Religious Liberty in Historical and Global Perspective 2022 Church History Symposium

Even to the casual observer, leaders and members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints are deeply committed to religious liberty. Indeed, for Latter-day Saints, the protection and promotion of religious liberty for all is not a casual matter.

At the same time, Latter-day Saint commitment to religious liberty may appear to some to be current, American, and political— “current” as in primarily a contemporary concern, “American” as in largely an issue in the United States, and “political” as in specifically intended to balance legal and political religious freedom and nondiscrimination to provide fairness for all. While Church commitment to religious liberty understandably includes current, American, and political elements, a purpose of my remarks is to place Latter-day Saint championing of religious liberty in a broader historical and global perspective. By necessity, I can suggest in only general schematic fashion how deeply rooted religious liberty is in the core and longstanding doctrinal, historical, and global belief and experience of the Latter-day Saints.

1. Doctrine. Moral agency, which requires religious liberty for its full effective expression, is a core doctrine in Restoration scripture, including in the Book of Mormon and Doctrine and Covenants. We believe that we, as God’s children, can realize our divine identity and potential most fully only as we are able to choose freely between good and evil, right and wrong, and to experience the consequences of, accountability for, and spiritual growth from our choices.

2. Historical experience. Religious liberty is integral to the lived Latter-day Saint historical experience, including as articulated and championed from our earliest days by the Prophet Joseph Smith and throughout our history by other Church leaders. Those not of our faith are sometimes surprised that the Latter-day Saints, who have suffered so much religious bigotry and religious persecution, have from the beginning of the Restoration championed religious liberty for all.

3. Global experience. Religious liberty is a natural global desire as Latter-day Saint members seek to honor, obey, and sustain the law and contribute to our societies and communities in nations, kindreds, tongues, and peoples across the world.

In this presentation, I will also invite five friends to share vignettes of religious liberty in historical and global Latter-day Saint perspective. We will hear from Alexander Dushku, Matt Grow, Kate Holbrook, Bill Atkin, and Robert Smith.1 You will enjoy and benefit from the passion and expertise of these individuals, as I have.

Let us, then, consider in turn these three themes of religious liberty, first, in Latter-day Saint doctrine; second, in Church history; and third, in global Church experience.


Imagine the young prophet Joseph Smith in the early days of the Restoration as he translated the Book of Mormon by the gift and power of God and received the revelations which became the Doctrine and Covenants. Imagine Moroni instructing and mentoring the young Joseph not only on the doctrines of heaven, but on the necessary lessons of the Book of Mormon prophets who foresaw our day and knew our needs.

Moroni had lived, directly and vicariously, through the rise and fall of civilizations where religious liberty was a central issue, as it were, sometimes even leading to death for his people.

Moroni poignantly declared that because he would not deny his testimony of the Christ, he wandered withersoever he could for the safety of his own life (see Moroni 1:3). In some ways, history would repeat itself; the Prophet Joseph and his people would experience similarly poignant demands for faith and sacrifice, perhaps prepared and fortified by what the young Prophet Joseph was learning from Moroni and the Book of Mormon about the need for religious liberty.

To illustrate the life-and-death reality of religious liberty in Moroni’s experience and throughout the Book of Mormon, let us review Book of Mormon passages that describe the consequences of religious liberty— and the lack thereof—in three somber words: “put to death.”

In the Book of Mormon, prophets, including Abinadi, are “put to death” in cruel fashion for testifying of religious truth: “When Abinadi had finished these sayings, . . . the king commanded that the priests should take him and cause that he should be put to death” (Mosiah 17:1; emphasis added).

At various times in the Book of Mormon, those believing in Jesus Christ or found calling upon God were “put to death.” Fierce wars were fought over religious belief. “And Amulon commanded them that they should stop their cries; and he put guards over them to watch them, that whosoever should be found calling upon God should be put to death” (Mosiah 24:11; emphasis added).

Here I pause briefly to recount a similar situation in Church history. After a recent assignment in Kansas and Missouri, I visited Church sites including Adam-ondi-Ahman, Liberty Jail, and Far West. Near Hawn’s Mill, I recalled a passage in Saints, volume 1, about conditions at Hawn’s Mill in winter 1838: “The women in the settlement held prayer meetings asking the Lord to heal their wounded. When mob members learned about these meetings, they threatened to wipe out the settlement if the women continued [praying].” 2

Returning to our Book of Mormon passages, we see the struggle for religious liberty continue. “And it came to pass that those rulers who were the remnant of the children of Amulon caused that they should be put to death, yea, all those that believed in these things” (Alma 25:7; emphasis added).

“There was a day set apart by the unbelievers, that all those who believed in those traditions should be put to death except the sign should come to pass, which had been given by Samuel the prophet” (3 Nephi 1:9; emphasis added).

“The brother of Shiblom caused that all the prophets who prophesied of the destruction of the people should be put to death” (Ether 11:5; emphasis added).

“For behold, their wars are exceedingly fierce among themselves; and because of their hatred they put to death every Nephite that will not deny the Christ. And I, Moroni, will not deny the Christ; wherefore, I wander whithersoever I can for the safety of mine own life” (Moroni 1:2–3; emphasis added).

As in 3 Nephi, executions of those who held religious conviction were sometimes carried out extrajudicially. Many “who testified of the things pertaining to Christ who testified boldly, . . . were taken and put to death secretly by the judges, that the knowledge of their death came not unto the governor of the land until after their death” (3 Nephi 6:23; emphasis added).

Religious liberty in the Book of Mormon includes examples of legal parameters, in war and peace, to protect believers and nonbelievers. Facing life-and-death realities, Moroni felt justified in putting Amalickiah to death and imprisoning the men of Pachus, but only according to the legal system, with its established procedures for determining law based on the voice of the people, as we read in Alma 46:30, Alma 62:9, and Alma 51:15.3 Again, these Book of Mormon examples of what is at stake with religious liberty come from the single scriptural phrase “put to death.”

As mentioned earlier, Moroni and the Prophet Joseph may have come to share a special experiential bond and fierce love for religious liberty. From the beginning of Moroni’s instruction and the translation of Book of Mormon truths, the Prophet Joseph would learn the doctrinal, spiritual, and physical, even life-and-death, need for religious liberty, and the serious consequences when religious liberty is denied.

