The liberty principle for this Freedom Friday is the important of protecting the religious freedom guaranteed by the U.S. Constitution. Religious organizations, along with their religious teachings, are vital to a free society; they deserve the special freedom guaranteed by the Constitution.
Elder Dallin H. Oaks of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints is just one of many religious leaders who stand up in defense of religious freedom. For his support of this First Amendment right, Elder Oaks received the Canterbury Medal - the highest honor bestowed by the Becket Fund for Religious Liberty – at a program held on May 16, 2013, in the Pierre Hotel on New York’s Fifth Avenue. He affirmed in a speech following the award that religious groups should unite to protect the religious freedom guaranteed by the U.S. Constitution.
The Canterbury Medal received its name from the cathedral where Thomas A. Becket, Archbishop of Canterbury, was martyred for his defense of religious freedom by the knights loyal to Henry II, King of England. This medal is presented to champions of religious liberty each year. Elder Oaks was recognized for his “lifetime commitment to religious liberty for all.”
Elder Oaks was introduced as “one of the great defenders of religious liberty” by Cardinal Francis George and recognized as such by more than 500 religious leaders, lawyers and financial supporters attending the annual black tie dinner and fundraising event. The funds are for the litigation efforts of the Becket Fund for Religious Liberty, a non-profit public-interest law firm with the goal “to protect the free expression of all religious traditions through strategic litigation.”
The Becket Fund is helping to defend Hobby Lobby, a for-profit company owned by Steve and Jackie Green. The Green family attempts to use Christian principles in running their business and dealing with their employees. The company is fighting the Obamacare mandate to violate their religious beliefs or pay more than $1 million in fines each day.
Elder Oaks spoke about how the robust private sector of charitable works in the United States was started and continued by religious organizations and religious impulses. Education, hospitals, and care for the poor are included in those charitable works. He also spoke about how religious principles and leaders have motivated and advanced important moral issues in the Western world, such as the abolition of the slave trade in England, the Emancipation Proclamation in the U.S., and the Civil Rights movement.
Elder Oaks noted, “Our society is not held together primarily by law and its enforcement but most importantly by those who voluntarily obey the unenforceable because of their internalized norms of righteous or correct behavior. Religious belief in right and wrong is a vital influence to produce such voluntary compliance by a large number of our citizens.”
Later in his talk, Elder Oaks noted that “the guarantee of freedom of religion is the first expression in the Bill of Rights of the United States Constitution, and it is embodied in the constitutions of all 50 of our states. For many Americans, the free exercise of religion is the basic civil liberty because faith in God and His teachings and the active practice of religion are the most fundamental guiding realities of life.”
Elder Oaks has spoken about religious freedom at numerous times and in several places. In a speech given at BYU-Idaho on October 13, 2009, Elder Oaks began with an explanation: “In choosing my subject I have relied on an old military maxim that when there is a battle underway, persons who desire to join the fray should `march to the sound of the guns.’ So it is that I invite you to march with me as I speak about religious freedom under the United States Constitution. There is a battle over the meaning of that freedom. The contest is of eternal importance, and it is your generation that must understand the issues and make the efforts to prevail.
“An 1833 revelation to the Prophet Joseph Smith declared that the Lord established the United States Constitution by wise men whom he raised up for that very purpose (Doctrine and Covenants 101:80). The Lord also declared that this Constitution `should be maintained for the rights and protection of all flesh (Doctrine and Covenants 101:77; emphasis added).
“In 1833, when almost all people in the world were still ruled by kings or tyrants, few could see how the infant United States Constitution could be divinely designed `for the rights and protection of all flesh.’ Today, 176 years after that revelation, almost every nation in the world has adopted a written constitution, and the United States Constitution profoundly influenced all of them. Truly, this nation’s most important export is its constitution, whose great principles stand as a model `for the rights and protection of all flesh.’ On the vital human right of religious freedom, however, many constitutions fall short of the protections that are needed, so we are grateful that the United States government seeks to encourage religious freedom all over the world. [Final Report of the Advisory Committee on Religious Freedom Abroad to the Secretary of State and to the President of the United States, 17 May 1999, 6-7, 30-65. The International Religious Freedom Act, adopted in 1998, 22 USC 6401 et seq., established an office of international religious affairs in the U.S. State Department headed by an Ambassador at Large and the U.S. Commission for International Religious Freedom. Both of these bodies submit annual reports that assess the status of religious freedom under international standards worldwide and help encourage better implementation of commitments countries around the world have made to respect this fundamental right.]”
I found the above reference very interesting: The International Religious Freedom Act was adopted in 1998, and “an office of international religious affairs” was established in the U.S. Department of State. This office and the U.S. Commission for International Religious Freedom were each charged with submitting annual reports about religious freedom. How different it is under the Obama Administration when our own government is threatening our religious freedom!
Elder Oaks also spoke at Chapman University School of Law on February 4, 2011, about preserving religious freedom. “I am here to speak of the state of religious freedom in the United States, why it seems to be diminishing, and what can be done about it.
“… I am here to contend for religious freedom. I am here to describe fundamental principles that I hope will be meaningful for decades to come.
“I believe you will find no unique Mormon doctrine in what I say. My sources are law and secular history. I will quote the words of Catholic, Evangelical Christian, and Jewish leaders, among others. I am convinced that on this issue what all believers have in common is far more important than their differences. We must unite to strengthen our freedom to teach and exercise what we have in common, as well as our very real differences in religious doctrine.
“I begin with a truth that is increasingly challenged: Religious teachings and religious organizations are valuable and important to our free society and therefore deserving of special legal protection. I will cite a few examples….
“My final example of the importance of religion in our country concerns the origin of the Constitution. Its formation over 200 years ago was made possible by religious principles of human worth and dignity, and only those principles in the hearts of a majority of our diverse population can sustain that Constitution today. I submit that religious values and political realities are so interlinked in the origin and perpetuation of this nation that we cannot lose the influence of religion in our public life without seriously jeopardizing our freedoms.
“Unfortunately, the extent and nature of religious devotion in this nation is changing. Belief in a personal God who defines right and wrong is challenged by many. `By some counts,’ an article in The Economist declares, `there are at least 500 [million] declared non-believers in the world – enough to make atheism the fourth-biggest religion.’ Others who do not consider themselves atheists also reject the idea of a supernatural power but affirm the existence of some impersonal force and the value of compassion and love and justice.
“Organized religion is surely on the decline. Last year’s Pew Forum Study on Religion and Public Life found that the percentage of young adults affiliated with a particular religious faith is declining significantly. Scholars Robert Putnam and David Campbell have concluded that `the prospects for religious observance in the coming decades are substantially diminished.’
“Whatever the extent of formal religious affiliation I believe that the tide of public opinion in favor of religion is receding….
“A visible measure of the decline of religion in our public life is the diminished mention of religious faith and references to God in our public discourse. One has only to compare the current rhetoric with the major addresses of our political leaders in the 18th, 19th, and the first part of the 20th centuries. Similarly, compare what Lincoln said about God and religious practices like prayer on key occasions with the edited versions of his remarks quoted in current history books. It is easy to believe that there is an informal conspiracy of correctness to scrub out references to God and the influence of religion in the founding and preservation of our nation.”
I am sure that you can see by the few quotes from three different addresses that Elder Oaks is a great defender of religious freedom. He reminds us of the importance of standing firm on our religious principles and being steadfast and immovable in defending religious freedom. I believe that he very much deserves to be recognized with the Canterbury Medal!