Mormon leaders' landmark speeches on religious freedom

Published: Tuesday, May 14 2013 9:34 p.m. MDT

The belief in and importance of religious freedom has long been a topic leaders of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints have addressed. It is stated in the 13 central beliefs of the LDS Church, and has played a large role in the religion's history.

This week, Elder Dallin H. Oaks of the Quorum of the Twelve will be honored as a 2013 Canterbury Medalist presented by The Becket Fund for Religious Liberty. The Canterbury Medal is the Becket Fund's highest honor, recognizing those who have demonstrated courage in the defense of religious liberty. The medal dinner will be held in New York City on Thursday, May 16.

In a video produced by The Becket Fund, Elder Oaks declares the importance of religious freedom and his concerns for limitations that exist today.

As discussed on the Mormon Newsroom, religious freedom is described as essential and valuable to all people — especially to those who have experienced intolerance in the past. Mormons, along with many other religions, have a history of faith-based persecution.

Yet, it was during this time that church leaders emphatically taught the importance of religious tolerance and liberation. Joseph Smith, the first president of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, often taught of such acceptance.

Recorded in "The History of the Church," Joseph Smith explained to the early members of the church just how deeply he felt about religious liberty:

"If it has been demonstrated that I have been willing before Heaven to die for a 'Mormon,' I am bold to declare before Heaven that I am just as ready to die in defending the rights of a Presbytarian (sic), a Baptist or a good man of any other denomination."

When composing a letter with the basic beliefs of the LDS Church — and what would later become known as the "Articles of Faith" — Joseph Smith wrote, "We claim the privilege of worshiping Almighty God according to the dictates of our own conscience, and allow all men the same privilege, let them worship how, where or what they may."

While the LDS Church has since become a global and widely respected faith, leaders continue to discuss the importance and necessity of religious freedom.

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Poplar Grove, UT

Then why do they feel the need to exert so much control over the state of Utah? Also they need a reminder that freedom to not chose a religion is as important as the freedom to choose a religion.

Salt Lake City, UT


Please explain how they are exerting so much control over the state of Utah.

And--why to they need such a reminder as you talk about? Have you been forced to choose a religion?

I know it. I Live it. I Love it.
Salt Lake City, UT

God instituted governments for our benefit and He holds us accountable for what we do with them.
No government will remain in peace without equally protecting the free exercise of conscience, the right and control of property, and the protection of life.

Religion is instituted of God and in our exercise of it we are only amenable to Him, unless our actions infringe the liberty of others. Human law has no right to interfere in prescribing rules of worship or to dictate forms of public or private devotion. Law is meant to restrain crime but not control conscience, to punish guilt but never suppress the freedom of the soul.

I summarized D&C 134:1-4 because every time "freedom" and "LDS" are said together, there are complaints about alcohol, abortion, and gay marriage etc.

The truth...

Drink all you want.
When you drink somewhere you traveled to, limit it to protect others.

Gays are free to be gay.
Society is likewise free to not sanction the formalities gays observe as civilly commendable.

We don't believe in taking your choices from you. But our/society's beliefs and choices are likewise ours to make.

Saint George, UT

Noodledoodle: Is self-pity ever an admirable trait?

Danish American
Payson, UT

Noodledoodle: Have you every been to a predominantly Catholic area or predominantly Baptist area. They all reflect the predominant culture. You can't get alcohol in Flower Mound, TX but you can get it in the City next door. Some whole Counties are dry. It is a reflection of the predominant culture. That's what bugs me about people who more here from places like California because of the culture and then want to change it. Perhaps you should get out more.

Provo, UT

Many people now days are in essence saying that religious people should not vote based on their personal values because somehow that takes away from the rights of those who are not religious. I have actually read comments in the past on these threads from people demanding that others should not vote on morally sensitive issues if their values are religious. This is a very dangerous idea and frankly, I do not see religious people demanding the non-religious give up their voting rights because of a different set of values.

Dallin Oaks has written many brilliant papers that explain the foundational principles of freedom. I am thrilled he was given this opportunity to speak. Education on this subject is woefully inadequate in recent years.