Religious liberty is also a core doctrinal theme in the Doctrine and Covenants, including in sections 98, 101, 109, and 134. In these sections, the Lord declares six principles to the young Prophet Joseph and other early Church members.

First, the Lord teaches the Prophet Joseph and each of us the need to protect and promote the exercise of individual moral agency and its related accountability: “That every man may act in doctrine and principle pertaining to futurity, according to the moral agency which I have given unto him, that every man may be accountable for his own sins in the day of judgment” (Doctrine and Covenants 101:78). Says the Lord, “I, the Lord God, make you free, therefore ye are free indeed; and the law also maketh you free” (98:8).

Second, the Lord indicates these constitutional principles belong to all mankind: “That principle of freedom in maintaining rights and privileges, belongs to all mankind, and is justifiable before me” (98:5).

Third, constitutional principles and laws reflect God’s inspiration but also require that good, wise, and honest men and women be sought for and upheld in order for constitutional principles and practices to be implemented (98:10; 101:80).

Fourth, do your business by the voice of the people (see also Mosiah 29:26); nevertheless, “when the wicked rule the people mourn” (Doctrine and Covenants 98:9).

Fifth, “it is not right that any man should be in bondage one to another” (101:79).

Finally, sixth, Doctrine and Covenants 134 states our belief that “governments were instituted of God for the benefit of man; and that he holds men accountable for their acts in relation to them, both in making laws and administering them, for the good and safety of society.” 4

We need not elaborate today on each element related to religious liberty found in Doctrine and Covenants 134, including free exercise of conscience, voice of the people, administration of law with equity and justice, not prescribing rules of worship to bind the consciences of men, nor dictating forms for public or private devotion, nor suppressing the freedom of the soul, all while holding sacred the freedom of conscience. But we will now hear about the right to gather, which is both a doctrinal need and a basic right. Alexander Dushku is an attorney who focuses on religious liberty issues for the Church.


The right to gather deals with the communal aspect of religious liberty. Elder Gong has taught about covenantal belonging, and that beautiful phrase has both a vertical component and a horizontal component to it, at least as I’ve understood it. Vertically, it relates to being individually connected with God, but horizontally it relates to being connected to each other, to being connected to our families and to our wards and our stakes. This important aspect of connectedness really relates to the right to gather. Our Savior said, “Where two or three are gathered together in my name, there am I in the midst of them” (Matthew 18:20). So gathering is a fundamental aspect of the religious experience and of religious liberty. As a practical matter, though, the right to gather includes some simple but very important things. For example, it includes the right to form a legal entity so that a faith community can purchase land and build a chapel or a meetinghouse, or at least lease space in which they can gather. But even more fundamentally than that, it includes, and must include, the right of the faith community to define its own doctrine, to define its sacraments and sacred rites, and to establish who’s worthy to participate in its sacred rites. So it’s absolutely vital and critical—and there are many secular interests that are now pressing against that right to gather—that there be autonomy of religious organizations to determine who and what they are. In conclusion, Elder David A. Bednar said recently, “If the faithful are not gathering, sooner or later, they will begin to scatter.” 5 A strong right to gather lies at the very heart of religious liberty.


It is said lightning does not strike the same place twice. Yet divine inspiration struck twice with twin miracles at Philadelphia6—the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution of the United States. For me, Constitution Hall is sacred ground as is the Pennsylvania Philadelphia Temple; the two are now less than two miles apart.

While principles of religious freedom are found in the Bible, doctrinal and practical concerns for religious liberty are interwoven in fundamental ways in Restoration scripture. Contemporary Latter-day Saint commitment to religious liberty draws on these foundations, but—to be clear—these theological and doctrinal foundations are longstanding and predate any particular current, American, or political concern.


Concern for religious liberty is evident through Latter-day Saint history, from the earliest days of the Restoration to the present.

Of course,Joseph Smith was no stranger to issues of religious freedom, whether it was facing personal opposition to his early visions and teachings or witnessing intense and widespread persecution of Latter-day Saints. By 1843, a year before his death, the issue was so central to his religious and political thinking that he wrote all the candidates for US president and asked if they would protect Latter-day Saints’ rights. When the responses were unsatisfactory, he mounted a presidential campaign of his own, centered on religious and civil freedoms. 7

We will now hear from Matt Grow, Church History Department managing director, and then Kate Holbrook, academic collaborations director, Church History Department.

As Matt explains, even in private settings such as with the Council of Fifty in the 1840s, the Prophet Joseph spoke with deep conviction about religious liberty.


A few years ago, the Joseph Smith Papers published the minutes of the Council of Fifty, an organization that Joseph Smith had created to protect the temporal interests of the Church and to prepare for the kingdom of God on earth. Scholars had not previously been given access to these minutes, and there was a lot of speculation about what the minutes might contain. Along with several others, I helped prepare those minutes for publication. Some of the things that I found most interesting were Joseph’s statements on religious liberty.

In this very confidential council, Joseph felt safe to share his candid views; his statements were not public posturing. Joseph invited three men to join the Council of Fifty who were not Church members. 

He did this to demonstrate how he believed the kingdom of God on earth would be—a place of religious liberty for women and men. For Joseph, the Latter-day Saint doctrine of individual agency explained the importance of religious liberty. “God can save or damn a man only on the principle that every man acts, chooses, and worships for himself. Hence,” Joseph said, “the importance of thrusting from us every spirit of bigotry and intolerance towards a man’s religious sentiments, that spirit which has drenched the earth with blood.”

For Joseph, the inalienable right of man to think as he pleases and worship as he pleases was the first law of everything that is sacred. Looking around the room at the assembled men, he said, “I will appeal to every man in this council, beginning at the youngest, that when he arrives to the years of old age, he will have to say that the principles of intolerance and bigotry never had a place in this kingdom nor in my breast, and that he is even then ready to die rather than yield to such things.”


Kate Holbrook shares that Latter-day Saint women have long been dedicated to religious liberty, including First Amendment “guarantees” in the 1870s through the 1890s.


