Selected Teachings on
Defending Religious Freedom

Joseph Smith (President)

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. It is a love of liberty which inspires my soul—civil and religious liberty to the whole of the human race. (Teachings of the Prophet Joseph Smith, p.313)

Dallin H. Oaks (Quorum of the Twelve

On the subject of religious freedom, leaders of various religious denominations—Catholic, Jewish, Muslim, Protestant, and The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints—are coming together in unprecedented ways. New organizations and informal coalitions are operating to defend religious freedom. Speakers on religious campuses and other gatherings are crossing denominational lines that were insurmountable a few years ago. Religious people are coming to see one another not as adversaries but as fellow worshipers who must unite to protect their freedom. At a recent talk I suggested that the most important contrast today is “between those who believe in God and seek to serve Him according to their best understanding and those who reject the existence of God.” The reality, of course, is that freedom of speech and freedom of religion benefit all people, nonbelievers as well as believers. ("Hope for the Years Ahead," Utah Valley University's Constitutional Symposium on Religious Freedom, 16 April 2014)

[One thing] we can do to be better witnesses of God is to contend for the free exercise of religion. This is more difficult because it requires cooperative action by believers of various faiths. We should press officials in the executive, legislative and judicial branches of governments to honor the constitutionally guaranteed free exercise of religion....  As Elder Jeffrey R. Holland said in his powerful address to a nationwide audience of Christian leaders, we Mormons are “eager to join hands . . . to guarantee the freedom of religion that will allow all of us to speak out [and I would add to act out] on matters of Christian conscience regarding the social issues of our time.” We should all agree with the Christian writer he quoted: “All of our nation’s religious citizens need to develop a respect for other religious people and their beliefs. We need not accept their beliefs, but we can respect the people and realize that we have more in common with each other than we ever will with the secularizers of this country.”

We need to support the coalitions of religious leaders and God-fearing people who are coming together to defend our nation’s traditional culture of belief in God and the acknowledgement of His blessings.... I suggest to all believers everywhere—that we have a solemn religious duty to be witnesses of God. We must affirm our religious faiths, unite to insist upon our constitutional right to the free exercise of our religions and honor their vital roles in establishing and preserving and prospering this nation. ("Witnesses of God," BYU-Idaho Devotional, 25 February 2014)

I invite you to march with me as I speak about religious freedom under the United States Constitution. There is a battle over the meaning of that freedom. The contest is of eternal importance, and it is your generation that must understand the issues and make the efforts to prevail....

Religious freedom has always been at risk. It was repression of religious belief and practice that drove the Pilgrim fathers and other dissenters to the shores of this continent. Even today, leaders in all too many nations use state power to repress religious believers.

The greatest infringements of religious freedom occur when the exercise of religion collides with other powerful forces in society. Among the most threatening collisions in the United States today are (1) the rising strength of those who seek to silence religious voices in public debates, and (2) perceived conflicts between religious freedom and the popular appeal of newly alleged civil rights....

I am describing conditions you will face and challenges you must confront. (BYU-Idaho, 13 October 2009)

Jeffrey R. Holland (Quorum of the Twelve

My young friends, ... in the 21st century we ... are going to have to fight for laws and circumstances and environments that allow the free exercise of religion and our franchise in it....

I know of no more important ability and no greater integrity for us to demonstrate ... than to walk that careful path—taking a moral stand according to what God has declared and the laws He has given, but doing it compassionately and with understanding and great charity. Talk about a hard thing to do—to distinguish perfectly between the sin and the sinner. I know of few distinctions that are harder to make, or at least harder to articulate, but we must lovingly try to do exactly that. Believe me, brothers and sisters, in the world into which we are moving, we are going to have a lot of opportunity to develop such strength, display such courage, and demonstrate such compassion—all at the same time. (CES Devotional, 9 September 2012)

Quentin L. Cook (Quorum of the Twelve

Be an advocate for religious freedom and morality. This is a time when those who feel accountable to God for their conduct feel under siege by a secular world. You understand the moral principles that are under attack and the need to defend morality. Religious freedom all over the world is also under attack. It is important for your generation to become well educated on this issue and assume responsibility for insuring that the religious freedom you have inherited is passed on to future generations. We must work together to both protect religious freedom and restore morality. Please understand this is not an effort to coerce religious belief. As John Locke asserted, religious worship does not have value unless it is voluntary.

Presidents of our Church including George Albert Smith, Gordon B. Hinckley, and Thomas S. Monson have made it clear that all religions hold truths, and that we should work together for the common good. In his inaugural press conference, President Monson emphasized this cooperation. He stated, “We have a responsibility to be active in the communities where we live…and to work cooperatively with other churches…We need to eliminate the weakness of one standing alone and substitute for it the strength of people working together.” Our joint effort should be to protect important civic values like honesty, morality, self-restraint, respect for law, and basic human rights. An important study established, “The association between religious freedoms and other civil liberties, press freedoms, and political freedoms are especially striking.” If we fail to diligently protect religious freedom we risk diminishing other important freedoms that are important both to us and to society.

Our challenge is to help people without religious faith understand that the protection of moral principles grounded in religion is a great benefit to society and that religious devotion is critical to public virtue.

Many Founding Fathers including Washington and Madison pointed out that shared moral values espoused by different religions with competing doctrines allowed societies to be bound together. In George Washington’s farewell address as president of the U.S., he proclaimed that religion and morality are indispensable. He stated, “Whatever may be conceded to the influence of refined education…, reason and experience both forbid us to expect, that national morality can prevail in exclusion of religious principle.”

Unfortunately religious influence has often been replaced by so-called secular religions. “For instance, humanism and atheism function as secular religions binding their adherents through common belief and ideology….” Many philosophers have been at the forefront in promoting secularism and rejecting a moral view of the world based on Judeo/Christian values. In their view there is no “objective moral order” and no reason “to choose one goal over another.” They believe no preference should be given to moral goals. A British high court recently denied a Christian family the right to foster children because children could be infected with Christian moral beliefs. The ruling demonstrates just how radically things have shifted.

One of the reasons the attack on the moral or religious principles has been so successful is the reluctance of people of faith to express their views.

Extraordinary effort will be required to protect religious liberty....  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. We ask that you do this on the internet and in your personal interactions in the neighborhoods and communities where you live. Be an active participant, not a silent observer. ("The Restoration of Morality and Religious Freedom," BYU-Idaho Commencement, 16 December 2011)