Elder Quentin Cook delivers Annual Lecture on Religious Liberty at Notre Dame

The University of Notre Dame Australia, School of Law Dean, Professor Michael Quinlan with Elder Quentin L. Cook, a member of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.

5 June 2015

A plea for all religions to join together to defend faith and religious freedom has been made by eminent Mormon Apostles leader, Elder Quentin L. Cook, during the fourth Annual Religious Liberty Lecture hosted by The University of Notre Dame Australia’s School of Law, Sydney.

In his address, Elder Cook, a member of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints (LDS), reviewed the progression of basic principles that have established religious liberty as part of essential or inalienable rights - the fundamental right of each individual to live according to his or her faith and beliefs.

He also shared valuable insights given the history of persecution of both Catholics and members of the LDS Church in early American history even after the founding of the new nation. Elder Cook spoke on the need to protect the religious institutions that provide the essential framework for the promulgation of faith and belief. And, he challenged all people of faith to work together to improve the moral fabric of their nations and to protect religious freedom.

“We must not only protect our ability to profess our own religion but also protect the right of each religion to administer its own doctrines and laws,” Elder Cook said.

“People of faith must be at the forefront in protecting religious freedom - a freedom from which many other essential freedoms emanate. Freedom of religion and freedom of speech are both the heart and the foundation of representative democracy. Freedom to believe in private and to exercise belief and speech in the public square are essential to protecting inalienable rights.

Elder Cook said the two most important religious priorities in today’s world were to protect each church and its right to teach and function according to its doctrine and beliefs.

“This includes the freedom of a church to form a legal entity, to own property including schools and hospitals and to establish its doctrine, govern its ecclesiastical affairs, set requirements for church membership, conduct worship, and administer its sacraments and ordinances according to its doctrine,” Elder Cook said.

“The second priority is the ‘freedom to believe’ according to the dictates of one’s own conscience without fear of governmental or private retaliation. This includes the basic premise of democracy that no one should be punished based on the religious beliefs that he or she holds.”

Sydney School of Law Dean, Professor Michael Quinlan, said the lecture series began in 2012 in response to the adverse climate for religious freedom at that time. The University’s Past Annual Religious Liberty Lectures have been delivered by Jim Wallace of the Australian Christian Lobby, Cardinal George Pell and Senator George Brandis, Attorney-General of Australia.

“Religious liberty is still under assault - most dramatically in Syria and Iraq – and as the situation is deteriorating rather than improving, our University lecture series on Religious Liberty looks set to continue,” Dr Quinlan said.

In his opening address, Professor Quinlan observed that for those of religious faith, faith was as indispensable a part of their lives as their sex, nationality, race and marital status. Professor Quinlan argued that none of these characteristics were flexible, optional extras that a person could or should be forced to compromise.

“As a person of faith it seems very odd to me that a person’s religious belief should be treated as a second, third or fourth class form of right,” he said.

The Quorum of the Twelve Apostles of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints is based in Salt Lake City, Utah. Elder Cook was appointed to that role in 2007. He graduated from Stanford Law School in 1966, was managing partner of Carr, McClellan, Ingersoll, Thompson and Horn in the San Francisco Bay before he served as President and CEO of the California Healthcare System and then as Vice-Chairman of Sutter Healthcare System. He was called as a General Authority of the LDS Church in 1996.

Elder Cook spoke forcefully on some of the major current disputes in the United States over religious freedom including those involving owners or business employees being forced to engage in conduct contrary to their religious beliefs. He gave examples which included a doctor or nurse forced to participate in an abortion, or a college accreditation board calling into question a Christian university’s code of conduct for students and faculty prohibiting sexual relations outside of marriage between a man and a woman. Elder Cook identified a few questions that Australia is facing or will likely soon face:

  • If Australia follows the trend of many western nations and defines marriage to include same-sex couples, will religious organisations continue to have the freedom to define marriage as solely between a man and a woman for all religious purposes?
  • Will laws barring discrimination against lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender persons have appropriate religious exemptions and protections so that religious organisations and people of faith can affirm their deeply held beliefs regarding marriage, family, and sexuality without retaliation?
  • Will religious schools be permitted to have religious requirements for faculty, staff, and students?
  • Will religious believers be excluded from certain professions because of their beliefs or expressions regarding sensitive social issues?
  • With the decline in religiosity generally, will religious exercise increasingly be limited to the home and places of worship, or will it continue to have a positive role to play in the public life of this great nation?
  • Will religion come to be seen as dangerous—as something the law must protect people from rather than as a great good for individuals, society, and the state?

“Each family must have the right to worship and conduct religious activities within the home. In addition, each church member must be protected in employment, public office and the public square. No person should be disqualified from participation in national life because of their religious beliefs,” Elder Cook said.

“There is no better demonstration of the great benefits associated with religious liberty than for devoted members of various faiths who feel accountable to God to model principles of integrity, morality, service and love. As others see the goodness of individuals and families - goodness that is founded in strong faith and character - they will be much more likely to speak up in defence of the religious freedoms that allow us to be who we are.”

To download a copy of Elder Cook’s speech, please click here

You can watch Elder Cook’s Religious Liberty Lecture at: http://www.mormonnewsroom.org/article/elder-cook-calls-for-global-effort-to-protect-faith-and-religious-freedom

Leigh Dawson: Tel (08) 9433 0569; Mob 0405 441 093; leigh.dawson@nd.edu.au