The First Amendment guarantees two main principles: the right to religious belief and practice, and the principle that the government will not favor any one religion or non-religion over another. What the amendment assumes, but does not elucidate, is the necessity that religious and secular groups themselves support these principles as well. It is not enough for the government alone to do so. The fact that Latter-day Saint women have trusted in this amendment, even when government actors did not protect their religious liberty, strikes me as very important. This was a people who believed in the rule of law and could take the long view.

Here are two brief examples: first, in 1870 when federal legislation was introduced to diminish the Church’s economic and political power, Relief Society members gathered in a ladies’ mass meeting to discuss solutions. Chair Sarah Kimball “spoke of the part our forefathers had taken in the struggle for freedom, how they had suffered and bled for the principles of civil and religious liberty, and she felt that we would be unworthy of the names we bear and of the Blood in our vains [sic], should we longer remain silent.” 8 For Kimball, the best way to combat an unfair bill was to participate in the system. At the end of the meeting, attendees proposed two solutions: (1) women would demand of the territorial governor the right to vote, and (2) two Relief Society representatives would travel to Washington, DC. Thus, the response to threats against their religious liberty was to sustain the rule of law, this time by demanding the right to participate as voters and by appealing to federal legislators.

Second example: a month after that mass meeting and partly in response to the threat of hostile federal legislation, women in Utah won the right to vote. They exercised that right for seventeen years before it was rescinded in another infringement of religious liberty. To regain the vote, women formed the Woman Suffrage Association of Utah with local associations throughout Utah territory. At a convention, physician and acting chaplain Elvira Barney said a prayer, and her words display again that dedication to the rule of law and religious liberty: “Wilt thou be with woman as thou hast with man, . . . and may she serve to smooth the wrinkles of unjust laws, as she does and has, the pillows beneath the aching heads of thy soldiers and servants.” 9


Church leaders draw on our early experiences of persecution and our early devotion to religious liberty as we speak with political and religious leaders about the need and benefits for societies to protect and advance religious liberty today. Indeed, we find inspiration in our history and believe that because of our own experiences, Latter-day Saints have a special duty to speak on behalf of religious liberty for all groups.

For example, Elder David A. Bednar and I participated in a Brigham Young University conference on “Muslims and Latter-day Saints: Understanding One Another.” 10 We stated the strong interest of 0the Church in religious liberty as a long-standing concern, pertaining to ourselves and to other religious faiths and groups, in this case, Muslim followers of the Islam faith.

In the presentation, we noted, “People of faith need to stand together for tolerance and dignity of people of all religious beliefs.” Our eleventh 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.”

The Prophet Joseph Smith declared, “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.” 11

When Latter-day Saints founded the city of Nauvoo, Illinois, we sought to protect religious freedom. In an 1841 Nauvoo City ordinance, we who had suffered religious persecution, sought to guarantee tolerance for all: “Be it ordained by the City Council of the City of Nauvoo, that the Catholics, Presbyterians, Methodists, Baptists, Latter-day Saints, Quakers, Episcopals, Universalists, Unitarians, [Muslims], and all other religious sects and denominations whatever, shall have free toleration, and equal privileges in this city.” 12

By the way, our Church History Department colleagues have assembled additional statements by Church presidents and leaders regarding religious liberty from the beginning of the Restoration to today. 13

This brings us to our third theme—the increasingly global Latter-day Saint experience with religious liberty as a worldwide faith with members living among every nation, kindred, tongue, and people.


Founded on long-standing doctrinal, historical, and global concerns for religious liberty, Latter-day Saints’ desire for religious liberty is necessarily global in nature. 14

Bill Atkin, Church associate general counsel, will share a practical example of the Church’s contribution to global religious freedom involving the Russian Parliamentary crisis.


On December 31st, 1991, the Soviet Union was dissolved, and January 1st was the beginning of the Russian Federation. The Russian Parliament was established at that point, and one of the very first things that was done by the Russian Parliamentary Committee on freedom of conscience, belief, and religion was enacting a new piece of legislation that dealt with the operation of foreign churches in Russia. The head of the committee at the time was a Russian Orthodox priest, and as you can imagine, foreign religions were not viewed kindly in Russia. A Church attorney asked me what we should do to see if we could impact, in a favorable way, that Russian Parliament bill on religious religious liberty in historical and global perspective freedom. I recommended that the Church prepare a brief analyzing, from a legal point of view, the provisions of the draft legislation. That recommendation was accepted. So we organized and submitted, on behalf of the Church, an extensive brief which analyzed the law under international treaty laws. Ultimately, that bill was not enacted for various reasons, but two years later, we had another opportunity. The Russian Parliament was dissolved, and they reestablished the Russian Duma. The Duma had a new committee on religious affairs, and the head of that committee was not a Russian Orthodox priest.

President Dallin H. Oaks and Elder Dennis B. Neuenschwander came to Russia in March of 1994, and they asked if they could have a protocol meeting with the head of that committee, which they did. At the end of that protocol meeting, there was a bearded gentleman in a business suit at the end of the table, and he identified himself as Father Pelosin. He had been the head of the previous committee in the Parliament on religious affairs. He said, “I’d like to tell you something about your church and your contribution to our efforts to look at the new legislation on religious affairs and religious freedom.” Father Pelosin then told us that other religions had been very upset about the proposed legislation. “They protested outside of Parliament, they wrote hostile letters to members of the Parliamentary committee,” he said, “but your church took a different tact. Your church submitted a brief that did the legal analysis of the legislation under international law, and that proved for us to be the most helpful single contribution that we had received with respect to that legislation.”


From its humble beginnings in the United States, the Church is becoming established in many different countries. This process involves working with national laws that have varying degrees of respect for religious liberty. As a result, we are continuing to learn much about religious liberty on the global stage.

In my June 2019 G20 Interfaith Forum plenary remarks in Osaka, Japan, I noted Pew research states that 80 percent of the world’s population indicates a religious affiliation—an important element to acknowledge in practical international policy. Using the language of the international diplomatic and development community, I framed seven ways religious inputs and values contribute to practical, principle-based policy which lifts communities and countries.

