Transcript of Elder Christofferson Remarks at NYLDSPA Annual Banquet

Transcript of Elder Christofferson Remarks at NYLDSPA Annual Banquet

Additional Resource

Religious Freedom—What Can I Do?

By Elder D. Todd Christofferson of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles
 

New York Latter-day Saint Professional Association
Riverside Church
Manhattan, New York
November 9, 2017

I am grateful to be present with you this evening at this annual banquet of the New York Latter-day Saint Professional Association. I commend this group for your commitment to connecting professionals of strong ethical values. You are also to be congratulated for your efforts to fund college scholarships for local youth in need.

It is a privilege to be here at the historic Riverside Church in Manhattan. Some of you may not know that many Latter-day Saint homes and Church buildings have a connection to the Riverside Church. The Riverside Church owns and displays two original paintings of Jesus Christ by Heinrich Hoffman that are frequently used in our publications and that hang in many of our homes and buildings.

I want to acknowledge the many interfaith, government, and community leaders that are here as our guests this evening. Please know that we are very grateful for your friendship and honored by your presence.

I am pleased to participate in honoring New York Attorney General Eric Schneiderman. We appreciate the effort that he has made to develop relationships with our Church leaders. Attorney General Schneiderman has graciously hosted our local leaders at a Shabbat service, has attended a sacrament meeting, and was kind enough to allow us to host him on a tour of the new Philadelphia Temple last year. Our local leaders also speak very highly of those that work with him in his office. We also recognize his willingness to be a strong voice in defense of religious freedom here in New York and abroad. Many of you have seen the article denouncing discrimination against Latter-day Saints that he published in the Huffington Post a year ago. He has spoken to us this evening about the Religious Rights initiative in his office which forms part of his ongoing efforts to prevent religious discrimination in the workplace. Attorney General Schneiderman’s commitment to protecting the religious rights of all people sets an example of positive leadership that we hope all elected officials will follow.

My brethren in the Quorum of the Twelve and I are speaking much about religious freedom these days. Elders Dallin H. Oaks, Jeffrey R. Holland, Quentin L. Cook, Ronald A. Rasband, Dale G. Renlund, and I have all given published addresses to a wide variety of audiences on the topic in the recent past—most of us more than once. At your banquet last year, Elder Jeffrey R. Holland eloquently explained that religion has been the “preeminent influence for good in the world. The heart of our culture.”[i] Three years ago at this event, the late Elder L. Tom Perry enthusiastically encouraged you to partner with those of other faiths to preserve religious freedom. Tonight, I’d like to discuss some things that you can do to help foster a culture that values religious freedom.

I say foster a culture that values religious freedom because it is not just laws that sustain freedom of religion or speech or assembly or the other essential liberties we sometimes take for granted. If the time comes in any society that the predominant culture does not sufficiently value these freedoms, then laws, even constitutions, will not be sufficient to sustain and preserve them. We are all aware of nations where freedom of the press and freedom of religion are specifically enshrined in the supreme law of the land, but in fact those freedoms are nonexistent. And we recall a time in Mormon history in the 1800s when the constitutional guarantee of religious freedom in the United States did not protect our early forebears. Without an appreciation in the culture for the value and contributions of religion, the free exercise of religion is in jeopardy.

Some of you may be questioning why my brethren and I would choose to repeatedly speak about this topic at a gathering of Latter-day Saint business professionals. Let me briefly suggest three reasons.

First, I’m told that true New Yorkers believe that New York City is the center of everything—and there may be at least a kernel of truth to that. New York City is a recognized worldwide center of banking, finance, mass media, advertising, publishing, fashion, and the arts. The cultural, economic, and political influence that this region wields over the rest of the world is significant. As business, religious, and community leaders in this thriving metropolis, you play a role in shaping that influence.

