Freedom of Expression: An Inseparable Right from Religious Freedom

Message delivered to the Senate of the Republic of Mexico while participating in the Second Inter-American Forum for Interreligious Dialogue and Collaboration on Religious Freedom

Estimados Señores y Señoras, queridos colegas y amigos, tengan ustedes muy buenos días. Es un placer estar hoy con personas tan distingidas. 

He amado a México y a su gente desde hace muchos años. Cuando yo era un niño, Nuestra familia visitó Guadalajara, Ciudad de México, Oaxaca, Cancún, Taxco y Acapulco. La pequeña navaja que me compré, en ese viaje ha sido un recuerdo muy apreciado por más de 50 años.

Earlier this week, I was delighted to hear a mariachi song about how everywhere in Mexico is a delight. The mariachi band played “Mexico en la Piel”. I thought that’s the way I feel -- I have Mexico en mi Piel.   

(Hace solo unos días, me deleité escuchando la canción de un mariachi llamada, México en La Piel. Y me re recordó que cualquier lugar de México es un deleite. Y pensé, que es como yo siempre me he sentido. Yo tengo México en mi piel.)

I am honored to participate in this Second Inter-American Forum for Interreligious Dialogue and Collaboration on Religious Freedom. In this prestigious venue, the Senate of the Mexican Republic, we are appropriately reminded of the wisdom of President Benito Juarez, whose words stand before us: “Between the individual as between the nations, the respect for the rights of others is the peace.” Indeed, the distinguished collegiate Senate body which meets here seeks to promote understanding, build a better society, lift people out of poverty and despair, and protect fundamental rights of people.  

Earlier in my career, I worked for two decades in Washington, D.C. There I learned first-hand the power for good that can come when civic-minded leaders from diverse backgrounds share in open and candid conversation ideas and ideals, concerns and practical suggestions. This shared commitment benefits society and community. Likewise, today, we express deep gratitude for all gathered, brothers and sisters, and friends, including religious leaders, public officials, academics, jurists, and members of civil society.  

Each of you present today is an important contributor who influences decisions regarding religious freedom and Human Rights in Mexico and the region. I admire each person’s expertise and willingness to build bridges of dialogue, as well as to identify concrete actions to promote religious freedom for all in this region of the world.

Everyone knows Mexican families love Grandpa and Grandma. A happy memory comes from watching the movie Coco while sitting next to the Rivera family. Actually, I was sitting next to Grandpa Rivera’s ofrenda – his photograph, belt buckle, other favorite personal items. The Rivera family purchased a ticket for Grandpa’s ofrenda so he could be there with them in the movie.  

The cultural representation highlights the importance of Mexican culture, traditions and faith as portrayed by Miguel Rivera’s family. It is relatable to Mexican families and families in general. As part of life, we each learn to trust in our family while trying to find ourself as an individual. And that brings us to my topic today.

Human Dignity 

My remarks focus on the interrelation between two fundamental aspects affecting the dignity of every human being – freedom of expression and freedom of religion or belief. 

We start with a basic truth: every human being, regardless of social or economic status, race, gender or any other identifying characteristic, is born with a level of dignity that is not granted by man. This level of dignity is inherent with his or her human condition. We then ask ourselves this question: 

Which rights, if restrained, would most strongly intrude on that individual´s human dignity? I am confident not only for this audience, but for a vast majority of people in the world, Freedom of Religion or Belief and Freedom of Expression would be at or near the top of the list. Together, these two rights protect the individual´s core conscience and right of self-determination, perhaps more than any other rights.  

Of course, neither right is absolute. Governments define in different ways where the appropriate restraints exist, both as to Freedom of Religion or Belief and Freedom of Expression. I am not suggesting to any government where it should draw those lines. But I do highlight and reiterate the fundamental nature of these two freedoms with respect to individual Human Dignity and happiness. 