1. Religious communities help inspire and sustain human dignity and essential human freedoms, aspirations, and core values attendant to human dignity.

2. Religious communities offer important spiritual, philosophical, and moral capacities on which societies and communities can draw to achieve sustainable development.

3. Religious communities are an important practical source of volunteers, professional resources, motivation, training, and funding for international development.

4. Religious communities have surge capacity to respond to specific immediate needs such as natural disasters and also staying capacity to address long-term human needs.

5. Religious communities offer unique connection between international and local organizations.

6. Religious communities offer important diversity in interfaith expertise and capacity.

7. Each religious and philosophical tradition offers its own unique experiences to the rich human storehouse of practical, principle-based approaches to sustainable development and invites mutual respect for religious freedom and core moral values.15

In his November 12, 2021, remarks on religious liberty at the University of Virginia and particularly in his December 14, 2021, speech at Sapienza University in Rome, Italy, President Oaks champions religious freedom in a global perspective. 16

President Oaks notes first that freedom of religion and belief is an essential condition for a free society, protected as a fundamental international human right in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and elsewhere.

Second, freedom of religion and belief are historically, philosophically, institutionally, and empirically foundational for other important rights. To buttress these points, President Oaks points us to speeches on religious liberty given by Elder Quentin L. Cook at the Religious Liberty Summit at Notre Dame University and Elder D. Todd Christofferson at an Argentina religious liberty symposium. 17

Further practical societal benefits of religious liberty include the promotion of pluralism and peace; respect and unity; the proper separation of church and state; and the generous provision by faith communities of “critical services to society and its most disadvantaged members.” 18

If you haven’t carefully studied President Oaks’s full messages at the University of Virginia and University of Sapienza, I encourage you to do so.

All these examples lend historic and global weight to the reality that Church and Church member commitment to religious liberty extends well beyond current, American, or political concerns.


Robert Smith, BYU professor of Church history and doctrine, discusses some specific ways Church members can support and advance religious liberty in our communities.


In my experience, many members of the Church are eager to help support religious freedom and moral values, but they are not quite sure what to do. Let me share some things that our prophets and apostles have taught that can help us all be involved in promoting religious freedom.

One of those things is to become educated on the issues. Being at this symposium is a great start. In addition, our Church website has a multitude of talks and videos and other instructions on what each of us can do to be involved personally in our communities. It really is a wealth of information.

In addition, we’ve been taught that we should engage in conversations to find solutions. We need to listen to others, but we also need to not be afraid to speak our mind. Every opinion is important and even opinions that are based in religion are valued and welcomed in the public square. We have to be careful not to overstep our bounds, but we also need to be careful not to be too intimidated to speak what we really believe.

The third thing that we can do is to lift where we stand. In other words, if we’re involved in education, if our children are in school, we can be involved with school matters. In our work we can be involved with employment, or if we’re involved in a community on social media, we can be involved in that community. All of us can be involved to help protect religious values and the morals that undergird them.


I thank each of our friends adding historical and global perspective regarding our long-standing Latter-day Saint commitment to religious liberty.

While elements of Latter-day Saint concern for religious liberty are, as a practical matter, appropriately current, American, and political, the depth and scope of Latter-day Saint concern for religious liberty are wider, deeper, and more long-standing. When seen in historical and global perspective, Latter-day Saint commitment to religious liberty is rooted in our core religious doctrine—fundamental to God’s plan. 

Latter-day Saint commitment to religious liberty is manifest in our lived experience, religious practice, and statements of belief and practice from the time of the Prophet Joseph Smith to Church presidents and leaders today. And Latter-day Saint commitment to religious liberty is a practical reality and desire as faithful Church members seek to honor, obey, and sustain the law and to contribute as good parents and good citizens in communities and countries around the world.

How grateful we are for the ways religious liberty benefits societies, families, and individuals! Especially when understood in historical and global perspectives, we recognize why members and friends of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints have and will consistently seek to support, preserve, and advance religious liberty in appropriate times and ways, now and for future generations.



John Taylor: “We wish to comprehend and embrace all truth and seek for and obtain everything that is calculated to exalt, ennoble and dignify the human family; and wherever we find truth, no matter where, or from what source it may come, it becomes part and parcel of our religious creed, if you please, or our political creed, or our moral creed, or our philosophy, as the case may be, or whatever you may please to term it. We are open for the reception of all truth, of whatever nature it may be, and are desirous to obtain and possess it, to search after it as we would for hidden treasures; and to use all the knowledge God gives to us to possess ourselves of all the intelligence that he has given to others; and to ask at his hands to reveal unto us his will, in regard to things that are the best calculated to promote the happiness and well-being of human society. If there are any good principles, any moral philosophy that we have not yet attained to we are desirous to learn them. If there is anything in the scientific world that we do not yet comprehend we desire to become acquainted with it. If there is any branch of philosophy calculated to promote the well-being of humanity, that we have not yet grasped, we wish to possess ourselves of it. If there is anything pertaining to the rule and government of nations, or politics . . . that we are not acquainted with, we desire to possess it. If there are any religious ideas, any theological truths, any principles pertaining to God, that we have not learned, we ask mankind, and we pray God, our heavenly Father, to enlighten our minds that we may comprehend, realize, embrace and live up to them as part of our religious faith. Thus our ideas and thoughts would extend as far as the wide world spreads, religious liberty quotes by church leaders embracing everything pertaining to light, life, or existence pertaining to this world or the world that is to come.” 19

John Taylor: “So far as the people of the world are concerned, I look upon them very charitably, myself. I do not entertain any vindictive feelings toward them. ‘Well,’ say you, ‘have they not got curious ideas pertaining to religious matters?’ Yes, they have; but they have as much right to their ideas as I have to mine. I have no right to interfere with them. They have a right to worship whatever kind of a God they please, or in any form that suits them. If a man has a mind to worship a red dog it is none of my business.” 20

