MEXICO CITY, Mexico — Elder Gerrit W. Gong stressed the importance of freedom of religion and freedom of expression in his remarks to legislators, government officials, interfaith leaders, academics and members of civic society at the second Inter-American Forum for Inter-religious Collaboration and Dialogue.
The forum was held on April 28 in the Senate Chambers of the Mexican Republic in Mexico City.
In the introduction to his remarks, Elder Gong, a member of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles, quoted former Mexican President Benito Juarez, “Among individuals, as among nations, respect for the rights of others is peace.”
Elder Gong then began his discussion of rights by recognizing that all human beings are “born with a level of dignity that is not granted by man,” and so are worthy of respect simply because they are human beings.
He then asked, “Which rights, if restrained, would most strongly intrude on that individual’s human dignity?” In answer, he listed “freedom of religion or belief and freedom of expression.”
“Together, these two rights protect the individual’s core conscience and right to self-determination, perhaps more than any other rights,” said Elder Gong.
Although these rights are not absolute and governments may set appropriate restraints on them, Elder Gong said, they are fundamental to human dignity and happiness.
The necessity of reciprocity was another important point in Elder Gong’s address. He said, “The best way to preserve one’s own freedom is to firmly advocate that others enjoy that same freedom.” This does not mean one must defend the viewpoints of others, but rather that one must defend their right to have and express those viewpoints.
Elder Gong also stressed the importance of religious ideas being allowed to be part of the public discourse. He said that although the origin of a viewpoint might be religious, it may still have secular implications and value. “Much is missed if religiously based viewpoints are not considered, together with other viewpoints, solely because they stem from a religious perspective.”
In addressing the benefits of religion on society, Elder Gong spoke of the humanitarian efforts of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints in Mexico. During the past two years, the Church’s humanitarian organization, Latter-day Saint Charities, has partnered with Catholic, Adventist, Jewish and various Christian humanitarian organizations in projects that have benefited hundreds of thousands of people in the country.
The importance of the freedoms of religion and expression “is highlighted by the lofty position wherein these freedoms are enshrined,” Elder Gong said in concluding his address. He pointed out that they are protected in the Mexican Constitution, the Bill of Rights of the United States of America and the United Nations Universal Declaration of Human Rights.
During his visit to the Mexican Senate Chambers, Elder Gong was accompanied by Elder José A. Teixeira of the Presidency of the Seventy and Elder Adrián Ochoa, a General Authority Seventy and second counselor in the area presidency in Mexico.
What did you learn about religious freedom from listening to Elder Gong’s remarks in Mexico?
Elder Teixeira said he was touched by Elder Gong’s reminder that, “Human needs know no boundaries and unselfish service helps people overcome poverty. Religious freedom allows faith communities to seek to contribute to lift the human condition.”
Elder Ochoa said the historic event “focused on the blessings of preserving religious freedom and unity amongst all believers.”
“It was impressive to see how religious leaders from Mexico and different parts of the world seem to recognize the apostolic mantle of Elder Gong,” Elder Ochoa said. “In his message, Elder Gong expressed his long-standing love for the Mexican people and their culture and invited us all to safeguard these important rights.”
Elder Teixeira added that, “Rights, such as freedom of religion or belief, have blessed Latter-day Saints with the ability to congregate and worship throughout Mexico and extend help and relief to those in need in their communities.”
Prior to giving his address in the Senate Chambers, Elder Gong met with more than 20 religious leaders from all over Latin America during a breakfast at the famous Barceló Hotel in Mexico City. All participants, including Catholics, Muslims, Anglicans and evangelicals, had the opportunity to introduce themselves and interact, highlighting the unity and understanding that exist among religious groups in the region.