President Dallin H. Oaks called Wednesday for a worldwide, multifaith effort to defend and advance religious freedom during a speech at the second annual Notre Dame Religious Liberty Summit in Rome.

“From Rome, this great cradle of the Christian faith — I call for a global effort to defend and advance the religious freedom of all the children of God in every nation of the world,” said President Oaks, first counselor in the First Presidency of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.

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Offering a historic address in Rome, Italy, President Oaks calls for a global effort to 'defend and advance' religious freedom

“​I am here in furtherance of our enthusiastic support for ... ‘interreligious coalitions’ to defend religious freedom for all people,” he said while speaking in the Roma Eventi Conference Centre at Pontifical Gregorian University.

To read more about President Oaks’ talk, click here. To read his entire remarks, click here. His talk will be available to view in the future at the University of Notre Dame Law School’s Youtube channel.

His talk was the latest example of a multilateral Latter-day Saint effort to champion religious freedom worldwide. The church’s First Presidency and Quorum of the Twelve apostles have visited every continent but Antarctica to advocate for the importance and benefits of religious liberty. They also have engaged with leaders of other faiths, academics and church members, seeking to enlist them in the cause.

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President Dallin H. Oaks of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints talks with Dr. Cornel West in Rome on July 20, 2022.
President Dallin H. Oaks of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints talks with Dr. Cornel West of Union Theological Seminary as Princeton University Professor Robbie George looks on during the Notre Dame Religious Liberty Summit at Pontifical Gregorian University in Rome on Wednesday, July 20, 2022. | Jeffrey D. Allred, Deseret News

It was the second time in the past eight months that President Oaks has gone to Rome to talk about the issue. He highlighted the recent international religious freedom ministry of other Latter-day Saint leaders during his Rome address.

“What are the religious freedoms or liberties that concern us?” President Oaks said. “For faith communities, the United States Constitution guarantees freedom of association and the right to assemble; the right to determine new members; the right to select leaders and important employees, including in related organizations; and the right to function as an organization.  For individual believers, essential rights include religious expression and exercise and freedom from religious discrimination. 

“In defense of these rights, we should be united,” he said.

He undergirded that call for interfaith unity on religious liberty issues by quoting what he called an apostolic challenge for a multifaith effort on the cause issued at last year’s inaugural Notre Dame summit in Indiana by Elder Quentin L. Cook of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles.

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​“Catholics, Evangelicals, Jews, Muslims, Latter-day Saints and other faiths must be part of a coalition of faiths that succor, act as a sanctuary and promulgate religious freedom across the world,” Elder Cook said.

President Oaks spoke about an additional aspect of the cause by quoting another apostle who spoke at a religious liberty conference in Rio de Janeiro earlier this year.

“Religious freedom is as much a duty toward others as it is a right for oneself,” Elder Ulisses Soares said in March. “We gain freedom by supporting the freedom of those we deem to be our adversaries. When we see that our interests are tied to the interests of everyone else, then the real work of religious freedom begins.”

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Earlier this month, Elder Cook was in London where he participated in a panel held concurrently with the International Ministerial Conference on Freedom of Religion or Belief, which brought together more than 600 government representatives and civil society leaders from 100 countries.

Echoing a theme he and other church leaders have repeated in the faith’s general conferences and around the world, he said religious freedom and accountability benefits people and nations. Governments that recognize those benefits have “an impulse to protect religion” so faith can “bless people, all people, not just religious people, not just people of faith – everyone,” he said during a panel discussion at the All-Party Parliamentary Group for the Prevention of Genocide and Crimes Against Humanity

That panel included Marcus Cole, dean of the Notre Dame Law School, one of hundreds of leaders and advocates around the world with whom Latter-day Saint leaders are working to nurture multilateral faith efforts on behalf of religious freedom, including the Notre Dame summits.

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Latter-day Saint leaders have addressed numerous aspects of religious freedom-related issues in the past year alone, though as President Oaks noted, they have been advocating for multifaith efforts for decades now.

President Oaks spoke in November under the dome of the historic Rotunda on the campus of the University of Virginia to reiterate the church’s position that religious freedom rights can be protected while simultaneously protecting others from discrimination, such as those who identify as lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender or queer.

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“We must not allow fears about losing our own freedoms to make us insensitive to others’ claims for theirs,” he said then. “Let us unite with those who advocate nondiscrimination to seek a culture and laws that respect the rights of all to the equal protection of the law and the right to the free exercise of religion.”

Latter-day Saint apostles now have spoken for four consecutive years at the international G20 Interfaith Forum — in Argentina, Japan, Saudi Arabia and Bologna, Italy. In Bologna last fall, Elder Ronald A. Rasband of the Quorum of the Twelve spoke about some of the specific goods religion does.

“The good of religion, the reach of religion and the heroic acts of love which religion inspires only multiply when we protect religious freedom,” he said. “We stand shoulder to shoulder in service with many of you.”

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“When religion is given the freedom to flourish, believers everywhere perform simple and sometimes heroic acts of service,” he added. “As we go about ‘doing good,’ we contribute to the growth and stability of diverse countries. A study in 2016 from the Religious Freedom and Business Foundation reported that ‘religion contributes about $1.2 trillion of socioeconomic value annually to the U.S. economy.’”

That is more than the global annual revenues of Apple, Amazon or Google.

President Oaks also returned to a piece of the strategy Latter-day Saint leaders have outlined for defending religious freedom on the legal front.

Six years ago, the church’s general counsel, Elder Lance B. Wickman, said at BYU conference on law and religion studies that the church and its members must be ready to compromise on religious liberty issues outside the core issues that must be protected.

He carefully said that he was not saying that freedoms outside the core parts of religious liberty are unimportant or not worth defending.

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“What I am suggesting is that if we want to preserve religious freedom and live in peace in a society that is increasingly intolerant of faith, then we will have to be very clear about what matters most and make wise compromises in areas that matter less,” he said. Because if we don’t, we risk losing essential rights that we simply cannot live without.”

President Oaks counseled believers to listen to others, empathize and work through conflicts peacably.

“Conflicting claims are best resolved by seeking to understand the experiences and concerns of others, and by good faith negotiations,” he said. “None of this requires any compromise of our core religious principles, but rather a careful examination of what is really essential to our free exercise of religion, in contrast to what other believers consider really essential to their beliefs. In this way we learn to live peacefully with some laws we dislike and with some persons whose values differ from our own.”

Latter-day Saint leaders also have repeatedly made clear to leaders of other faiths and members of their own that working across faiths to secure religious liberty is not require any religion or religious person to compromise on their doctrines.

It was a theme President Oaks again mentioned.

“When leaders join forces to confront religious liberty challenges, they do not need to examine doctrinal differences or identify their many common elements of belief,” he said. “All that is necessary for unity is our shared conviction that God has commanded us to love one another, and has granted us freedom in matters of faith.”