Elder L. Whitney Clayton, senior president of the Quorums of the Seventy of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, spoke on the need to protect religious identity as much as we give attention and protection to racial and sexual identities at BYU’s 2018 Religious Freedom Annual Review.
Elder Clayton said religious faith isn’t a simple choice or personal preference, and not something that can be adopted and discarded at will. Religion is ingrained in a believer’s identity down to the very core.
“For tens of millions of Americans, faith and religious conviction are the most powerful and defining sources of personal and family identity in their lives,” said Elder Clayton. “Their faith is marrow to the very bones of who and what they are.”
Referring to religious belief as a simple choice is demeaning and makes it difficult for believers and nonbelievers to relate and work together to improve society. Elder Clayton asked the audience to reconsider their positions if any of them had concluded that certain favored classes deserve special legal protections and accommodations, but people of faith do not because they may as easily “unchoose” their beliefs.
“No democratic government that claims to value human rights can ignore or disrespect the right to practice one’s religion,” Elder Clayton said. “Religious and secular Americans of good will have big enough hearts and broad enough minds to forge a compromise for dignity, respect and peace.”
Other conference sessions included discussions about specific religious freedom issues and workshops about communicating about religious freedom, protecting religious freedom and becoming more engaged in the political process.
What Can a Lay Person Do to Protect Religious Freedom?
Neill F. Marriott
Neill F. Marriott, former Second Counselor in the Young Women General Presidency of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, spoke about what a layperson can do to protect religious freedom. She emphasized that protecting religious freedom is personal. It is about the one-on-one experiences we can have with others. “We need to be willing to change,” she said, and to get a broader view from understanding others’ experiences. She shared three other tips for protecting religious freedom:
- Be Aware – read up on the issues and form your own opinions, then be willing to listen to others to find common ground and bridge differences
- Be Articulate – know what you believe and have the courage to share your voice
- Be Active – use your influence, be an example to others and reach out to those who need help
Political Engagement: How Can I Get Involved? (Panel)
Paul Edwards, Time Brown, Pamela Atkinson, J. Stuart Adams
The legislators and political advocates at this panel expressed their passion for political engagement and gave advice on how citizens can get more involved in the process. Here are six of their best tips:
- Be present – show up to events and sessions of government ready to listen and learn
- Seek out information – you can subscribe to your city council agendas (which you can get via email in many cities) and read other kinds of reports
- Speak up – good ideas can come from anywhere, so provide your thoughts and feedback
- Find conviction – decide what you believe, define the issue clearly and join with others who think along the same lines
- Know your skills and identify where you can make a difference
- Just start doing it – donate, volunteer, anything
Communicating about Religious Freedom with Millennials (Panel)
Chelsea Langston Bombino, and Emily Hardman
Millennials are more racially, socially and religiously diverse than any generation before them. They are often referred to as “spiritual nones,” as many of them have moved away from organized religion. Still, research shows that many millennials value spirituality and religious freedom. So how do we engage with them about these issues? Chelsea Langston Bombino and Emily Hardman had a few tips:
- Understand the millennial perspective. Learn what they think and why they think that way. For example, the right to choose is critically important to millennials.
- Know what frames the conversation. We often hear about issues surrounding birth control or bathroom rights, but that isn’t all religious freedom is about.
- Use stories to illustrate the value of religion in specific, meaningful ways.
- Show the value of religion in a social context. Millennials value social issues and often religion makes up the difference to meet needs that the government cannot.
- Increase your own religious literacy—even in the things you deeply disagree with. Learn about the religious faith of others and what they need to be protected.
- Live up to the faith commitments you’ve made. Millennials are perceptive to inconsistencies and are skeptical of faith meeting its promises.