Where are We to Put Our Efforts?

Elder Dallin H. Oaks
In our private personal and family prayers we should ask God to help us and our neighbors and leaders recognize God our Creator and the right and wrong established by His commandments. We should do this for the good of His children everywhere.  “Witnesses of God,” BYU-Idaho Devotional February 25, 2014 (Part III.A).

We should also assert ourselves against the current trend to refrain from religious references even in private communications. In recent years the inclusion of religious symbols and reverent words in Christmas greetings and sympathy cards have almost disappeared. When we make choices on these kinds of communications, we should not participate in erasing sacred reminders from our personal communications. As believers, we have a duty to preserve the name and influence of God and Christ in our conversations, our lives and our culture.  “Witnesses of God,” BYU-Idaho Devotional February 25, 2014 (Part III.A).

[Another] thing believers can do to stand as witnesses of God is to support public recognition of the blessings of God.  “Witnesses of God,” BYU-Idaho Devotional February 25, 2014 (Part III.B).

We should press officials in the executive, legislative and judicial branches of governments to honor the constitutionally guaranteed free exercise of religion. “Witnesses of God,” BYU-Idaho Devotional February 25, 2014 (Part III.C).

[W]e should be alert to oppose the potential significance of the fact that some government officials and public policy advocates are describing the First Amendment guarantee of the “free exercise” of religion as merely “freedom of worship.” But the guarantee of “free exercise” protects the right to come out of our private settings, including churches, synagogues and mosques, to act upon our beliefs, subject only to the legitimate government powers necessary to protect public health, safety and welfare. Free exercise surely protects religious citizens in acting upon their beliefs in public policy debates and in votes cast as citizens or as lawmakers.  “Witnesses of God,” BYU-Idaho Devotional February 25, 2014 (Part III.C).

We should also use our political influence to resist current moves to banish from legislative and judicial lawmaking all actions based on religious convictions and motivations.  “Witnesses of God,” BYU-Idaho Devotional February 25, 2014 (Part III.C).

[The] symbol of prayer has been under legal attack for over 50 years, first in public school classrooms, where prayers were outlawed 50 years ago, and now in college graduations, city council meetings and other public settings. Whatever the designated pray-er’s concept of God and whatever his or her religious persuasion or language of prayer, I hope the citizens of this nation can continue to witness their belief in God by the symbol of prayer, wisely and tolerantly administered. That is worth contending for.  “Witnesses of God,” BYU-Idaho Devotional February 25, 2014 (Part III.C).

How, then, do we seek to resolve the differences described? Although highly exceptional impositions may sometimes dictate otherwise, I begin with a bias against going to court. I know the shortcomings of that route. I have served in the judicial branch—long ago as a law clerk in the United States Supreme Court and more recently as a justice on the Utah Supreme Court. With that experience, I prefer the route of lawmaking through the state legislatures.  We all know that the courts are the final fallback and that the boundaries of religious freedom are rigorously policed by litigating organizations like the Becket Fund for Religious Liberty. But in policy making, litigation should not be the first recourse. Courts are limited to resolving the specific cases before them. They are ill suited to the overall, complex, and comprehensive rule making that is required in a circumstance like this contest between two great forces. On the one hand we have what is perhaps a majority in our society seeking nondiscrimination and on the other hand a group advocating the religious freedom that is a precious “first freedom” in our constitution.  Remarks at Claremont Graduate University Religious Freedom Conference, Part IV, March 25, 2016.
Elder Robert D. Hales
There are four cornerstones of religious freedom that we as Latter-day Saints must rely upon and protect.  The first is freedom to believe….The second…is the freedom to share our faith and our beliefs with others…..The third…is the freedom to form a religious organization, a church, to worship peacefully with others….[And t]he fourth…is the freedom to live our faith—free exercise of faith not just in the home and chapel but also in public places.  “Preserving Agency, Protecting Religious Freedom,” General Conference, April 2015.

