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What Elder Cook and New York religious leaders say about religious liberty


Religious liberty is essential to The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints — looking back and going forward, said Elder Quentin L. Cook of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles.

Referencing the persecution of early Church members who were thrown out of Missouri under an extermination order, Elder Cook said Latter-day Saints should feel very strongly about religious liberty.

Religious liberty is needed, he said, “to fulfill the work of Salvation the Lord has given us, and to go to all the world.” It is a righteous motive, he added.

Read more: NYC interfaith commission tours Church headquarters, participates in BYU’s religious freedom review with Elder Cook

And Church leaders want it for everyone — those of all faiths or of no faith at all.

This week a unique group of religious leaders visited Salt Lake City, each speaking about the strength of people who feel accountable to God working together. Here is what they had to say about why religious liberty matters:

Elder Quentin L. Cook, of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, moderates a panel of religious leaders at Brigham Young University in Provo on Thursday, June 16, 2022.

Elder Quentin L. Cook, of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, moderates a panel of religious leaders at Brigham Young University in Provo on Thursday, June 16, 2022.

Credit: Jeffrey D. Allred, Deseret News

Elder Quentin L. Cook, Quorum of the Twelve Apostles of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints:

“My plea is that all religions work together to defend faith and religious freedom in a manner that protects people of diverse faith as well as those of no faith. 

“Catholics, Evangelicals, Jews, Muslims, Latter-day Saints and other faiths must be part of a coalition of faiths that succor, act as a sanctuary and promulgate religious freedom across the world. We must not only protect our ability to profess our own religion, but also protect the right of each religion to administer its own doctrines and laws.”  

Reverend A.R. Bernard, Commission of Religious Leaders (CORL) president and Christian Cultural Center founder, CEO and senior pastor, meets with members of the New York City Commission of Religious Leaders in the Joseph Smith Memorial Building in Salt Lake City on Thursday, June 16, 2022.

Reverend A.R. Bernard, Commission of Religious Leaders (CORL) president and Christian Cultural Center founder, CEO and senior pastor, meets with members of the New York City Commission of Religious Leaders in the Joseph Smith Memorial Building in Salt Lake City on Thursday, June 16, 2022.

Credit: Kristin Murphy, Deseret News

Reverend A.R. Bernard, Founder, CEO and Senior Pastor of the Christian Cultural Center:

“When I think about religious liberty, I think about freedom, within certain parameters, in terms of how it impacts the common good of the society. But I think about the ability to engage in a belief system, and the ritual and practices associated with that belief system, and what it brings to society. Alexis de Tocqueville, in his observations of American democracy, was intrigued by the role of religion in American society. He wanted to understand how we practice separation of church and state, only to discover that the church is very involved in shaping and influencing what happens with the state and how the state functions. I think that a society without a moral vision and a vision of immortality doesn’t allow for the success of that society the way it should. Religion brings a moral value consensus to society, which is important and necessary for justice and concord. So the freedom to express that and experience that, unhindered, I think is essential to a free society.” 

Rabbi Joseph Potasnik, Commission of Religious Leaders (CORL) vice president, senior rabbi, EVP of the NY Board of Rabbis and radio talk show co-host, talks with Reverend A.R. Bernard, CORL president and Christian Cultural Center founder, CEO and senior pastor, as they meet with other members of the New York City Commission of Religious Leaders in the Joseph Smith Memorial Building in Salt Lake City on Thursday, June 16, 2022.

Rabbi Joseph Potasnik, Commission of Religious Leaders (CORL) vice president, senior rabbi, EVP of the NY Board of Rabbis and radio talk show co-host, talks with Reverend A.R. Bernard, CORL president and Christian Cultural Center founder, CEO and senior pastor, as they meet with other members of the New York City Commission of Religious Leaders in the Joseph Smith Memorial Building in Salt Lake City on Thursday, June 16, 2022.

Credit: Kristin Murphy, Deseret News

Rabbi Joseph Potasnik, Senior Rabbi, EVP of the NY Board of Rabbis, co-host of a popular radio talk show:

“I want to be a practitioner of my faith without imposition by government. Liberty is different than democracy. Democracy is the vote of the majority, while the vote of majority could be to invalidate the minority. So Liberty says you have the right to be who you want to be. Government can have a say, where there is a compelling interest, you know, to preserve health, whatever the issue is. But we have a primary right to practice our faith without anyone else interfering with that practice.