The necessity of reciprocity

Both Freedom of Religion or Belief and Freedom of Expression must, of necessity, be granted to others in order to exist within and across societies. In a pluralistic society, religious as well as other viewpoints will by definition not always conform. Some individuals, groups or governments may have a tendency to restrain the freedom of belief or expression of others in order to further ones' own viewpoints or policy objectives. 

Yet perhaps the best way to preserve ones´ own freedom is to firmly advocate that others enjoy that same freedom. This is true even when religious or other viewpoints may be different than our own. Somewhat paradoxically, then, to maintain these freedoms ourselves we must defend, not the viewpoints of others, but their right to hold and express those viewpoints, even when different from our own. 

Joseph Smith, the first prophet and president of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, indicated the following about his willingness to defend the religious freedom rights of others:

“I am bold to declare before Heaven that 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. It is love of liberty that inspires my soul—civil and religious liberty to the whole of the human race.” 

A package of rights

Rights, such as Freedom of Religion or Belief and Freedom of Expression, are appropriately viewed as a package. Indeed: “the same principle which would trample upon religious freedom rights, would trample on rights of freedom of expression, and a host of other rights that collectively makeup the core human dignity of the individual.” 

Contrary to sometimes popular belief, experience shows nations and societies that uphold religious freedom rights are more likely, rather than less likely, to enjoy a wealth of other liberties. 

The legitimacy and beneficial nature of religious expression as part of the social discourse

Rights of expression and Freedom of Religion or Belief can be collectively trampled when ideas based on moral or religious conviction are excluded from the public square. Distinguished international groups remind us “religious or belief convictions are a source for the protection of the whole spectrum of inalienable human entitlements—from the preservation of the gift of life, the freedoms of thought, conscience, religion, belief, opinion and expression to the freedoms from want and fear, including from violence in all its forms.”1  Indeed, “religious, ethical and philosophical texts preceded international law in upholding the oneness of humankind, the sacredness of the right to life and the corresponding individual and collective duties that are grounded in the hearts of believers.”

Religiously based viewpoints and religious people often have much to contribute to social and policy discourse. While the origins of these viewpoints may be religious in nature, secular implications are often profound. Therefore, in weighing even secular implications, much is missed if religiously based viewpoints are not considered, together with other viewpoints, solely because they stem from a religious perspective. 

For example, from a secular standpoint, the implications of the weakening of the family as a basic unit of society are extensive and serious. If, in policy discussions pertaining to family-related laws and regulations, religious voices are excluded altogether, policy decisions are likely to be taken that may not give adequate weight to the importance of the family within society, from a secular perspective.   

The Benefits of Religious Thought and Activity to Society

Defending Freedom of Religion or Belief and Freedom of Expression, as noted earlier, are key to protecting the basic human dignity of all individuals. In addition, these freedoms extend to and protect religious institutions in carrying out their respective missions, according to their self-determined doctrine. These missions are, to a large extent, not only compatible with most societal and governmental objectives, but often crucial to their accomplishment. 

We speak most easily and authentically from our own experience. My faith tradition is that of a global Christian religious community with congregations in some 191 countries and territories.

In The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, we are committed to synergies of faith and effort that improve standards of living and life through productive investment in each element of I-It-We-Thou—that is, the self, the natural world, society, and faith and values. We seek mutual respect and dignity for each and fairness for all. 

In today’s world, some argue religious belief inherently leads to violence. However, historical and empirical analysis dispels the “myth of religious violence”—the notion that religion ipso facto is somehow responsible for violence. While some professing religious belief are responsible for problems, the more typical causes of violence seem to emanate from the assertion of centralized power attendant to the rise of the modern state (with its general monopoly over the means of violence), the sustaining of contemporary political power, and the influence of nationalism on interstate and international violence.

We promote peace when all voices seeking the greater good can participate, where none is disparaged or denied, even if the inevitable disagreements of healthy pluralism persist. 

