In issuing a spirited plea to protect faith freedoms across the globe, Latter-day Saint apostle Dallin H. Oaks cautioned that “religious rights cannot be absolute.”
“In a nation with citizens of many different religious beliefs or disbeliefs,” the church leader said Wednesday in a keynote address at the Notre Dame Religious Liberty Summit near the Vatican, “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.”
Oaks, a former Utah Supreme Court justice and the man next in line to lead The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, endorsed the creation of “interreligious coalitions” to lobby for a cause he has championed for much of his judicial and ecclesiastical career.
“From Rome, this great cradle of the Christian faith,” the 89-year-old leader said, “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.”
In urging this sweeping movement, Oaks, according to a transcript of his remarks, warned that faith is “under siege” from secularism, authoritarianism, political correctness and “deteriorating attitudes” toward religion.
He said religions themselves can help turn this tide through their own good works.
“As more of our service genuinely benefits society and is clearly [seen by others as] motivated by our religious beliefs,” he said, “this will be recognized by the general public.”
[Read a transcript of Oaks’ speech.]
Oaks, first counselor in the Utah-based faith’s governing First Presidency, pointed to the outreach of Latter-day Saint Charities, the church’s humanitarian arm, which responded to 199 emergencies in 61 countries and territories last year and provided 80 million pounds of donated food.
“Often, this aid was more than supplies or funding, but included volunteered time and service by thousands of our members,” he added. “Such personal efforts are an important public manifestation of the religious motivation that drives humanitarian assistance.”
These freewill seeds, he suggested, can sprout goodwill fruits.
Oaks emphasized that faith freedoms cannot — and should not — always trump other liberties.
“Some other citizens may … have competing constitutional rights,” he said, “against which some religious liberties must be balanced.”
Oaks said any resulting compromises need not cut into a denomination’s core principles. Instead, he said, negotiations require a “careful examination of what is really essential to our free exercise of religion.”
This entreaty for a middle way echoed a landmark talk Oaks gave last year at the University of Virginia urging a balance in safeguarding, for instance, religious and LGBTQ rights — and arguing that such a balance can best be achieved through legislation, not litigation.
“This is not a call for doctrinal compromises,” he said Wednesday. “But rather a plea for unity and cooperation on strategy and advocacy toward our common goal of religious liberty for all.”
Oaks — winner of the 2013 Canterbury Medal from Becket, a leading religious liberty law firm, for his lifelong fight for faith freedoms — lamented that many citizens around the world live in nations without guarantees of religious freedom.
“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,” he 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.”
Earlier this month, fellow Latter-day Saint apostle, Quentin L. Cook, also touted the benefits of religious liberty — even for those who aren’t religious — during a forum at Great Britain’s Parliament.
When governments recognize the value of protecting faith freedoms, Cook said in a news release, “it gives them an impulse to protect religion” so faith can “bless people, all people, not just religious people, not just people of faith — everyone.”