Sign up for Meridian’s Free Newsletter, please CLICK HERE
It’s no small thing when New York’s leading law enforcement official speaks in defense of religious freedom — and not just as a special freedom for a chosen few, but a generous freedom that blesses everyone.
“It is the job of every generation of Americans to make the country, in the words of the Constitution, ‘ever more perfect,’” New York Attorney General Eric Schneiderman said Thursday night. “[And the American story] is of people of all faiths who, sometimes at great personal risk, have stood up against intolerance and for religious freedom. … Freedom for one means freedom for all.”
Schneiderman made these remarks after being honored with the Visionary Leadership Award from the New York Latter-day Saint Professional Association (NYLDSPA) for his ongoing support of religious freedom. A group of some 400 people, including Elder Von G. Keetch, Elder Gordon H. Smith and Elder David L. Buckner of the Seventy, attended the interfaith gathering at the nondenominational Riverside Church in upper Manhattan.
Elder D. Todd Christofferson of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, who gave the evening’s honorary keynote address, praised Schneiderman as a “strong voice in defense of religious freedom here in New York and abroad.” He also commended his “commitment to protecting the religious rights of all people” as an “example of positive leadership that we hope all elected officials will follow.”
Evidence of Schneiderman’s hard work in the realm of religious liberty is the Religious Rights unit his office created in 2011 as part of his ongoing efforts to prevent religious discrimination in the workplace.
“After I was elected, I launched our office’s religious rights initiative to make sure that every New Yorker has the right to worship as they wish and to have full, free exercise of their religion — not just on one particular, designated day, but in all of their lives, without fear of attack or persecution,” Schneiderman said. “And as we set that up we reached out to many faith leaders, and that is how I first got in touch with and began what has become a deep, rich, and rewarding relationship with New York’s [Latter-day Saint] community.”
Schneiderman, a devout follower of Judaism who has written cogently in the defense of religious freedom for all people, spoke of his agreement with the teachings and experiences of Latter-day Saints and their founding prophet in the realm of religious freedom.
“As I’ve spoken out often against the rise of bigotry and intolerance and hate speech in recent years, I have often enjoyed quoting New York’s own Joseph Smith when he said, ‘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 denomination,’” Schneiderman said.
Elder Christofferson echoed Attorney General Schneiderman’s belief that religious freedom is the responsibility of everyone — even the many business professionals present at Thursday’s banquet. Though they may consider their life’s work an insignificant contribution to defense of religious freedom, they should remember the leaven-like power of their everyday examples in one of the world’s most influential cities.
“I remind you, in the words of my file leader, President Russell M. Nelson, that God ‘uses the unlikely to accomplish the impossible!’ Like Esther of old, who God put in a position to save the Jews in Persia, you may very well have been placed in your circles of influence ‘for such a time as this,’” the apostle said. “If you are willing to educate yourselves, to speak up, and to join with others, you can make a difference. You can help bring about a rebirth of the importance of religious freedom for all in the hearts and minds of your fellow citizens in this most influential part of the world.”
NYLDSPA is a nonprofit organization sponsored by local members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. The group unites professionals who share the values of integrity, hard work and community service. Its membership includes more than 10,000 professionals in New York, New Jersey and Connecticut. NYLDSPA has awarded more than 300 scholarships in the past nine years. Scholarship funds come primarily through the organization’s annual banquet.