As we celebrate the importance of strong families in our nation, it is equally important to remember the role that the Constitution and religious liberty play for our families. What am I doing, then, to follow Elder Hales’ admonition to support religious freedom?
The Family & The Constitution: Some Reasons to Act Now to Support Religious Freedom
Elder Robert D. Hales gave a stirring speech last general conference urging everyone to not walk, but “run” to protect religious freedom. Initially, I heard his speech, felt rather uncomfortable, and then moved on with my life. I was not actively doing much to follow his admonition to “join with others”. I reasoned that I was a busy mother and was exempt from his counsel. However, his words pressed on my mind. I realized that there is an intrinsic relationship between the Constitution, religious liberty and raising a strong family. As a mother, I had an obligation to follow Elder Hale’s counsel and act now to preserve these freedoms for my children. However, as I began searching for opportunities to become involved, it was challenging to find ways that I could make a meaningful difference. My efforts to follow Elder Hales’ counsel eventually led to For Religious Freedom, a Facebook page promoting religious liberty.
Celebrating the Constitution & the Family Proclamation:
This month marks twenty years since The Family: A Proclamation to the World was first delivered. It is fitting that two hundred and twenty-eight years ago today the United States Constitution was also signed.
With the constitution as its foundation, our country has long stood as a beacon of opportunity for those without opportunity, of rights for those with no rights, and of protection for those without protection. The Statue of Liberty stands as an iconic symbol of what our country represents: a pillar and beacon of liberty for all, but especially for those without it.
I can think of no class of people more weak, helpless, or in need of protection than children. I am the mother of three young children. Each time I have brought a baby home from the hospital I have marveled at how helpless these children are. Watching them grow and develop and learn has brought immense happiness into my life. My children are completely dependent on me for protection and everything else. They have essentially no ability to affect what they wear, where they go, what they see, eat, learn, or how they live. They cannot speak for themselves. And as an aside I will add that one of the wonderful things of being a parent is that children are so trusting that all of their needs will be met.
If any class needs equal protection under the laws, as is guaranteed by the Constitution, it is children.
There is a quote from Yertle the Turtle by Dr. Seuss that I enjoy. The story is of Yertle, a turtle who is king of a pond. In order for him to better see his kingdom, he makes a tower of other turtles that he can stand on. From his vantage point up high he can see for miles. He sees fields and trees and the beautiful countryside. But one of the small turtles, who is being stepped on as part of the king’s tower, calls out from below, “I know, up on top, you are seeing great sights, but down here at the bottom we, too, should have rights.”
Amidst the clamor for equal rights, we must not forget the rights of children. These helpless and dependent people who cannot stand up for, nor even understand, their best interest, are those who most need equal protection under the law. Like in Dr. Seuss’ story, many of their rights may silently be eroded as these children get stepped on by others clamoring to establish better opportunities for themselves.
Children are entitled to strong families.
True equal protection under the law would provide as many children with strong families as possible. “Children are entitled to birth within the bonds of matrimony, and to be reared by a father and a mother who honor marital vows with complete fidelity.” The Proclamation warns that “Husbands and wives—mothers and fathers—will be held accountable before God for the discharge of these obligations.”
Strong families are needed by our nation.
Not only do children need strong families, but strong families are needed by our nation. The Family Proclamation warns, “that the disintegration of the family will bring upon individuals, communities, and nations the calamities foretold by ancient and modern prophets.” Without strong families, our nation cannot survive.
Conversely, the liberties historically protected by our nation are critical for families.
Elder Hales warns that it is imperative that we safeguard religious freedom for our children because “the faithful use of [their] agency depends upon … having religious freedom.” He further reminds us that as parents “we rely on religious freedom in order to teach the Lord’s doctrine in our families and throughout the world.” We must protect the right to believe. The right to share our beliefs with others including to “teach [the gospel to our] children.” The right to assemble and “worship peacefully with others.” The right to exercise “faith not just in the home and chapel but also in public places.” Further, we must be careful not to “sequester religion’s moral influence from the nation’s public affairs.” Religious people and institutions deserve to be heard in the public sphere — neither religious nor secular voices should be silenced.”
Many alternative philosophies regarding religious freedom have been adopted by other nations and have even found popularity among some Americans. For example, in 1922 two Russian leaders wrote The ABC of Communism arguing that the “opium” of religious influence must be eliminated from the State, schools and private life. They urged for a “separation of the church from the State and of the school from the church.” Rather than having a “healthy independence of church and state”  that prevented any one religion from dominating, this separation had the express purpose of eliminating the influence of religion and establishing atheism. They noted that “[w]hat has already been done to throw off the yoke of religion is all too little, for it still remains within the power of ignorant parents to cripple the minds of their children by teaching them religious fables” and “poison the minds of their children with the opium” of religion.
We have the opportunity to decide if we are for religious freedom, as outlined by Elder Hales, or if we will allow inaction and those promoting alternative philosophies to slowly encroach on the freedoms we enjoy. In America, the First Amendment protects our right to speak, to assemble and to exercise faith. However, that right is subject to interpretation; the pendulum determining how current issues will be decided is in motion. Finding a way to follow Elder Hales’ counsel and act for religious freedom is key to ensuring that this pendulum does not swing too far in the wrong direction.
Author Alisa Olson worked as an attorney, business woman, & musician; then the phrase “demanding job” took on a new meaning when she became a mom. She loves traveling, new adventures, running & most of all her family.
 The poem alongside the Statue of Liberty states, “Give me your tired, your poor, your huddled masses yearning to breathe free, the wretched refuse of your teeming shore. Send these, the homeless, tempest-tossed to me, I lift my lamp beside the golden door!”
 The Family Proclamation.
 The Family Proclamation.
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