The following is part 3 of a three-part series on religious freedom. Part 1 is titled, “Why is religious freedom important? » and Part 2 is titled, “Religious freedom is at the heart of what it means to be human.”
ROME, ITALY — President Dallin H. Oaks has spoken about religious freedom for much of his 38-year apostolic ministry.
It’s a topic he’s been prepared to address, said the first counselor in the First Presidency of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.
He served as a law clerk on the Supreme Court of the United States, learning about the essential judicial branch of government.
His work as a law professor for a decade at the University of Chicago gave him the opportunity to reflect and sometimes write on this subject.
As president of Brigham Young University, he fought for the religious freedoms of the church-owned university.
And while serving as a justice on the Supreme Court of Utah, he concluded that the best way to approach religious freedom is to balance competing interests, including non-discrimination and religious freedom.
“So looking back on my professional life, I see that I was guided by a series of experiences that broadened my perspective,” he said.
Last month, President Oaks delivered a powerful and historic address in Rome, calling for “a worldwide effort to defend and advance the religious liberty of all of God’s children in every nation of the world” at the Summit of Our Dame on Religious Freedom 2022.
During the three-day conference, held in a country of deep religious significance to many, religious leaders addressed the summit’s theme, Dignitatis Humanae – the Second Vatican Council’s statement on religious freedom.
President Oaks’ speech marked the second time in less than a year that he has delivered a major address on the topic of religious liberty. On Nov. 12, 2021, President Oaks called on faith leaders and organizations to come together to seek a peaceful resolution to the “painful conflicts between religious liberty and nondiscrimination” in a historic address delivered from the Dome Hall of the University of Virginia Rotunda. in Charlottesville, Virginia.
In July, he expanded on this important subject in Rome, addressing the topic “Pursuing Religious Freedom, Worldwide.”
President Oaks’ remarks were received with great enthusiasm and referenced by other speakers during the three-day conference – including remarks by Justice Samuel Alito, Associate Justice of the Supreme Court of the United States; Mary Ann Glendon, professor at Harvard Law School and former US Ambassador to the Holy See – the pope’s jurisdiction in Rome and the sovereign city-state known as Vatican City; and G. Marcus Cole, founder of Notre Dame’s Religious Liberty Initiative.
In an interview with the Rome Temple Visitor Center the day before the talk, President Oaks said that members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints should be concerned about religious freedom because a fundamental part of the plan of salvation is the ability to choose.
“Religious freedom is a prerequisite for that essential quality of mortal life, created by God our Eternal Father,” he said. “The whole purpose and essential environment of the Church depends on freedom of choice.”
President Oaks has said that understanding religious freedom requires balance.
Some believe that religious freedom should override all other considerations. And some believe it is dominated by other considerations, both legal and political.
The answer, he pointed out, lies in the middle.
“The most effective representation of religious freedom is a representation that defends people who believe or not,” he explained.
Because of the persecution experienced by early Latter-day Saints, including his own ancestors, President Oaks has declared religious freedom to be in his DNA. “For me, it gives religious freedom a priority and a motivation,” he explained.
“The only way to advance religious freedom in the world is for people who enjoy religious freedom to think about the situation of people who are not religious, who are not believers, who have not yet seen the importance or cannot enjoy religious freedom in the country where they live,” he said. “We need to think about religious freedom for all of God’s children. do not respond to what our divine Heavenly Father expects of us.
Following recent periods of political strife in the United States and other countries, President Oaks said “there are clearly grave concerns and doubts” in the hearts of many people about their own governments. or trends they see in governments around the world.
“I guess what I would say to those who are overwhelmed with such doubts is, ‘Trust in the Lord.’ There is a God in heaven. And He watches over all His children in every nation. When we have done all that we can under the conditions of our own government, the Lord will make up the difference for the benefit and blessing of his children in his time.
During the Notre Dame Religious Freedom Summit, President Oaks called for a united effort to promote religious freedom.
“We should do more to teach the general public the benefits everyone has when religious people have the freedom to pursue their doctrinal interests and their commanded service to God. Everyone benefits when we have this freedom, but we must make a better effort to teach this essential fact than any of us individually have done in the past.
Religious freedom is not only the right to believe, it is is the right to act on our beliefs, he said. “And it’s also the right to come together to have organizations that teach and uphold religious principles that benefit society as a whole.”
President Oaks asked those who wonder why religious liberty matters, or who have not thought seriously about religious liberty, to consider:
“Where would society be, where would our life be, where would our religion be, if we didn’t have religious freedom?” he said. “If we didn’t have religious freedom, we wouldn’t have the right to choose what to believe, the right to choose what to do because of our beliefs.
“Where would the absence of these rights lead? Think about it.