A Forum on Fairness: How Religious Freedom Protects Everyone

Thursday, September 13 was an inspiring night. Thanks to the joint efforts from the Front Range and Columbine stakes and the Colorado Catholic Conference, 400+ attendees gathered for a Religious Freedom Forum in Columbine. With a full line-up of speakers, Colorado Mormon Chorale’s powerful patriotic numbers, and a timely message – the combined result was one to remember. Attendees learned the importance of standing for religious freedom, and increasing the ability to do so. Presenters tied together both examples of early leaders who created a framework to protect our freedoms, and the efforts that continue to maintain said freedoms. Elder Thomas Priday, Area Seventy of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, opened the evening, sharing gratitude for the opportunity for multiple faiths “to come together in unity.”

Rebecca Jenson, Public Affairs Director, North America Central Area, stands at attention during “The Star Spangled Banner”

As members of the Church of Jesus Christ, we are reminded regularly of our civic duties. Elder Bednar said recently, “There is a paradox in religious freedom — if I want my religious freedom to be protected, then I must protect the religious freedom of those who believe in a basically different way from my own. This is our task. And it will be our ongoing challenge. Religious freedom is more than a right; it is a duty.”

The message is clear, but from time to time we can all use some bolstering in our determination. Brother Gary Truman, of the Front Range Stake Public Affairs committee, pointed out we should ask ourselves what values our laws should reflect. He continued, religion is more than a belief system, and “how one acts in the world is a direct reflection of one’s faith.” Of course this won’t be without opposition. Do we have the strength to speak up? Early Christians were willing to undergo beatings, yet in this day some can’t handle tweetings. He reminded us that, on the “path of advocacy, we may be called judgmental, we may be called bigots, just make sure it is never deserved. Sometimes people will use language to obfuscate the issue. Remember that we are speaking of principles rather than personalities.” Should it be this way? Isn’t religious freedom for one religious freedom for all?

Audience members raise hands to indicate their youth

It’s exactly so. Steven Collis serves as the Religious Freedom Specialist for the North America Central Area for The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. In the keynote remarks of the evening, Brother Collis involved the youth, and with an interactive approach, taught us all both the complexity of religious freedom and our next steps to fulfilling our duties. He said, “We need to be able to say, “I’m willing to stand up for anyone’s beliefs,” and mean it.” In securing fairness for one belief system, we help pave the way to fairness for all.

The varieties of religious beliefs, including claiming “none” as a religious affiliation reaches far and wide. Doctrinal differences should not be creating enemies. We need to all learn about and participate in advocating for religious liberty – with each other. As Brother Collis asserted, “the enemy is not the person who believes something different than you. It’s not the person who is passionately on the other side of an issue. The enemies are the people who don’t understand these principles of religious freedom and aren’t willing to stand up for them.”

The Colorado Mormon Chorale ended the night with a favorite arrangement of the “Battle Hymn of the Republic.” All calls to action and conviction were further driven home with the familiar lyrics, so eloquently sung, “As He died to make men holy, let us live to make men free.” And that is what we intend to do.

Note: Jennifer Kraska, Executive Director of the Colorado Catholic Conference, was scheduled to speak at Thursday’s forum and couldn’t attend. Her prepared handouts detailed the starting resources regarding legislators, elections, and the voting process. In addition, three things she suggests we all do are: 1) Pray 2) Take action and 3) Stay informed. 

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