Second, we are concerned that religious freedom is under fire in very real ways. As I noted in an address last year:

"Although religious freedom lies at the core of what America is and what it stands for, critics now openly ask whether religion belongs in American public life at all. Some say that faithful Americans have no business speaking of their beliefs when addressing issues of public concern, even when those issues unmistakably involve moral judgments. Others condemn churches and religious organizations for expressing moral and religious perspectives on matters of public policy—especially when those perspectives conflict with secular viewpoints. Some even claim, with no sense of history, that religious people and institutions violate the constitutional separation of church and state if they bring their beliefs into the public square. A few scholars have gone so far as to argue that religion does not deserve to be tolerated, much less receive special protection. Recently it has become popular to argue that the freedom of religion is really only the right to worship rather than the right to freely exercise your faith in daily life—as if religion should be kept in the closet or some other private place.”[ii]

These trends should be concerning to all. Religious leaders alone cannot reverse them. The help of everyone is needed—even New York business people.

Third, and relatedly, the lack of business and professional support for religious freedom is of particular concern.[iii] This manifests itself in the overt discrimination against employees seeking to exercise their religious rights, discrimination that Attorney General Schneiderman is working so hard to eliminate. It is also seen in the corporate endorsement, through advertising and other ways, of media messaging that negatively portrays people of faith and the exercise of conscience.

So, what can you do to help preserve this most important freedom? Time will not permit an in-depth discussion, but let me briefly suggest three ways.

Begin by educating yourself.

Study the issues. Learn for yourself what religious freedom means, why it matters, and how it is being threatened. Our Church has developed a website, religiousfreedom.lds.org, that is a good place to start.

Then, speak up.

Look for appropriate ways to help your children, neighbors, friends, and coworkers understand the importance of allowing the free exercise of faith and conscience. Help those you associate with in the workplace understand that a growing body of research demonstrates that protecting religious freedom is good for business. For example, as I noted during an address in India in August, a recent study “reached the remarkable conclusion that the presence of religious freedom in a country is one of only three factors significantly associated with global economic growth. … Religion delivers such beneficial results because religious freedom generates peace and stability. Where society is stable there are opportunities to invest and conduct predictable business operations. Ten out of 12 of the World Economic Forum’s pillars of national competitiveness were stronger in countries with low government restrictions on religious freedom.”[iv] Another study estimates that religion contributes $1.2 trillion to the economy each year.[v]

Recognize and share the contributions that believing individuals and religious institutions make to your communities. As people appreciate the meaningful good that stems from the exercise of religious beliefs, they will better understand why the right to exercise such beliefs should be protected. For example, Catholic Charities of the Archdiocese of New York, with whom our local members are pleased to partner, contributed over $790 million in services and helped over 400,000 individuals between 2014 and 2015.[vi] I’m pleased that the LDS Church has a wonderful partnership with the NYC Service Division of the New York City Mayor’s Office whereby our local missionaries have assisted the city in various ways, including responding to 311 calls for snow removal.

As you speak out, refrain from casting your views on religious freedom as a matter of party politics. Support for the right of free exercise of religion must transcend the political skirmishes of the moment. Many good men and women of all political persuasions now work together to bolster this right. It belongs to all Americans, all should work for its preservation, and none should be made to feel that political affiliations are an impediment to doing so.

Remember: when advocating for the freedom to act upon your religious beliefs, you must also protect the rights of others to do the same. As Attorney General Schneiderman has eloquently stated, “Prejudice against all religions is pernicious, and those who would be defenders of religious liberty must apply one standard to all faiths.”[vii] This is true even when it means that we must protect others’ beliefs and practices we don’t like.

As you discuss these issues, you may meet some who believe that it is impossible to balance the right to religious freedom with nondiscrimination laws designed to protect our LBGTQ brothers and sisters. We do not subscribe to that false dichotomy. Rather, in our pluralistic society, we believe that “a ‘fairness for all’ approach that strives to balance reasonable safeguards for LGBTQ people with protecting key religious rights, is the best way to overcome the divisions and present cultural divide in our nation.”[viii] Where there are conflicts between the right to religious freedom and nondiscrimination ideals, both sides should seek a balance, not a total victory. It need not be a “zero sum” matter if core rights on all sides are respected, and if we recognize that not everything is core. “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.”[ix]

Finally, get involved.

