Commemoration of the 75th Anniversary Of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights

Thank you for the invitation to be with you on this unique and special occasion. I am honored to have the opportunity to address you on this important subject.

In 1948 the then fifty-eight member states of the United Nations, under the guidance of Eleanor Roosevelt, devised a list of essential human rights that everybody across the world should enjoy. 1 It is interesting that she is credited with changing the initial overall heading to the inclusive “all human beings” rather than the historic common phraseology of “all men.” 2

This is appropriate because on December 10, 1948, the General Assembly of the UN announced the Universal Declaration of Human Rights 3 —30 rights and freedoms—they speak to and belong to all of us. 

They are the basis for international human rights law. It was the first time that a universal global agreement put human rights—not power politics—at the forefront.

Articles 18 to 20 address personal individual freedoms. Article 18 is of particular historical significance for us today:

“Everyone has the right to freedom of thought, conscience and religion, this right includes freedom to change his religion or belief, and freedom either alone or in community with others and in public or private, to manifest his religion or belief in teaching, practice, worship and observance.” 4

My faith, The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, supports the religious freedom of all faiths as well as those with no faith. Two basic principles which demonstrate the Church’s commitment to freedom of religion for all are: First, our eleventh article of faith, which was a declaration of our basic beliefs issued in 1842, and which declares, “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.” 5

The second is a wonderful statement by the Prophet Joseph Smith, who was the prophet who restored the gospel of Jesus Christ in this dispensation and founded the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints in 1830. He passionately asserted his commitment to civil and religious liberty when he said, “It is love of liberty which inspires my soul, civil and religious liberty to the whole of the human race.” 6

One of my purposes on this occasion is to reflect upon and express appreciation for the historical British Isles history and parliamentary actions that were essential precursors to achieving this aspirational declaration for religious freedom on an international scale.

The first is Magna Carta. The action by a group of barons in 1215, encompassed in a treaty to end a civil war, contained clauses relating to religious liberty and how justice was to be dispensed that give Magna Carta its enduring fame. 7

In approximately 1600, Sir Edward Coke produced the consolidation of the English law in written form. 8 Coke “interpreted Magna Carta as a confirmation of the principle of individual liberty existing in England from very early times. While other statutes could be legally repealed, Magna Carta was irrevocable, because it was seen as preserving original liberties granted to the English people against the power of kings.” 9

The crucial meetings were held at Runnymede. I became aware of Magna Carta when I visited that ancient assembly site in June of 1962. I was a young missionary for The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, and the beauty of the location and the significance of the Magna Carta, itself, made a strong impression on me. It was one of the reasons I decided to pursue law as a profession.

When you combine the historical impact of Magna Carta, the English Common Law, and the English Bill of Rights of 1689, the principle of individual liberty existed in England in early times. When you cross the pond to the United States, the Declaration of Independence contains the seminal words, “All men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights.” 10 The acknowledgement of God, the creator of the universe, as the ultimate giver of essential rights, is proclaimed in a magnificent fashion and reflects the cherished beliefs of people across the world. The concept that ‘all men are created equal’ has made significant strides, but there is much yet to be accomplished.

Freedom of religion and freedom of speech are both the heart and the foundation of a representative democracy. Freedom to believe in private and to assemble and exercise belief and speech in the public square are essential to protecting unalienable rights. Religion combines all of these essential freedoms and needs to be protected. 

However, no single church should be the ‘established church’ with legal rights that adversely impact the religious faith of those whose beliefs are not in accord with the ‘established church’s tenants.

In order to articulate additional parliamentary actions that established increased religious freedom that may not be as well-known, I will share some history of my family and my faith to place it in context.

From 1629 to 1640, a period that Whig historians called the “Eleven Years Tyranny,” Charles I tried to rule England without a parliament, and Archbishop William Laud purged the Anglican Church of its Puritan and Separatist members. Some twenty-one thousand English men, women and children left England and colonized Massachusetts. 11 This is often referred to as part of ‘the New England Great Migration,’ 12 and a huge number of Americans trace their ancestors to these early immigrants. My Cook ancestors arrived in Massachusetts in 1638, and my mother’s Kimball ancestors came in 1634.

Although this large number of early immigrants usually attributed their migration to religious freedom, their record of providing religious freedom to others was less than perfect. Religious and personal freedoms improved over the next two hundred years. In both the U.S. and England, the compact between the state and “established religion” adversely impacted the religious freedom of those who did not belong to the established religion. In England, the established church was the Church of England. In North America there were different established churches in the Southern Colonies and the Northern Colonies. 13 However, there were many common elements in these Churches. “Americans understood these elements to be an ‘establishment of religion.’” 14

In the United Kingdom in the 20 years from 1810 to 1830, Parliament passed bills to protect individuals whose beliefs were different from the established religion. On May 9, 1828, Parliament repealed the Test and Corporation Acts that had kept non-Anglicans from fully engaging in public office and certain professions. This was a significant step towards religious freedom for the so-called non-conformist faiths and believers. The 1829 Catholic Emancipation Act accomplished much the same thing for Catholics.

The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints and my family were blessed by these Parliamentary actions. My great-great-grandfather, Heber C. Kimball, in 1837 was the first missionary called from the Church to serve in Britain. 15 The Church itself had been organized in 1830. Heber C. Kimball and the leadership of the Church had experienced severe discrimination in some US states.

