News Release

Elder Quentin L. Cook: "The Restoration of Morality and Religious Freedom"





BYU-Idaho Commencement

Friday, December 16, 2011


Elder Quentin L. Cook


Graduates, Families and Friends,

            It is a great pleasure, President Clark, to join with you; your wife, Sue; and the faculty to rejoice with you wonderful graduates on this special day. I congratulate you and your parents for attaining this singular honor. To attain a cherished goal in the presence of family and friends is a memorable experience.

            One of the most significant benefits you have received in your education is the knowledge that will prepare you for the eternities — “things which have been, things which are, things which must … come to pass” (D&C 88:79).

            My purpose today is to challenge you to work with people of other faiths to improve the moral fabric of this nation and the world and to protect religious freedom. In order to do this, you need to understand and comprehend “things which have been,” with particular emphasis on certain knowledge and events which were precursors to the restoration of the gospel of Jesus Christ and still need to be protected. These are the underpinnings of our Judeo-Christian heritage and bless people worldwide.[1] If you understand these events, then as graduates of this great university, you can help protect, defend and, with your unique abilities, enhance those elements of knowledge that will bless mankind, prepare for the kingdom of God and bring you happiness and joy. Much of what you will do to improve the moral fabric and protect religious freedom will be accomplished in your families and the communities in which you live.

             I will review four major “things which have been” that were precursors to the restoration of the gospel and then suggest three additional courses of action that are particularly relevant today and that will build on the great heritage that has been bestowed on each of us.

            Two recent news items caused me to reflect on this topic for today. First, the British Museum and the British Broadcasting Company released a book last month titled The History of the World in 100 Objects.[2]

            The second news item is the reportage of events surrounding the 400th anniversary of the King James translation of the Bible. A month ago today, November 16, there was a ceremony marking the 400th anniversary at Westminster Abbey.

            These two news items caused me to review some of the most important events that occurred prior to the restoration of the gospel that can assist you, regardless of your academic discipline, in being a better citizen and a better Latter-day Saint.


            First on my list is a unique and profoundly important group of achievements which occurred during the 1500s and early 1600s. William Tyndale, a man of strong religious beliefs and a gifted linguist, translated the Hebrew and Greek versions of the Bible existing at that time into English. His translation contained “phraseology that we associate with the sacredness of the word of God.”[3] It was the language of religion, the language that captured the dramatic importance of the Old Testament and of the Savior’s eternal spiritual message, ministry and mission set forth in the New Testament. Tyndale’s vision was that the common laborer, the plowboy in England, as he described it, could read and understand the Bible. His language became to religion what William Shakespeare’s writings were to the language of literature and social discourse in the English tongue.

            With the enhancement of the English language produced by Shakespeare and the eloquent translations into English by Tyndale, wise and noble scholars produced the magnificent King James Version of the Bible in 1611. This Bible speaks to our personal commitments and evokes language that speaks to the heart. The text on the title page contained the phrase “Appointed to be read in churches.” It was intended to be read, meaning read aloud, in church. It was meant for the ear and not simply for the eye.[4] “The King James translation introduced 18 classic phrases into the English language and made famous some 240 more from earlier English translations.”[5] Examples are: “To everything there is a season,” “Beat their swords into plowshares,” “A thorn in the flesh,” “Suffer little children.”[6]

            I will never forget when Elder Ballard and I were reviewing the first draft of the new missionary guide, Preach My Gospel, with President Boyd K. Packer at his home. After his review, President Packer asked, “Will this prepare and assist our missionaries in understanding and appreciating the majesty of the King James Version of the Bible?” I immediately understood the very high standard he expected Preach My Gospel to attain. Most writings have a relatively short life span. Language matters. Truth with examples, elegance and civility endures. This great book of scripture, the King James Bible, has endured and is as important to us today as it was 400 years ago. Significantly, we share with the vast majority of citizens a love and appreciation for the Judeo-Christian values set forth in the King James Bible.

