NEW YORK CITY
Latter-day Saint professionals who work and live in New York City have an essential opportunity and duty to defend religious freedom in one of the world’s most influential cities.
That was the message delivered Thursday by Elder D. Todd Christofferson of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles at the annual banquet of the New York Latter-day Saint Professional Association at Manhattan’s Riverside Church.
The association presented New York Attorney General Eric Schneiderman with its Visionary Leadership Award. About 400 people attended the event, including Elder Von G. Keetch, a General Authority Seventy, and Elder Gordon H. Smith and Elder David L. Buckner, Area Seventies.
During the evening’s keynote address, Elder Christofferson noted his appreciation of Schneiderman and his efforts to develop relationships with Church leaders.
“Attorney General Schneiderman has graciously hosted our local leaders at a Shabbat service, has attended a sacrament meeting, and was kind enough to allow us to host him on a tour of the new Philadelphia temple last year,” he said. “Our local leaders also speak very highly of those that work with him in his office.”
The attorney general, he added, is also committed to protecting the “religious rights of all people” and sets an example of positive leadership for all elected leaders who follow.
Elder Christofferson — who is just one of many members of the Twelve who have spoken on religious freedom in recent years — focused Thursday’s remarks on things people can do “to help foster a culture” that values religious freedom.
“I say foster a culture that values religious freedom because it is not just laws that sustain freedom of religion or speech or assembly or the other essential liberties we sometimes take for granted,” he said. “If the time comes in any society that the predominant culture does not sufficiently value these freedoms, then laws, even constitutions, will not be sufficient to sustain and preserve them.”
He noted a time in Mormon history in the 1800s when the constitutional guarantee of religious freedom did not protect the early Latter-day Saints.
“Without an appreciation in the culture for the value and contributions of religion, the free exercise of religion is in jeopardy.”
New York City remains a global hub of cultural, economic and political influence. Leaders in the city’s business, religious and civic communities — including Latter-day Saint professionals — can play a key role in shaping that influence, he said.
Elder Christofferson suggested three ways professionals could preserve religious freedom.
Begin by educating yourselves
“Study the issues,” he said. “Learn for yourself what religious freedom means, why it matters and how it is being threatened. Our Church has developed a website, religiousfreedom.lds.org, that is a good place to start.”
Then speak up
Look for appropriate ways to help children, neighbors, friends and co-workers understand the importance of allowing the free exercise of faith and conscience.
“Help those you associate with in the workplace understand that a growing body of research demonstrates that protecting religious freedom is good for business.”
Elder Christofferson cited reputable studies that demonstrate religious freedom is a key factor in global economic growth.
“Recognize and share the contributions that believing individuals and religious institutions make to your communities,” he added. “As people appreciate the meaningful good that stems from the exercise of religious beliefs, they will better understand why the right to exercise such beliefs should be protected.”
Refrain from casting views on religious freedom “as a matter of party politics.” Support for the free exercise of religion must transcend “the political skirmishes of the moment.” All Americans should work for its preservation.
“Remember, when advocating for the freedom to act upon your religious beliefs, you must also protect the rights of others to do the same.”
Elder Christofferson said some might believe it is impossible to balance the right of religious freedom with non-discrimination laws designed to protect “our LGBT brothers and sisters.”
“We do not subscribe to that approach,” he said. “Rather, in the pluralistic society in which we now live, we believe that a ‘fairness for all’ approach, which strives to balance reasonable safeguards for LGBT people while protecting key religious rights, is the best way to overcome the sharp divisions and present cultural divide in our nation.”
Next, get involved
Join with others in the community.
“My brethren and I are appreciative of the fruitful partnerships and deep friendships that we have developed with fellow faith leaders while working together on important issues like religious freedom,” he said.
People who are willing to educate themselves, speak up and join with others can make a difference, he concluded.
“You can help bring about a rebirth of the importance of religious freedom for all in the hearts and minds of your fellow citizens in this most influential part of the world.”
After accepting the award, Schneiderman said it is the job of every generation of Americans to make the country, in the words of the Constitution, “ever more perfect.”
“[And the American story] is of people of all faiths who, sometimes at great personal risk, have stood up against intolerance and for religious freedom. Freedom for one means freedom for all.”
In 2011, Schneiderman’s office created a Religious Rights unit as part of his ongoing efforts to prevent religious discrimination in the workplace, according to Mormon Newsroom.
“After I was elected, I launched our office’s religious rights initiative to make sure that every New Yorker has the right to worship as they wish and to have full, free exercise of their religion — not just on one particular, designated day, but in all of their lives, without fear of attack or persecution,” said Schneiderman, a devout follower of Judaism. “And as we set that up we reached out to many faith leaders, and that is how I first got in touch with and began what has become a deep, rich, and rewarding relationship with New York’s [Latter-day Saint] community.”