​​​​Freedom-of-Religion

Elder Dallin H. Oaks 
Because we are frequently asked for our position on these matters, The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints asserts the following principles based on the teachings of Jesus Christ, and on fairness for all, including people of faith:
1.            We claim for everyone the God-given and Constitutional right to live their faith according to the dictates of their own conscience, without harming the health or safety of others.
2.            We acknowledge that the same freedom of conscience must apply to men and women everywhere to follow the religious faith of their choice, or none at all if they so choose.
3.            We believe laws ought to be framed to achieve a balance in protecting the freedoms of all people while respecting those with differing values.
4.            We reject persecution and retaliation of any kind, including persecution based on race, ethnicity, religious belief, economic circumstances or differences in gender or sexual orientation.
News Conference on Religious Freedom and Nondiscrimination, January 27, 2015


[O]n the big issues that divide adversaries on these issues, both sides should seek a balance, not a total victory. For example, religionists should not seek a veto over all nondiscrimination laws that offend their religion, and the proponents of nondiscrimination should not seek a veto over all assertions of religious freedom. Both sides in big controversies like this should seek to understand the other’s position and seek practical accommodations that provide fairness for all and total dominance for neither…..Thus, in a head-on conflict over individual free exercise and enforced nondiscrimination in housing and employment, for example, the Utah Legislature crafted a compromise position under the banner of “fairness for all.” It gave neither position all that it sought but granted both positions benefits that probably could not have been obtained without the kind of balancing that is possible in the lawmaking branch but not in the judiciary.  “The Boundary Between Church and State,” Part III of transcript, Second Annual Sacramento Court/Clergy Conference, October 20, 2015. 

[I]t will help if we are not led or unduly influenced by the extreme voices that are heard from contending positions. Extreme voices polarize and create resentment and fear by emphasizing what is nonnegotiable and by suggesting that the desired outcome is to disable the adversary and achieve absolute victory. Such outcomes are rarely attainable and never preferable to living together in mutual understanding and peace.  “The Boundary Between Church and State,” Part III of transcript, Second Annual Sacramento Court/Clergy Conference, October 20, 2015. 

[A]void leading out with nonnegotiables or extreme positions. Both sides in these controversies should seek balance, not total victory. For example, believers should not seek a veto over all nondiscrimination laws that offend their religion, and the proponents of nondiscrimination should not seek a veto over all assertions of religious freedom that impinge on nondiscrimination. Both sides in vital controversies like this should seek to understand the others’ positions and seek practical accommodations that provide fairness for both and total dominance for neither. Remarks at Claremont Graduate University Religious Freedom Conference, Part IV, March 25, 2016.

Elder Quentin L. Cook
 It should be noted that the customarily proposed legislation merely allows an individual to prove that their religious liberty has been “substantially burdened” and requires the government to demonstrate that its activity represents the least restrictive means to achieve a “compelling” state interest. Both the Catholic Church and The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints have supported this kind of legislation where there is no specific intention to discriminate against anyone.  Notre Dame Sydney School of Law Religious Liberty Lecture, Sydney, Australia, May 27, 2015

However, the Church asserts that those who want their rights protected must be willing to protect the rights of everyone else. We see no justification in not giving to those who have same-gender attraction and the LGBT community protection in housing and employment and some other basic public accommodation protections. Our doctrinal commitment to be compassionate requires us to support these basic rights and to treat everyone with civility and respect.  Notre Dame Sydney School of Law Religious Liberty Lecture, Sydney, Australia, May 27, 2015

We must also support the religious freedom of all faiths as well as those with no faith. Two basic statements which demonstrate the Church’s commitment to freedom of religion for all are: First, our eleventh article of faith, which declares, “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.” The second is a wonderful statement by the Prophet Joseph Smith, who passionately asserted his commitment to civil and religious liberty when he said, “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 on the rights of the Roman Catholics, or of any other denomination who may be unpopular and too weak to defend themselves. It is love of liberty which inspires my soul—civil and religious liberty to the whole of the human race.”  Notre Dame Sydney School of Law Religious Liberty Lecture, Sydney, Australia, May 27, 2015 (citing In History of the Church, 5:498–99.)