“There was a time — and you see it now unfortunately, again — where people are afraid to outwardly display their religion. You see Jews who may not wear a yarmulke in public. Some have taken down the Mezuzah from the doorpost because they are afraid of a hate attack. Liberty says that is unacceptable. But it also says because I have a right and you have a right, that we have to protect each other.” 

Reverend Que English, U.S. Department of Health and Human Services Partnership Center director, talks to the media during a meeting with members of the New York City Commission of Religious Leaders in the Joseph Smith Memorial Building in Salt Lake City on Thursday, June 16, 2022.

Reverend Que English, U.S. Department of Health and Human Services Partnership Center director, talks to the media during a meeting with members of the New York City Commission of Religious Leaders in the Joseph Smith Memorial Building in Salt Lake City on Thursday, June 16, 2022.

Credit: Kristin Murphy, Deseret News

Reverend Que English, Director, Partnership Center, U.S. Department of Health and Human Services:

“It is absolutely critical that religious liberty remains just that — we need all to be liberated in our respective religions. I don’t think that we would have been effective in what we are doing, if we all looked alike, sounded alike, and we were all under one body of religion, to be honest. And I think for us, we do everything we can to protect that. We do. And we respect one another in their respective religion. We don’t judge. We don’t try to persuade the other to come to our side, because we are the right side. We are secure. … We are secure in who we are and our faith and we are led by the needs of humanity to address just that.”

Monsignor Kevin Sullivan, Catholic Charities of the Archdiocese of New York executive director, answers interview questions during a meeting with members of the New York City Commission of Religious Leaders in the Joseph Smith Memorial Building in Salt Lake City on Thursday, June 16, 2022.

Monsignor Kevin Sullivan, Catholic Charities of the Archdiocese of New York executive director, answers interview questions during a meeting with members of the New York City Commission of Religious Leaders in the Joseph Smith Memorial Building in Salt Lake City on Thursday, June 16, 2022.

Credit: Kristin Murphy, Deseret News

Monsignor Kevin Sullivan, Executive Director of Catholic Charities of the Archdiocese of New York:

Religious liberty is critically important and touches something deep within each of us. Religious liberty is different from freedom of worship. “We don’t have a problem in this country in freedom of worship; people can pretty much go to whatever, temple, church, mosque, synagogue that they want to go and they can worship. Where we get into trouble in this country is how we exercise that, when we try to speak about some of our values in the public square. And then we are going to have some disagreements. We are going to have to have some tension. And the challenge is that it’s becoming a lot more acrimonious. And our responsibility for those of us who are proponents of the freedom of religion to act in the public square, we have a major responsibility. And that major responsibility is that our discourse is civil. And even when anger is directed toward us, even when there are very hurtful things that are said about us or against us, they misrepresent us, we can’t respond in kind. We have to be faithful to being civil, being respectful of others, even when they’re not of us. And that is the challenge that we have in this country at the moment.” 

Bishop Dr. Victor A. Brown, Mt. Sinai United Christian Church senior pastor and College of Bishops of the World Council of Independent Christian Churches member, answers interview questions during a meeting with members of the New York City Commission of Religious Leaders in the Joseph Smith Memorial Building in Salt Lake City on Thursday, June 16, 2022.

Bishop Dr. Victor A. Brown, Mt. Sinai United Christian Church senior pastor and College of Bishops of the World Council of Independent Christian Churches member, answers interview questions during a meeting with members of the New York City Commission of Religious Leaders in the Joseph Smith Memorial Building in Salt Lake City on Thursday, June 16, 2022.

Credit: Kristin Murphy, Deseret News

Bishop Dr. Victor A. Brown, Senior Pastor of Mt. Sinai United Christian Church, Member of College of Bishops of the World Council of Independent Christian Churches:

“This nation is founded on ‘In God we trust.’ And this nation has taken a drift. Unfortunately, we have irresponsible media that continue to purport messages of separatism, and all of the -isms that keep us divided. And I think it’s unfortunate, because there’s so much that we have in common, irrespective of race, creed or color, and there’s so much more we have in common than there is to divide us. And we just need more trusted messengers to herald the message that we are at our best when we are working in unity.” 

