OXFORD, ENGLAND - The moral voice must continue to be heard across our nations, according to a senior global leader of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.
“I am particularly concerned that religious freedom and religious conscience are protected, and that public morality based on religious beliefs can be advocated in the public square,” said Elder Quentin L. Cook of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles, addressing an audience of 140 that included scholars and opinion formers. Elder Cook delivered the keynote address, a major speech titled "The Impact of Religious Freedom on Public Morality" on Wednesday, October 23, 2019, at Pembroke College, University of Oxford, England.
“We live in an age where significant portions of our moral heritage are not only not appreciated, but in many cases, misunderstood or even dismissed, almost with disdain,” explained Elder Cook.
The senior apostle, an attorney by profession, expressed concern that “some of the protections contained in various constitutions which emanate from historical moral values have been eroded or undermined.”
Elder Cook quoted various scholars who believe that many universities, including those founded as religious institutions, have become more secular.
“I am deeply concerned that faith, accountability to God, and the religious impulse are so often seen as antithetical to serious academic pursuits,” he declared. “I believe some institutions have abandoned the basic moral high ground that gives meaning to this life and has guided civilizations for centuries.”
Elder Cook outlined the progression of basic principles that have established religious liberty. For example, he said the Magna Carta, established in Christian tradition more than 800 years ago, “served as an important precursor to the broad protections of religious freedom that came to fruition centuries later in liberal democracies descending from the British Empire.”
Language from the Magna Carta was adopted in the Declaration of Independence by the colonies that became the United States.
“The concept that ‘all men are created equal’ has made significant strides, but as I will recount, there is much yet to be accomplished,” explained Elder Cook.
“Natural law or even a belief that we are accountable to God is not in fashion in much of the legal world today,” he added.
Elder Cook told the audience that British and United States citizens must continue to “promulgate religious freedom across the world.”
“The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints supports the religious freedom of all faiths as well as those with no faith,” stressed Elder Cook.
He concluded by underlining the urgent need to demonstrate the enduring value of faith. “Those who feel accountable to God have a responsibility to live upright lives of service to God and our fellowmen, to obey the law, and to be good citizens, neighbors, and friends in all we do. As we do so, ordinary citizens and governmental officials alike will be more inclined to see the value of religion and to respect the basic principles that allow us to freely live it.”
The event held at Oxford was co-sponsored by the Quill Project, based at Pembroke College, and by the BYU International Center for Law and Religion Studies. The distinguished panel was introduced by Dr. Nicholas Cole who runs the Quill Project, and chaired by Dr. Dominic Burbidge, Lecturer in Politics at St. Peter’s College and a Research Director at the University of Oxford. Panellists included Professor Stephanie Barclay from BYU Law School; Dr. Rodney K. Smith, Director of the Utah Valley University Center for Constitutional Studies; and Reverend Dr. Andrew Teal, Chaplain and Fellow at Pembroke College, Oxford.
Oxford is the oldest university in the English-speaking world and has been the backdrop for major events in Christian history, including when John Wycliffe campaigned for a Bible in the vernacular.