Part 2: Religious Liberty Is Central to What It Means to Be Human – Church News and Events

The following is part 2 of a three part series. Part 1 is titled, “Why is religious freedom important? » Part 3 will include an interview with President Dallin H. Oaks.

ROME, Italy – Dressed in colorful traditional clothes and comfortably ensconced in the sun outside the Pontifical Gregorian University in Rome, Italy, Mona Polacca listed all that is sacred to her – “elements like water, air that we breathe, the sun and Mother Earth.

A representative of the International Council of Thirteen Indigenous Grandmothers, she spoke passionately about preserving a way of life for generations to come.

Last year, an indigenous sacred site in Arizona called Oak Flat was threatened by mining excavations. The destruction of Oak Flat would have left an empty crater where religious gatherings and ceremonies once took place. Polacca said the sacred site offered a spiritual connection to the land found nowhere else on earth.

“The Oak Flat Fortress is not just a place but a focus of spiritual powers…” she said to Notre Dame. “For centuries, Oak Flat has remained an active place where Indigenous people come to pray, harvest and gather where holy beings reside and sacred springs flow.”

The Notre Dame Law School Religious Liberty Initiative fought for and won religious freedom protection for the Indigenous sacred site.

Speaking about his own “spiritual practices and beliefs,” Polacca addressed religious freedom at the 2022 Notre Dame Religious Freedom Summit as “the sanctity of life” and “a story we should learn from.”

It’s a connection that defines his humanity.

Thomas B. Griffith, former federal judge on the United States Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit and a Latter-day Saint, said religious freedom is at the very heart of what it means to be a human being. “Humans yearn for freedom. Humans are curious,” he said. “We want to know the truth. And we want to pursue the truth and in all walks of life. For human beings, matters of faith are central to their identity.

Any just society, he said, will be one that recognizes this fundamental element of what it means to be a human being – the freedom to think, to debate, to pursue ideas, to worship. “Religious freedom is not just one strand of a larger mosaic, it goes to the very heart of what it means to be a human being.”

The sun sets at the Temple of Rome Italy in Rome on Tuesday, July 19, 2022.

Jeffrey D. Allred, Deseret News

The right to pursue meaning

Stephanie Barclay, director of Notre Dame’s Religious Freedom Initiative, said believers, as well as non-believers, should care about religious freedom. “The core of what it means to be human, to have dignity, is that government gives individuals space to pursue whatever gives them deepest meaning in life and seek answers to the most important questions. life for themselves,” she said. .

Religious liberty, she continued, often acts as “a canary in the mine shaft” that functions as an early warning signal when the government begins to encroach too much on freedoms of all types. “It’s a signal that the government often acts in a way that is going to be detrimental to all citizens.”

Both empirical data and scholarship support the idea that countries that support religious freedom also have better national security, more economic prosperity and more peace, she said.

Barclay said religious groups often serve the most vulnerable in society. “If you care about the most vulnerable among us, those who need to be served and uplifted, then we should care about protecting the religious ecosystem that enables so much of this good work to be done.”

Human beings have more in common than what divides them. “We all want to be able to pursue the issues that matter most to us, to be able to live with dignity and to thrive as human beings,” she said.


President Dallin H. Oaks of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints speaks with Cornel West, Dietrich Bonhoeffer, Professor of Philosophy and Christian Practice, Union Theological Seminary, at the Notre Dame Freedom Summit nun at the Pontifical Gregorian University in Rome on Wednesday, July 20, 2022. In the center is Robert P. George, professor of jurisprudence and professor of politics at Princeton University.

Jeffrey D. Allred, Deseret News

A matter of life or death

Cornel West, American philosopher, political activist and social critic, said he could not conceive of what it means to be human without wrestling with what it means to be “one in search of structures of meaning and value that provide a means of justifying my passage from the womb to the grave.

Referring to the past history of the United States, West spoke of descending from a people who lived in a time when it was “against the law for black people to worship God without the supervision of white people. And it is under one of the most enlightened constitutions of modern times.

Religious freedom “is not a matter of abstract academic discourse, it is a matter of life and death. It is a matter of dignity and holiness. It’s a question of integrity. And in our attempt to stand in solidarity with each other.

God’s love for all his children is deeper and prior to human judgment. It’s “deeper than race, it’s deeper than gender, it’s deeper than sexual orientation, it’s deeper than any human construct we know of.” And that to me is another reason why religious freedom is so important.


The Colosseum in Rome on Wednesday, July 20, 2022. Religious leaders gathered in Rome for the Our Lady of Religious Liberty Summit 2022, held July 20-22, 2022.

Jeffrey D. Allred, Deseret News

At the heart of humanity

Robert P. George, professor and director of the James Madison Program at Princeton University, said asking questions about the meaning of life is at the heart of humanity. “Answering these questions honestly, without being wrong, without wishful thinking, but answering these questions honestly is also part of who we are as human beings. It’s intrinsic to our nature.

Living life with authenticity and integrity – in light of the best answers to these big questions of meaning, value and purpose – is also central to who people are as human beings. “So if we want to be fully who we can be as human beings, if we have to be ourselves, if we want to realize our nature, then we have to be able to be free to ask these questions, to answer them honestly, and live with integrity and authenticity in light of our best answers.

Dignity, he said, is involved in raising these questions and answering them, and living up to the answers. “And that is why we say that respect for religious freedom is required by the dignity of the human person.”

Many will disagree on the answers to these big questions, he continued. “But at a minimum, we agree on the importance of the questions. …And we all agree in all major faith traditions, that it is important to live with authenticity and integrity, in light of your best answers. That’s a lot of agreement. It’s a lot of agreement on what it means to be a human being. There is a lot of agreement on human nature, human good, human dignity. We can work with that. »

George commended President Dallin H. Oaks, First Counselor in the First Presidency, for his call for worldwide efforts to preserve religious freedom. ” That you are [a Latter-day Saint], whether you are Catholic like me, whether you are Muslim, whether you are Jewish, we must unite all over the world. … We have much to learn from each other about religious freedom.

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