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.
Current president of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints Thomas S. Monson has also given guidance and direction regarding the importance of religious tolerance and liberty.
During President Monson's first address as the prophet of the LDS Church in April 2008, he called on all members to recognize the importance of religious diversity:
"I would encourage members of the Church wherever they may be to show kindness and respect for all people everywhere. The world in which we live is filled with diversity. We can and should demonstrate respect toward those whose beliefs differ from ours."
In the most recent general conference, President Monson stressed again the importance of following the example of Jesus Christ in being good citizens and respecting other's beliefs:
"We are a worldwide church, brothers and sisters. Our membership is found across the globe. I admonish you to be good citizens of the nations in which you live and good neighbors in your communities, reaching out to those of other faiths as well as to our own. May we be tolerant of, as well as kind and loving to, those who do not share our beliefs and our standards."
Brigham Young University-Idaho Commencement
Dec. 16, 2011
Elder Quentin L. Cook of the Quorum of the Twelve delivered a speech during a graduation commencement at Brigham Young University-Idaho regarding the importance of restoring religious freedom:
"Extraordinary effort will be required to protect religious liberty," Elder Cook said. "My challenge today is that you join with people of 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."
Brigham Young University
Sept. 11, 2011
Elder Dallin H. Oaks of the Quorum of the Twelve addressed many college students and other young single adults in the Marriott Center at Brigham Young University. During his speech, Elder Oaks addressed four key principles that should govern religious participation in the public square:
"Believers should not shrink from seeking laws to maintain public conditions or policies that assist them in practicing the requirements of their faith where those conditions or policies are also favorable to the public health, safety or morals," Elder Oaks said.
"But where believers are in the majority they should always be sensitive to the views of the minority."
Chapman University School of Law
February 4, 2011
Elder Dallin H. Oaks of the Quorum of the Twelve addressed students at Chapman University School of Law, reiterating the importance of the religious liberty while highlighting the need for people to work together to protect the First Amendment right:
"I am convinced that on this issue what all believers have in common is far more important than their differences. We must unite to strengthen our freedom to teach and exercise what we have in common, as well as our very real differences in religious doctrine," Elder Oaks said.
"It is imperative that those of us who believe in God and in the reality of right and wrong unite more effectively to protect our religious freedom to preach and practice our faith in God."
LDS General Conference
In an October 2010 general conference address, Elder Quentin L. Cook of the Quorum of the Twelve counseled members of the LDS faith to protect families and communities from modern-day assaults on morality and religious freedom:
"There has always been an ongoing battle between people of faith and those who would purge religion and God from public life," Elder Cook said. "In our increasingly unrighteous world, it is essential that values based on religious belief be part of the public discourse."
Tabernacle in Salt Lake City
Sept. 17, 2010
Elder Dallin H. Oaks of the Quorum of the Twelve gave a keynote address during the Constitution Day Celebration held in the Tabernacle on Temple Square. During his speech, Elder Oaks spoke of four principles that define the Constitution:
"The guarantee of the free exercise of religion, which I will call religious freedom, is one of the supremely important founding principles in the United States Constitution, and it is reflected in the constitutions of all of our 50 states," Elder Oaks said.
"I maintain that in our nation’s founding and in our constitutional order, religious freedom, and the freedoms of speech and press associated with it in the First Amendment, are the motivating and dominating civil liberties and civil rights."
June 10, 2010
Elder Russell M. Nelson of the Quorum of the Twelve spoke to youths in Boston about the need to protect religious freedom and the family:
"Additional strength is needed from the power of theistic conviction. For this reason, a policy to separate completely church and state could become completely counterproductive. Theistic forces would be erased and atheistic forces would be allowed to flourish unopposed in the public square," Elder Nelson said.
"The theistic and noble concept of 'freedom of religion,' could be twisted and turned to become an atheistic 'freedom from religion.' Such an unbalanced policy could sweep out theistic forces for societal success and leave the field wide open to atheistic ideology, secularism, suffering huge losses for all."
J. Reuben Clark Law Society
Feb. 11, 2010
Elder Lance B. Wickman addressed the J. Reuben Clark Law Society regarding the needed protection for religious freedom:
"A battle is looming over the effort to acquire civil social rights at the expense of civil religious rights. This battle represents the acceleration of a disturbing slide downward in the law regarding the place of religion in the public square," Elder Wickman said.
Brigham Young University-Idaho
Oct. 13, 2009
Elder Dallin H. Oaks of the Quorum of the Twelve spoke to an audience of young adults regarding the freedom of religion. Elder Oaks explained that this topic was one of eternal importance, especially for their generation:
"Unpopular minority religions are especially dependent upon a constitutional guarantee of free exercise of religion. We are fortunate to have such a guarantee in the United States, but many nations do not," Elder Oaks said.
"The importance of that guarantee in the United States should make us ever diligent to defend it. And it is in need of being defended. During my lifetime I have seen a significant deterioration in the respect accorded to religion in our public life, and I believe that the vitality of religious freedom is in danger of being weakened accordingly."
Salt Lake City Rotary
Feb. 7, 1978
Elder Neal A. Maxwell of the Quorum of the Twelve addressed the Salt Lake City Rotarians regarding a "value-free society" and the consequences of such allowances:
"Lest any here be anxious about whether I will take a theological turn in my remarks today, let me simply say that many of the standards and values in the great religions of the world are held far more in common than some realize," Elder Maxwell said.
"Decrease the belief in God, and you increase the numbers of those who wish to play at being God by being ‘society’s supervisors.’ Such ‘supervisors’ deny the existence of divine standards, but are very serious about imposing their own standards on society."