            Second on my list are the English Common Law and the U.S. Constitution. At about the same time in history as the events I just described, Sir Edward Coke, spelled C-o-k-e, but usually pronounced Cook, obviously no relation, produced the consolidation of the English law in written form. His work was to law what Shakespeare’s was to literature and what the King James Bible was to religion. In continental Europe, the Emperor Justinian’s Corpus Juris Civilis was a written body of law for jurists and professors. In contrast, Coke’s common law was based on precedent. It was principle-based reasoning from individual situations adapted to changing circumstances. Perhaps his most famous pronouncement is “An Englishman’s home is his castle.” His volumes covered every conceivable legal topic and stated what the common law was on each.

            Most people consider the provisions of the common law produced by Coke as a foundation for the constitutional provisions contained in the U.S. Constitution, which has been viewed by Latter-day Saints as both inspired and as necessary to the restoration of the gospel. My intent here is not to provide a scholarly analysis of the Constitution. However, it is interesting that President J. Reuben Clark and Elder Dallin H. Oaks, two apostles who had previously been eminent lawyers, share a common view of our understanding that the Constitution is divinely inspired. Neither of them has seen every word of the Constitution as being inspired. Elder Oaks has said, “Our reverence for the United States Constitution is so great that we sometimes speak as if its every word and phrase had the same standing as scripture. “ He continues, “I have never considered it necessary to defend that possibility.” President J. Reuben Clark enunciated a similar view in an address given in 1939. I concur with their assessment.

            These two great leaders, between them, identified five elements of the Constitution as being particularly inspired. First is the separation of powers into three independent branches of government. Second is the Bill of Rights’ guarantee of freedom of speech, press and religion. The third is the equality of all men and women before the law. The fourth is the federal system, with the division of powers between the nation as a whole and the various states. And the fifth is the principle of popular sovereignty; the people are the source of government.

            I think most of us would agree with President J. Reuben Clark and Elder Dallin H. Oaks that these incredibly significant fundamental principles elegantly combined in the constitutional documents are indeed inspired and coincide with doctrinal principles in our scriptures. It does not require detailed analysis of the Constitution to see that these five basic fundamentals have been a great blessing to the United States and were necessary to the restoration of the gospel of Jesus Christ. Again, we share with the vast majority of citizens a love and appreciation for the Constitution. Many are equally concerned about efforts by some to diminish the Bill of Rights’ guarantee of freedom of religion.

            Third on my list, which I will review very briefly, are the scientific achievements including the Industrial Revolution, the Communication Revolution, and advancements in medicine that have greatly blessed us today. President Spencer W. Kimball acknowledged these achievements and the contribution they provide to the kingdom. He saw some of this body of scientific knowledge as a precursor to the restoration and encouraged Latter-day Saints to participate in the acquisition of this knowledge.

            Daniel Walker Howe, in his Pulitzer Prize-winning history of the transformation of America between 1815 and 1848, titled his book What Hath God Wrought. In his introduction he focuses on Professor Samuel F. B. Morse and notes that “for thousands of years messages had been limited by the speed with which messengers could travel.” “Morse, seated amidst a hushed gathering of distinguished national leaders in the chambers of the United States Supreme Court in Washington, tapped out a message” on a new device, the telegraph: “WHAT HATH GOD WROUGHT.”[7] “As Morse later commented, the message ‘baptized the American telegraph with the name of its author’: GOD. Morse shared a ‘religious sense of divine providence’[8] and saw himself as an ‘instrument of providence.’”[9]

            Elder Gerrit W. Gong has eloquently summarized these events: “For those … who see Heaven’s hand in the affairs of men, it comes as no coincidence that the central theme of What Hath God Wrought is that the early nineteenth century [was] a time of a communications revolution.”[10] Howe states, “During the thirty-three years that began in 1815, there would be greater strides in the improvement of communication than had taken place in all previous centuries.”[11]

            A second communications revolution has occurred during the lives of those of us in this BYU-Idaho Center. The most significant part of this involves the Internet. This is an area where you have great understanding.

