The liberty principle for this Freedom Friday concerns freedom and fairness to all. It is a fact that we can allow people to live by the convictions of their consciences and still be fair to all people. It is also a fact that our religious beliefs should not be forced upon other people.
Elder Ronald A. Rasband of the Seventy spoke to students at a Brigham Young University (BYU) devotional on Tuesday, September 15, 2015. He prefaced his remarks by stating that he had worked closely with the Public Affairs Committee of the Church that is directed by Elder D. Todd Christofferson of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles.
In answer to those who ask why religious groups get involved in politics, Elder Rasband stated: “The opportunity to be involved in the political process is a privilege given to every citizen. Our laws and legislation play an important teaching role in shaping our social and moral culture. We need every individual in society to take an active role in engaging in civic dialogue that helps frame laws and legislation that are fair for everyone.”
Elder Rasband reminded the students of some of the incidents happening in our nation over religious freedom and fairness: CEOs losing their jobs over their religious views, businesses closing their doors for exercising their consciences, and religious schools being questioned about their honor codes that require fidelity and chastity. “Despite what you may have read or heard over the years, The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints has stood consistently for freedom of choice and conscience. Many years ago the prophet Joseph Smith wrote, `We believe that all men are created equal and that all have the privilege of thinking for themselves upon all matters relative to conscience.’ He went on to say, `If I have been willing to die for a Mormon, I am just as willing to die in defending the rights of a Presbyterian, a Baptist, or a good man of any other denomination for the same principle which would trample upon the rights of Latter-day Saints would trample upon the rights of any other denomination who may be unpopular and too weak to defend themselves.’”
After telling the students that Apostles and Prophets give “significant consideration to the position of the Church on religious freedom,” Elder Rasband stated, “We believe in following the commandments of God which are designed to secure our eternal happiness. However, God will force no man to heaven.
“We believe in creating a space for everyone to live their conscience without infringing on the rights and safety of others. When the rights of one group collide against the rights of another, we must follow the principle of being as fair and sensitive to as many people as possible. The Church believes in and teaches fairness for all. Protecting conscience is about safeguarding the way someone thinks and feels and their right to act on those beliefs.
“I am talking about someone telling you that the thoughts, feelings, and beliefs you have are not allowed, valued or acceptable because your views are not popular. A war in heaven was fought for agency. It is a gross violation of that agency to force someone to betray their conscience because their views do not align with the crowd.”
Elder Rasband told the students to not misunderstand him on this. When he spoke of being authentic, “the Lord does not give us a free pass to live any way we choose without consequences. We are still accountable to Him for our choices. He has said, `Be ye therefore perfect, even as your Father, which is in heaven, is perfect.’ The commandment to seek after perfection implies we start where we are and seek the Lord’s help to lift us to where he wants us to go. Being true to our authentic self requires continual effort to increase our light, knowledge and understanding.” Elder Rasband added that “the Church favors a balanced approach that secures the rights of all people.”
Later in his talk, Elder Rasband gave three suggestions to the students to help them negotiate our challenging times. The first suggestion is to “try to view others through a lens of fairness. To do this requires you to first acknowledge that Heavenly Father loves each of his children equally….”
Elder Rasband’s second suggest is to “let fairness guide your treatment of others.” “Do not judge people or treat them differently because they sin differently that you or we do.” “Again, study the life of our Savior and seek his guidance. The Savior demonstrated perfectly how to reach out in love and encouragement while also holding firm to what he knew to be true….”
The third suggestion of Elder Rasband is “to stand up for fairness if you see another’s rights being impeded…. From the time of Joseph Smith to our present day, our legacy is reaching out to heal breaches and hurt without compromising the doctrine. That is not ours to trade away.”
Elder Rasband concluded, “I stand with the leaders of our Lord’s church when I say that we need your generation’s natural understanding of compassion, of respect and fairness. We need your optimism and your determination to work through these complex social issues.” He indicated the Brethren’s faith that the students “will turn to the Savior to understand how to live a Christ like life when also showing fairness and love to others who do not share your beliefs. We know you want to be part of something meaningful and we know that you are resilient and collaborative.
“Most importantly, we need you to engage regarding the complexities of this issue and find solutions for how to best extend fairness to everyone including people of faith.”