With a heated election season coming to a close, religious freedom has been pressing on the minds of many voters. Especially during elections, our focus is on the role of the law and governments in protecting religious freedom, but there are other essential ways to protect this right. The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints has been a vocal advocate of religious freedom protections, and General Authorities have given several recent talks to highlight important, and often overlooked, ways to protect religious freedom. Here are five of those teachings:

1. Focusing on influencing culture as much as we focus on the law

In 2019 at BYU’s annual religious freedom conference, Elder Patrick Kearon shared that “Law is vital and is an essential part of a bigger picture. However rights act more like habits than dry edicts. Law and custom must work together… The demands we make of the law only make sense when embedded in a web of countless norms that make our society possible.” 

Elder Ulysses Soares gave an almost identical message just this last week by teaching that “Rights stem from dignity, and dignity results from rights. Both feed off each other in a legal and cultural symbiosis. Law enacts a standard of behavior. But only culture can encourage it.”

To support this, Elder Soares urged the need for us to “[see a] reflection of ourselves in each other… Otherwise, we all become strangers and foreigners. Our differences are often used as barriers to divide us, when they are actually an opportunity to enrich our lives.” And Elder Kearon taught that “The demands we make of the law only make sense when embedded in a web of countless norms that make our society possible. We need to keep finding ways to align what we demand with what we can contribute — to our families, workplaces, neighborhoods, churches, schools and communities.”

2. Working to love and connect with those who are different from us

Elder Kearon taught that “We are more inclined to honor the rights of people when we know them personally and feel a sense of responsibility for their well-being… [We] have a duty to savor person-to-person connections and nurture amity between adversaries… The main thing is to engage, dialogue, bridge and interact with people of all sorts. Unless we participate, we lose our ability to both influence the world and learn from it.”

Elder Soares lamented the “culture of contempt” (citing Arthur Brooks) that is causing such harm to our country, and suggests how to learn to love others as a remedy to contempt. He shared that we find this love for others “not through isolation or attempts to purify ourselves from the error of others. Actually, we find it through spending more time listening to people who are different from us… Something as simple as speech and words can have a decisive effect on the health of civilization.”

3. Demonstrating how believers contribute to the good of society

Elder Kearon taught of the need “to foster the conditions in which [religious freedom] can even be respected or have meaning.” He spoke of the “spiritual stewardship” believers have to “[contribute] to the good of society”. He teaches that we can inspire others with our “goodness and selflessness” and that “We will probably need to talk more openly about these contributions, letting people know that at the heart of our faith is the desire to help our fellow human beings, wherever they are, people of faith and no faith at all.”

As an example, Elder Soares shared, “When a local mosque in Bellevue, Washington, was destroyed by arson, a neighboring congregation of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints offered its chapel to their Muslim friends as a place to gather and pray. It was provided as long as they needed it, free of charge.” He then went on to highlight how “small actions like this add up to build social trust, strengthen friendship among society and ensure that we defend each other’s religious freedom.”

4. Speaking in ways that build unity in diversity

Elder Soares taught that “The words we use can either unify or separate us. Envious, insecure, vindictive, self-assured language does more lasting damage to conversation and social trust than almost anything else. But polite, confident, straightforward, empathetic language can win the respect of our interlocutors. People remember words and how they are spoken.” 

Elder Kearon expands on this idea by teaching that “Healthy societies run on trust, confidence and a sense of safety… The great enemy of religious freedom is estrangement and alienation. When a society or government divides people…common ground is lost, and life together becomes a battle.” He shares how “important work of religious freedom is found… in the gentle efforts of dialogue and persuasion.”

5. Enlisting the rising generation in the cause of religious freedom

Elder Kearon taught that “The perpetuation of religious liberty requires that it be understood and valued by the rising generations.” He shared how our young people can “see religion as stifling their values of inclusion and tolerance,” and highlighted how, wonderfully, they are “concerned about serving those in need, making a difference, changing the world and helping their community… They are outward-looking and deeply sensitive to treating people fairly and equally.”

He highlights how “There is a need, and a real opportunity, for religious freedom to be framed differently and be more clearly understood… We need to help many more young people see the opportunities the free exercise of religion provides to serve others in need and unite communities in ways that benefit all people… With this understanding, they will not only value religious freedom more deeply but will courageously act to strengthen and perpetuate it.”