Besides protecting our own rights, we must protect the rights of others, including the most vulnerable and the least popular. We must show mutual respect for others and treat all civilly. No one should be belittled for following his or her moral conscience. —Elder L. Tom Perry
SALT LAKE CITY — With a declaration from one of its senior leaders that "all citizens benefit from a robust and vigorous religious freedom," The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints has published several new tools to be used by people of all faiths in the battle for religious freedom.
"In many countries, including the United States, religious liberty is slowly and dangerously eroding," says Elder L. Tom Perry, a senior member of the church's Quorum of the Twelve, in a video introduction to the new materials posted on the LDS Newsroom website late Tuesday evening. "These essential freedoms of conscience, embedded in religious liberty, must be diligently preserved and protected."
The new materials are intended to "help people of conscience everywhere understand the importance of protecting religious freedom," according to the LDS Newsroom posting. They include:
A video using creative whiteboard animation to explain what religious freedom is and why it is at risk today
A nine-minute video that reflects the thoughts, insights and feelings of scholars, religious leaders and concerned citizens with regard to religious freedom
A "Support Religious Freedom" Facebook page that will provide news and information about religious freedom
A topic page on the LDS Newsroom website that "lays out the principles of religious freedom and suggests ways to engage this issue"
"I invite you to read carefully the information the church has produced on religious freedom," Elder Perry says in his introduction, "and to find ways in your community to keep vibrant the God-given gifts of conscience and religious beliefs."
Those gifts, Elder Perry stressed, are not just a right, but also a responsibility.
"Besides protecting our own rights, we must protect the rights of others, including the most vulnerable and the least popular," he said. "We must show mutual respect for others and treat all civilly. No one should be belittled for following his or her moral conscience."
LDS Church involvement in religious liberty issues extends to the earliest days of the history of the church, when Latter-day Saints experienced firsthand the harshness of religious persecution. Church founder Joseph Smith said in 1843 that "if it has been demonstrated that I have been willing 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 Presbyterian, a Baptist, or a good man of any other denomination; for the same principle which would trample upon the rights of the Latter-day Saints would trample upon the rights of the Roman Catholics, or of any other denomination, who may be unpopular and too weak to defend themselves."
On another occasion President Smith wrote: "We ought to be aware of those prejudices which sometimes so strangely present themselves, and are so congenial to human nature, against our friends, neighbors and brethren of the world, who choose to differ from us in opinion and in matters of faith. Our religion is between us and our God. Their religion is between them and their God."
More recently, LDS apostles have spoken at length on the subject. Elder Dallin H. Oaks has said the battle for religious freedom "is of eternal purpose," and he charged young people to "understand the issues and make the efforts to prevail." Elder Jeffrey R. Holland said "we're going to have to fight for laws and circumstances and environments that allow the free exercise of religion and our franchise in it."
Elder Quentin L. Cook counseled BYU-Idaho graduates in 2011 to "join with people from all faiths who feel accountable to God in defending religious freedom so it can be a beacon for morality."
"We caution you to be civil and responsible as you defend religious liberty and moral values," Elder Cook continued. "We ask that you do this on the Internet and in your personal interactions in the neighborhoods and in the community where you live. Be an active participant, not a silent observer."
The LDS Church is certainly not alone in its concern for preserving and protecting religious liberty. Religious leaders from across the faith spectrum are engaged in the effort.
Pope Francis said recently that defending religious liberty and making it available for all is everyone’s responsibility. Doing so, he said, “guarantees the growth and development of the entire community.”
And during an interview last week with the Deseret News, Dr. Richard Land, former president of the Southern Baptist Convention's Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission, which speaks for the SBC on social issues like religious freedom, said that "when it comes to religious freedom, we all hang together or we all hang separately. We are common targets in this."
The new LDS Church resources "contribute to the many conversations taking place on this topic and highlight freedom of religion as a fundamental human right that protects the conscience of all people and allows them to act upon what they deeply believe," the Newsroom release noted.
As Elder Cook stated: "It is important to become well-educated on this issue and take responsibility to pass on to future generations the religious freedom (we) now enjoy."