            The fourth and most essential achievement on my list was and is again for our own day a return to Judeo-Christian moral principles. This was especially necessary for the restoration of the gospel. This emphasis on morality occurred both in England and in the United States. This involved fervent religious awakenings, including those associated with the area of western New York State which became known as the “‘burned-over’ district,’ because the fires of religious zeal swept across it.”[12] One English writer described this return to morality as “an overpowering sense of accountability and a responsibility to God for their actions.”[13]

            The practice of religious beliefs had been a principal reason for the original settlements in New England, Pennsylvania and Maryland. “More material was printed in mid-18th-century America about religion than about political science, history, and law combined.”[14] On the eve of the Revolutionary War, religious pamphlets “topped secular pamphlets from all 13 colonies by 4 to 1.”[15]

            A farmer who had fought at Concord Bridge “declared that he had never heard of Locke or Sidney, his reading having been limited to the Bible, the Catechism, Watt’s Psalms and Hymns, and the Almanac.”[16] It was these principles that he was defending.

            In a recent op-ed in The New York Times, prominent writer David Brooks, in an article titled “The Great Restoration,” noted that many people believe “that repairing the economic moral fabric is the essential national task right now.” He continued: “America went through a similar values restoration in the 1820s. Then, too, people sensed that the country had grown soft and decadent. Then, too, Americans rebalanced. They did it quietly and away from the cameras.”[17] I was deeply touched when I read this article.


            How can you help bring about this restoration of morality in our day and help preserve religious freedom? First, be a righteous example. You must not be in camouflage as to who you are and what you believe. Many of you are or will be in interviews for jobs or post-graduate work. Elder J. Devn Cornish, a recently called General Authority who prior to the calling was a nationally recognized professor in the pediatric department at Emory University School of Medicine and one of the foremost pediatricians in the U.S., tells of his efforts to be admitted to Johns Hopkins Medical School. In the interview he had with the distinguished professors at the medical school, they asked him why he wanted to be a doctor. He started out by telling them that he wanted to be a pediatrician. They interrupted him and asked how he could possibly know that when he hadn’t even been to medical school. He explained to them with great passion that he had the privilege of serving an LDS mission in the Guatemala-El Salvador Mission. He had seen the terrible condition of the children and the enormous need they had for medical care. This, and the promptings of the Spirit, had inspired in him a desire to attend medical school and specialize in pediatrics. He reports in looking back on the experience that many students were seeing medical school in terms of status or economics rather than simply the desire to serve and bless mankind. He was surprised as these world famous physicians extended his interview. They were interested in what he did as a missionary, his ability to speak Spanish and his interaction with and love of the people that he had served.

            I think in this so called “Mormon Moment,” where there is more attention being paid to the Church and its members, we will need to be the best examples we can possibly be. Collectively our example will be more important than what any single member or leader proposes. Church research has shown that those who know faithful Latter-day Saints appreciate our honesty, integrity, morality and desire to be of service to our fellowmen.

            Recently, we met with a top government leader in a South American country. He had also been a physician before his election. We did not expect a particularly good meeting because some of his views are not in accord with certain principles that are very important to us. We were surprised when we were received in a warm and gracious manner. He had only known one LDS member, a fellow student in the medical school he attended. He admired this student, knew about our beliefs and was most respectful because of one example of a Latter-day Saint whose life was based on honesty, integrity and morality.


            We need to be civil in our discourse and respectful in our interactions. We live in a world where there is much turmoil. Many people are both angry and afraid. The Savior taught us to love even our enemies (see Matthew 5:44). This is especially true when we disagree. The moral basis of civility is the golden rule. It is taught in most religions and particularly by the Savior: “And as ye would that men should do to you, do ye also to them likewise” (Luke 6:31). Our faith requires that we treat our neighbors with respect.