Join with others in the community. As President Thomas S. Monson stated: “We have a responsibility to be active in the communities where we live, all Latter-day Saints, and to work cooperatively with other churches and organizations. … I think it’s important that we eliminate the weakness of one standing alone and substitute for it the strength of people working together.”[x] Simply put, “the time for an insular focus on just our own families and congregations is gone. We have to get involved in the community organizations around us.”[xi]

My brethren and I are appreciative of the fruitful partnerships and deep friendships that we have developed with fellow faith leaders while working together on important issues like religious freedom. I am grateful that two of these very dear friends have been with us this evening—former New York Attorney General Robert Abrams and Rabbi Joseph Potasnik. We hope that all of our local Latter-day Saint leaders—and, indeed, all of our members—are enjoying similarly close relationships with the leaders and congregants of other faiths in their communities.

Let me close with a bit of New York history.

In 1657, Peter Stuyvesant, the provincial director general of the Dutch trading colony of New Amsterdam, issued an ordinance prohibiting colonists from abetting or harboring those who practiced the Quaker religion.[xii] In response, the town clerk of Vlissingen, a man named Edward Hart, drafted a remonstrance (or petition), which was signed by 30 residents on December 27, 1657. The signers of the document were “ordinary citizens.”[xiii] The petition was short—just 642 words.

In it, the signers wrote that the “law of love, peace and liberty” extends to “Jews, Turks and Egyptians” and expressed their “desire” not to offend their fellowmen “in whatsoever form, name or title hee [sic] appears in, whether Presbyterian, Independent, Baptist or Quaker.” [xiv] Rather, they stated, that they “shall be glad to see anything of God in any of them, desiring to doe [sic] unto all men as we desire all men should doe [sic] unto us.”[xv] They then concluded that “if any of these said persons come in love unto us, we cannot in conscience lay violent hands upon them, but give them free egresse and regresse unto our Town, and houses, as God shall persuade our consciences, for we are bounde by the law of God and man to doe good unto all men and evil to noe man.”[xvi]

What was once the colony of New Amsterdam is now, of course, New York City. The town of Vlissingen now bears the name Flushing. The short petition to Peter Stuyvesant by the ordinary citizens of Vlissingen is now known as the “Flushing Remonstrance.” Although many have never heard of it, historians and commentators have recognized the Flushing Remonstrance as being “perhaps, the first document arguing for religious tolerance in the New World,”[xvii] “one of the foundational documents of American liberty,”[xviii] and an “ancestor to the first amendment in the Bill of Rights.”[xix] One historian has gone so far as to call the date of its signing—360 years ago this December 27—the day “religious freedom was born on this continent.”[xx]

Many of you may consider yourselves to be nothing more than ordinary citizens in this modern commercial metropolis, striving day-by-day to provide for your families, to serve your communities, and to fulfill your duty to God. You may wonder whether you can really have an impact on the way that religious freedom is viewed by the decision makers and influencers in this critical part of the world. If so, I remind you, in the words of my file leader, President Russell M. Nelson, that God “uses the unlikely to accomplish the impossible!”[xxi] Like Esther of old, who God put in a position to save the Jews in Persia, you may very well have been placed in your circles of influence “for such a time as this.”[xxii] If you are willing to educate yourselves, to speak up, and to join with others, you can make a difference. You can help bring about a rebirth, a fresh appreciation and respect for religious freedom for all in the hearts and minds of your fellow citizens in this most influential part of the world.

 

[i] Jeffrey R. Holland, “The Light of the World,” Mormon Newsroom, Oct. 13, 2016, mormonnewsroom.org/article/transcript-elder-holland-address-new-york-lds-professionals-association.