LDS Revelations
Sandy, UT

Personally fron what I've seen of Elder Oaks recent discussions of what he terms religious freedom, he is actually making more of an argument for freedom from scrutiny on the part of religions than any real concern over the right to worship being threatened. Some have argued that if gay marriage is legalized that Churches will be required to perform such unions but I think the evidence for this is slim. Anyway the discussion came about as a result of the backlash following the Church's heavy involvement in the pro-Prop 8 campaign where honestly I think the Church and many members were surprised at the criticize they publicly received. If churches can legally enter into the political arena— and they can— then I then hey shouldn't expect any special treatment or protection from any criticism that follows.

American Fork, UT

"God instituted governments for our benefit and He holds us accountable for what we do with them." This, and similar claims made by religion, are where it goes off the rails. Because this statement may well be entirely untrue. It should be considered nonsense until proven otherwise. There's no proof to any of it, and simply saying it's true doesn't make it so. If god instituted government for our benefit why is it that so few of us feel it benefits us, and why are there so many types of governments? I can see the hodgepodge of styles and benefits of governments around the world being a manmade exercise, but by no means as proof of a benevolent, omnipotent creator.

Lane Myer
Salt Lake City, UT

"Society is likewise free to not sanction the formalities gays observe as civilly commendable."


That would be true IF we did not have a constitution that states that we need to treat all citizens who are simularily situated as equals. It is NOT up to our religious beliefs to allow us to make laws that exclude law-abiding, tax paying citizens as less than.

I know it. I Live it. I Love it.
Salt Lake City, UT


It's not a mere few who believe in moral relativism, it's a trend sweeping the nation, even our leaders.

Obama argued in 2006:

"Democracy demands that the religiously motivated translate their concerns into universal, rather than religion-specific, values. It requires that their proposals be subject to argument, and amenable to reason."

He feels that my religious opinions should be amenable to reason. That my views should be scrutinized. That may work for many religions but to a church of revelation it simply isn't reasonable to have such an expectation.

I don't dictate my beliefs into law and force everyone to obey. My religions opinions are limited to "This is what I believe is right. I am voting to support that belief." which is no more aggressive or forceful than anyone else who is voting.

Democracy demands that we all share in the vote, not that we all must explain our vote in a way that everyone will agree in order to cast it. Any doctrine to the contrary does not establish a free people. Many, including leaders from the various political parties, support such a doctrine already.

Brigham City, UT

They may preach tolerance and diversity, but unfortunately many religions feel that believers and non-believers alike ought to have to abide by their teachings, and therefore they seek to enshrine them in statute. Can't you live your religion without making its doctrine (on alcohol, marriage, abortion, or whatever) the law of the land?

Puyallu, Wa.

I’ve noticed that some religious leaders expect politicians to swear in by placing their hand on the Constitution and swearing to uphold the Bible. And their version of the Bible at that.

Jim n’ Puyallup

I know it. I Live it. I Love it.
Salt Lake City, UT

Lane Myer,

I understand your concern. I also do not believe in treating other human beings as "less than" in social class, and as less valued. I believe that God is "“No Respecter of Persons”" and likewise would not judge us unequally. God gives us the same opportunity to change and be blessed. If we didn't all have that same chance we would be unequal and God would cease to be God.

Our equality exists in our freedom to choose, not in what we get as a result, or the consequences.

Engaging in sexual activity of any kind is a choice. Society has a right to observe, recognize, and honor whichever traditions we choose. This takes nothing away that didn't already exist.

If you choose not to recognize certain activities as honorable or worthy of receiving sanction from the community, or the government we form, then you choose law over relativism.

Either you tolerate all acts (sexual or otherwise) or what you call equality is robbed.

"Freedom to choose" isn't infringed when society doesn't certify and recognize your choices. Otherwise you'll have infringed my rights by not acknowledging all my choices.

Twentynine Palms, CA

For those who feel that any religion is having undue influence on the government, let us first realize that imperfect men make the laws. Secondly, no one should be forced to believe in any particular religion. For those of us who are Christians, we believe that Adam and Eve gave us agency by partaking of the forbidden fruit. This agency gives us the right to choose for ourselves and to let the consequence follow.

Danish American
Payson, UT

Lane Meyer: You are right. We shouldn't have laws that treat people differently. That's exactly why we should have never had the Civil Rights Act of 1965 (passed by Republicans) or the Non-Discrimination Law Salt Lake passed last year. While it might be morally wrong not to hire or rent property based on race, sex, or other factors if it is my business or my property you should not be taking my rights away from me. You can't have it both ways.

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