Brothers and sisters, we are responsible to safeguard these sacred freedoms and rights for ourselves and our posterity. What can you and I do?  First, we can become informed. Be aware of issues in your community that could have an impact on religious liberty.  Second, in your individual capacity, join with others who share our commitment to religious freedom. Work side by side to protect religious freedom.  Third, live your life to be a good example of what you believe—in word and deed. How we live our religion is far more important than what we may say about our religion.  “Preserving Agency, Protecting Religious Freedom,” General Conference, April 2015.

Elder Jeffrey R. Holland
In the 21st century we cannot flee any longer. 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. That is one way we can tolerate being in Babylon but not of it.  “The Call to be Christlike,” Ensign, June 2014 (p. 33).

Elder Quentin L. Cook
We need to protect our families and be at the forefront together with all people of goodwill in doing everything we can to preserve light, hope, and morality in our communities.  “Let There Be Light!” Ensign, November 2010 (p. 30).

Much of what we will do to improve the moral fabric of society and protect religious freedom will be accomplished in our families and communities.  “Restoring Morality and Religious Freedom,” Ensign, September 2012 (p. 33).

We ask that you do this on the Internet and in your personal interactions in the neighborhoods and communities where you live. “Restoring Morality and Religious Freedom,” Ensign, September 2012 (p. 38).

“Church leaders can’t do it all, especially at the grass-roots community level….[W]e look to our responsible and faithful members to engage personally with blogs, to write thoughtful, online letters to the news organizations, and to act in other ways to correct the record with their own opinions.”  “Latter-day Saint Lawyers and the Public Square,” Clark Memorandum, Fall 2009, p. 11 (citing Elder M. Russell Ballard, address to the BYU Management Society, Washington, D.C., 19 April 2008).

I’m well aware that part of the Internet is occupied by people who like to abuse and scream at each other rather than discuss things or, as the Atlantic Monthly recently reported, who seem to fit somewhere between bigotry and stupidity.  It’s not all like that.  Those sites attract their own followers, but you can rise above that by reading and commenting on the more thoughtful sites and engaging in more respectful dialogue, sharing your values, and speaking out for the Church when required.  “Latter-day Saint Lawyers and the Public Square,” Clark Memorandum, Fall 2009, p. 11. 

I would like to challenge you to contemplate how you can improve the society in which you live.  Participating in government and asserting righteous principles in the public square would be a commendable and much needed goal.  Many times your particular talents are needed to defend our faith.  “Latter-day Saint Lawyers and the Public Square,” Clark Memorandum, Fall 2009, pp. 10-11. 

Accordingly, the two most important religious priorities in today’s world and in Australia are: First, protect each church and its right to teach and function according to its doctrine and beliefs. This includes the freedom of a church to form a legal entity, to own property including schools and hospitals, etc., establish its doctrine, govern its ecclesiastical affairs, set requirements for church membership, conduct worship, and administer its sacraments and ordinances according to its doctrine.  Second is the freedom to believe according to the dictates of one’s own conscience without fear of governmental or private retaliation. This includes the basic premise of democracy that no one should be punished based on the religious beliefs that he or she holds. Each family must have the right to worship and conduct religious activities within the home. In addition, each church member must be protected in employment, public office, and the public square. No person should be disqualified from participation in national life because of their religious beliefs.  Notre Dame Sydney School of Law Religious Liberty Lecture, Sydney, Australia, May 27, 2015.

Protecting those who feel accountable to God for their conduct is the “fighting in the trenches” that is going on in the United States today. Not all examples of incursions into religious freedom are clear-cut. Refusing to terminate innocent life should be relatively easy to defend, as should protecting religious related institutions; some others are harder.  Notre Dame Sydney School of Law Religious Liberty Lecture, Sydney, Australia, May 27, 2015.

An extremely important area where all faiths could have an impact is to sponsor credible research that will demonstrate the social and fiscal benefits of religious organizations to governmental budgets and address directly the secular view that religious tax concessions are a drain on government income.  Notre Dame Sydney School of Law Religious Liberty Lecture, Sydney, Australia, May 27, 2015.

