5 quotes from Church leaders in honor of U.S. National Religious Freedom Day

The Church has defended freedom of religion going back to Joseph Smith and the early days of the Restoration

The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints has always believed in defending an individual’s right to freedom of religion, going back to the early days of the Restoration and the Prophet Joseph Smith.

“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 and too weak to defend themselves,” Joseph said in a discourse on July 9, 1843, in Nauvoo, Illinois.

In another discourse on April 7, 1844, the Prophet said, “Meddle not with any man for his religion; every government ought to permit every man to enjoy his religion.”

In more recent years, Latter-day Saint leaders have continued to promote religious liberty as fundamental to societal well-being.

The Church’s 11th Article of Faith 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.”

In commemoration of National Religious Freedom Day on Jan. 16 in the United States, here are five quotes from Church leaders on religious freedom and why it matters.

President Dallin H. Oaks talks with attendees
President Dallin H. Oaks, of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, talks with attendees during the Notre Dame Religious Liberty Summit at Pontifical Gregorian University in Rome on Wednesday, July 20, 2022. | Jeffrey D. Allred, Deseret News

1. Effective representation of religious liberty

“The most effective representation of religious liberty is a representation that stands up for people of faith or no faith, because even people of no faith have a great interest in what can be done by religions and believing people who speak up for freedom generally, which we try to encourage.

“The members of our Church are members of the restored Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. And fundamental to that doctrine is the right and the obligation of individuals to choose to do what keeps the commandments of God and what furthers the purpose of the gospel of Jesus Christ as He taught it. Without religious freedom, we are not free to do that.” 

President Dallin H. Oaks, First Counselor in the First Presidency, Church News podcast, July 4, 2023.

2. Religious freedom in the context of the laws of the country

“We need to treat religious freedom in the context of the laws of the country, because God established the governments of men as well as the governments of God. It is short sighted of religions and religious believers to believe that their particular values, as important and God given as they are, should be dominant over every other concern of other children of God.”

President Oaks, keynote address at the 2022 Notre Dame Religious Liberty Summit, held in Rome, Italy, on July 20, 2022.

3. Accountability to God

“Accountability to God for our relationships with each other is a powerful force for good and strongly supports democracy. Those who feel accountable to God also feel a responsibility to improve the lives of the less fortunate and to follow the laws of the land.”

Elder Quentin L. Cook of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles, commemorating the 75th anniversary of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, Dec. 6, 2023.

Elder Quentin L. Cook speaks during a meeting at the Palace of Westminster in London.
Elder Quentin L. Cook of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles speaks about religious freedom during a meeting at the Palace of Westminster in London, United Kingdom, Wednesday, Dec. 6, 2023. | Brian Nicholson, for the Deseret News

4. Religious liberty protects everyone

“Religious liberty protects not just believers but everyone. It is the taproot that sustains and nourishes many other fundamental freedoms, values and social goods.”

— Elder D. Todd Christofferson spoke Oct. 29, 2021, during the Forum on Religious Freedom in the Southern Cone based in Chile, per the Church News. The term “Southern Cone” refers to the area that comprises the countries of Brazil, Chile, Argentina, Paraguay, Peru and Uruguay. He spoke from Salt Lake City.

5. Religious groups play an indispensable role

“Religious groups and individuals play an indispensable role in our communities and are uniquely positioned to alleviate suffering and help those on the margins of society. … It will take all of us serving, contributing whatever we have available in time, talents and money to address the suffering we see around us.”

— Relief Society General President Camille N. Johnson speaking on “Freedom To Serve Our Neighbor: The Role of Religious Charities and Volunteers” during the Freedom To Serve Symposium at Drake University in Des Moines, Iowa, on Tuesday, April 19, 2022, in conjunction with Iowa Religious Freedom Day.

Related Stories
8 quotes from Church leaders about the importance of religious freedom
5 times Church leaders have spoken on the importance of religious liberty
Video: Why does religious liberty matter? Prominent faith and thought leaders answer that important question
Promoting religious freedom: 7 recent efforts from Church leaders and members worldwide
What 3 Apostles said about religious freedom for National Religious Freedom Day
Subscribe for free and get daily or weekly updates straight to your inbox
The three things you need to know everyday
Highlights from the last week to keep you informed