[ii] D. Todd Christofferson, “Religious Freedom—A Cherished Heritage to Defend,” Mormon Newsroom, June 26, 2016, mormonnewsroom.org/article/religious-freedom%E2%80%94a-cherished-heritage-to-defend.

[iii] D. Todd Christofferson, “Religious Freedom—A Cherished Heritage to Defend.”

[iv] D. Todd Christofferson, “The Good That Religion Does,” Mormon Newsroom, Aug. 14, 2017, mormonnewsroom.org/article/the-good-that-religion-does.

[v] “Religion in US Worth $1.2 Trillion to Economy,” Mormon Newsroom, Sept. 15, 2016, mormonnewsroom.org/article/religion-us-worth-12-trillion-economy

[vi] Catholic Charities Archdiocese of New York Annual Report 2014–2015, https://catholiccharitiesny.org/sites/default/files/files/CCADNY2014-2015.pdf.

[vii] Eric T. Schneiderman, “Time to Stand Up for the Religious Freedom of All Americans,” Nov. 7, 2016, huffingtonpost.com/eric-t-schneiderman/time-to-stand-up-for-the_b_12850988.html.

[viii] “Key Points from Church’s Religious Freedom and Fairness Announcement,” Jan. 29, 2015, lds.org/church/news/key-points-from-churchs-religious-freedom-and-fairness-announcement?lang=eng.

[ix] Dallin H. Oaks, “Elder Dallin H. Oaks Speaks on Religious Freedom in Texas,” Mormon Newsroom, Sept. 10, 2016, mormonnewsroom.org/article/transcript-elder-dallin-h-oaks-religious-freedom-dallas.

[x] “Who Are the Mormons?” Mormon Newsroom, mormonnewsroom.com.gh/article/who-are-the-mormons-.

[xi] Lance B. Wickman, “Promoting Religious Freedom in a Secular Age: Fundamental Principles, Practical Priorities, and Fairness for All,” 2016 Religious Freedom Annual Review, July 7–8, 2016, mormonnewsroom.org/article/promoting-religious-freedom-secular-age-fundamental-principles-practical-priorities-fairness-for-all.

[xii] Kenneth T. Jackson, A Colony with a Conscience,” The New York Times, Dec. 27, 2007, nytimes.com/2007/12/27/opinion/27jackson.html; Russell Shorto, The Island and the Center of the World: The Epic Story of Dutch Manhattan and the Forgotten Colony that Shaped America (2004), 263.

[xiii] Kenneth T. Jackson, “A Colony with a Conscience.”

[xiv] “The Flushing Remonstrance, 1657,” Historical Society of the New York Courts, nycourts.gov/history/legal-history-new-york/legal-history-eras-03/history-era-03-flushing-remonstrance.html.

[xv] “The Flushing Remonstrance, 1657.”

[xvi] “The Flushing Remonstrance, 1657.”

[xvii] Alexander Nazaryan, “The Day American Tolerance Was Born in Queens,” Dec. 27, 2012, nydailynews.com/blogs/pageviews/day-american-tolerance-born-queens-blog-entry-1.1639681.

[xviii] Russell Shorto, The Island and the Center of the World: The Epic Story of Dutch Manhattan and the Forgotten Colony that Shaped America, 263.

[xix] Russell Shorto, The Island and the Center of the World: The Epic Story of Dutch Manhattan and the Forgotten Colony that Shaped America, 263.

[xx] Kenneth T. Jackson, “A Colony with a Conscience.”

[xxi] Russell M. Nelson, “The Lord Uses the Unlikely to Accomplish the Impossible,” BYU–Idaho devotional, Jan. 26, 2015, http://www2.byui.edu/Presentations/Transcripts/Devotionals/2015_01_26_Nelson.htm.

[xxii] Esther 4:14.

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