Knowing how to protect religious freedom can seem daunting. It might seem like you need a legal or political background to make a difference. But there are simple things you can do in your neighborhood or community that can have big effects over time. Sometimes it’s simply a matter of building trust with others so that you have relationships already established when you need to come together on complex issues. Here are some simple ways to protect religious freedom in everyday life:
Study up on the issues. Study the words of the living Apostles on religious freedom and moral issues. Read responsible websites, newspapers, magazines, and blogs that explore current events from a variety of perspectives, asking God to let the Spirit help you discern truth. Let your beliefs and the facts inform your views. Be ready to act. Know your rights established by the First Amendment: “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; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the government for a redress of grievances” (italics added).
Speak up with courage and civility. Don’t be intimidated into silence by intolerant voices. Speak up! State your views with true civility and kindness (for ideas, see “7 Keys to Successful Conversations”). Speak or write calmly. Seek true understanding. Acknowledge legitimate points. And explain why the freedoms you defend are so important to you, your loved ones, and the Church—make it personal. Keep in mind that one-on-one conversations are usually more meaningful and respectful than group discussions, especially if they’re online. Stand firmly for principle while understanding that in some areas we will have to seek compromise to protect our most vital freedoms. For an example, see how Utah House Bill 296 was passed.
Get involved in the political process. Vote in your local, state, and national elections. Support candidates who understand the proper role of religion in society and the need to protect it for everyone. Learn about how laws are made. You could also attend city council meetings, join a political party, write your representatives, and combine your efforts with others who support religious freedom.
Get to know people of other faiths. Talk with them about matters of shared concern. Participate in an interfaith service project. Support their religious freedom.
Volunteer for a charity. Help solve problems in your community by giving of your time to a local charitable or service organization. When people of faith do good, they increase their ability to convince others that religious freedom should be respected and protected.
Get involved in education. Participate in your local PTA. Run for the school board. Lend your voice and resources to solving problems in your school. Help preserve reasonable space for religious values in educational settings. Support the right of parents to guide their children’s education. Support values-based extracurricular activities like religious clubs or Bible-study classes.
Be part of a club, business group, or professional association. Build relationships and gain perspectives by joining with community members in a book club, a debate team, a college alumni group, a conservation effort, a Scout troop, a speech forum, or a sports team. Be where the conversations are happening. That will give you opportunities to educate others about the importance of religious freedom and challenges to it. Likewise, business groups and professional associations exert great influence on policy makers and on other business people and professionals. They need your voice in support of faith, family, and religious freedom.
Extend the reach of your faith. Connect ward service activities with the needs of the community where possible. Cooperation between church groups and community organizations helps build mutual trust and focuses resources on helping those in need. Be careful not to commit the Church to any outside agenda. Again, when people of faith do good works, others will be more likely to respect their need for religious freedom.
Make it a family matter and a matter of prayer. Take your children to a speech or conference on religious freedom. Watch a movie or documentary on the role and history of religious freedom in society. Conduct a lesson or activity about the United States Constitution, the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, and other foundational documents. Invite a family of another faith into your home.
Pray that our freedoms will be preserved. Pray and exercise faith that governments at home and abroad will be opened—or remain open—to the Church. As the Lord long ago “stirred” Cyrus, the King of Persia, to issue a decree allowing the Jews to rebuild a temple in Jerusalem (see Ezra 1:1), so can He stir other leaders with influence to help preserve religious freedom. Pray as you study about religious freedom that you can understand what you need to know and do. Pray for the Spirit to help direct you in conversations.
Enlarge your voice through social media. Be persuasive by being civil in online conversations; the person who gets angry loses. Share appropriate links, stories, photos, articles, and personal experiences on social media. Start a blog, write an op-ed, or submit a letter to the editor. Learn from those who might disagree with you as you defend gospel standards and religious freedom. Sometimes even just sharing goodness you see in the world can help people recognize that your beliefs are about bringing peace, not contention, to the world.
“I sometimes fear that we have relied too much on the Constitution to do the hard work of citizenship for us. The Constitution—including the First Amendment—was never intended to make us lazy citizens, to absolve us from the duty and imperative to be vigilant in defense of our religious rights and interests.”
Elder Lance B. Wickman