The liberty principle for this Freedom Friday is the simple fact that religious affects much more than mere spiritual matters. It is a complicated issue with many facets. We have heard about many cases are artistic endeavors, but most people do not consider that it involves “legal, cultural, institutional and philosophical” facets as well.
Elder Lance B. Wickman, general counsel for The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints and emeritus General Authority Seventy, spoke about religious freedom at a J. Reuben Clark Law Society event in Philadelphia on February 17, 2017. He said that he had spoken at numerous conferences and symposiums as a citizen to other citizens and at law society meetings as a lawyer to fellow lawyers. He wanted to use this opportunity to speak to use a different tactic.
Tonight, however, I would like to take a different tack. I speak this evening not just as a lawyer, but as a Latter-day Saint. I would like to explain why the First Presidency and the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles are raising such concerns, both among Church members and among the general population, about threats to religious liberty.
Challenges to our doctrines and beliefs are not a new phenomenon. Sexual immorality, substance abuse, abortion – these are just a sampling of numerous practices that conflict with the principles of the restored gospel. So why give such vigorous, high profile attention to challenges to religious liberty, of all things, which many people believe is already a widely accepted civic virtue?
And here is a related question worth addressing. Why is our Latter-day Saint perspective on religious liberty somewhat different than that of some others in the religious community?
The answer to both questions, my dear friends, is grounded in the Atonement of Jesus Christ and the moral agency granted to us by the Lord so we can claim its eternal benefits. Stated concisely, religious liberty helps preserve the benefits of the Atonement to each soul because it protects moral agency in matters of faith. It is this agency that is the crucible – the fiery furnace of adversity and decision – in which we determine our eternal destiny. It is the crossroads, and sometimes the “cross,” where each of us decides whether or not to choose Christ and His commandments. Exercising that agency is the very purpose of mortal life. Protecting that crucible, therefore, is vital to salvation and the great plan of happiness. If the exercise of that agency is compromised, the conditions of our repentance and forgiveness likewise risk compromise.
Some well-meaning people speak of religious liberty as if it should be a license to do almost anything their religious sensibilities prefer. Some invoke their “conscience” to demand broad freedoms for what are mostly just personal preferences informed by religion. But for us, who understand the basic principles of the restored gospel, religious freedom is much more than that. It protects our agency, our divine right to choose to follow Jesus Christ. It secures our right to exercise faith, repent, make and keep sacred covenants, raise our children in the faith, worship together, and preach the gospel. But our fundamental freedoms also protect the right of others to make a different choice. Moral agency – that right to choose Christ or not – is the great crucible of this mortal experience. Law – religious liberty – exists to preserve and protect it, for us and for all.
Elder Wickman continues his long and interesting speech by discussing: (1) Moral Agency in a Probationary State, (2) Moral Agency and the Law, (3) The Two-Sided Coin – the need to show tolerance and respect while standing for truth, and (4) Priorities in the Law. He provides outstanding support for his statement that “the exercise of moral agency is the purpose of mortality. It exists for every son and every daughter of God. Each has the God given right to make basic moral choices. That right is not subject to your idea, or my idea, or anyone else’s idea of what the `correct’ choices are.”