News Release

At a Catholic Conference in Rome, President Oaks Offers Four Ways to Strengthen Religious Freedom

‘I call for a global effort to defend and advance the religious freedom of all the children of God in every nation of the world’

At Pontifical Gregorian University in Rome on Wednesday, July 20, 2022 — just a couple of miles from the Vatican — President Dallin H. Oaks of the First Presidency of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints called for a global effort to protect religious freedom for all people.

This was the second time in as many years that a leader of the Church of Jesus Christ was invited to speak at the Notre Dame Religious Liberty Summit. Elder Quentin L. Cook participated last year at the conference in Indiana.

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The First Counselor in the faith’s First Presidency said religious liberty faces serious challenges around the world. These include secularism, authoritarianism, political correctness and deteriorating attitudes toward religion.

Religious liberty demands unity among denominations, President Oaks said.

“When leaders join forces to confront religious liberty challenges, they do not need to examine doctrinal differences or identify their many common elements of belief,” he said during the opening day’s keynote. “All that is necessary for unity is our shared conviction that God has commanded us to love one another and has granted us freedom in matters of faith.”

President Oaks said religious freedom is in the DNA of the Church of Jesus Christ. He quoted Joseph Smith’s famous 1843 declaration that he was “ready to die in defending the rights of a Presbyterian, a Baptist, or a good man of any other denomination; for the same principle which would trample upon the rights of the Latter-day Saints would trample upon the rights of the Roman Catholics, or of any other denomination.”

“With the love and mutual respect taught by divine commandments,” President Oaks said, “we need to find ways to learn from one another and to reinforce the common commitments that hold us together and promote stable pluralistic societies. We should walk shoulder to shoulder along the path of religious freedom for all, while still exercising that freedom to pursue our distinctive beliefs.”

President Oaks offered four suggestions to help make this happen.

1. Recognize That We Need Each Other and Are All Subject to Law

“In responses to government, we should remember Jesus’ charge to ‘render [give] … unto Caesar the things which are Caesar’s,’” President Oaks said. “Even religious rights cannot be absolute. In a nation with citizens of many different religious beliefs or disbeliefs, the government must sometimes limit the rights of some to act upon their beliefs when doing so is necessary to protect the health, safety and welfare of all.”

When we don’t see eye to eye with others, we should seek to understand their concerns and experiences, he said.

“None of this requires any compromise of our core religious principles, but rather a careful examination of what is really essential to our free exercise of religion, in contrast to what other believers consider really essential to their beliefs,” President Oaks said.

G. Marcus Cole, Dean and Professor of Law at the Notre Dame Law School, greets President Dallin H. Oaks prior to the opening session of the second annual Notre Dame Religious Liberty Summit held in Rome, Italy, on July 20-22, 2022. President Oaks delivered a keynote address on Wednesday, July 20, 2022.
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2. Urge Religious Tolerance

Often, the most serious violations of religious freedom come from religious persecution. Sometimes this is one religion persecuting another. But experience — such as the influence of the Catholic Church’s important 1965 religious freedom declaration “Dignitatis Humanae” — shows that leaders and institutions can help avert religious persecution.

“We hope and pray that the religious duties of religious leaders will incline them to oppose the use of state- or religion-supported coercion on the sacred subjects of religious choice and activity,” President Oaks said. “Further, we who live under laws that promote religious freedom need to use our persuasive powers to encourage religious liberty for those not so favored.”

3. Let the World Know of the Good That Religion Does

People are more likely to support religious freedom if they know how religion benefits society.

“As Jesus taught, ‘Let your light so shine before men, that they may see your good works, and glorify your Father which is in heaven,’” President Oaks said. “As more of our service genuinely benefits society and is clearly motivated by our religious beliefs, this will be recognized by the general public.”

He mentioned some of the good done by the Church of Jesus Christ in 2021 — including volunteering for 6.8 million hours and giving 80 million pounds of food to the hungry.

“Such personal efforts are an important public manifestation of the religious motivation that drives humanitarian assistance — a freewill offering, born out of love for God and neighbor,” President Oaks said.

President Dallin H. Oaks, and his wife, Kristen, look toward the magnificent Rome Italy Temple from the visitors' center on Tuesday, July 19, 2022.
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4. Unite and Find Common Ground to Defend and Promote Religious Liberty

“This is not a call for doctrinal compromises,” President Oaks said. “But rather, a plea for unity and cooperation on strategy and advocacy toward our common goal of religious liberty for all.”

Quoting Elder Ulisses Soares of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles, President Oaks said, “Religious freedom is as much a duty toward others as it is a right for oneself. … We gain freedom by supporting the freedom of those we deem to be our adversaries. When we see that our interests are tied to the interests of everyone else, then the real work of religious freedom begins.”

Read President Oaks’ full remarks: “Pursuing Religious Liberty Worldwide.” View a video of his remarks below.

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