Home / Beliefs / Is religious freedom a ‘God-given’ right? LDS church weighs in with new campaign

Is religious freedom a ‘God-given’ right? LDS church weighs in with new campaign

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The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints published a new topics page on religious freedom Tuesday to “help people of conscience everywhere understand the importance of protecting religious freedom.”

The site’s resources are, on the whole, engaging and comprehensive. In one video, Quentin L. Cook, a member of the church’s Quorum of the Twelve Apostles governing body, says to an audience at Brigham Young University, “My challenge today is that you join with people of all faiths who feel accountable to God in defending religious freedom so that it can be a beacon for morality.”

Whether or not Cook deliberately excluded people of no faith from his call to action is unclear and perhaps unimportant. His omission does however highlight the campaign’s failure to adequately emphasize the role nonbelievers play in religious liberty debates.

I’m not saying the church totally ignores atheists, agnostics and anyone unaffiliated with an organized religion — text on the site clearly states, “Religious freedom protects the rights of all groups and individuals, including the most vulnerable, whether religious or not.” I’m just not convinced that the official Mormon message to “nones,” a key interest group on this issue, is going to be well received.

One video describes religious freedom as a “God-given right.” After years of conservative Christian groups like the Alliance Defending Freedom and Religious Freedom Coalition speaking in these terms, partly to score political points, the phrase “God-given” probably won’t jive well with the average American nonbeliever.

Many “nones” respect religious liberty as an important human right — not a right sanctioned by God, but by society and law. When nonbelievers and proponents of secularization are among your biggest adversaries on a critical issue like religious freedom, every word counts.

Another point that drew my attention about the church’s new campaign is its great emphasis on civility.

In an introductory video, Elder L. Tom Perry of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles says, “We must show mutual respect for others and treat all civilly. No one should be belittled for following their moral conscience.”

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Tracy Simmons

About Tracy Simmons

Tracy Simmons, who teaches journalism at Gonzaga University, is an award winning journalist specializing in religion reporting, digital entrepreneurship and social journalism. In her 13 years on the religion beat, Simmons has tucked a notepad in her pocket and found some of her favorite stories aboard cargo ships in New Jersey, on a police chase in Albuquerque, in dusty Texas church bell towers, on the streets of New York and in tent cities in Haiti.
Simmons has worked as a multimedia journalist for newspapers across New Mexico, Texas and Connecticut. Currently she serves as the executive director of SpokaneFAVS.com, a digital journalism start-up covering religion news and commentary in Spokane, Wash.

She also writes for The Spokesman-Review and for the Religion News Service.

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