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From Joseph Smith to Bruce R. McConkie, 12 quotes about religious freedom in Church history


Religious liberty has been championed in the Church since its early pioneering roots. Many times, members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints faced opposition due to their religious beliefs as they worked to establish communities. As they sought to practice their religion, they also included others in being able to live their faiths, too.

In the Articles of Faith, which were part of the Wentworth letter explaining the Church’s beliefs, the 11th states: “We claim the privilege of worshiping Almighty God according to the dictates of our own conscience, and allow all men the same privilege, let them worship how, where, or what they may.”

Here are 12 of the times in the Church’s history when leaders spoke about religious freedom. These were compiled as part of the 2022 Church History Symposium on Latter-day Saints and Religious Liberty.

Joseph Smith, founder and 1st President of the Church

Portrait of Joseph Smith Jr. by artist Alvin Gittins.

Portrait of Joseph Smith Jr. by artist Alvin Gittins.

Credit: The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints

“I am just as 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 who may be unpopular.”

— Discourse given by Joseph Smith, July 9, 1843, in Nauvoo, Illinois; Joseph Smith, History, 1838-1856, vol. E-1

Nauvoo, Illinois, Ordinance in Relation to Religious Societies

“Be it ordained by the City Council of the City of Nauvoo, that the Catholics, Presbyterians, Methodists, Baptists, Latter-day Saints, Quakers, Episcopals, Universalists, Unitarians, [Muslims], and all other religious sects and denominations whatever, shall have free toleration, and equal privileges in this city.”

Nauvoo City Council, Ordinance in Relation to Religious Societies, City of Nauvoo, Illinois, March 1, 1841, Nauvoo City Council Minute Book

John Taylor, 3rd President of the Church

President John Taylor served as Church president from 1880 to 1887.

President John Taylor served as Church President from 1880 to 1887.

Credit: The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints

“We wish to comprehend and embrace all truth and seek for and obtain everything that is calculated to exalt, ennoble and dignify the human family; and wherever we find truth, no matter where, or from what source it may come, it becomes part and parcel of our religious creed, if you please, or our political creed, or our moral creed, or our philosophy, as the case may be, or whatever you may please to term it. We are open for the reception of all truth, of whatever nature it may be, and are desirous to obtain and possess it, to search after it as we would for hidden treasures; and to use all the knowledge God gives to us to possess ourselves of all the intelligence that he has given to others; and to ask at his hands to reveal unto us his will, in regard to things that are the best calculated to promote the happiness and well-being of human society. If there are any good principles, any moral philosophy that we have not yet attained to we are desirous to learn them. If there is anything in the scientific world that we do not yet comprehend we desire to become acquainted with it. If there is any branch of philosophy calculated to promote the well-being of humanity, that we have not yet grasped, we wish to possess ourselves of it. If there is anything pertaining to the rule and government of nations, or politics … that we are not acquainted with, we desire to possess it. If there are any religious ideas, any theological truths, any principles pertaining to God, that we have not learned, we ask mankind, and we pray God, our Heavenly Father, to enlighten our minds that we may comprehend, realize, embrace and live up to them as part of our religious faith. Thus our ideas and thoughts would extend as far as the wide world spreads, embracing everything pertaining to light, life or existence pertaining to this world or the world that is to come.”

— “Discourse,” John Taylor, Deseret News, March 13, 1872

Wilford Woodruff, 4th President of the Church

President Wilford Woodruff was the fourth President of the Church.

President Wilford Woodruff was the fourth President of the Church.

Credit: The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints

“All people under heaven by virtue of their agency, whether living under a republican, a monarchical or any other form of government, are entitled to religious freedom to worship God according to the dictates of their own conscience, they being held accountable to God alone for the use they make of their agency. And while we, as a community, accord this right and privilege to man the world over, we claim the same right ourselves. For we profess to believe in the fullness of the gospel of Jesus Christ which God has revealed through the ministrations of angels sent unto the servants of God in the dispensation in which we live.”

— Wilford Woodruff, Sept. 1, 1889, in volume 1 of “Collected Discourses Delivered by President Wilford Woodruff, his Two Counselors, the Twelve Apostles and Others” edited by Brian H. Stuy

Charles W. Penrose, counselor in the First Presidency

This portrait of Charles W. Penrose is by J.B. Smith and Son. Charles W. Penrose served as a counselor to Presidents Joseph F. Smith and Heber J. Grant. He also served in the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles, several missions and as editor of the Deseret News.

This portrait of Charles W. Penrose is by J.B. Smith and Son. Charles W. Penrose served as a counselor to Presidents Joseph F. Smith and Heber J. Grant. He also served in the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles, several missions and as editor of the Deseret News.

Credit: Church History catalog

“Now, then, while we claim the right to do all these things for ourselves, because in it we infringe upon the rights of no others, we also extend this privilege to everybody else. And we do not think it right for any government, or any society, or any institution, to interfere with that full freedom and liberty which the Lord has given to His creatures. … We also believe in the rights of citizens to contest before the courts of their country every point of difference that they may have with the lawmaking power. But we believe that governments, societies and institutions should not try to interfere with religious freedom. We believe in religious liberty in the fullest sense of the word; not in license, not in breaking the laws of our country, not in doing that which is essentially evil, but only in doing that which is good. And as to the right of belief, we believe that is of itself free to everybody. We do not believe that governments can interfere with that if they try. … But as a rule people believe that which seems right to them. We accord that right to everybody. We are struggling for that ourselves. And in all that we have done to battle for the rights of freedom in religion, we have had as much in view the rights of our friends who are not of our faith as our own rights. I can say this conscientiously for the leaders of the Latter-day Saints. I am acquainted with them. I know their opinions and views in regard to this matter. Our desire is that all men should be free. Liberty should prevail everywhere. … When we were a territorial government, under the auspices of our leaders, we never established anything that would infringe upon the religious rights of others. The religion of the Church and the machinery of the state were kept apart. They are so today. If Utah were one of the states of the union, church and state would be separate and distinct, just as much as they are anywhere. While we believe that the men who stand at the head of our Church are inspired of God, called of God, appointed and ordained to minister to us for the Lord, we do not believe that they should occupy the place of the state, or that the religion that we hold should be established as a state religion. Freedom to all men, freedom to all sects, freedom to all parties, is our motto.”

