News Release

In the Ecosystem of Rights, Religious Freedom Is Foundational

Elder Christofferson speaks in Cambridge

A Mormon apostle said Friday that religious freedom “is the core right in what might be thought of as an ‘ecosystem’ of freedom. As religious freedom goes, so go many other precious rights.”


Elder D. Todd Christofferson of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints gave these remarks at Downing College, a constituent college of Cambridge University, to the local chapter of Brigham Young University’s J. Reuben Clark Law Society. Judge J. Clifford Wallace of the U.S. Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals also presented and participated in the day’s events.

Elder Christofferson said the division of authority between church and state is the basis for limited government and freedom, and government’s limited control in the realm of the spirit undergirds the rule of law. It is in such an environment that religious freedom can flourish and play its foundational role in supporting other fundamental freedoms, such as those listed in the First Amendment of the United States Constitution — freedom of speech, press, assembly and petition.

“A government powerless to compel religious belief or exercise will be hard pressed to compel orthodoxy in other areas of life,” the senior Church leader said. “Religious freedom protects the freedom of individual belief and expression in all areas of human activity. This enables people to develop and express their own opinions in matters of philosophy, politics, business, literature, art, science, and other areas, which naturally leads to social and political diversity.”

The freedom of everyone to associate with friends and associates and form voluntary groups based on shared values is possible by protecting the autonomy of churches and other religious organizations. “The hard-won right of churches to autonomy in their ecclesiastical affairs has helped lay the groundwork for the right of all people — religious or not — freely to form and govern numerous social and cultural institutions that enrich our societies in so many ways,” Elder Christofferson said.

And the freedoms for everyone to speak and express and publish and peaceably assemble also find their roots in religious freedom. Why? Because, Elder Christofferson said, “if the state can be convinced (or compelled) to leave space for religious dissent, it will almost surely leave space for other forms of dissent. If the state does not respect religious freedom, it is unlikely that it will respect other freedoms.”

Religious freedom is also critical because it allows religion to teach the virtues and habits necessary for a free society. These include honesty, duty, moral self-discipline, sacrifice for family and country, compassion and service and civic engagement.

The best way to cultivate a world in which religion is respected and the rule of law remains a reality, Elder Christofferson said, is to live by the truths we profess. “We must be better husbands and wives, fathers and mothers. We must be kinder neighbors and coworkers. We must be better informed about the world around us and take a more active role in our communities as citizens. We must teach principles of gospel living to our children. And we must defend what is right—including freedom of religion and the rule of law.”

Read Elder Christofferson’s full transcript: “Religious Freedom: The Foundation Freedom.”

Additional resources:

In Honor of the First Amendment

Style Guide Note:When reporting about The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, please use the complete name of the Church in the first reference. For more information on the use of the name of the Church, go to our online Style Guide.