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.

Sunday, March 31, 2019

Joseph Smith and Freedom of Religion

            The topic of discussion for this Constitution Monday is once again the First Amendment to the Constitution of the United States. As you most likely know already, freedom of religion is known as the First Freedom because it is listed first in the First Amendment. This amendment states: “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof….” Well, Congress has not made any laws against religion, but other folks are constantly making problems for people with religious conviction.

            Last week we learned that San Antonio International Airport refused to give a concessions contract to Chick-fil-a because the company made some donations to other business or organizations that do not serve people with same-sex attraction. Ken Paxton, Texas Attorney General, is now investigating the situation. 

The City of San Antonio’s decision to exclude Chick-fil-A based on the religious beliefs associated with the company and its owners is the opposite of tolerance. It’s discriminatory, and not only out of step with Texas values, but inconsistent with the Constitution and Texas Law.

The Constitution’s protection of religious liberty is somehow even better than Chick-fil-A’s chicken….

Unfortunately, I have serious concerns that both are under assault at the San Antonio airport.

            Not to be outdone by San Antonio, this week the Buffalo Niagara International Airport in Cheektowaga, New York, made the same decision. One day it announced that Chick-fil-A would be coming to the airport, and the next day it withdrew the invitation on religious grounds. The airport wants a company that does not “discriminate” against people. Assemblyman Sean Ryan might have something to do with the reversal because he tweeted the following statement. 

We hope in the future the NFTA will make every effort to contract with businesses that adhere to anti-discriminatory policies, and we’re confident another vendor who better represents the values of the Western New York community will replace Chick-fil-A as a part of this project in the very near future.

            Religious discrimination and hostility is nothing new in America as shown in an article written by Spencer W. McBride. Christians have been fairly safe until the past few years, but that has not always been the case. In 1833 mob violence drove more than 1,000 members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints from their home in Jackson County, Missouri. The Saints made their way to Clay County, Missouri, but they were driven from their homes there in July 1836.

            The Prophet Joseph Smith went to see Martin Van Buren in Washington, D.C. to ask for help for his people, but the President denied the request. The President gave the reason for his denial as being that it would hurt his chances for reelection. The Prophet then went to Congress for help. Congress held three days of hearings in February 1840 and then declined to help the Saints in reclaiming their property and receiving compensation for their losses. They told the Prophet to petition Missouri for redress, the same state that had expelled his people.

            Meanwhile, members of the Catholic Church were treated just as badly. About 1834 the Catholic Ursuline convent in Charlestown, Massachusetts, was burned to the ground. It seems that people did not like all Irish Catholic immigrants who had recently come to the United States. The government at least condemned this violence, but the Catholics received no financial compensation.

            As a result of the religious persecution against his own people, plus seeing the charred ruins of the Catholic convent, Joseph Smith became an activist for religious freedom. He advocated for peace, equality, and “religious freedom of all people.” He not only talked the talk of religious freedom, but he walked the walk also.

Amid these petitioning efforts, Joseph made strides toward establishing real religious freedom in his own community. As a member of the city council of Nauvoo, Illinois, he introduced an ordinance that “the Catholics, Presbyterians, Methodists, Baptists, Latter-Day Saints, Quakers, Episcopalians, Universalists, Unitarians, Mohammedans [Muslims], and all other religious sects, and denominations, whatever, shall have free toleration, and equal privileges, in this city.” This declaration was passed and entailed more than a tolerance for those affiliated with other churches to reside in the city; it proposed religious freedom in its truest form by extending a guarantee of all citizenship rights regardless of one’s religious convictions. As the First Presidency explained, the Latter-day Saints were signaling that they would “claim no privilege but what we feel cheerfully disposed to share with our fellow citizens of every denomination.”

            The First Amendment guarantees the protection of freedom of religion. However, the government is made up of mere humans, and some of them get their priorities mixed up. President Van Buren was afraid that helping the Saints would affect his reelection, and the members in Congress apparently had the same concerns. Now we have city leaders San Antonio, Texas, and Buffalo, New York, who are pushing their own agendas against Chick-fil-A.

            The Jews have endured persecution for thousands of years. Christians in foreign lands are being murdered by the hundreds, while Christians in the United States are finding it more and more difficult to exercise their freedom of religion.   
            In a letter to a newspaper editor named Wentworth, Joseph Smith outlined the beliefs of his people. That list of beliefs is now known as The Articles of Faith. The eleventh Article of Faith states: “We claim the privilege of worshiping 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.” Members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints claim the right to exercise our freedom of religion and allow the same freedom to all other people.

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