— Charles W. Penrose, May 15, 1892, in “Collected Discourses” 3:56

James E. Talmage of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles is the author of “Jesus the Christ.”

James E. Talmage of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles is the author of “Jesus the Christ.”

Credit: The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints

James E. Talmage, Quorum of the Twelve Apostles

“The Latter-day Saints declare unqualified allegiance to the principle of religious liberty and religious toleration. Freedom to worship Almighty God as the conscience may dictate, they claim as one of the inherent and inalienable rights of humanity.”

— “The Articles of Faith” by James E. Talmage, page 406

Joseph F. Smith, 6th President of the Church

President Joseph F. Smith was the sixth president of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.

President Joseph F. Smith is the sixth President of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.

Credit: The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints

“We believe in all truth, no matter to what subject it may refer. No sect or religious denomination in the world possesses a single principle of truth that we do not accept or that we will reject. We are willing to receive all truth, from whatever source it may come; for truth will stand, truth will endure.”

— Conference Report, April 1909, page 7

Charles A. Callis, Quorum of the Twelve Apostles

“We believe in the glorious destiny of this great republic; we believe that its principles shall extend to the uttermost parts of the earth, that the shackles of bondage, and serfdom of all kinds, shall be stricken from the limbs and consciences of mankind, until the children of men everywhere shall stand forth in the enjoyment of that full measure of political and religious freedom which God the Father designed that they should have. This we are proclaiming to the world.”

— Conference Report, April 1911, page 40

John Henry Smith, counselor in the First Presidency

John Henry Smith, shown here in 1855, was a member of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles and counselor to President Joseph F. Smith. He’s also the father of George Albert Smith, the eighth President of the Church.

John Henry Smith, shown here in 1855, was a member of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles and counselor to President Joseph F. Smith. He’s also the father of George Albert Smith, the eighth President of the Church.

Credit: Church History catalog

“Some, in their misapprehension, or overzeal in regard to the regulation and care of their fellows, have failed to appreciate the fact that it was the design of providence to guard the consciences of men and open up to them the great privilege of religious freedom. They are at liberty to accept the doctrines of Buddha if they choose, or to believe in the mission and ministry of Mohammed, or to regard and honor the laws and views presented in the Koran, or in the doctrines announced by Moses, following the Jewish theories and ideas; they also who should believe in Jesus Christ in these latter days, and literally accept His doctrines, should with their fellow men enjoy their right to those laws, and live in harmony with the rules and principles set forth in the doctrines announced in this latter time, even as they were announced in that former day.”

— Conference Report, October 1911

Levi Edgar Young, First Council of the Seventy

Levi Edgar Young is shown in 1920. He was a general authority and served in the First Council of the Seventy.

Levi Edgar Young is shown in 1920. He was a general authority and served in the First Council of the Seventy.

Credit: Church History catalog

“A few friends of mine from New York, members of the Episcopal Church, are in attendance at these services. At home they attend their services at the church of St. John the Divine, one of the most beautiful places of worship ever erected in America. We bid you welcome. We are glad to have you hear something of our beliefs, something of the great truths of the Living God. We respect you in your worship and your religious beliefs. It is one of the rich sayings of Joseph Smith, the Prophet, that we believe in worshipping God according to the dictates of our own consciences, and we allow every man the same privilege, let him worship how, where or what he may. We honor you in your worship.”

— Conference Report, October 1950, page 113

First Presidency statement

President Spencer W. Kimball, left, with his counselors, President N. Eldon Tanner, center, and President Marion G. Romney.

President Spencer W. Kimball, left, with his counselors, President N. Eldon Tanner, center, and President Marion G. Romney.

“The great religious leaders of the world such as Muhammad, Confucious and the Reformers, as well as philosophers including Socrates, Plato and others, received a portion of God’s light. Moral truths were given to them by God to enlighten whole nations and to bring a higher level of understanding to individuals.”

— First Presidency statement, Feb. 15, 1978, as cited in “The Restoration of All Things,” by James E. Faust, Ensign, May 2006

Bruce R. McConkie, Quorum of the Twelve Apostles

Elder Bruce R. McConkie served as a member of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles from 1972 to 1985.

Elder Bruce R. McConkie served as a member of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles from 1972 to 1985.

Credit: The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints

“Freedom of worship is one of the basic doctrines of the gospel. Indeed, in one manner of speaking it is the most basic of all doctrines, even taking precedence over the nature and kind of being that God is, or the atoning sacrifice of the Son of God, or the vesting of priesthood and keys and saving power in the one true church. By this we mean that if there were no freedom of worship, there would be no God, no redemption and no salvation in the kingdom of God. Let us now reason, as the prophets have done, on this matter.”

— “A New Witness for the Articles of Faith,” by Bruce R. McConkie, Deseret Book, published in 1985

Read more about Church leaders who have spoken recently on religious freedom

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