Elder Bednar spoke today at during the Religious Freedom Annual Review on the importance of religious freedom. The apostle’s remarks, were streamed live Wednesday morning during the Religious Freedom Annual Review, hosted by the Brigham Young University Law School. This year’s conference is being held online due to the pandemic.
Here are some highlights from the LDS newsroom:
Elder Bednar warned there is a danger in limiting a religious organization’s right to gather. “Gathering, in short, is at the core of faith and religion. Indeed, if the faithful are not gathering, sooner or later they will begin to scatter. And because gathering lies at the very heart of religion, the right to gather lies at the very heart of religious freedom.”
When the pandemic hit, congregations of many faiths around the world canceled worship services and other activities to abide by government restrictions for large group gatherings to slow the spread of the coronavirus.
“I believe it is vital for us to recognize that the sweeping governmental restrictions that were placed on religious gatherings at the outset of the COVID-19 crisis truly were extraordinary,” Elder Bednar explained. “No other event in our lifetime—and perhaps no other event since the founding of this nation—has caused quite this kind of widespread disruption of religious gatherings and worship.”
Four Personal Reflections
Elder Bednar offered four personal reflections on the impacts of the coronavirus pandemic:
- Government power can never be unlimited.
- Religious freedom is paramount among our fundamental rights.
- Religious freedom is fragile.
- In a time of crisis, sensitive tools are necessary to balance demands of religious liberty with the just interests of society.
In North America, Elder Bednar pointed out, jurisdictions deemed services related to alcohol, animals and marijuana as essential, while the services of religious organizations were classified as nonessential, even when those activities could be safely conducted.
The senior Church leader cited examples in one state where Catholic priests were barred from anointing a parishioner with holy oil in the performance of last rites, even if that person did not have COVID-19. In the same state, Latter-day Saints were not allowed to perform baptisms.
“The power of government must have limits,” asserted Elder Bednar.
“This time of restriction and confinement has confirmed for me that no freedom is more important than religious freedom,” said the senior leader of the global faith. “Protecting a person’s physical health from the coronavirus is, of course, important, but so is a person’s spiritual health.”
Elder Bednar continued, “While believers and their religious organizations must be good citizens in a time of crisis, never again can we allow government officials to treat the exercise of religion as simply nonessential. Never again must the fundamental right to worship God be trivialized below the ability to buy gasoline.”
Elder Bednar said the COVID-19 crisis demonstrates the fragility of religious freedom and the need to shore it up.
“In our understandable desire to combat COVID-19, we, too, as a society may have forgotten something about who we are and what is most precious,” he concluded. “Now is the time for us to heed the wake-up call, to remember and to act.”