PROVO, Utah — The LDS Church is developing a website to help Mormons understand society's retreat from religion and provide practical help for talking with friends about the importance of religious freedom.
News of the development of religiousfreedom.lds.org comes after a major address on Tuesday by a senior leader of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. Speaking in front of over 17,000 people at BYU's annual Education Week, Elder Jeffrey R. Holland of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles expressed deep concern that the rise of secularism has been attended by a dismissal of religion. He argued that religion has made incalculable contributions throughout history and is crucial to sustaining a moral society.
Mormons from around the country are filling rooms at 20 specific classes on religious freedom offered at Education Week. They came seeking practical information and tips.
Two videos that will be shared on the new website were screened during a class led by Michael Frandsen, who leads the religious freedom working group in the LDS Church's Public Affairs Department.
"There's a lot you can do as a person of faith to live your beliefs in a public school setting," Frandsen said after he showed a video about parents who had to help school leaders understand that it is legal for their child to say a prayer over her lunch. "Part of it involves understanding just what your rights are, and just so that you know, the church is working to make these sorts of things easier for our members to understand so that they know how to answer these kinds of questions. You'll see more to come in that regard."
Frandsen said the videos are intended as "tools for our members to know how to negotiate the challenges that we increasingly face as we try to live our lives as people of faith in a public setting."
While religiousfreedom.lds.org remains under construction, Frandsen directed people to visit www.freedom-of-religion.org/, which is run by the J. Reuben Clark Law School at BYU. He also suggested www.religiousfreedomcenter.org/ from the Newseum, which is devoted to the First Amendment.
BYU political scientist Quin Monson said in another class this week that religiosity is in a general decline in the United States. It's trend that's accelerated in the past 15-20 years. In 1972, for example, 5 percent of Americans were not affiliated with a religion, according to the General Social Survey. In 2014, the number had grown to 20 percent, according to the same survey. Other polls peg the number as high as nearly 30 percent.
Crowds on Monday ranged beyond 500 for presentations in BYU's Hinckley Visitors Center, spilling over into two overflow rooms.
"The call to defend religious freedom is real," said Alexander Dushku, a Mormon attorney at Kirton McConkie, a Salt Lake City law firm that represents the LDS Church.
Dushku described numerous areas of tension between religious culture and secular culture on "fundamental beliefs about how life ought to be lived and what counts most and what counts less. It is most often a clash between good people who hold different values.
"And it's going to get worse."
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