In Rome, President Oaks calls for a global effort to advance religious freedom


President Dallin H. Oaks on Wednesday called for a global, multi-faith effort to defend and advance religious liberty during a speech at the second annual Notre Dame Religious Liberty Summit in Rome.

“From Rome, that great cradle of the Christian faith, I call for a worldwide effort to defend and advance the religious liberty of all of God’s children in every nation of the world,” said President Oaks, First Counselor in the First Presidency of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.

“I am here in continuation of our enthusiastic support for ‘interreligious coalitions’ to defend religious freedom for all,” he said during a speech at the Pontifical Gregorian University’s Roma Eventi Conference Center.

To read more about President Oaks’ speech, click here. To read his full remarks, click here. His speech will be available in the future on the University of Notre Dame Law School Youtube channel.

His speech was the latest example of a multilateral Latter-day Saint effort to defend religious freedom worldwide. The First Presidency of the Church and the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles have visited every continent except Antarctica to advocate for the importance and benefits of religious freedom. They have also engaged with leaders of other faiths, scholars and church members, seeking to enlist them in the cause.

President Dallin H. Oaks of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints speaks with Dr. Cornel West of Union Theological Seminary as Professor Robbie George of Princeton University looks on during the Summit Our Lady on Religious Freedom at the Pontifical Gregorian University in Rome Wednesday, July 20, 2022.

Jeffrey D. Allred, Deseret News

It was the second time in the past eight months that President Oaks had traveled to Rome to speak on the matter. He highlighted the recent international religious liberty ministry of other Latter-day Saint leaders during his address in Rome.

“What are the freedoms or religious liberties that concern us? said President Oaks. “For religious communities, the United States Constitution guarantees freedom of association and the right to assemble; the right to appoint new members; the right to select senior officers and key employees, including in affiliated organizations; and the right to function as an organization. For individual believers, core rights include religious expression and exercise and protection from religious discrimination.

“To defend these rights, we must be united,” he said.

He backed up that call for interfaith unity on religious liberty issues by citing what he called an apostolic challenge for a multi-faith effort on the cause launched at last year’s inaugural Notre Dame summit in the United States. ‘Indiana by Elder Quentin L. Cook of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles.

“Catholics, Evangelicals, Jews, Muslims, Latter-day Saints and other faiths must be part of a coalition of faiths that rescue, act as sanctuary and enact religious freedom throughout the world,” he said. said Elder Cook.

President Oaks spoke of an additional aspect of the cause by quoting another apostle who spoke at a religious freedom conference in Rio de Janeiro earlier this year.

“Religious freedom is as much a duty to others as it is a right to oneself,” Elder Ulisses Soares said in March. “We gain freedom by supporting the freedom of those we consider our adversaries. When we see that our interests are linked to the interests of everyone else, then the real work of religious freedom begins.

Earlier this month, Elder Cook was in London where he participated in a panel organized in conjunction with the International Ministerial Conference on Freedom of Religion or Belief, which brought together more than 600 government officials and society leaders. civilian of 100 countries.

Echoing a theme he and other church leaders have repeated at general faith conferences and around the world, he said religious freedom and accountability benefit people and nations. Governments that recognize these benefits have “an impulse to protect religion” so that faith can “bless people, all people, not just religious people, not just believers – everyone”, he said. during a round table at the All-Party Parliamentary Group. for the prevention of genocide and crimes against humanity

This panel included Marcus Cole, Dean of Notre Dame Law School, one of hundreds of leaders and advocates around the world with whom Latter-day Saint leaders work to nurture multilateral faith efforts in the name of religious freedom. , including the peaks of Notre-Dame.

Latter-day Saint leaders have addressed many aspects of religious freedom issues in the past year alone, though, as President Oaks has noted, they have been advocating for multifaith efforts for decades. now.

President Oaks spoke in November under the historic rotunda dome on the University of Virginia campus to reiterate the church’s position that religious freedom rights can be protected while simultaneously protecting others. against discrimination, such as those who identify as lesbian, gay, bisexual. , transgender or queer.

“We must not let the fear of losing our own freedoms make us insensitive to the claims of others for theirs,” he said then. “Let us join with those who advocate non-discrimination to seek a culture and laws that respect the rights of all to equal protection of the law and the right to free exercise of religion.

Latter-day Saint Apostles have now spoken for four consecutive years at the G20 International Interfaith Forum – in Argentina, Japan, Saudi Arabia and Bologna, Italy. In Bologna last fall, Ronald A. Rasband of the Quorum of the Twelve spoke about some of the specific benefits that religion brings.

“The good of religion, the reach of religion, and the heroic acts of love that religion inspires only multiply when we protect religious freedom,” he said. “We serve many of you.”

“When religion is given the freedom to flourish, believers everywhere perform simple and sometimes heroic acts of service,” he added. “By ‘doing good’, we contribute to the growth and stability of various countries. A 2016 study by the Religious Freedom and Business Foundation reported that “religion contributes approximately $1.2 trillion in socioeconomic value annually to the American economy.”

That’s more than the global annual revenue of Apple, Amazon, or Google.

President Oaks also revisited an element of the strategy that Latter-day Saint leaders have outlined to defend religious freedom on the legal front.

Six years ago, the church’s general counsel, Elder Lance B. Wickman, told the BYU Conference on Law and Religious Studies that the church and its members must be willing to compromise. on matters of religious freedom apart from the fundamental issues that must be protected.

He carefully said that he was not saying that freedoms outside of the essentials of religious freedom are unimportant or not worth fighting for.

“What I’m suggesting is that if we’re going to preserve religious freedom and live in peace in a society that’s increasingly intolerant of faith, we need to be very clear about what matters most. and make wise compromises in the areas that matter less,” he said. Because if we don’t, we risk losing essential rights that we simply cannot live without.

President Oaks counseled believers to listen to others, show empathy, and resolve conflicts peacefully.

“Conflicting claims are best resolved by seeking to understand the experiences and concerns of others, and through good faith negotiations,” he said. “None of this requires compromise on our fundamental religious principles, but rather careful consideration of what is truly essential to our free exercise of religion, as opposed to what other believers consider truly essential to their beliefs. In this way, we learn to live in peace with certain laws that we do not like and with certain people whose values ​​differ from ours.

Latter-day Saint leaders have also repeatedly made it clear to leaders of other denominations and members of their own that working across denominations to secure religious freedom does not require any religion or religious person to compromise on their doctrines.

This was a theme that President Oaks mentioned again.

“When leaders come together to address religious freedom challenges, they don’t need to examine doctrinal differences or identify their many common elements of belief,” he said. “All that is necessary for unity is our common belief that God has commanded us to love one another and granted us freedom in matters of faith.”


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