LOS ANGELES, Calif. — People of faith should raise their voices and “defend divinely inspired freedoms,” said Elder Quentin L. Cook during a symposium on Religious Liberty and the Law held in Los Angeles on Friday.
“My point is really quite simple,” said Elder Cook of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles for The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. “When allegations are made that are detrimental and often false to either faith or religious liberty, the members of that faith and their friends of other faiths, who feel accountable to God, need to defend them in a positive statesman-like manner. Too many do not make their positive views known when their engagement is sorely needed.”
Elder Cook joined nationally recognized scholars and religious leaders featured during the symposium, co-sponsored by the J. Reuben Clark Law Society and the St. Thomas More Society.
Kenneth W. Starr, former Solicitor General and U.S. Circuit Judge, said Elder Cook “powerfully and eloquently” took the audience back to 1215 England and Magna Carta — an important precursor to the broad protections of religious freedom — and then forward to the founding of America. He “called on us to stand up and be heard.”
Offering the opening keynote address, Starr spoke on preserving religious liberty in an increasingly secular society. He said the symposium was an opportunity to lift and encourage others on “one of the fundamental issues of our time.”
Elder Cook, who offered the final keynote address of the symposium, expressed appreciation that LDS Church leaders can join Catholic, Evangelical and Jewish leaders in the United States in friendship and work on “common issues of mutual concern.”
People of faith, whose values are consistent with Judeo/Christian values, should “work together to improve the moral fabric of our nation and protect religious freedom,” he said.
Many other essential freedoms emanate from religious freedom, he explained. Freedom of religion and freedom of speech are both the heart and the foundation of representative democracy.
“My plea today is that all religions join together to defend faith and religious freedom in a manner that protects people of diverse faith as well as those of no faith,” said Elder Cook. “We must not only protect our ability to profess our own religion, but also protect the right of each religion to administer its own doctrines and laws.”
In addition to waging legal and educational defense, those protecting religious freedom “need to win the hearts and minds of the great people of this nation,” he said. “We cannot do that when we are silent about issues that impact religious liberty.” Quoting the late Elder Neal A. Maxwell, an LDS apostle who loved athletics, Elder Cook said, “With regards to significant challenges we should not allow ‘uncontested slam-dunks.’”
Elder Cook said his daughter, who is a lawyer, read his talk and, with a smile on her face, said, “Do you have to use an athletic analogy? Couldn’t you just simply say, those who love religious liberty should be diligent in defending against those who oppose it?”
In either case, “the voices of people of faith need to be heard and amplified,” Elder Cook said. “When this is done, it creates a pause in the discourse and allows people to evaluate where they stand on a particular matter. Silence allows the rhythm of negativity to continue uninterrupted and unchallenged. This erodes the confidence of people of faith.”
Elder Cook cited two examples — a published book and a political challenge — that put this concept into perspective.
In the first example, claims against Christianity found in a recently published book were promoted by popular media, not challenged. In the second example, people of faith raised their voice, objecting to the inappropriate religious characterization of a nominee in a Senate hearing. “The result was that a pause was created in the discourse and those who denigrated faith were suddenly on the defense,” said Elder Cook.
Some, he continued, are concerned that by speaking up they would be getting ahead of the respective leaders of their faiths. “I would suggest that for people of your capability and training, engagement to defend religious liberty is essential.... Please do this on your own volition, understanding that you will not always get things exactly right. But also understanding, that the far bigger mistake would be to sit silently by.
“Let me say again, we will not always win every attack that is made on faith and religious liberty; but there should not be a vacuum of positive voices.”
A response should be statesman-like and respectful, but at the same time, firm, he said. “I respectfully suggest that in defending faith and religious freedom against its opponents there should be no ‘uncontested slam-dunks.’”
And while a person should not be overtly aggressive in their response, “we can do a better job of teaching and educating our responsible friends of the essential value of religious liberty and its importance in protecting our shared values,” said Elder Cook.
The inalienable human rights enshrined in the U.S. Constitution are inalienable only insofar as these rights are bestowed by a Divine Creator, he said. “It is the accountability to a Divine Creator that is the foundation for assisting those in need, respecting fellow citizens and respecting and following the law. To the extent these human rights are merely the creation of man, they are at risk of becoming alienable, or being removed by man. To this end, religious liberty is foundational to all other human rights.”
Elder Cook said it is in the best interest of anyone concerned with human rights, even atheists and non-believers, to protect religious liberty. “We can and must do a better job of communicating our shared mutual interests.”
Margaret G. Graf, general counsel of the Archdiocese of Los Angeles and a panelist, said Elder Cook reminded attendees that they need to be actively involved in the enterprise of assuring the preservation of religious liberty. She said those “of firm religious commitment” should “have as their major agenda inclusion, not exclusion.”
Other panelist at the symposium included John Eastman, director of the Claremont Institute’s Center for Constitutional Jurisprudence; Hannah Smith, senior counsel of the Becket Fund for Religious Liberty; James A. Sonne, the director of the Religious Liberty Clinic at Stanford Law School; William F. Atkin, associate general counsel of the LDS Church; Rabbi Yoshi Zweiback, senior rabbi of the Stephen Wise Temple; and Dean Gordon Smith of the BYU J. Reuben Clark Law School.