Freedom of religion is a fundamental human right and basic principle of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. Religious freedom embraces the right of individuals and organizations to speak openly and act on core beliefs without interference from government, fear of persecution or being denied equal rights or citizenship.
Many of these principles are embodied in the First Amendment to the United States Constitution, which states that “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof.” International human rights documents likewise recognize the universality of freedom of religion and belief. Article 18 of the United Nations Universal Declaration of Human Rights states: “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.”
It ensures that people teach their faith to their children, receive and disseminate religious information, gather to worship, and participate in the ceremonies and practices of their faith. It encompasses the right to form churches and other religious institutions, such as religious schools and charities. It affords such institutions the freedom to establish their doctrines and modes of worship; to organize their own ecclesiastical affairs; to determine requirements for membership, ecclesiastical office, and employment; and to own property and construct places of worship. “We do not believe that human law has a right to interfere in prescribing rules of worship” or to “dictate forms for public or private devotion” (Doctrine & Covenants 134:4).
Religious freedom is not absolute. Limits on religious activities are appropriate where necessary to protect compelling interests, such as the life, property, health, or safety of others. But such limitations should be truly necessary, rather than an excuse for restricting religious freedom. Where the law limits religious freedom, Latter-day Saints believe in obeying the law while seeking protection for their fundamental rights through such lawful means as may be available in each jurisdiction or country.
Members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints believe in defending the religious freedom of others just as readily as their own. 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 and too weak to defend themselves.”