Elder Ronald A. Rasband
Despite what you may have heard or read over the years, The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints has stood consistently for freedom of choice and conscience. Many years ago the Prophet Joseph Smith wrote: “We believe . . . that all men are created equal, and that all have the privilege of thinking for themselves upon all matters relative to conscience.  [Joseph Smith, HC 2:6; from “The Elders of the Church in Kirtland, to Their Brethren Abroad,” 22 January 1834, published in Evening and Morning Star 2, no. 17 (February 1834): 135.]  "Religious Freedom and Fairness for All," BYU Devotional Address, September 15, 2015.

So what is the position of the Church on religious freedom? I can assure you that apostles and prophets, under the inspiration of heaven, have given significant consideration to this issue. We believe in following the commandments of God, which are designed to secure our eternal happiness. However, “God will force no man to heav’n.”  We believe in creating a space for everyone to live their conscience without infringing on the rights and safety of others. When the rights of one group collide against the rights of another, we must follow the principle of being as fair and sensitive to as many people as possible. The Church believes in and teaches “fairness for all.”  "Religious Freedom and Fairness for All," BYU Devotional Address, September 15, 2015.

Elder Dallin H. Oaks expressed the following…: We call on local, state, and the federal govern­ment to serve all of their people by passing legis­lation that protects vital religious freedoms for individuals, families, churches, and other faith groups while also protecting the rights of our LGBT citizens in such areas as housing, employment, and public accommodation in hotels, restaurants, and ­transportation—protections which are not available in many parts of the country.  "Religious Freedom and Fairness for All," BYU Devotional Address, September 15, 2015 (citing Dallin H. Oaks, quoted in Sarah Jane Weaver, “Church Calls for Laws That Protect Religious Freedom,” Church News, 27 January 2015, lds.org/church/news/church-calls-for-laws-that-protect-religious-freedom?lang=eng.). 

With the passage of protections for both LGBT and religious people six weeks later, our Church leaders and others congratulated the LGBT community. It was encouraging to see them protected across the state against eviction, housing discrimination, or being fired from a job because of their sexual orientation. We also congratulated our religious friends of other denominations, seeing them similarly protected in the workplace and in the public square.  Utah—and the Church—received national news coverage and praise for such a historic compromise. Now, note that no doctrinal or religious principles were sacrificed. No changes were made to God’s moral law or to our belief that sexual relations should only occur within marriage between a man and a woman. The outcome was fair to all and reflected a consistency in moral standards and teachings and in respect for others.  "Religious Freedom and Fairness for All," BYU Devotional Address, September 15, 2015.

[T]ry to view others through a lens of fairness. To do this requires you to first acknowledge that Heavenly Father loves all of His children equally. He has said, “Love one another; as I have loved you.”7 There is no choice, sin, or mistake that you or anyone else can make that will change His love for you or for them. That does not mean He excuses or condones sinful conduct; nor do we, in ourselves or in others. But that does mean we reach out in love to persuade, to help, and to rescue.  "Religious Freedom and Fairness for All," BYU Devotional Address, September 15, 2015.

 When you feel completely and perfectly loved, it is much easier to love others and to see them the way the Savior does. Please turn to our Savior in prayer and ask to receive His pure love both for yourself and for others. He has promised that you will feel His love if you ask in faith.  "Religious Freedom and Fairness for All," BYU Devotional Address, September 15, 2015.

Being filled with this pure love will guide your thoughts and actions, especially in a political arena that can at times be very contentious. Tensions can flare easily when discussing politics, and especially when discussing religious freedom. If we allow these moments to get the better of us, we will appear very unchristian to our family, friends, neighbors, and acquaintances. Remember how the Savior handled tough questions and challenging viewpoints. He remained calm, He showed respect, and He taught truth, but He never forced anyone to live the way He taught.  "Religious Freedom and Fairness for All," BYU Devotional Address, September 15, 2015.