Because human needs know no boundaries, unselfish service reaches across barriers. Unselfish service helps people overcome poverty and other challenges to becoming self-reliant. It empowers individuals. It makes us more independent. It gives us identity as actors (not objects) able to adapt attitudes, learn skills, and affect our own destiny. Unselfish service deepens compassion and champions generous, long-term—even eternal—perspectives. 

In service unselfishly offered and unselfishly received, both giver and receiver can understand each other, be edified, and rejoice together. No wonder, whether on an individual or mass scale, peace through human understanding and service comes one person at a time. 

Just in the past two years, Latter-day Saints Charities, the humanitarian arm of the Church has partnered with Catholic Charities, known as Caritas International, Adventist Development and Relief Agency, and any number of Jewish and Christian organization and foundations in Mexico. Together we've served hundreds of thousands in need, most recently by aiding refugees in the north of the country and by providing food supplies, health services and clean water. 

Of course, no single group can address the totality of global needs. Each faith community seeks to contribute where and when and all it can to lift the human condition. Our faith community’s Humanitarian Services arm (created in 1985) works with many partners while focusing on nine core programs. These include food production, clean water and sanitation, community projects, emergency response, immunization, maternal and newborn care, refugee response, vision care, and wheelchairs.

Religious virtues and values benefit society. They have intrinsic value and provide meaning and purpose. They foster positive social norms that anchor society and promote social stability. Religious organizations inspire community, civil engagement, social cohesion, service, and volunteerism. Religious virtues and values help individuals and society to foster justice, reconciliation, and forgiveness. 

Around the world we meet individuals who have changed and improved their lives because of religious beliefs. Many say, “I know better who I am.” “I am more confident.” “I can shape my future with new attitudes and better skills.” “I am more responsible and accountable.” 

The Enshrinement of Freedom of Religion or Belief and Freedom of Expression within Constitutions and International Documents

With some of the societal benefits of religious activity and religious voices of expression fresh in our minds, we return to the two basic freedoms needed to preserve that expression and that activity.  

The prominence of these two freedoms, that of religion or belief and that of expression, is highlighted by the lofty position wherein these freedoms are enshrined. For example, in the Mexican Constitution, Articles 6 and 24 protect freedom of Expression and Religious Freedom, respectively. 

In the Constitution of the United States of America, freedom of religion and freedom of expression are the first two enumerated rights within the Bill of Rights:  

¨Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press…¨

Within the United Nations Universal Declaration of Human Rights, Article 18 states that: “Everyone has the right to freedom of thought, conscience, and religion...” And Article 19 continues: “Everyone has the right to freedom of opinion and expression; this right includes freedom to hold opinions without interference and to seek, receive and impart information and ideas through any media and regardless of frontiers”. 


These important national and international documents prominently protect the freedoms of religion and expression. They often appropriately enshrine them together. Again, neither freedom is absolute in nature. But each individually, and the two collectively, are fundamental to the protection of human dignity of all individuals, everywhere. Religious institutions cannot function without them. And governments and societies are benefitted and enriched in profound ways through their preservation and promotion. I pray we will all do all in our power to preserve and promote these fundamental freedoms.

It is time to summarize. We have focused on the importance of the following:

- Human Dignity
- The necessity of reciprocity
- A package of rights 
- The Legitimacy and Beneficial Nature of Religious Expression as part of the Social Discourse
- The Benefits of Religious Thought and Activity to Society
- The Enshrinement of Freedom of Religion or Belief and Freedom of Expression within Constitutions and International Documents

In closing, I express again deep gratitude for the honor of gathering in today’s spirit of working for the common good. Much appreciation for this important fórum. In my faith tradition, we conclude with an expressión of the sacred, as I do today, en el nombre de Jesucristo, Amén

  1. The Beirut Declaration and its 18 Commitments on Faith for Rights, 6th edition (United Nations Human Rights Office of the High Commission, April 2019), English version, 8, emphasis in original, last accessed May 13, 2019,