SALT LAKE CITY — Religious freedom is the foundation of all freedom, a core right in an ecosystem of freedoms that promotes social and political diversity, Elder D. Todd Christofferson of the LDS Church said Friday in Cambridge, England.
Religious freedom contributes to other freedoms in part by constraining government, said Elder Christofferson, a member of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. He also expressed reverence for the separation of church and state.
"Religious freedom erects an effective shield for other freedoms," he said. "Religious freedom presumes there are important areas of life beyond the legitimate power of government. A government powerless to compel religious belief or exercise will be hard pressed to compel orthodoxy in other areas of life. Religious freedom protects the freedom of individual belief and expression in all areas of human activity. This enables people to develop and express their own opinions in matters of philosophy, politics, business, literature, art, science and other areas, which naturally leads to social and political diversity."
Elder Christofferson spoke to the UK and Ireland Chapter of BYU's J. Reuben Clark Law Society. The event was held at Downing College, a constituent college of Cambridge University.
He provided a formula for how Mormons can cultivate a society that respects religion and the rule of law.
"We must live by the truths that we profess," he said. "We must be better husbands and wives, fathers and mothers. We must be kinder neighbors and coworkers. We must be better informed about the world around us and take a more active role in our communities as citizens. We must teach principles of gospel living to our children. And we must defend what is right — including freedom of religion and the rule of law."
The talk was a comprehensive argument for the intertwined existence of the rule of law and religious freedom. He argued that religious freedom is inseparable from other cherished freedoms.
"Religious freedom does not exist in isolation. I also fear that many in our modern secular societies have forgotten that religious freedom undergirds and is inseparably connected to all the other freedoms we cherish. It is the core right in what might be thought of as an 'ecosystem' of freedom. As religious freedom goes, so go many other precious rights."
He declared that the separation of church and state is vital to religious freedom. It keeps the government out of faith and fortifies the rule of law, "which in turn has further protected and secured religious freedom from arbitrary governmental authority and persecution."
"Separating church and state protects religious freedom by walling off questions of personal faith, religious doctrine and ecclesiastical governance from government control," he said. "Thanks to that separation, we take for granted the freedom to adopt a religious faith or to change it, as dictated by individual conscience. With few constraints, we worship how, where, and what we choose."
While religious freedom is foundational to other basic freedoms, it is in turn supported by those freedoms, he said. For one, freedom of association is a direct offshoot of religious freedoms. It is tied to church autonomy, for example, which limits government power to meddle in internal church affairs. The LDS Church, therefore, is free in the United Kingdom and Ireland, as well as the United States and elsewhere, to select who will serve as bishops and stake presidents and enter Mormon temples, he said.
"Safeguarding the autonomy of churches and other religious organizations enhances freedom for everyone by establishing a right to freely associate in voluntary associations. For if that right must be recognized for nonprofit religious organizations, then equality and fairness dictate that a substantially similar right must be recognized to protect the associationsl freedom of nonprofit secular organizations."
Church autonomy enhances freedom by dispersing power, he said. "Religious organizations stand as bulwarks of freedom between the state and the unprotected individual."
He also described the interplay between religious freedom and the rights of free speech, free expression, freedom of the press and freedom to peaceably assemble, and said religious freedom gives meaning to the morality of freedom.
"Our essential rights are inalienable because they are the gifts of God. No state could grant them. Accepting that fundamental truth lays the foundation for all other freedoms. And the first recognition of that truth — historically and morally — has come from acknowledging that the state must respect religious conscience.
Elder Christofferson repeated a point that he and other LDS apostles have made frequently over the past few years. Religious freedom promotes civic virtue by instilling values and habits vital to free societies.
"Freedom requires a people capable of living freely and in peace with each other," he said. "Without virtuous citizens, the coercive powers of government must be exercised to keep the peace."
"True religion," he added, "encourages the virtues and habits of good citizenship that are necessary for a free society. Honesty. Duty. Moral self-discipline. Sacrifice for family and country. Compassion and service toward others. Civic engagement."
A full transcript of his talk can be found on mormonnewsroom.org.