The topic of discussion for this Constitution Monday concerns the freedoms protected by the First Amendment to the Constitution of the United States. It seems that not a day passes that someone is not calling for less freedom for someone else – whether it be trying to control what another person says, complaining about what is written on a tee shirt, or the bashing of the right to worship as we choose. These and other freedoms are protected by the First Amendment.
As discussed in a Deseret News Editorial, Elder D. Todd Christofferson, a member of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, recently
spoke about the freedom of religion to a committee in the British Parliament in London. He titled his address, “Why Atheists (and Everyone Else) Should Support Freedom of Religion or Belief.”
I was interested in reading Elder Christofferson’s ideas because this topic is rather new and surprising to me.
It is easy for all of us to consider that freedom of religion or belief protects only the believers and their churches. Elder Christofferson makes the point that “courts have implicitly recognized that rights must protect both religious believers and nonbelievers. The freedom of speech, for instances, embraces the right to speak about God but also to speak about one’s personal opinions on matters of politics, art, literature, history, morality and virtually any other topic.”
This means that these freedoms protect the rights of both the believer and the nonbeliever equally. The “interdependent First Amendment freedoms” allow us to prosper as individuals and as a society. It is to the benefit of all of us to protect and preserve these freedoms.
Elder Christofferson spoke on the importance of religious freedom in 2015 at an interfaith conference held in Sao Paulo, Brazil. The conference was titled, “A Celebration of Religious Freedom.” This is what he said at that time.
We use our freedom of religion and belief to establish our core convictions, without which all other human rights would be meaningless. How can we claim the freedom of speech without being able to say what we truly believe? How can we claim the freedom of assembly unless we can gather with others who share our ideals? How can we enjoy freedom of the press unless we can publicly print or post who we really are?”
All of us must understand the importance of preserving our First Amendment rights. It should not matter whether we are atheist, agnostic, or devout believer, or whether we meet in a synagogue, mosque, or church. If we cannot speak about the ideals that are most dear to us in our work places or in public areas, we do not truly have the freedoms outlined in the First Amendment.
Members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints have defended the freedoms guaranteed in the First Amendment for many years, just as Elder Christofferson did in Sao Paulo and in London. Joseph Smith made the following oft-quoted statement in 1843.
If it has been demonstrated that I have been willing to die for a “Mormon,” I am bold to declare before Heaven that I am just as ready to die in defending the rights of a Presbyterian, a Baptist, or a good man of any denomination; for the same principle which would trample upon the rights of the Latter-day Saints would trample upon the rights of the Roman Catholics, or of any other denomination who may be unpopular and too weak to defend themselves. It is a love of liberty which inspires my soul – civil and religious liberty to the whole of the human race.
Leaders of the Church from the days of Joseph Smith to the current day have defended the First Amendment rights of each person. The Eleventh Article of Faith declares: “We claim the privilege of worshipping Almighty God according to the dictates of our own conscience, and allow all men the same privilege, let them worship how, where, or what they may.” This is a principle that members learn from childhood to adulthood. We are encouraged to memorize it as a child and to live it for the rest of our lives. It is a principle that all Americans should learn and follow as we protect and preserve our First Amendment freedoms.