            In a general conference address I pointed out, “There are some who feel that venting their personal anger or deeply held opinions is more important than conducting themselves as Jesus Christ lived and taught. I invite each one of us … to recognize that how we disagree is a real measure of who we are and whether we truly follow the Savior. It is appropriate to disagree, but it is not appropriate to be disagreeable. … If we show love and respect, even in adverse circumstances, we become more like Christ.”[18]        


            Be an advocate for religious freedom and morality. This is a time when those who feel accountable to God for their conduct feel under siege by a secular world. You understand the moral principles that are under attack and the need to defend morality. Religious freedom all over the world is also under attack. It is important for your generation to become well educated on this issue and assume responsibility for ensuring that the religious freedom you have inherited is passed on to future generations. We must work together to both protect religious freedom and restore morality. Please understand this is not an effort to coerce religious belief. As John Locke asserted, religious worship does not have value unless it is voluntary.[19]

            Presidents of our Church, including George Albert Smith, Gordon B. Hinckley and Thomas S. Monson, have made it clear that all religions hold truths and that we should work together for the common good. In his inaugural press conference, President Monson emphasized this cooperation. He stated, “We have a responsibility to be active in the communities where we live … and to work cooperatively with other churches. … We need to eliminate the weakness of one standing alone and substitute for it the strength of people working together.”[20] Our joint effort should be to protect important civic values like honesty, morality, self-restraint, respect for law and basic human rights. An important study established, “The association between religious freedoms and other civil liberties, press freedoms, and political freedoms are especially striking.”[21] If we fail to diligently protect religious freedom, we risk diminishing other important freedoms that are important both to us and to society.

            Our challenge is to help people without religious faith understand that the protection of moral principles grounded in religion is a great benefit to society and that religious devotion is critical to public virtue.

            Many Founding Fathers, including Washington and Madison, pointed out that shared moral values espoused by different religions with competing doctrines allowed societies to be bound together.[22] In George Washington’s farewell address as president of the U.S., he proclaimed that religion and morality are indispensable. He stated, “Whatever may be conceded to the influence of refined education … , reason and experience both forbid us to expect, that national morality can prevail in exclusion of religious principle.” Unfortunately, religious influence has often been replaced by so-called secular religions. “For instance, humanism and atheism function as secular religions binding their adherents through common belief and ideology.”[23]

            Many philosophers have been at the forefront in promoting secularism and rejecting a moral view of the world based on Judeo-Christian values. In their view there is no “objective moral order” and no reason “to choose one goal over another.”[24] They believe no preference should be given to moral goals.[25] A British high court recently denied a Christian family the right to foster children because children could be infected with Christian moral beliefs. The ruling demonstrates just how radically things have shifted.[26]

            One of the reasons the attack on the moral or religious principles has been so successful is the reluctance of people of faith to express their views.[27]

            Extraordinary effort will be required to protect religious liberty. Our doctrine confirms what both political philosophers and Founding Fathers advocated. Doctrine and Covenants 134:2 reads, “No government can exist in peace, except such laws are framed and held inviolate as will secure to each individual the free exercise of conscience.” Religious conscience is grounded in one’s belief in being accountable to God for conduct. The effort of secularists or governments to coerce conduct in conflict with religious conscience leads to social disunity and is a primary reason why religious liberty is essential for civil peace.[28]

             The role of religion in blessing a secular society was set forth succinctly by Alexis De Tocqueville in his classic Democracy in America. He stated, “The greatest advantage of religion is to inspire … principles. There is no religion which does not place the object of man’s desires above and beyond the treasure of earth, and which does not naturally raise his soul to regions far above those of the senses. Nor is there any which does not impose on man some sort of duties to his kind, and thus draws him at times from the contemplation of himself.”[29]

            My challenge today[30] is that you join with people of all faiths who feel accountable to God in defending religious freedom so it can be a beacon for morality. We caution you to be civil and responsible as you defend religious liberty and moral values. We ask that you do this on the Internet and in your personal interactions in the neighborhoods and communities where you live. Be an active participant, not a silent observer.

            In conclusion, our reason for undertaking the objectives to be an example, to be civil in our discourse and to be an advocate for religious freedom is to serve mankind and follow the teachings of Jesus Christ. In doing so, our efforts will be blessed by heaven and will further the purposes of this life established by a loving Father in Heaven.

            Again, I congratulate you on your graduation achievement and pray that the Lord’s most choice blessings will be yours. In the name of Jesus Christ, amen.




[1] I recognize that the study of western civilization has been under attack. “Some criticize its study as narrow, limiting, arrogant and discriminatory, asserting that it has little or no value for those of non-European origins (Donald Kagan, New York Times Book Review, Nov. 27, 2011, 27).

