Education Week: Participants urged to defend religious freedom from international threats

The Associate General Counsel of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints William Atkin holds up “Captain Moroni’s sword” during his Education Week presentation. In his speech he urged participants to remember Captain Moroni as they seek to defend faith, freedom and family and advocate for religious freedom. (Dallin Wilks)

Editor’s note: Education Week coverage can be found in this section of the website.

A Monday Education Week presentation encouraged participants to be informed on the international threats facing freedom of religion.

William Atkin, associate general counsel of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, urged participants to remember Captain Moroni as they seek to defend faith, freedom and family.

Atkin pointed out that the Book of Mormon is a “guide for our day” in defending religious freedom and living the gospel.

The word “freedom” is mentioned 35 times in the Book of Mormon compared to only two references in the Bible. The Book of Mormon also says “liberty” 56 times, but the Old Testament only says it 11 times and the New Testament 21 times. By relying on the Book of Mormon, individuals can have a guide to navigate today’s world, Atkin said.

Atkin discussed how religion is viewed by some secular theorists as dangerous and a foolish way to live. He quoted Elder L. Whitney Clayton saying government officials and secular elites too often view Christian faith as “something akin to a quirky, private belief or hobby.”

Because of this growing movement of society that looks down upon the religious, Atkin said, many are increasingly willing to use social and legal pressures to force people to change their religious beliefs. Instead, Atkin said religion is profoundly intertwined with human existence and should not be something that is repressed.

Freedom of religion incorporates many ideals, Atkin said. He used the scripture D&C 134:4 as a basis for his argument: “We believe that religion is instituted of God; and that men are amenable to him, and to him only, for the exercise of it, unless their religious opinions prompt them to infringe upon the rights and liberties of others; we do not believe that human law has a right to interfere in prescribing rules of worship to bind the consciences of men, nor dictate forms for public or private devotion; that the civil magistrate should restrain crime, but never control conscience; should punish guilt, but never suppress the freedom of the soul.”

Religious freedom includes having the agency to freely believe according to one’s own conscience. Religious freedom is also a divine law and fundamental right that cannot be taken away, which is why it is in the First Amendment of the U.S. Constitution, Atkin said.

Freedom of religion also includes the right to act on one’s belief, such as going to church or serving a mission. Religious freedom protects the rights of religious organizations as institutions.

Atkin quoted Elder Bruce R. McConkie who said “Freedom of worship is one of the basic doctrines of the gospel. Indeed, in one manner of speaking it is the most basic of all doctrines … If there were no freedom of worship, there would be no God, no redemption, and no salvation in the kingdom of God.”

Religious freedom should be important to all people, Atkin said, because religion makes up people’s identity, ensures individual agency, and is the key to progressing back toward God.

People are too often being threatened for what they believe, Atkin said. Both institutionally and individually, Atkin encouraged participants to be informed on the threats toward religious freedom.

Some of the main institutional threats include people attacking doctrine and church autonomy. Atkin said this is evident in people attacking The Family: A Proclamation to the World and churches’ institutional right to control their own internal structure and policies. Many legal pressures and threats come from issues regarding LGBTQ policies, tax exemption statuses of churches, the ability to require ecclesiastical endorsements, and the Church’s policy on Church employees having to be temple worthy.

Individual threats to religious freedom also deal with parenting, Atkin said, where some of society is questioning whether parents are allowed to teach religion to their children, make religious decisions on behalf of children or opt children out of certain school programs that might be contrary to their religious beliefs.

Atkin said some who are opposed to religious freedom are also pushing for employment and educational policies that restrict religious individuals from job advancement, government funded scholarships or even from holding public office.

Collectively, Atkin said members of the Church need to advocate in defense of religious freedom. He said all of the apostles of the Church have spoken about religious freedom which shows just how important the topic is.

“We have to now develop Zion and the protections of what we believe in and where we stand. I admonish you to think of Captain Moroni, of faith, family and freedom,” Atkin said.

He encouraged the audience to be informed, speak up, take a more active role in the community, get involved in defending these issues and to be an example of the believers to ensure religious freedom for all faiths.

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