In a landmark address today to the Chapman University School of Law, Elder Dallin H. Oaks of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints affirmed the importance of the free exercise of religion and called for people to work together to protect this First Amendment right. “It is imperative that those of us who believe in God and in the reality of right and wrong unite more effectively to protect our religious freedom to preach and practice our faith in God,” he said.
Elder Oaks outlined the positive impact religion has had on society.
“In our nation‘s founding and in our constitutional order, religious freedom and its associated First Amendment freedoms of speech and press are the motivating and dominating civil liberties and civil rights,” Elder Oaks said. This freedom is founded upon “religious principles of human worth and dignity” that protect the conscience of all individuals. He further emphasized that “only those principles in the hearts of a majority of our diverse population can sustain that Constitution today.”
Elder Oaks stated that religious values and political realities are “so interlinked in the origin and perpetuation of this nation that we cannot lose the influence of religion in our public life without seriously jeopardizing our freedoms.”
Elder Oaks noted instances in which individuals who have spoken out or acted in accordance with their religious beliefs have been disciplined, dismissed from their employment and otherwise punished, describing these cases as another sign of the threat to the free exercise of religion.
“All of this shows an alarming trajectory of events pointing toward constraining the freedom of religious speech by forcing it to give way to the ‘rights’ of those offended by such speech,” Elder Oaks said.
In calling for a united effort among religions to defend religious freedom, Elder Oaks said such a coalition need not be associated with a particular religious group or political party.
“I speak for what Cardinal Francis George described in his address at Brigham Young University just a year ago. His title was ‘Catholics and Latter-day Saints: Partners in the Defense of Religious Freedom.’ He proposed “that Catholics and Mormons stand with one another and with other defenders of conscience, and that we can and should stand as one in the defense of religious liberty. In the coming years, interreligious coalitions formed to defend the rights of conscience for individuals and for religious institutions should become a vital bulwark against the tide of forces at work in our government and society to reduce religion to a purely private reality. At stake is whether or not the religious voice will maintain its right to be heard in the public square.”
In an interview prior to his speech (read and watch the full interview here), Elder Oaks said, “What unites us in religion is far more important than what divides us in the capacity to speak up for religious freedom.”