Wilford Woodruff: “All people under heaven by virtue of their agency, whether living under a republican, a monarchical or any other form of government, are entitled to religious freedom to worship God according to the dictates of their own conscience, they being held accountable to God alone for the use they make of their agency. And while we, as a community, accord this right and privilege to man the world over, we claim the same right ourselves. For we profess to believe in the fullness of the Gospel of Jesus Christ which God has revealed through the ministrations of angels sent unto the servants of God in the dispensation in which we live.” 21

Charles W. Penrose: “Now, then, while we claim the right to do all these things for ourselves, because in it we infringe upon the rights of no others, we also extend this privilege to everybody else. And we do not think it right for any government, or any society, or any institution, to interfere with that full freedom and liberty which the Lord has given to His creatures. . . . We also believe in the rights of citizens to contest before the courts of their country every point of difference that they may have with the law-making power. But we believe that governments, societies and institutions should not try to interfere with religious freedom. We believe in religious liberty in the fullest sense of the word; not in license, not in breaking the laws of our country, not in doing that which is essentially evil, but only in doing that which is good. And as to the right of belief, we believe that is of itself free to everybody. We do not believe that governments can interfere with that if they try. . . . But as a rule people believe that which seems right to them. We accord that right to everybody. We are struggling for that ourselves. And in all that we have done to battle for the rights of freedom in religion, we have had as much in view the rights of our friends who are not of our faith as our own rights. I can say this conscientiously for the leaders of the Latter-day Saints. I am acquainted with them. I know their opinions and views in regard to this matter. Our desire is that all men should be free. Liberty should prevail everywhere. . . . When we were a Territorial government, under the auspices of our leaders, we never established anything that would infringe upon the religious rights of others. The religion of the Church and the machinery of the state were kept apart. They are so to-day. If Utah were one of the states of the Union, church and state would be separate and distinct, just as much as they are anywhere. While we believe that the men who stand at the head of our Church are inspired of God, called of God, appointed and ordained to minister to us for the Lord, we do not believe that they should occupy the place of the state, or that the religion that we hold should be established as a state religion. Freedom to all men, freedom to all sects, freedom to all parties, is our motto.” 22

James E. Talmage: “The Latter-day Saints declare unqualified allegiance to the principle of religious liberty and religious toleration. Freedom to worship Almighty God as the conscience may dictate, they claim as one of the inherent and inalienable rights of humanity.” 23

John Henry Smith: “I know of no reason why my neighbors who are not of my faith and myself should be enemies, so long as I preserve their liberties and my own justly and rightly, and am willing that they should worship God according to the dictates of their own consciences, while insisting upon the enjoyment of that right for myself. I know of no reason why the men who are united together in their citizenship and in the upbuilding of a commonwealth should not be able to associate religious liberty quotes by church leaders together in friendship, guarding with sacredness that which is dear to us all, respectful of one another’s faith, courteous in our treatment of one another’s family, and considerate in our regard for everything that tends to the upbuilding and ennobling of man.” 24

John Henry Smith: “No man of standing in this Church has ever in my presence given utterance to a word that would cause me, in any sense of the word, to be ashamed of my citizenship in this glorious land; on the contrary, the sentiment and feeling that has ever come from the lips of the men with whom it has been my privilege to mingle has been to preserve our constitutional liberties, and accord the same rights to every other man, whether he be Jew, Pagan, Christian, Mohammedan, or infidel. So long as he interferes not with the rights and liberties of other men, his liberties should be guarded, his rights should be preserved, and he should be honored in the exercise thereof, and his rights maintained justly and properly.” 25

Joseph F. Smith: “We believe in all truth, no matter to what subject it may refer. No sect or religious denomination in the world possesses a single principle of truth that we do not accept or that we will reject. We are willing to receive all truth, from whatever source it may come; for truth will stand, truth will endure.” 26

Charles A. Callis: “We believe in the glorious destiny of this great republic; we believe that its principles shall extend to the uttermost parts of the earth, that the shackles of bondage, and serfdom of all kinds, shall be stricken from the limbs and consciences of mankind, until the children of men everywhere shall stand forth in the enjoyment of that full measure of political and religious freedom which God the Father designed that they should have. This we are proclaiming to the world.” 27

John Henry Smith: “Some, in their misapprehension, or over-zeal in regard to the regulation and care of their fellows, have failed to appreciate the fact that it was the design of providence to guard the consciences of men and open up to them the great privilege of religious freedom. They are at liberty to accept the doctrines of Buddha if they choose, or to believe in the mission and ministry of Mohammed, or to regard and honor the laws and views presented in the Koran, or in the doctrines announced by Moses, following the Jewish theories and ideas; they also who should believe in Jesus Christ in these latter days, and literally accept His doctrines, should with their fellow men enjoy their right to those laws, and live in harmony with the rules and principles set forth in the doctrines announced in this latter time, even as they were announced in that former day.” 28

Levi Edgar Young: “A few friends of mine from New York, members of the Episcopal Church, are in attendance at these services. At home they attend their services at the church of St. John the Divine, one of the most beautiful places of worship ever erected in America. We bid you welcome. We are glad to have you hear something of our beliefs, something of the great truths of the Living God. We respect you in your worship and your religious beliefs. It is one of the rich sayings of Joseph Smith, the Prophet, that we believe in worshiping God according to the dictates of our own consciences, and we allow every man the same privilege, let him worship how, where, or what he may. We honor you in your worship.” 29

First Presidency statement: “The great religious leaders of the world such as Muhammad, Confucious, and the Reformers, as well as philosophers including Socrates, Plato, and others, received a portion of God’s light. Moral truths were given to them by God to enlighten whole nations and to bring a higher level of understanding to individuals.” 30

Bruce R. McConkie: “Freedom of worship is one of the basic doctrines of the gospel. Indeed, in one manner of speaking it is the most basic of all doctrines, even taking precedence over the nature and kind of being that God is, or the atoning sacrifice of the Son of God, or the vesting of priesthood and keys and saving power in the one true church. By this we mean that if there were no freedom of worship, there would be no God, no redemption, and no salvation in the kingdom of God. Let us now reason, as the prophets have done, on this matter.” 31



