican and Democratic presidents regarding faith-based initiatives, gave a spirited invocation, noting "this struggle will not be easy, but by faith ... we know that victory is certain."

Also recognized at the dinner were Steve and Jackie Green. The Greens own and manage Hobby Lobby, a for-profit company that attempts to use Christian principles. Hobby Lobby is now engaged in litigation over a health care mandate that asks them to violate their religious beliefs or pay more than $1 million in fines each day. The Becket Fund is helping to defend Hobby Lobby.

In his address, Elder Oaks said that the United States' robust private sector of charitable works originated with and is still sponsored most significantly by religious organizations and religious impulses. Those works include education, hospitals, care for the poor and countless other charities of great value.

Many of the most significant moral advances in Western society have been motivated by religious principles and persuaded to official adoption "by pulpit-preaching," he said, citing examples such as the abolition of the slave trade in England, the Emancipation Proclamation in the U.S. and the Civil Rights movement.

He noted, "Our society is not held together primarily by law and its enforcement but most importantly by those who voluntarily obey the unenforceable because of their internalized norms of righteous or correct behavior. Religious belief in right and wrong is a vital influence to produce such voluntary compliance by a large number of our citizens."

Elder Oaks said that in Americas founding and in its constitutional order the First Amendment guarantees of religious freedom and the freedoms of speech and press are the motivating and dominating civil liberties and civil rights. "Appropriately, the guarantee of freedom of religion is the first expression in the Bill of Rights of the United States Constitution, and it is embodied in the constitutions of all 50 of our states. For many Americans, the free exercise of religion is the basic civil liberty because faith in God and his teachings and the active practice of religion are the most fundamental guiding realities of life."

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