Religious Freedom: The Safeguard of Liberty
Article by: Elder George Brunt, Oakland Temple Hill Visitors’ Center Director
Religious Freedom is a right so fundamental that it is the foundation and underpinning of any free society. Religious Freedom is the unfettered right to believe, teach, and support any theory, principle or dogma that can be conceived by the mind of man. It is the right to worship and teach according to the dictates of one’s own conscience. Freedom of Speech is a fundamental right, but it flows from Religious Freedom. It is the right to talk about theories, beliefs and principles freely so long as such speech does not impose physical harm on others.
Safeguarding Religious Freedom is at the core of preserving all freedoms. In a world full of ideas, theories, concepts and principles it is up to the free marketplace of those who listen and consider to determine the validity and acceptance of ideas. Once any society or government forces the acceptance or rejection of the theories, principles, or dogma of any group or individual, it undermines its own prosperity and advancement and ends the individual rights and freedoms it enjoys. No earthly government in history has ever been the successful arbiter of truth.
The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints is and has always been a staunch supporter of Religious Freedom. Our first Latter-Day prophet, Joseph Smith famously said, “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 any other denomination who may be unpopular or too weak to defend themselves.” He not only said this, but he lived it. Joseph Smith demonstrated that he could advocate for and support ministers of other faiths without detracting from his own rights or signaling a weakness in his own faith. Among the many stories, Joseph once paid the boat fare for a Catholic minister to cross the river and loaned him a horse so he could carry on his ministry. The Charter of the City of Nauvoo specifically preserved the rights of any denomination, Christian or not, to fully teach and practice its religious convictions.
In our own day, there are many opportunities to stand up for and support the rights of others to believe, teach and support the dictates of their own conscience. In supporting their rights, we do not detract from our own rights or signal a weakness in our own faith. There will be many points of doctrine that either conflict with or directly are opposite to the beliefs that we as Latter-day Saints hold so dear. Some of our beliefs conflict with or are directly opposite to the beliefs others hold so dear. If the rights of others are limited, so too will our rights be limited. If religious freedoms are not limited, the truth will eventually emerge triumphant to the benefit of all. This will be true for all theories and principles tried in the crucible of life, scientific or religious.
We are all sons and daughters of God, and He loves us all and He has a vision for each of us. The Savior has exemplified the need to meet others where they are, to support and love them as we would ourselves. He made no differentiation as to their various belief systems, education, or worldly status. He loved, taught, and invited the rich young man and the beggar, the Pharisee and the disciple.
We would invite you to participate, whether in person or via the internet, in the Oakland Temple Visitors’ Center interfaith series. The next one is on the topic of religious freedom and will be July 2nd at 7pm Pacific time. All our events are featured for several weeks before the event at www.templehill.org.