LDS Church joins 'growing chorus' of faiths asking followers to defend religious liberty
Shortly after Moore took the helm at the ERLC, he and Catholic Archbishop William E. Lori of Baltimore, who heads religious liberty efforts for the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, released an open letter protesting the contraception mandate's threat to conscience. The letter was signed, too, by Orthodox Christian and Jewish leaders and the International Society for Krishna Consciousness. Also signing it was the LDS Church's Presiding Bishop Gary Stevenson.
The Catholic Church and the Southern Baptist Convention have independent efforts to get information on religious liberty and other social issues out to their members through the Internet, social media, email and other means.
Elder Clayton explained the videos and social media are designed to give users an overview of religious liberty to help them recognize and speak out against threats to their freedom of conscience that may arise in their local communities, state legislatures or nationally.
The Facebook page "Support Religious Freedom" is intended to be a place where people can converse and share information and insights on the topic.
"We don’t want them to feel like they need to sit back and wait and see if someone in Salt Lake is going to tell them what to do," Elder Clayton said. "We’re not going to tell them, but we are certainly going to ask them to become involved. We invite them to do it because it’s extremely important that the citizens of this country stand up and protect the freedoms that they enjoy."
Faith communities rallying their congregants is a key element for advocacy groups that are championing religious liberty as a policy issue or at the ballot box.
"We've taken religious freedom for granted for so long that many Americans don’t recognize the threats that are existing," said Brian Walsh, executive director of the Ethics and Public Policy Center’s new American Religious Freedom program. "So faith leaders have an important role in helping people understand that religious freedom is absolutely necessary for members of that faith community to be able to act upon their beliefs and raise their children according to their beliefs without fear of government reprisals."
Walsh's program is working on establishing religious freedom caucuses in every state legislature as well as provide information on how to identify issues of religious conscience, exercise and worship and address them through policy. He explained that efforts to work with state lawmakers stem from requests by faith communities on how they can have better protections for religious freedom in their state.
"It’s in our DNA to be a platform that brings the voices of different faith communities back into the discussion," he said. "Advocating for religious freedom is not a partisan issue. It is a structural protection that ensures all Americans, regardless of what their faith may be, are granted the full set of privileges, immunities and rights that every other citizen has."
Other advocacy groups deal with religious liberty on a strictly political level, however.
The Faith and Freedom Coalition works with Christian and Jewish congregations to register and educate voters on issues before they cast their ballots for candidates who represent their concerns.
"We do the grass roots first, then the public policy follows," said Executive Director Gary Marx.
He explained that religious liberty is unique in that it ties into other issues and crosses over the liberal and conservative political divide.
"It is almost unprecedented in the scope in which this fight over religious freedom impacts culture in the long term. It's much bigger than (abortion)," he said, referring to another hot-button topic that can energize an electorate. "In this case, we never find a one-issue voter on religious liberty because there is never just one issue involved."
Elder Clayton said freedom of conscience touches believers and nonbelievers alike and is not a partisan issue for the LDS Church, which takes a neutral stance on party politics.
"We don’t think in those terms," he said. "We look at the issues of preserving religious freedom for ourselves and for our children and our neighbors and think about it topically rather than on a partisan basis."
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