1. Latter-day Saints and Presbyterians. In 1864, Dr. Henry Kendall, the general secretary of the New School Presbyterian Church Board of Domestic Missions, stopped in Salt Lake City for a week while traveling to California. During his stay, he met with Brigham Young, who he found to be open and amiable. At the time, there was no official Presbyterian organization in the territory. Kendall asked if Young objected to the establishment of Protestant churches in Utah. Young replied, “No objection whatever on our part, or to sending missionaries to the Mormons either, if you like.” Young also invited Kendall to address a Latter-day Saint audience in the Salt Lake Tabernacle, to which Kendall accepted. Following his stay in Utah, Kendall wrote that he preached to “a large, respectful, and attentive audience.” 32

This story and stories mentioned below illustrate what Brigham Young taught in 1871: “Accord to every reputable person who may visit you, and who may wish to occupy the stands of your meeting houses to preach to you, the privilege of doing so, no matter whether he is a Catholic, Presbyterian, Congregationalist, Baptist, Free-will Baptist, Methodist, or whatever he may be; and if he wishes to speak to your children, let him do so.” However, despite occasional good feelings between the Saints and other faiths, these relationships over the years would ebb and flow between cooperation and conflict. 33

2. Latter-day Saints and Catholics. In 1866 Father Edward Kelly, a Catholic priest from Marysville, California, came to Salt Lake City to establish the first permanent Catholic ministry in the territory. Shortly after his arrival, Kelly purchased a tract of land for the construction of a cathedral. However, there were disputes over the title. To resolve the issue, Kelly and the Latter-day Saint seller brought the matter before Brigham Young for arbitration. After reviewing the deed and hearing arguments from both sides, Young sided with Kelly, and the land was secured for the Catholics. Before a cathedral was constructed, in a spirit of interfaith cooperation, Kelly held mass in various religious venues in Salt Lake City, including Independence Hall, which belonged to the First Congregational Church, and in the Salt Lake Tabernacle, after receiving permission from Brigham Young. 34

A similar display of courtesy took place in St. George, Utah, several years later. Father Lawrence Scanlan, who was responsible for hundreds of Catholics scattered across the territory, looked to minister to Catholic miners in the town of Silver Reef in 1879. Scanlan wrote that while Latter-day Saints in southern Utah were “opposed to his work,” they “could not help appreciating his zeal and sacrifice in the persecution of his undertakings, and at the same time admiring him for his gentleness and firm but unassuming character.” In what was described as “a mark of their appreciation,” Latter-day Saint leaders invited Scanlan to hold mass in the St. George Tabernacle “and explain to them the origin, nature, and claims of the Catholic Church.” Over three thousand people attended mass, most of whom were Latter-day Saints. A choir of Latter-day Saints furnished the music. One Catholic attendee called it “the grandest event I ever witnessed.” 35

3. Latter-day Saints and Jews. In 1867 the several dozen Jewish families in Utah formed a society, and Brigham Young donated a tract of land to them. The land was “improved and arranged into a burial ground.” Shortly thereafter, Young offered the Salt Lake Tabernacle to be used by the Jewish community for the High Holy Days observances of Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur. The Jews expressed their gratitude in a letter to Young, in which they wrote, “Whereas the Hon. Brigham Young has never denied any request made by us as a religious body for our worship, granting us, on several occasions, the use of an elegant hall for our worship; therefore we appreciate his kindness as well as the courteous manner in which our requests have been granted. . . . We consider ourselves under many obligations to the Hon. Brigham Young and hereby tender him our sincere thanks.” 36

After one Jewish man visited Salt Lake City in 1861, he wrote, “On the whole, they [Latter-day Saints] appear to be a quiet, industrious, peaceful people who claim tolerance for themselves and their supposed truth, but are willing enough to grant it to those of other faiths.” 37

4. Old Folks Day. In 1875 the Church established Old Folks Day, an annual interfaith holiday honoring all people in Utah over age seventy “regardless of creed, color, race, or social condition.” Thousands of people would attend the events, which were held in different host cities each year. The celebrations included food, entertainment, and speeches. Leaders of other religions often spoke. In 1892, for example, Reverend A. C. Todd of Payson, Utah, “delivered a brief address, dwelling on the beauty, goodness, and Christianity of respect for the aged.” At the same gathering, a “Presbyterian male quartette” performed a musical number. Around the turn of the twentieth century, the Old Folks Day gatherings were expanded Churchwide, with a stake Old Folks Committee planning two events a year to honor the older people within their jurisdictions. An Old Folks Central Committee continued to plan a large “central” event at Liberty Park in Salt Lake City, which continued to include leaders of the faith groups located downtown. Old Folks Day was discontinued in 1970. 38

5. Wilford Woodruff testimony. In 1897 Wilford Woodruff recorded his testimony into a wax cylinder phonograph, an early audio recording machine. He participated “so that in years to come, long after he shall have passed away, one may hear reproduced by the phonograph, the words he spoke and the very tone of his voice.” Woodruff begins by saying, “I bear by testimony that the Prophet Joseph Smith said, before a large assemblage in Illinois, that if he were the emperor of the world and had control over the whole human family he would sustain every man, woman, and child in the enjoyment of their religion. These are my sentiments today.” Of all the things that Woodruff could have shared, he made a declaration of religious liberty. 39

6. Latter-day Saints in Western Samoa. In 1925 the Church was established in the village of Satupa‘itea, Western Samoa. From the beginning, Latter-day Saints in Satupa‘itea faced harassment from their neighbors, particularly from members and ministers of the local Methodist congregation. In 1943 persecutions against the Saints intensified, and a mob, led by two village chiefs and a Methodist minister, tried to drive out the Church from the area. Church member Talafu Gasu traveled to a government office in Tuasivi to petition protection amid the growing hostilities. The branch president, Sale Manu, paddled two days by boat to counsel with mission president John Q. Adams, who told Manu to pray about how to respond to the persecutions. When Gasu and Manu returned to Satupa‘itea, the Latter-day Saints stood their ground. In response, the mob set fire to Manu’s home. Tensions eased that night when police officers arrived and arrested a village chief, the Methodist minister, and some forty others.

