Elder Oaks promotes strengthening the free exercise of religion
Becket Fund honors LDS Church leader with Canterbury Medal
The opposite tendency to define religion too broadly "is more seductive and more dangerous," he said. "We already see the tendency to describe religious freedom as 'freedom of conscience' — whatever its source. That definition can deny the protection of the free exercise guarantee to churches and the organizations through which believers exercise their faith.
Expanding the definition of religion to systems of belief not based on a Divine Being, poses the risk of diluting free exercise protections, he said, and noted that "when religion has no more right to free exercise than irreligion or any other secular philosophy, the whole newly expanded category of 'religion' is likely to diminish in significance."
Elder Oaks spoke of some encouraging developments during the past five years. He mentioned the work of the Becket Fund; advocacy of many influential religious leaders; formation and work of the American Religious Freedom Program, under the auspices of the Ethics and Public Policy Center; and "the turning tide of scholarly support for the free exercise of religion as it applies to important social issues."
He said there are encouraging signs that the American public "is awakening to the importance of strengthening religious freedom." He cited studies that show that a fourth of Americans consider religion to be the First Amendment freedom most threatened, and that significant majorities of all faith traditions — even including those not religious affiliated — said they support organizations that protect the religious freedom of all religions.
Elder Oaks referred to the New Testament account recorded in Mark 12:14-17, in which Jesus used a coin to teach the principle that people have obligations to civil government as well as to divine authority.
"Similarly, a two-sided coin reminds us of our two-fold duties to truth and to tolerance. In our efforts to strengthen religious freedom, we must always remember that the truth of our cause does not free us from our duty of tolerance toward those who differ."
Paul S. Edwards, Deseret News editor, contributed to this report.
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