J. Reuben Clark Law Society

From the Great Lakes to Idaho Falls: JRCLS Hosts Religious Freedom Workshops

Recently, an ordinary university classroom in Detroit, Michigan hosted a seemingly unlikely group. The group, which included a Catholic leader, a Muslim Imam, Latter-day Saints, and members of other denominations, came together despite varying backgrounds, faiths, and ideals. And what brought them together was the common cause of protecting religious freedom.
Elder Robert D. Hales called on Latter-day Saints to protect this important right in the April 2015 General Conference. Elder Hales stated, “As disciples of Jesus Christ we have a responsibility to work together with like-minded believers, to raise our voices for what is right. While members should never claim or even imply that they are speaking for the Church, we are all invited, in our capacity as citizens, to share our personal witness with conviction and love—“every man [and woman] according to his [or her own] mind.” (Hales, Robert D., Preserving Agency, Protecting Religious Freedom, April 2015 General Conference, https://www.lds.org/general-conference/2015/04/preserving-agency-protecting-religious-freedom?lang=eng)

In the spirit of talks like this, the J. Reuben Clark Law Society has begun to hold religious freedom workshops to help educate and inspire individuals concerning this very timely and important topic. The first such workshop was held March 28, 2015 in Detroit and the second April 25, 2015 in Idaho Falls, with still many more to come around the United States and throughout the world.

Jeremiah J. Morgan, Chair of the J. Reuben Clark Law Society, said “we have, as individuals and Latter-day Saints, a unique opportunity and perspective to share with respect to religious freedom. It certainly begins with education, but it cannot end there.”

In Detroit, people from many faiths came together to discuss how individual citizens can make a contribution to the protection of religious freedom. Deano Ware is just such an example. While attending the Hosanna Tabor Evangelical Lutheran church, he learned that the church was being sued over an employment dispute. Ware, an attorney with very little background in religious issues, knew that his church did not have a lot of money. But they needed help.

With great vigor Ware took on the task and defended his church. Along the way he teamed up with a religious liberty firm, the Becket Fund for Religious Liberty, and together they brought this issue all the way to the United States Supreme Court—where the church won its case. In the process the case set a vital precedent for future religious freedom cases, helping not just Ware’s congregation, but churches everywhere. Ware certainly exemplifies Elder Hales' charge “to safeguard these sacred freedoms and rights for ourselves and our posterity.” (Hales, Robert D., Preserving Agency, Protecting Religious Freedom, April 2015 General Conference, https://www.lds.org/general-conference/2015/04/preserving-agency-protecting-religious-freedom?lang=eng)

A few weeks later in Idaho Falls, more of these same discussions took place. John Cannon of the Church’s Public Affairs Department shared with the participants the Church’s efforts to balance religious freedom rights with LGBT rights in two Utah bills signed into law. He explained how the legislation would have failed if relationships had not existed with the Church’s counterparts.

Two LDS senators from Idaho echoed this message of balance and understanding by explaining how vital exchanges with people holding opposing views have been to finding the right solution for Idaho. These examples remind us to be kind and civil in our discourse with those we disagree with—a common plea from Church leaders. Showing respect to others’ beliefs is part of being an example of a believer.

During the religious freedom workshop it was emphasized that all individual citizens can promote the cause of religious freedom by defending faith with compassion and understanding, engaging in our communities, and joining with others who share our commitment to this right.

For those seeking to learn more, BYU’s International Center for Law and Religion Studies (http://ce.byu.edu/cw/iclrs/) offers continuing educational opportunities, including the Religious Freedom Annual Review July 6-8 which will be recapped in the JRCLS September newsletter.
By Robert Snyder, Religious Liberty Committee Member

Posted: July 7, 2015