First Presidency Warns Against ‘Irreligion’
May 1979

“First Presidency Warns Against ‘Irreligion’” Ensign, May 1979, 108–9

First Presidency Warns Against “Irreligion”

The First Presidency issued a statement March 9 urging the protection and the honoring of the United States’ constitutionally based religious heritage.

This is the text of the statement:

“The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints recognizes that a vital cornerstone of a free society is the principle of religious liberty. The First Amendment to the United States Constitution forbids any ‘law respecting an establishment of religion or prohibiting the free exercise thereof.’ Ours has been a society which encourages religious liberty and toleration. The result, as pointed out by Mr. Justice Robert H. Jackson of the United States Supreme Court, has been that ‘nearly everything in our culture worth transmitting, everything which gives meaning to life, is saturated with religious influences.’ (McCollum v. Board of Education, 333 U.S. 335–38 [1948].)

“We, thus, deplore the growing efforts to establish irreligion, such as atheism or secularism, as the official position of the United States of America, thus obscuring and eroding the rich and diverse religious heritage of our nation. We refer here to attacks on time-honored religious symbols in our public life. Such symbols include:

“1. The reference to ‘one nation under God’ in our pledge of allegiance;

“2. The motto ‘In God We Trust’ on our coins and public buildings;

“3. ‘Praise [for] the power that hath made and preserved us a nation’ in our national anthem;

“4. Use of the Bible to administer official oaths;

“5. The words ‘God Save the United States and this Honorable Court,’ spoken at the convening of the United States Supreme Court;

“6. Prayers at the beginning of legislative sessions and other public meetings;

“7. The performance of music with a religious origin or message in public programs;

“8. The singing of Christmas carols and the location of nativity scenes or other seasonal decorations on public property during the Christmas holidays; and

“9. References to God in public proclamations, such as at Thanksgiving.

“From its beginning The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints has accepted the constitutional principle that government will neither establish a state religion nor prohibit the free exercise of religion. Our formal statements of belief include these principles:

“‘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’ (A of F 1:11).

“‘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’ (D&C 134:4).

“‘We believe that rulers, states, and governments have a right, and are bound to enact laws for the protection of all citizens in the free exercise of their religious belief; but we do not believe that they have a right in justice to deprive citizens of this privilege, or proscribe them in their opinions, so long as a regard and reverence are shown to the laws and such religious opinions do not justify sedition nor conspiracy’ (D&C 134:7).

“‘We believe that all religious societies have a right to deal with their members for disorderly conduct according to the rules and regulations of such societies; provided that such dealings be for fellowship and good standing; but we do not believe that any religious society has authority to try men on the right of property or life, to take from them this world’s goods, or to put them in jeopardy of either life or limb, or to inflict any physical punishment upon them. They can only excommunicate them from their society, and withdraw from them their fellowship’ (D&C 134:10).

“During the course of our history members of our Church have been the victims of official persecution motivated by religious intolerance. We are, therefore, committed by experience as well as by precept to the wisdom of a constitutional principle that government and public officials should maintain a position of respectful neutrality in the matter of religion. If any of our members holding public office have failed to observe that position in any of their official responsibilities we counsel them to remember the principles quoted above.

“But the constitutional principle of neutrality toward religion does not call for our nation to ignore its religious heritage, including the religious motivations of its founders and the powerful religious beliefs of generations of its people and its leaders. The basic documents of our land, from the Mayflower Compact through the Declaration of Independence and the writings of the Founding Fathers to the inaugural addresses of presidents early and modern, are replete with reverent expressions of reliance on Almighty God and gratitude for his blessings. The reference to God and Divine Providence in our historic state documents and the other religious symbols summarized above are time-honored and appropriate expressions of the religious heritage of this nation. As the Supreme Court noted in a leading case, ‘There are many manifestations in our public life of belief in God,’ and these ‘ceremonial occasions bear no true resemblance to the kind of unquestioned religious exercise’ that the government is forbidden from sponsoring (Engle v. Vitale, 370 U.S. 421, 435 n. 21 [1962]).

“Those who oppose all references to God in our public life have set themselves the task of rooting out historical facts and ceremonial tributes and symbols so ingrained in our national consciousness that their elimination could only be interpreted as an official act of hostility toward religion. Our constitutional law forbids that. As the Supreme Court said in another leading case:

“‘The place of religion in our society is an exalted one, achieved through a long tradition of reliance on the home, the church and the inviolable citadel of the individual heart and mind. We have come to recognize through bitter experience that it is not within the power of government to invade that citadel, whether its purpose or effect be to aid or oppose, to advance or retard. In the relationship between man and religion, the State is firmly committed to a position of neutrality.’ (School District of Abington v. Schempp, 374 U.S. 203, 226 [1963].)

“As the ruling principle of conduct in the lives of many millions of our citizens, religion should have an honorable place in the public life of our nation, and the name of Almighty God should have sacred use in its public expressions. We urge our members and people of good will everywhere to unite to protect and honor the spiritual and religious heritage of our nation and to resist the forces that would transform the public position of the United States from the constitutional position of neutrality to a position of hostility toward religion.”