“My remarks this evening are about America’s great heritage of religious liberty — and about the need for each of us to defend that heritage before it is too late,” said Elder D. Todd Christofferson of the Quorum of Twelve Apostles of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. The Mormon apostle was the keynote speaker at the Freedom Festival Patriotic Servicein Provo, Utah, Sunday, June 26, 2016.
“Religious freedom is indeed under attack,” Elder Christofferson told an audience in the Marriott Center at Brigham Young University. “I am convinced that those who question the value or even the legitimacy of religious freedom do not understand that it is woven into the very soul of America.”
“Religious participation in public life is not only part of American history and a constitutionally protected freedom, it’s also good for our nation,” he said. “All laws and government policies are based on values — religious or otherwise.”
He argued that religious organizations offer unique perspectives in public debates. “They recognize corrosive social forces that threaten faith, family and freedom.”
“Critics now openly ask whether religion belongs in American public life at all,” he said.
Elder Christofferson continued, “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.”
He said the American colonists left England for the New World because of their religious conviction. Religious teachings such as the King James Bible also motivated patriots to action during the American Revolution.
“Repeating the pattern set by their Puritan forebears, early Latter-day Saints fled from state to state — eventually settling in the Great Basin — in the hope of building Zion in the wilderness,” recalled Elder Christofferson.
He said religious convictions also “set the terms of the national debates over slavery, emancipation and the Civil War.”
“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 your daily life — as if religion should be kept in the closet or some other private place,” he said.
Elder Christofferson explained, “There are concerted efforts to shame and intimidate believers who have traditional moral values and to suppress religious viewpoints and practices regarding marriage, family, gender and sexuality. Worst of all, government sometimes joins in these efforts.”
Elder Christofferson reminded the audience that religious believers are entitled to freedom of speech.
He encouraged people of faith to stand up for religious freedom by becoming informed, speaking up and getting involved in cultural and civic organizations and to participate in their political parties.
“We live in challenging times. Religious freedom is indeed under fire. And things may get worse before they get better. But these are our times. This is our moment to defend our fundamental freedoms,” he concluded.
America’s Freedom Festival is recognized as one of the country’s largest patriotic celebrations. It draws thousands of spectators every year from all 50 states and other nations.