Declaration of Independence

We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness. - That to secure these rights, Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed.

Thursday, October 25, 2012

Morality and Religious Freedom

                    The liberty principle for this Freedom Friday is the simple fact that we can work with people of different faiths to improve the moral condition of our communities, states, and nations as well as to protect our religious freedom.   Many people working together can bring morality back to our society.

                    Elder Quentin L. Cook of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints spoke about this topic in a commencement address at Brigham Young University-Idaho on December 16, 2011.  Elder Cook explained that in order to restore morality to our nation we must understand "things which have been" (Doctrine and Covenants 88:79), especially those events - the "underpinnings of our Judeo-Christian heritage" - that took place in order to prepare the world for the restoration of the Gospel of Jesus Christ.  He indicated that if we understand the foundation upon which our nation is built, "we can help protect, defend, and enhance knowledge that will bless mankind, prepare us for the kingdom of God, and bring us happiness and joy."  He also indicated that we will strengthen the "moral fabric of society" by improving the morality of our homes and communities.

                    Elder Cook reviewed "four major things" that prepared the way for the Restoration and then suggested that we could build on our heritage by taking "three courses of action."

                    The first major event was part of "an important group of achievements" that took place during the 1500s and early 1600s.                      William Tyndale was a "gifted linguist" with "strong religious faith" who "translated much of the Hebrew and Greek versions of the Bible into English.  He wrote his translation so that a "common laborer, the plowboy of England, could read and understand the Bible."  Tyndale did for religion what William Shakespeare did for literature.  Other men "built" upon the foundations laid by Tyndale and Shakespeare and produced the King James Version of the Bible in 1611.  This version of the Bible has been in use for over 400 years and gives us the Judeo-Christian values upon which our nation was founded.

                    The second major event took place when Sir Edward Coke consolidated English common law into written form.  "His work was to law what the King James Bible was to religion.  His volumes covered every conceivable legal topic and stated what the common law was on each."  Coke's common law was the foundation for numerous provisions in the United States Constitution, the Supreme Law of the United States for more than 225 years.  Members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints consider the Constitution to be "both inspired and necessary to the Restoration." 

"Five elements of the Constitution were identified as being particularly inspired:  1) Separation of powers into three independent branches of government; 2) The Bill of Rights' guarantee of freedom of speech, press, and religion; 3) Equality of all men and women before the law; 4) The federal system, with a division of powers between the nation as a whole land the states.  5) The principle of popular sovereignty - the people are the source of government." 

These five basic fundamentals are blessings in our lives and were necessary to the Restoration of the gospel.  Many people share the LDS love and appreciation for the Constitution and a concern for the protection of our freedom of religion as guaranteed by the Bill of Rights.

Scientific achievements comprise the third major event; this event took place over many years and included the Industrial Revolution, the communications revolution, and medical advancements.  "President Spencer W. Kimball (1895-1985) acknowledged these achievements and the contribution they provide to the kingdom of God.  He saw some of this body of scientific knowledge as a precursor to the Restoration and encouraged Latter-day Saints to participate in the acquisition of this knowledge."

The fourth major event took place with a return to Judeo-Christian principles.  "This was especially necessary for the Restoration of the gospel.  A renewed emphasis on morality occurred in both England and the United States.  It involved fervent religious awakenings, including those associated with the area of western New York State."  The Pilgrims and Puritans came to America mainly for the opportunity to practice their religions, and many of their religious principles would written into our Constitution.  Later generations chose to return to those principles.

Elder Cook quoted an interesting op-ed piece that was recently published in the New York Times and noted that many people believe "that repairing the economic moral fabric is the essential national task right now.  … America went through a similar values restoration in the 1820s.  Then, too, people sensed that the country had grown soft and decadent.  Then, too, Americans rebalanced.  They did it quietly and away from the cameras."

After discussing the four major events, Elder Cook discussed three courses of action we can take to bring morality back to our society and preserve our religious freedom.  He said that the first course of action we can take is to be good examples.  He said that we do not have to "camouflage" who we are and what we believe.  We can have great influence by basing our lives on "honesty, integrity, and morality."

The second course of action is to be "civil in our discourse and respectful in our interactions."  In a world filled with a lot of turmoil, there are many people who are angry and/or afraid.  The Savior taught us to love our enemies and treat others with respect.  He gave us the "moral basis of civility" when he taught the Golden Rule:  "And as ye would that men should do to you, do ye also to them likewise" (Luke 6:31).

The third action we can take is to be an advocate for religious freedom and morality.  "This is a time when those who feel accountable to God for their conduct feel under siege by a secular world.  You understand the moral principles that are under attack and the need to defend morality.  Religious freedom all over the world is also under attack.  It is important for us to become well educated on this issue and assume responsibility for ensuring that the religious freedom we have inherited is passed on to future generations.  We must work together to both protect religious freedom and restore morality."

Since "all religions hold truths," "we should work together for the common good."  Elder Cook quoted President Thomas S. Monson as stating, "We have a responsibility to be active in the communities where we live … and to work cooperatively with other churches ….  It's important that we eliminate the weakness of one standing alone and substitute for it the strength of people working together."

Elder Cook said, "Our joint effort should be to protect important civic values like honesty, morality, self-restraint, respect for law, and basic human rights."  He also quoted an "important study":  "The associations between religious freedoms and other civil liberties, press freedoms, and political freedoms are especially striking."  In other words, we need to protect religious freedom in order to keep from losing other important freedoms.

According to Elder Cook, "Our challenge is to help people without religious faith understand that the protection of moral principles grounded in religion is a great benefit to society and that religious devotion is critical to public virtue….  One of the reasons the attack on moral and religious principles has been so successful is the reluctance of people of faith to express their views.  Extraordinary effort will be required to protect religious liberty.  Our doctrine confirms what the U.S. founding fathers and political philosophers have advocated."

Alexis De Tocqueville explained in his classic Democracy in America about how religion is a blessing in a secular society.  "The greatest advantage of religion is to inspire … principles.  There is no religion which does not place the object of man's desires above and beyond the treasure of earth, and which does not naturally raise his soul to regions far above those of the senses.  Nor is there any which does not impose on man some duties toward his kind, and thus draw him at times from the contemplation of himself."

Elder Cook explained that the reason we want "to be an example, to be civil in our discourse, and to be an advocate for religious freedom is to serve mankind and follow the teachings of Jesus Christ.  In doing so, our efforts will be blessed by heaven and will further the purposes of this life established by a loving Father in Heaven."

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