Kimball and his missionary associates who accompanied him found that these newly passed laws greatly expanded Great Britain’s religious freedom for non-conformists’ faiths. He was able to attain a license to preach in Preston, England from the secular authority. The license allowed him to certify under oath that Her Majesty’s laws would be executed, but specifically excluded the requirement to make oaths of allegiance and supremacy to the established church which he could not make.

This was a crucial way forward towards resolving the issue of an established faith in a land of many faiths. Here is the full text of his license:


To Wit.

This is to certify that at the General Quarter Sessions of the Peace, held by adjournment at Preston in and for said county, the eighteenth day of October, in the first year of the reign of Her Majesty, Queen Victoria, Heber Chase Kimball came before the Justices present, and did then and there in open court, take the oaths appointed to be taken, instead of the oaths of allegiance and supremacy: and also the abjurgation oath; and subscribed his name thereto, pursuant to the several laws in that behalf made and provided.

E. Gorst,

Deputy Clerk of the Peace in and for said county.” 16

Kimball and his associates found the license to be helpful. When opposing preachers challenged their legitimacy, they showed them their license. This generally silenced them. 17

There was, of course, some opposition and discrimination, but very little from the government itself. As a result of the Parliamentary acts, preachers, such as Latter-day Saint missionaries, faced no government interference if they complied with generally applicable laws consistent with their beliefs and obtained the required ministerial license.

In addition, the attitude toward freedom of religion changed. “…there was a general consensus in favor of making toleration part of ethical Christian practices and a mark of true religion.” 18 The missionaries also found that the moral reforms that I have just discussed had resulted in many moral and righteous people who were committed to following the teachings of Jesus Christ.

Religious freedom and accountability to God benefits individuals and countries. 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. While there are many challenges that exist and that need to be addressed, if one honestly surveys the landscape of individual and religious freedom, the principal components and the essential foundations which commenced in the British Isles are still central today. 

I believe the UK has been at the forefront of extending respect, toleration, and legal protection for religious freedom to people of all faiths—not just Christians. You are a powerful example!

That having been said, there is still much to be accomplished. When it comes to religious freedom, we can never rest on our laurels. We are all aware of the heart-breaking conflicts that are occurring throughout the world. Some are between people who have different religious faiths. We pray for peace and resolutions that will provide religious freedom for all. However, even when our highest and brightest ideals are challenged, it is not time to despair. In such times, we need to focus light on our ideals, and our aspirations need to be expressed.

We should never give up on advocating for and declaring the human rights that we are celebrating here in the UK Parliament today.

When my great-great-grandfather Kimball arrived in England in the early 19th century he represented a small faith of several thousand adherents. That faith has grown to bless the lives of over seventeen million around the world. I am grateful for the religious freedom extended to my missionary forebear and invoke the blessings of heaven upon this Parliament.

Thank you for allowing me to express these sentiments.

  1. See, . See also, 

  2. Mary Ann Glendon, A World Made New: Eleanor Roosevelt and the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (New York: Random House, 2002).

  3. See,  

  4. See,  

  5. See, Joseph Smith, “Church History,” Times and Seasons 3, no. 9 (March 1, 1842), 709-710. 

  6. Willard Joseph Smith sermon, Nauvoo, IL, July 9, 1843, Joseph Smith, History, 1838-1856, vol. E-1, 1666, Church History Library.

  7. Nigel Saul, “The Kingdom’s First Charter,” Country Life, January 21, 2015, 54–59. This sets forth an excellent explanation of Magna Carta and its influence on English law and the American Constitution.

  8. Sir Edward Coke’s work was to law what Shakespeare’s was to literature.

  9. Magna Carta, 1217 Text and Translation, (Bodleian Library, University of Oxford, 216.), 8 and 11. See also: MAGNA CARTA (1215), clause 1, sited in Saul, “Kingdom’s First Charter,” 57.

  10. The Declaration of Independence, July 4, 1776, para 2. The unanimous Declaration of the 13 United States of America.

  11. David Hackett Fischer, Albion’s Seed, Oxford University Press, c. 1989,17.

  12. David Hackett Fischer, African Founders Simon & Schuster, c. 2022, 15.

  13. Nathan S. Chapman and Michael W. McConnell, Agreeing to Disagree, Oxford University Press, 2023, 11-12. The established church in the Southern Colonies was the Church of England known in the US as the Episcopal or Anglican Church. In the Northern Colonies, the established churches were branches of reformed Protestantism based on the teachings of John Calvin, usually called Congregationalists.

  14. Ibid, 12.

  15. Joseph Fielding, Orson Hyde, Willard Richards, John Snyder, John Goodson, and Isaac Russell accompanied Heber C. Kimball on the first mission. Elders Kimball, Hyde, Richards, and Fielding left Kirtland on June 13, 1837, and they were met by their other three companions in New York. James B. Allen, Ronald K. Esplin, and David J. Whittaker, Men With a Mission: The Quorum of the Twelve Apostles in the British Isles, 1837–1841 (Salt Lake City: Deseret Book, 1992), 24–25.

  16. Orson F. Whitney, Life of Heber C. Kimball, Stevens and Wallis, Inc. c.1945, 161.

  17. Ibid. 161.

  18. James B. Allen, Ronald K. Esplin, David J. Whittaker, Men with a Mission1837- 1841, The Quorum of the Twelve Apostles in the British Isles, Deseret Book Co., c. 1992, 341.