[2] Neil MacGregor, A History of the World in 100 Objects (2010). This was the culmination of a four-year effort by 100 curators to cull from the British Museum’s massive collection 100 objects to tell the history of the world. I have to admit that as I reviewed the 100 objects, I was disappointed that it did not include the Bible.

[3] David Rolph Seely, The King James Bible and the Restoration, (2011), 29.

[4] Kent P. Jackson, The King James Bible and the Restoration, (2011), 118–19.

[5] National Geographic, “The King James Bible, Making a Masterpiece,” Dec. 2011, 49–51.

[6] “The King James Bible, Making a Masterpiece,” 50–51.

[7] Daniel Howe, What Hath God Wrought,(2007) 1.

[8] Howe, What Hath God Wrought, 3.

[9] Howe, What Hath God Wrought, 2.

[10] Gerrit W. Gong, presentation to the Quorum of the Twelve and other priesthood leaders, Aug. 6, 2010.

11 Howe, What Hath God Wrought, 5. (Howe states, “I provide an alternative interpretation of the early 19th Century as a time of a ‘communications revolution.’ This, rather than the continued growth of the market economy, impressed contemporary Americans as a startling innovation.”

[12] Howe, What Hath God Wrought,173. “Awakenings of Religion”

[13] William Hague, William Wilberforce, the Life of the Great Anti-Slave Trade Campaigner (2007), 93.

[14] Kevin Phillips, The Cousins’ Wars, 94. See also Brigham Young University Law Review, vol. 1999, no. 2, Senator Gordon Smith, Religious Liberty in the 21st Century, 486–88.

[15] Ibid. 94.

[16] Ibid, 95.

[17] Brooks, David, The New York Times, Oct. 18, 2011,  A21.

[18] Quentin L. Cook, “We Follow Jesus Christ,” Ensign, May 2010.

[19] Locke, J., A Letter concerning toleration 1689. The Works of John Locke in Nine Volumes, 12th ed., Rivington, London, 1824, vol. 5.

[20] See Thomas S. Monson's statements as quoted in the LDS Newsroom commentary, “The Mormon Ethic of Civility”;

[21] Brian J. Grim and Roger Finke, The Price of Freedom Denied (2011) 205.

[22] Brian W. Walsh, “George Washington thanked God for America,” USA Today, Nov. 24, 2011; Federalist Paper, No. 51.

[23] Margaret Somerville,  “Should Religion Influence Policy?” Edmonton Journal, May 19, 2010. Secularists espouse a mistaken interpretation of the principle of separation of church and state. They do this to attack moral values based on religion. See also Dallin H. Oaks, “Preserving Religious Freedom,” Chapman University School of Law, Feb. 4, 2011.

[24] David D. Kirkpatrick, “The Right Hand of the Fathers,” The New York Times Magazine, Dec. 20, 2009, 27. (Story on and quoting from Robert P. George, professor of jurisprudence at Princeton University.)

[25] Ibid. R. P. George teaches that either we have moral reason and free choice or we have amorality and determinism.

[26] Despite modern progress in some temporal fields, it needs to be made clear that secularism is morally flawed and has left millions of people unfulfilled, unhappy and often the victims of horrible atrocities by secular despots such as Stalin and Pol Pot.

[27] “Onwards and upwards—Why is the modern view of progress so impoverished?” The Economist Magazine, Dec. 19, 2009–Jan. 1, 2010, 40. (See also Susan Neiman, Evil in Modern Thought [2002].) They fear that they will be charged with being intolerant or judgmental and shamed by those in the “great and spacious building,” often the academies, who are mocking them. One sociologist has said that “Don’t be judgmental” has become the 11th commandment.

[28] A. Keith Thompson, Religious Confession Privilege and the Common Law (2011), 352.

[29] Alexis De Tocqueville, Democracy in America (1840) 21.

[30]Elder M. Russell Ballard, speaking at BYU-Idaho commencement April 11, 2008, challenged graduates and students to become more involved, particularly with respect to utilizing the Internet to defend the Church. Many have responded in a marvelous way.

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