A short time later, a trial was held for the arrested men in Apia. The judge purportedly told Manu, “Whatever you declare to be a just punishment for these men, including years of imprisonment, I will grant you. There will be religious freedom in these islands.” Manu replied, “I forgive them. Let them go home to their families with the understanding that they leave the Latter-day Saints alone.” The judge decreed, “From this time forth the Latter-day Saints may preach anywhere on the island, and if they have enough people to build a chapel, they may surely do it.” After the trial, mission president John Q. Adams wrote, “Western Samoa was declared by Commissioner Robson of Savaii and Superior Judge Hurd and Governor Turnbull to be a place where no religious persecution nor interference may be hereafter employed. We are grateful for such a great blessing.”

President Adams soon received a “polite invitation from Reverend C. R. Williams of the Methodist Mission to meet him at his home or ours . . . to discuss the recent Satupa‘itea trouble (occasioned wholly and solely by his church, as it is the only one there besides us) and try to forestall any recurrence of such a clash. I’ll gladly meet him!”40

It is believed that the Latter-day Saint meetinghouse in Satupa‘itea today was built on the land where Manu’s home was burned down. The Latter-day Saints in Satupa‘itea subsequently named their branch “Mosula,” meaning Missouri, because they felt their persecutions were similar to those endured by the Saints in Missouri in the 1830s.

7. Ilse and Herbert Kaden in Germany. In the 1950s, as the government of the German Democratic Republic tightened its social controls, many Church members experienced discrimination at work or school because of their religion. In 1952 Herbert Kaden refused to sign a statement denying that he belonged to “that America church” and was fired from his job. The Kaden family moved to Dresden where Herbert found work. Both he and his wife Ilse served in the Dresden Branch: Ilse was Primary president, Relief Society president, and with the Young Women, while Herbert served in many callings, including branch president. The Church became a refuge where individuals could use their talents, choose their own projects, and be with longtime friends. “Those where difficult but lovely times,” recalled Ilse. “The way we stuck together was beautiful.” With time, Latter-day Saints earned a reputation as law-abiding citizens, allaying state suspicions. Despite opportunities to flee to the West, Ilse and Herbert and many other Church members chose to remain in the East. The good reputation of Saints living in East Germany helped lay the groundwork for the construction of the Freiberg Temple in 1985. When the temple opened, Ilse and Herbert were called as temple workers and served until 1994. 41

8. Latter-day Saints and Seventh-day Adventists in the Marshall Islands. In 1977 a fledging group of Latter-day Saints began to meet in Majuro, Marshall Islands. They first met in the missionaries’ home. Later, the Seventh-day Adventists offered the use of their chapel. The Latter-day Saints and the Seventy-day Adventists formed friendships and organized joint volleyball and baseball teams. Latter-day Saints used the Adventist chapel for over two years, until they were able to find another meeting space before eventually building their own meetinghouse.

Latter-day Saints later paid it forward by offering their meeting-house as a refuge and water resource during violent Pacific storms. In 1991, for example, Tropical Storm Zelda hit the Marshall Islands, causing severe damage and leaving thousands homeless. Latter-day Saints opened their three meetinghouses in the area, sheltering around 175 people whose homes could not withstand the high winds. The local newspaper ran a story after the storm titled “Mormons provide refuge.” The article quoted a missionary, Elder Partridge, who said, “We make it a point to keep the churches open during times of emergency such as this.” The article concluded with the point that people should spread the word “that in times of emergency the churches will be open, and don’t be afraid to ask; you’ll be very welcome!” 42  Apparently, the word did get around—and just in time. About a month later, Typhoon Axel caused more damage to Majuro, and on the night of the storm, some six hundred people took shelter in the Latter-day Saint meetinghouse.

9. Latter-day Saints and Muslims. In 2017, when a Bellevue, Washington, mosque was burned, Latter-day Saints in the area offered use of their meetinghouse to the Islamic community. In 2019, following a terrorist attack on two mosques in Christchurch, New Zealand, that left fifty-one people dead and forty injured, the Church announced a donation of $100,000 to rebuild and renovate the damaged mosques. 43

  1. These speakers presented through video segments.

  2. As cited in Saints: The Story of The Church of Jesus Christ in the Latter Days,

    vol. 1, The Standard of Truth, 1815–1846 (Salt Lake City: The Church of Jesus

    Christ of Latter-day Saints, 2018), 372.

  3. “Now Moroni thought it was not expedient that the Lamanites should have any

    more strength; therefore he thought to cut off the people of Amalickiah . . . and

    put Amalickiah to death; yea, for he knew that he would stir up the Lamanites

    to anger against them, and cause them to come to battle against them” (Alma

    46:30). “And the men of Pachus received their trial, according to the law, and

    also those king-men who had been taken and cast into prison; and they were

    executed according to the law” (Alma 62:9). “And it came to pass that he sent

    a petition, with the voice of the people, unto the governor of the land, desiring

    that he should read it, and give him (Moroni) power to compel those dissenters

    to defend their country or to put them to death” (Alma 51:15).

  4. “We believe that religion is instituted of God; and that men are amenable

    to him, and to him only, for the exercise of it, unless their religious opinions

    prompt them to infringe upon the rights and liberties of others; but we do not

    believe that human law has a right to interfere in prescribing rules of worship to

    bind the consciences of men, nor dictate forms for public or private devotion;

    that the civil magistrate should restrain crime, but never control conscience;

    should punish guilt, but never suppress the freedom of the soul” (Doctrine and

    Covenants 134:4).

  5. “COVID-19 Crisis—A Wake-Up Call for Religious Freedom: Elder Bednar

    Discusses the Pandemic at BYU Law School Conference,” June 17, 2020,

    Church Newsroom,


  6. Catherine Drinker Bowen, Miracle at Philadelphia: The Story of the Constitutional

    Convention May to September 1787 (Boston: Little, Brown and Company, 1966).

  7. Some of Joseph Smith’s most significant statements and writings concerning reli-

    gious freedom are presented on the Joseph Smith Papers website. See “Religious


  8. “Minutes of a Ladies Mass Meeting,” January 6, 1870, Fifteenth Ward, Salt

    Lake Stake, Relief Society Minutes and Records, 1868–1968, vol. 1, 1868–

    1873, 139–142, Church History Library (hereafter CHL).

