BUENOS AIRES — A leader of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints told the Argentine Council for International Relations (CARI) today that religious freedom is not just the concern of religious persons.
Elder Dallin H. Oaks, one of the Twelve Apostles for the church based in the United States, said nonbelievers also have a strong interest in religious freedom because the protection of conscience “helps people from a wide spectrum of beliefs feel assured that their deepest concerns and values are respected and protected.”
With the assistance of an interpreter, Elder Oaks — a former Utah Supreme Court justice who has spoken publicly many times in defense of religious freedom — told the international audience that the current weakening of guarantees of the free exercise of religion are attributable to changes in culture rather than legal decisions. He also reemphasized that religious teachings and actions of believers deserve special legal protections because of their significant contributions to society.
Elder Oaks referred specifically to an “increasingly godless and amoral society” in many places around the world that embraces moral relativism and denies or downplays God or any sort of absolute right or wrong.
“This glorifying of human reasoning has had good effects and bad,” Elder Oaks told CARI. “The work of science has made innumerable improvements in our lives, but it has also contributed to the rejection of divine authority as the ultimate basis of right and wrong by those who have substituted science for God. In contrast, many religious people are now asking why the viewpoints of any of the brilliant philosophers of the liberal tradition should be thought more relevant to moral decisions than the will of God.”
The value of God and religion is evident in the many moral advances in Western society that “have been motivated by religious principles and persuaded to official adoption by pulpit preaching,” Elder Oaks said, quoting remarks he also made two years ago in New York City at an event with The Becket Fund for Religious Liberty. “Examples include the abolition of the slave trade in England and the Emancipation Proclamation [in the United States].”
The same is true of the Civil Rights movement of the last half-century. These great advances were not motivated and moved by secular ethics or persons who believed in moral relativism, he said. They were driven primarily by persons who had a clear religious vision of what was morally right.
Elder Oaks called for believers and nonbelievers alike to stand shoulder-to-shoulder to defend religious freedom — an action, he noted, that doesn’t demand any kind of doctrinal compromise. All it requires, he said, is a common belief among the religious, irreligious and government and national bodies that “human beings are endowed with conscience, the critical faculty that guides our understanding of the standards of right and wrong in human behavior that we believe have been established by a Supreme Being.”
Elder Oaks called for religious believers to be examples of civility when defending religious freedom. “We should love all people, be good listeners, and show concern for the sincere beliefs of others. We should be wise in explaining and pursuing our positions and in exercising our influence. We should seek the understanding and support of nonbelievers. And we must also enlist the official actions of governments and appropriate multinational bodies. All of this is necessary to preserve the great good that religious organizations and believers can accomplish for the benefit of all humanity.”
Read the full transcript of Elder Oaks’s talk, “Challenges to Religious Freedom.”