Speaking in Tempe, Arizona, on January 21, Elder Dallin H. Oaks of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles and other Church leaders called on Latter-day Saints across the state to take a stand for religious freedom.
From the Tempe Institute of Religion at Arizona State University, where more than 11,000 were in attendance, the meeting was broadcast live to 81 stake centers across the state.
Elder Oaks stressed that Church members must “join in the efforts to achieve fairness for all,” saying, “The leadership and membership of The Church of Jesus Christ are irrevocably committed to the principle and preservation of religious freedom because it is necessary for the divine plan for mortals to exercise their agency to make the choices necessary to progress toward eternal life.”
He noted that it is possible to hold fast to eternal principles and to the tenets of the gospel while maintaining civility and kindness at the same time. In fact, he said, the idea of religious freedom can be compared to a coin: “Love of others and tolerance for their opinions and behavior is only one side of a two-sided coin,” Elder Oaks said. On “the other side” is divinely given doctrine that is true and right, and is unchangeable.
“The most important Church doctrine being currently attacked is our practice and reliance on the traditional man-woman marriage and family,” Elder Oaks continued. “The Family Proclamation begins with the declaration that ‘marriage between a man and a woman is ordained of God and that the family is central to the Creator’s plan for the eternal destiny of His children.’”
Elder Von G. Keetch, General Authority Seventy, who conducted the meeting and spoke prior to Elder Oaks, said, “Religious freedom is definitely under fire.”
“There will be serious challenges ahead,” he added. “The Lord needs each of you.”
He said the purpose of the Religious Freedom Conference held in Arizona, as with similar conferences in other areas, was to help members understand their role in defending our Constitutional rights and to provide them with tools to do so.
As part of the conference, religious liberty attorneys Hannah Smith and Alexander Dushku introduced the Church’s new webpage, religiousfreedom.lds.org, which features videos and information about what can be done to protect religious freedom.
“I hope, as members of the Church,” Sister Smith said, “we would be the first to stand up for religious freedom for all people.”
“We want effective ways to resolve differences without anger or contention and with mutual understanding and accommodation,” said Brother Dushku. “We all lose when debates on ideas and policies turn into personal attacks, boycotts, firings and other intimidation of adversaries.”
To help with this, the new webpage features posts like “Everyday Conversations: Creating Mutual Respect in Heated Conversations” and “Religion in Public Schools: 7 Religious Things You Can Still Do.” Also available on the site are “10 Ways to Protect Religious Freedom” and “Seven Keys to Successful Conversations.”
“I love the new pages,” said Kathleen George of the Quail Creek Ward, Queen Creek North Stake. “There are talking points, tips, etc., for members who don’t feel they have the skillset to have these discussions and speak to those not of our faith on sensitive subject matters that may conflict with our doctrine,” said Sister George. “It can be difficult to know how to have meaningful conversations with grace and fairness, but now there’s help, a road map, so to speak.”
Sister George said the conference was an excellent reminder.
“We have a rigorous effort, a long path before us,” she said. “Our fundamental doctrine is being challenged, and that doctrine will not change. The political climate wants to alter the family principles we believe in. We must oppose these positions and believe in God, the commandments and inspiration, despite the cultural climate.”
She adds, at the same time, “It’s important to show love and respect for all, despite differences, without changing our beliefs or positions.”
Sister George’s commitment is now stronger than ever. “I will continue to move this important work forward, while keeping in mind that all men/women are God’s children with their own agency and path. I have a right to my voice and opinion and so do you.”
Protecting religious freedom requires a measure of hard work, as explained by another conference speaker, Elder Lance B. Wickman, general counsel of the Church and an emeritus General Authority Seventy.
The Constitution was created as the result of hard work and compromise “for the common good,” he said. Now, in turn, “‘We the people’ must do the hard work in defense of religious freedom ‘in order to form a more perfect union’ today,” Elder Wickman noted.
Shane Krauser, retired attorney and nationally renowned speaker on the Constitution, agreed.
Brother Krauser, a member of Greenfield 2nd Ward, Chandler East Stake, and a father of six, said, “The specific emphasis on the ‘hard work of citizenship’ hits right at the heart of the matter. Liberty, especially religious liberty, cannot be defended by an apathetic or complacent people. Liberty can only be defended by a vigilant, courageous, and knowledgeable people, and that knowledge does not happen through osmosis.”
Brother Krauser went on to apply these thoughts to current events.
“We have seen numerous individuals attacked on religious grounds all over the United States,” he said. “Over the last few years, a florist in Washington, a baker in Oregon, and a photographer in New Mexico all experienced consequences for exercising their agency. … People should be free to exercise their core religious values, and no person should have to leave core beliefs at the door of their business or anywhere else.”
“As a father of six children, one of the deepest desires of my heart is for my posterity to experience liberty, prosperity, and the ability to worship as they wish,” Brother Krauser added.
“We should all understand that if one voice can be stilled, every other voice is potentially at risk of being silenced by a new majority that finds other arguments too ‘bigoted’ or ‘hateful’ for the public square,” said Nancy Richardson, of the Dreaming Summit Ward, Goodyear Stake. “The church offers us security at every turn, spiritual, eternal, hope to cling to and hope to live by. How I treasure the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, our leaders, the Savior and Heavenly Father.”
Especially with new tools at our disposal, she continued, “We cannot sit in the bleachers along the parade route while a tiny, tiny fraction of Americans have the biggest megaphones and holler the loudest.”
“Be a voice,” Sister Richardson encouraged. “Step forward gently in righteousness. Defend, protect. You’ll never be sorry to have done so.”
Elder Oaks concluded with a message of hope, stating, “Despite obvious current concerns about the free exercise of religion, we must never forget that we are involved in the work of the Lord and He will bless us. As the prophet Nephi taught, we must ‘press forward with a steadfastness in Christ, having a perfect brightness of hope, and a love of God and of all men.’”