  9. Elvira S. Barney, “Prayer: By Dr. Elvira S. Barney, at the U.W.S.A. Convention

    Held in the S.L. Assembly Hall,” Woman’s Exponent, November 15, 1889, 94.

  10. David A. Bednar and Gerrit W. Gong, “Muslims and Latter-day Saints:

    Understanding One Another,” Islamic World Today Conference, Brigham

    Young University, October 19, 2021,

  11. Discourse given by Joseph Smith, July 9, 1843, in Nauvoo, Illinois, Joseph

    Smith, History, 1838–1856, vol. E-1, 1666, CHL.

  12. Nauvoo City Council, Ordinance in Relation to Religious Societies, City of

    Nauvoo, Illinois, March 1, 1841, Nauvoo City Council Minute Book, CHL.

  13. See appendix 1.

  14. These include concerns for First Amendment rights, for the ability to share reli-

    gious beliefs within the laws of different countries, to see that religious liberty

    includes a place for religion in the public square, that the positive fruits and

    contributions of religious believers can be part of contributing to society, to

    advocating, maintaining, and promoting traditional family and moral values

    (including within the UN system of specialized agencies), and (of current inter-

    est) to accommodating LGBTQ and religious liberty rights and concerns in

    diverse political and societal settings among different countries.

  15. Gerrit W. Gong, “Seven Ways Religious Inputs and Values Contribute to

    Practical, Principle-Based Policy Approaches,” G20 Interfaith Forum, June 8,

    2019, Osaka, Japan,

  16. Dallin H. Oaks, “Going Forward with Religious Freedom and Nondiscrimi-

    nation,” University of Virginia, November 12, 2021,

    Dallin H. Oaks, “Religious Freedom in an International Context,” Sapienza

    University, Rome, Italy, December 14, 2021,

  17. Quentin L. Cook, “Tone Deaf to the Music of Faith,” Notre Dame Religious

    Liberty Summit, June 28–29, 2021; D. Todd Christofferson, “Religious

    Liberty: The Basis of a Free and Just Society,” Religious Liberty Symposium,

    October 29, 2021, Santiago, Chile.

  18. Oaks, “Religious Freedom in an International Context.”

  19. John Taylor, “Discourse,” Deseret News, March 13, 1872, 65.

  20. John Taylor, July 20, 1884, in Journal of Discourses, 26:324.

  21. Wilford Woodruff, September 1, 1889, in Brian H. Stuy, ed., Collected Discourses

    Delivered by President Wilford Woodruff, His Two Counselors, the Twelve Apostles,

    and Others, 5 vols. (Burbank, CA: B.H.S. Publishing, 1987–92), 1:341.

  22. Charles W. Penrose, May 15, 1892, in Collected Discourses, 3:56.

  23. James E. Talmage, The Articles of Faith (Salt Lake City: Deseret News, 1899),


  24. John Henry Smith, in Conference Report, October 1904, 27.

  25. John Henry Smith, in Conference Report, October 1905, 14.

  26. Joseph F. Smith, in Conference Report, April 1909, 7.

  27. Charles A. Callis, in Conference Report, April 1911, 40.

  28. John Henry Smith, in Conference Report, October 1911, 18.

  29. Levi Edgar Young, in Conference Report, October 1950, 113.

  30. First Presidency statement, February 15, 1978, as cited in James E. Faust, “The

    Restoration of All Things,” Ensign, May 2006, 61–62.

  31. Bruce R. McConkie, A New Witness for the Articles of Faith (Salt Lake City:

    Deseret Book, 1985), 655.

  32. As cited in R. Douglas Brackenridge, “Presbyterians and Latter-day Saints

    in Utah: A Century of Conflict and Compromise, 1830–1930,” Journal of

    Presbyterian History 80, no. 4 (Winter 2002): 207.

  33. “Remarks,” Deseret Evening News, June 17, 1871, 2; see also “Discourse,”

    Deseret Evening News, September 6, 1873, 2; “Address,” Deseret Evening News,

    January 5, 1880, 1.

  34. As cited in Gary Topping, “Mormon-Catholic Relations in Utah History: The

    Early Years,” Utah Historical Quarterly 81, no. 3 (2013): 231–33.

  35. Francis J. Weber, ed., “Catholicism among the Mormons, 1875–1879,” Utah

    Historical Quarterly 44, no. 2 (1976): 146–47.

  36. Juanita Brooks, The History of the Jews in Utah and Idaho (Salt Lake City:

    Western Epics, 1973), 53–54.

  37. Brooks, History of the Jews in Utah and Idaho, 44.

  38. “Old Folks Day,” Deseret Weekly, July 9, 1892, 2. For additional information

    about Old Folks Day, see Brian D. Reeves, “Hoary-Headed Saints: The Aged

    in Nineteenth-Century Mormon Culture” (master’s thesis, Brigham Young

    University, 1987), 73–108.

  39. “Testimony of Wilford Woodruff, 1897 March,” AV 1, Church History Library.

    For additional information, see Gerrit Dirkmaat, “Op-ed: Joseph Smith Was

    a Champion of Religious Liberty,” Deseret News, November 17, 2017; Richard

    Neitzel Holzapfel and Steven C. Harper, “This Is My Testimony, Spoken by

    Myself into a Talking Machine,” BYU Studies 45, no. 2 (2006): 113–16.

  40. See John Lewis Lund, “Leave the Village or Die!” Ensign, February 1976,

    32–33; “Samoan Pioneers,” undated, CHL; Samoa Mission general minutes,

    1888–1970, box 3, volume 8, CHL.

  41. “The Way We Stuck Together Was Beautiful,” Global Histories: Germany,

  42. Micronesia Guam Mission, Majuro District history, 1977–1999, CHL;

    Micronesia Guam Mission, Majuro District annual historical reports, 1991,


  43. “LDS Church Provides Place for Displaced Muslim Community to Pray,”

    Deseret News, January 21, 2017; “President Nelson Announces $100,000

    Donation to Rebuild Mosques Damaged in New Zealand Attacks,” Church

    News, May 21, 2019.