[L]et fairness guide your treatment of others. Jesus Christ looked past people’s ethnicity, rank, and circumstances in order to teach them simple truth. Remember the Samaritan woman at the well, the Roman centurion, and the unpopular publican. The Lord has commanded us to follow His example, saying, “Ye shall observe to do the things which ye have seen me do.”8 Do not judge people or treat them unfairly because they sin differently than you, or we, do.  "Religious Freedom and Fairness for All," BYU Devotional Address, September 15, 2015.

Perhaps the greatest challenge in ­treating others fairly is in the balance required in supporting religious freedom when you have friends or family members who experience same-sex attraction or who are firm supporters of their rights. Some of you worry that you will appear intolerant or unsupportive if you seek protections to exercise your faith publicly and freely.  Again, study the life of our Savior and seek His guidance. The Savior demonstrated perfectly how to reach out in love and encouragement while also holding firm to what we know to be true. Remember that when the woman was caught in adultery, the Lord asked for anyone without sin to step forward and be the first to condemn her. When no one approached, our Savior, who was without sin, commented, “Neither do I condemn thee: go, and sin no more.”9 The forgiveness and kindness He showed her did not contradict His teachings that sexual intimacy is meant for a husband and a wife who are legally and lawfully married. You too can be unyielding in right and truth yet still reach out in kindness.  "Religious Freedom and Fairness for All," BYU Devotional Address, September 15, 2015.

When Christ’s friends and followers ended their relationships with Him, He expressed sadness and pain. However, when a relationship did end, it was because they were uncomfortable with His teachings, not because He was uncomfortable with them.  "Religious Freedom and Fairness for All," BYU Devotional Address, September 15, 2015.

As we seek to treat others fairly, we must remember the principle of agency. We must always respect the ability of others to make choices and ask that they extend to us the same courtesy. When talking with others about religious freedom, we must always remember that we can disagree without becoming disagreeable. Please do not shy away from a dialogue regarding these important issues simply because you are worried that it might be difficult or uncomfortable. We can pray for help, and we can expect that the Savior will help us speak and act in a way that is pleasing to Him.  "Religious Freedom and Fairness for All," BYU Devotional Address, September 15, 2015.

[] I would encourage you to stand up for fairness if you see another’s rights being impeded….From the time of Joseph Smith to our ­present day, our legacy is one of reaching out to heal breaches and hurt without compromising the doctrine that is not ours to trade away.  "Religious Freedom and Fairness for All," BYU Devotional Address, September 15, 2015.

This brings me to my final point, and that is the need for active involvement from your generation on this topic. I stand with the leaders of our Lord’s Church when I say that we need your generation’s natural understanding of compassion, respect, and fairness. We need your optimism and your determination to work through these complex social issues.  "Religious Freedom and Fairness for All," BYU Devotional Address, September 15, 2015.

Most important, we need you to engage in dialogue regarding the complexities of this issue and find solutions for how to best extend fairness to everyone, including people of faith. These conversations need to be occurring in our schools—perhaps right here at Brigham Young University—in our homes, and in our ­relationships with friends and coworkers.  When you have these conversations, please remember the principles we have discussed today, which are simply these: see others through a lens of fairness, treat them with respect and kindness, and expect the same treatment in return.  "Religious Freedom and Fairness for All," BYU Devotional Address, September 15, 2015.

Finally, I want to leave you with my testimony and my witness that as you follow our invitation to reach out to others in a spirit of fairness, you will feel an increase in the Savior’s love for you and for all of Heavenly Father’s children. Your example of respect and fairness will open doors and create meaningful friendships that you will cherish throughout your life.  "Religious Freedom and Fairness for All," BYU Devotional Address, September 15, 2015.



Fairness for All (Nondiscrimination)