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LDS Church joins 'growing chorus' of faiths asking followers to defend religious liberty

Published: Sunday, Sept. 15 2013 4:45 p.m. MDT

With the recent addition of animated multimedia and a Facebook page, the LDS Church is joining what one of its leaders said is a "growing chorus" of faith groups around the country seeking to engage followers in the issue of religious freedom.

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SALT LAKE CITY — With the recent addition of a Facebook page and website videos on the subject, the LDS Church is joining what one of its leaders said is a "growing chorus" of faith groups around the country seeking to engage followers in the issue of religious freedom.

Religious conflicts related to same-sex marriage, health care reform, military chaplaincy and personal expression in town halls and public schools have all been moved under an umbrella of religious liberty by a broad-based coalition of faith groups, which are reaching out to each other and their membership to find ways to counter what they say is an unprecedented assault on everyone's right to live their beliefs.

"We are not a soloist in this. We are part of a chorus and it's a growing chorus," said Elder L. Whitney Clayton of the Presidency of the Seventy of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. "Events are conspiring to make it a bigger chorus."

A leader in the campaign has been the Roman Catholic Church, which made religious liberty a top priority after Congress in 2009 passed the Affordable Care Act, which the church said violates its stand against birth control by requiring all employers to provide contraceptives through health care insurance plans.

Other Christian faiths joined the opposition to the contraception mandate, which has generated more than 60 lawsuits against the government by faith-based organizations and employers. But the religious liberty movement has gained considerable steam in the past year after several states made same-sex marriage legal and the U.S. Supreme Court dealt a blow to the federal Defense of Marriage Act.

Clergy and military chaplains whose faiths don't support gay marriage are clamoring for legal protections against having to perform same-sex ceremonies. Gay marriage proponents say such concerns are unfounded since the First Amendment already provides that protection. But religious business owners have found themselves unprotected and in some cases in violation of local ordinances that ban discrimination based on sexual orientation.

"As a consequence, for several years now the First Presidency and Quorum of the Twelve … have made repeated and very measured attempts to strengthen religious freedom everywhere across the country," Elder Clayton said. "The church has a vital concern in ensuring that its mission to bless people across the country will be preserved by the ongoing preservation of these freedoms and liberties that we have for most of our lives taken for granted."

Vast coalition

The faith group with the longest history of fighting for freedom of conscience and worship and a separation of church and state in America has been the Baptists.

At times in the 17th and 18th centuries, Baptists were often alone as they sought to ensure their rights to practice their beliefs during struggles against the government and other religions. And disputes between faith groups surfaced in later generations over the role of religion in education and other public arenas.

"Now we are finding ourselves with a vast coalition of people who all agree that religious liberty belongs to all," said Russell Moore, president of the Southern Baptist Convention's Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission. "It would have shocked my grandfather’s generation to see Southern Baptists and Catholics in agreement and working together on religious liberty."

He said he has learned a lot from Catholic leadership on engaging the congregations in the cause, citing the Catholic Church's annual Fortnight of Freedom, where congregations throughout the country pray and hold other events stressing the importance of religious liberty during a two-week period leading up to the Fourth of July holiday.

"Don’t be surprised at all if you see evangelicals and others doing similar things in our churches next year or in years to come," Moore said.

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