Speakers explain unity, awareness are essential to religious freedom

Elder Patrick Kearon shakes hands with an audience member after speaking in the keynote session of the Religious Freedom Annual Review on June 19. (Addie Blacker)

Keynote speakers at the Religious Freedom Annual Review encouraged unity and awareness as solutions to fighting for religious freedom. The conference’s theme this year focuses on the rising generation. Elder Patrick Kearon, a member of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints’ Presidency of the Seventy, opened the conference on June 19.

“Understanding and appreciation of religious freedom will need to move from the exclusive realm of the specialist to a much broader audience,” Kearon said.

According to Kearon, the upcoming generation falls into this broader audience and needs to understand and value what religious freedom brings to society.

“When young people come to understand why this freedom is crucial to their own aspirations, welfare and happiness, they will feel inspired to act, to strengthen and preserve liberty,” Kearon said.

Kristina Arriaga, the vice chair of the U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom, said in her address Thursday morning that good laws are often not enough and we need to become the voice for those who do not have one.

“America has always been the country that screams and avenues for freedom, even if we’re shouting into the dark. It’s part of who we are,” she said.

We need to “personalize, humanize and dramatize” the issues religious freedom is facing, Arriaga said.

According to Kearon, these issues, like estrangement and alienation, threaten religious freedom. Freedom of religion, he said, helps people express, exercise and feel safe in their beliefs.

A healthy society has trust, confidence and provides a sense of safety, he said. “The test of a pluralistic society is to achieve unity without diminishing the diversity within it.”

Every human being possesses the fundamental right to religious freedom regardless of differences such as race, gender, religion and orientation, Kearon said.

“Religious freedom means nothing if you protect your own religious practice while neglecting the practice of others,” he said. “We all need to be consistent in defending and respecting everyone.”

Kristina Arriaga speaks on her experiences defending religious freedom at the Religious Freedom Annual Review in the Conference Center at BYU on June 20. (Addie Blacker)

Arriaga similarly said it is each person’s duty to defend the religious freedom of every person, even if the beliefs of certain people do not align with your own.

Honoring and defending the rights of others becomes easier when you know them personally and take time to listen and talk, Kearon said.  

“We need to help many more young people see the opportunities the free exercise of religion provides to serve others in need and unite communities in ways that benefit all people,” Kearon said.

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