Independence Day perspective on religious freedom from Area Seventy/Becket Fund attorney

In addition to serving in the North America Northeast Area, Elder Eric Baxter is an attorney with the Becket Fund for Religious Liberty

WASHINGTON, D.C. — When the U.S. Declaration of Independence was signed on July 4, 1776, it asserted that “all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable rights.” The U.S. Constitution later defined freedom of religion as one of these fundamental human rights.

Today, 247 years after the Declaration of Independence was signed, religious freedom is still a relevant and important topic, said Elder Eric Baxter, an Area Seventy in Washington, D.C.

Elder Baxter is an attorney with the Becket Fund for Religious Liberty, a nonprofit focused on protecting religious rights.

On July 3, while volunteering with his family at the FamilySearch station during the Smithsonian Folklife Festival, he shared his perspective on religious freedom with Church News.

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Elder Baxter said freedom of religion is often called the first freedom, due to it being listed first in the Bill of Rights. It’s also, he said, one of the country’s most important rights, since every other right — from freedom of speech to press freedom — is rooted in it.

“Without freedom of religion, the other freedoms are less brilliant,” Elder Baxter said. “... Religious speech was one of the reasons people came to America, and so protecting religious freedom protects all of our other freedoms.”

He added that the best way Church members can protect religious freedom is by openly living their faith and encouraging others to do the same.

When that happens, people realize they “have so much more in common than [they] have that’s different.”

Elder Baxter said he’s “optimistic” about the future of religious freedom in the U.S.

“We have a long history of both struggles and triumphs with religious liberty, and today we have a lot of challenges,” he said. “... [But] there are a lot of good things ahead, and religion will continue to play an important role.”

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