Parts of the Middle East are in turmoil as oppressed people seek freedom from the tyrants that have ruled their lives for generations. One of the things at stake in the outcome of the strife is the people’s freedom to adhere to religious convictions and practices not condoned by the ruling powers. In some instances, being labeled an infidel or unbeliever in the dominant religion can be tantamount to a death sentence. That unfortunate circumstance is not new. It took many courageous voices and martyrs to give us the religious freedom we enjoy today in this country.
Speaking to thousands of students gathered on the campus of Utah State University, M. Russell Ballard addressed the topic, “The Tapestry of God’s Hand.” He asked the students to think about the hundreds, perhaps even thousands, who were protesters of Christendom during the dark ages of the Great Apostasy. “Many gave their lives for the right to worship God according to the dictates of their own conscience.” Sarah Jane Weaver provided a brief summary of his examples:
“John Wycliffe was a brilliant scholar and theologian who worked to bring about religious freedom. After Wycliffe’s death, the king had his remains dug up and burned to show disrespect.
“John Huss embraced the teachings of Wycliffe and taught the gospel as he understood it from the scriptures. He was burned at the stake because of his religious beliefs.
“Martin Luther created controversy when he publicly called for reformation by posting, on the church door in Wittenberg, Germany, a list of issues that he felt needed to be debated. He died in exile.
“Ann Askew was burned at the stake in 1546 because she would not recant her beliefs.
“William Tyndale, a heroic English reformer of the early 16th century, completed an English translation of the Bible. He was arrested near Brussels, Belgium, and condemned by Thomas Moore and the Church of England. He was strangled and his body burned.
“Hugh Latimer was an English reformer who was asked to recant his cries for people to be able to read the Bible in their common language. He refused and along with Bishop Ridley was burned at the stake. His final words to Bishop Ridley were “Be of good cheer, Master Ridley, and play the man. We shall this day light such a candle, by God’s grace, in England, as I trust shall never be put out.”
Elder Ballard went on to say that the hand of the Lord was also evident in the life of reformer John Lathrop, who was born in 1584 in Yorkshire, England. A minister in the Church of England, John Lathrop declared that the gospel should be taught more freely to the common people and that they should be able to read the Bible for themselves. He was arrested for his teachings and released on the condition he would leave England. He came to America with his children and followers. John Lathrop was the fourth great grandfather of one Lucy Mack.
In 1638 another man, Robert Smith, emigrated from England to the new world. His posterity included Samuel Smith, a captain in George Washington’s army, and Asael Smith, who fought in the Revolutionary War. Asael Smith’s son was Joseph Smith Senior who married Lucy Mack. They became the parents of Joseph Smith Junior, the Mormon Prophet. (Article by Sarah Jane Weaver, Church News assistant editor, Feb.19, 2011)
Because of their religious beliefs, Joseph Smith Jr. and his followers were persecuted and driven from place to place. The president of the United States told Joseph that his cause was just but that he could do nothing for him. Joseph was finally murdered by a mob at Carthage, Illinois, in 1844 while government officials looked the other way.
The Constitution of the United States of America guarantees that no state religion will be established that would hinder the people of the United States from worshipping as we see fit. But it is up to us, now, to protect the sacred document that protects us.
In a recent address to students at Chapman University Law School, Dallin H. Oaks said, “Religious groups should unite to protect the religious freedom guaranteed by the U.S. Constitution.” He called for a unified, broad coalition defending religious freedoms—a proposal that doesn’t require common doctrinal ground between faiths but a shared belief that the rights and wrongs of human behavior have been established by a Supreme Being.
He pointed out that religious freedom is a centuries old fundamental right but that it is being denigrated to a simple “liberty” along with other “liberties” such as “sexual orientation liberty” (which many Christians consider to be an assault on the traditional family). “All of this shows an alarming trajectory of events pointing toward constraining the freedom of religious speech by forcing it to give way to the ‘rights’ of those offended by such speech.” (Article by Scott Taylor, Deseret News Staff writer, Feb.12, 2011)
At stake in the outcome of the strife is the people’s freedom to adhere to religious convictions and practices not condoned by the politically correct.