There are numerous other endeavours, both internationally and here in Australia, where people of faith working cooperatively with each other can strengthen religious liberty. But most importantly, people of faith must demonstrate each day by their good works that religious freedom benefits everyone, both believer and nonbeliever.  Notre Dame Sydney School of Law Religious Liberty Lecture, Sydney, Australia, May 27, 2015.

Elder D. Todd Christofferson
I come back to the J. Reuben Clark Law Society and what you as LDS attorneys can do to help protect religious freedom. Again, without presuming to offer a comprehensive list, let me focus on three areas.

First, it is important that you become informed about existing and potential threats to religious freedom. In the United States at least, and I suspect it is the same here, whenever any sort of construction project is proposed, environmental groups are quick to recognize any adverse environmental effects that the project may create. They have spent the time and effort needed to understand the issues so they can detect threats to the interests they care about. In like manner, we need lawyers who care enough about religious freedom and are well enough informed that they can recognize both existing threats and those that are likely to materialize in the future. 

To do that in a truly helpful way, you need to excel in your chosen field of practice, to maintain the highest professional and personal standards, and then to get involved in the important institutions and forums that pertain to your field. You need to be among the best and most respected in your area of the law. As you strive toward this goal, you will gain the expertise to detect religious freedom threats in specific areas of the law and public policy. You will have the respect of your professional colleagues, so they will listen to you as you raise concerns. And in some instances you will be in a position—perhaps even within government—from which you can directly propose and help enact positive solutions. 

So pursue excellence in your chosen area of practice; be attorneys of the highest integrity; earn the personal and professional respect of your legal peers; get involved where it matters in your field; and be, as it were, “watchmen on the tower” of religious freedom. 

Second, we need you to keep the Church informed of risks and concerns—and then to be patient. The Church needs to know, based on your expertise and position, about threats to religious freedom. It needs to know about gathering storms. We need appropriate and orderly mechanisms so the Church can be better informed of potential threats to religious liberty, and those mechanisms are something we will be developing in the months ahead. 

But we also need you to understand that…the Church must make prudential decisions based on what can realistically be accomplished given the Church’s resources, vulnerabilities, and other goals. That may mean that the concerns you raise do not result in the Church’s taking action….But it will also mean that when the Church decides to act, you will be ready to assist in the best way possible. 

Finally, and more broadly, the Church and society need you to be examples of the believers, in word and deed. Elder Cook has said, “One of the reasons the attack on moral and religious principles has been so successful is the reluctance of people of faith to express their views.”  We need you to speak up—to express your views and defend the faith. And we need you to do so with respect for the beliefs of others and with dignity and decency as disciples of Jesus Christ. 

And, just as important, you must live your faith so that others—inside and outside the legal community—will see your good works, experience your genuine love and friendship, and feel the Spirit working through you. Because as they do, they will want to listen to you and understand when you say your religious freedom is being abridged. They may not agree with you or even understand entirely the issue that is so important to you. But if they know you and respect you because you are a true disciple of Christ, they will be far more inclined to work toward a solution that respects the religious freedoms of both you and the Church. 

Brothers and sisters—fellow attorneys—ours is a noble profession. At its highest, the legal profession defends the vulnerable, secures God-given rights, promotes justice and order, mitigates and often avoids conflict, and brings peace. May we strive for excellence in all we do so we will be ready when the Lord calls us to defend the cause of righteousness and freedom. May we stand as watchmen on the tower, ever vigilant against forces that would harm essential liberties. May we build bridges to all around us by living as true disciples. And may we, as advocates and mediators, strive in all things to emulate Jesus Christ, our Advocate and Mediator with the Father.  

Elder D. Todd Christofferson, “Watchmen on the Tower,” Clark Memorandum, Spring 2015, pp. 10-11.

Elder L. Tom Perry
I invite you to read carefully the information the Church has produced on religious freedom, and to find ways in your communities to help keep vibrant the God-given gifts of conscience and religious beliefs.  “Mormon Apostle Promotes Religious Freedom” (Video)