It says that religious institutions can be free in private, behind closed doors, to worship, but that they are threatened in the public square for the exercise of their moral beliefs.
“At the deepest level,” said Glendon, “we are witnessing an attack on the institutions of civil society that are essential to limited government and are important buffers between the citizen and the all-powerful state.”
As Cardinal Timothy Dolan, president of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, put it, we are witnessing an effort to reduce religion to a private activity. "Never before," he said, "have we faced this kind of challenge to our ability to engage in the public square as people of faith."
“The bishops fear” said Glendon, that “religious liberty is becoming a second-class right.”
Dr. Land said, “The "free exercise of religion" goes well beyond the "freedom of worship" concept so often used today by those who fail to understand, or reject, the Constitution's religious freedom protections. For them freedom of worship is restricted to church and home, to the space between your ears and the space between your shoulders. Free exercise of religion is far more robust and includes the rights to share one's faith and to live out its implications in the social and economic spheres – in other words, the freedom to exercise or act and the right not to be coerced.”
Freedom of Religion, Not Just Freedom of Worship
Rabbi Dr. Meir Soloveichik of Yeshiva University compared the freedom of religion assaults to the huppah, the canopy under which Jewish couples are wed. It is to be the embodiment of the kind of home that the Jewish bride and groom hope to build, a canopy with open sides, symbolizing their commitment to bear the monotheistic message to all the corners of the earth.
Dr. Soloveichik said, “Judiasm guides and obligates them wherever they go and whatever they do in their own home or in the public square…True religious freedom is to be loyal to your beliefs and customs even when they are unpopular with your neighbors and even when you are engaging with your neighbors. Our faith is an essential part of ourselves and cannot be amputated from our identity.”
He said that in the Europe of the Enlightenment, Jews were tantalized into society, but only if they were willing to sacrifice their Jewishness. The Huppah, the Abrahamic tent, is a symbol that one cannot be a fundamental person if part of you is left behind when you cross the threshold.
He said that religion informs our conduct. If people are denied the opportunity to define their religious identity beyond their own private worship, they are unilaterally redefining what it means to be religious.
Joseph Smith on Religious Freedom
At the conference, Elder Clayton said that obviously the LDS Church was committed to protecting religious freedom for ourselves and our own Church members.
“That said, we are just as concerned about the religious freedom rights of other faiths as we are about our own rights…Joseph Smith said in the early 1840's, ‘If it has been demonstrated that I have been willing to die for a Mormon, I am bold to declare before heaven that I am just as ready to die in defending the rights of a Presbyterian, a Baptist, or a good man of any other denomination for the same principle that would trample on the Latter-day Saints would trample upon the faith of the Roman Catholics or any other denomination who may be unpopular or too weak to defend themselves."
We recognize our own religious freedom is only as secure as is the religious freedom that surrounds us. We intend to be vigilant in guarding and protecting and securing the religious freedom rights of others.”
What lies ahead? Elder Clayton said, “We'll redouble our efforts to educate our own Church members concerning protecting religious freedom. We will support a united effort to educate legislators, opinion leaders, and citizens generally across the country about religious freedom and the fact that it is imperiled today in this country, We'll seek to secure their help, along with others, in the battle to protect religious freedom.”
He said, “We also believe that religious freedom should be protected rather than assaulted by government. We believe that religious freedom is a tremendous, precious and irreplaceable good for society, thus we gladly join with other churches, religions, faith groups, associations and individuals in entering into this joint effort to protect religious freedom. In this effort there is much more that unites us than there is that divides us.”
Protecting religious freedom “will require a broadly-based, unified effort. No single church can or should bear the burden alone. If there were ever a time when we need a chorus, not a solo, this is it.”
Elder Clayton said, “The church is not a stranger to persecution…and that religious freedom comes at a very dear price. The thought of paying a price to secure freedom is not a stranger to us.”
Coming this week: Part Two in Rising Threats to Religious Freedom