Rabbi Diana Gerson, associate executive vice president of the New York Board of Rabbis, meets with members of the New York City Commission of Religious Leaders and the media in the Joseph Smith Memorial Building in Salt Lake City on Thursday, June 16, 2022.

Rabbi Diana Gerson, associate executive vice president of the New York Board of Rabbis, meets with members of the New York City Commission of Religious Leaders and the media in the Joseph Smith Memorial Building in Salt Lake City on Thursday, June 16, 2022.

Credit: Kristin Murphy, Deseret News

Rabbi Diana Gerson, Associate EVP of the New York Board of Rabbis:

Religious liberty is something that is important across all faiths, to people who are across the religious spectrum — Jews, Christians, Muslims, Buddhists, Bahá’ís, Hindus. “Religious liberty means that they have the right to practice, for me to be able to invite people to my home, and to enjoy food at my table and enjoy our holiday celebrations. And then for me to be able to go to their home, and to celebrate equally and joyfully in their celebrations. That’s the practice of religious liberty. And we don’t do that just because we are faith leaders, we do that because we are one common family. We are all connected by the same creator. We are all connected by our own faith. And we are all different sides of that beauty. That is God. So the practice is as important as the doctrine. So when we have a faith community, and a system is structured that allows us all to participate without infringing on one another, then we have achieved that liberty.” 

Annette Bernard, executive director of community affairs of the Christian Cultural Center in Brooklyn, answers interview questions during a meeting with members of the New York City Commission of Religious Leaders in the Joseph Smith Memorial Building in Salt Lake City on Thursday, June 16, 2022.

Annette Bernard, executive director of community affairs of the Christian Cultural Center in Brooklyn, answers interview questions during a meeting with members of the New York City Commission of Religious Leaders in the Joseph Smith Memorial Building in Salt Lake City on Thursday, June 16, 2022.

Credit: Kristin Murphy, Deseret News

Annette Bernard, Executive Director of Community Affairs of the Christian Cultural Center in Brooklyn:

“We need to be able to do what we feel is best for us. And different religions do that for different people. So it’s super important to be who you are, be grounded in who you are, be comfortable in the religion that you are in, and speak and walk in that way so that you can feel whole. And you can do it when no one has the right to say this religion is better than this religion. Or I’m not going to talk to this person because of this. It is just the way we are all uniquely made. We believe and do things all in our own unique way.” 

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Sheri Dew, executive vice president and chief content officer of Deseret Management Corporation, talks with Elder David Buckner, an Area Seventy from New York City, and Rabbi Joseph Potasnik, Commission of Religious Leaders (CORL) vice president, senior rabbi, EVP of the NY Board of Rabbis and radio talk show co-host, as they meet with other members of the New York City Commission of Religious Leaders in the Joseph Smith Memorial Building in Salt Lake City on Thursday, June 16, 2022.

Kristin Murphy, Deseret News

Elder David L. Buckner, Area Seventy, The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints:

“The concept of religious liberty suggests we have individual freedom to practice our faith both privately and in the public Square. Increasingly, that freedom to practice in the public square is being discouraged or limited as if to suggest that my religious freedom will somehow inherently diminish your religious freedom. But that’s not the case. Just as one candle lights another, it does not extinguish its own light. In fact, it brings greater light into the room. To me, religious liberty is the ability to embrace more light in society and in the world by metaphorically lighting one another’s candles. We see differences and celebrate what we learn. We are enlightened by others understanding and inspired by their stories. Our own personal religious journey becomes strengthened as we are permitted to see through the lens of others who have similarly found themselves on such a journey. When people of faith come together with their diverse experiences and individual beliefs, they create a beautiful tapestry of texture and color for all to see and experience. As they unite arm in arm as proponents for greater light, greater knowledge and more faith in society, that tapestry is not only filled with brilliant color, it becomes woven more tightly together in a unified fashion such that it can sustain the test of time. We may not always agree or travel the same road, but we find ourselves learning together. This makes society more civil, conversations more constructive and the human experience more inspiring.”

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