President Dallin H. Oaks, an apostle of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, gave an address on freedom of religion at the Chapman University School of Law on February 4, 2011. In this address, then-Elder Oaks said that all organized religions need to band together to protect the religious freedom guaranteed in the United States by the First Amendment to the Constitution.
Many people don’t realize that the goal of the First Amendment, which guarantees freedom of religion, is meant to keep the U.S. government from forcing a state religion upon the people (as had been done in Europe, causing many to seek religious freedom in America). The Founding Fathers meant to give religion an honored, protected, and necessary place in American society. John Adams, the second president of the United States, said:
“We have no government armed with power capable of contending with human passions unbridled by morality and religion. Avarice, ambition, revenge, or gallantry, would break the strongest cords of our Constitution as a whale goes through a net. Our Constitution was made only for a moral and religious people. It is wholly inadequate to the government of any other” (Charles Francis Adams,The Works of John Adams, Second President of the United States, 228–29; Books for Libraries Press, 1969).
In public discourse, the country’s leaders have begun to substitute the phrase, “freedom of worship” for “freedom of religion.” They are not the same. Freedom of worship is the right to meet at a church, synagogue, or mosque. This right to worship is a blessing, but keeps religion behind closed doors and in the private lives of believers. Freedom of religion protects not only the right to teach the tenets of religion to religious followers, but the right to express beliefs in the public square, to vote according to conscience, and to attribute moral choices to immutable laws created by God.
Things are turning inside out. More so than ever, morality is attributed less to God and more to personal choice. A pastor who cites the Bible to call homosexual activity a sin (as opposed to being homosexual, which is not a sin) offends those who feel it is their “sexual right” to engage in it. Such preachings makes people “uncomfortable,” and in their desire to justify what God has decreed sinful behavior, they want to quiet the pastor. By creating a civil right to justify their behavior, the pastor becomes the transgressor against them and traditional morality is turned on its head.
Morality is not situational and religious people have the right not only to worship, but to express their religious beliefs, to vote according to conscience, and to seek to uphold the Judeo-Christian moral basis of American society.
*Click here to read an interview with Dallin H. Oaks on the topic of religious freedom.
*Click here to read the full transcript of Elder Oaks’s address at Chapman University School of Law
This article was originally published in February 2011. Minor changes have been made.