The Mormon Newsroom has issued part 5 in a series of articles on religious freedom. For the series introduction, seeReligious Freedom Series, Part 1: An Introduction to Religious Freedom.” See also part 2, part 3, part 4.

This is an introduction to this article. For the full story please visit Religion’s Vital Place in Society.

Religion is vital to democracy

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Religious instruction and belief remain today the lifeblood of society’s moral ethos. Not only does religion teach virtue, it catalyzes moral action. As such, religion plays an essential societal role warranting special consideration. This role was rightly described by a Chinese economist studying democracy in America. “In your past,” the economist explained, “most Americans attended a church or synagogue every week. When you were there, from your youngest years, you were taught that you should voluntarily obey the law; that you should respect other people’s property, and not steal it. You were taught never to lie, and to respect the life and freedom of others the same as your own. Americans followed these rules because they had come to believe that even if the police didn’t catch them when they broke a law, God would catch them. Democracy works because most people most of the time voluntarily obey your laws.”

Such qualitative observations are corroborated by quantitative research. Many scholars have gathered empirical evidence tracing the strong correlation between contemporary religious observance in America and virtuous behavior. For example, religiously observant citizens tend to be more generous and civically-minded neighbors. According to estimates, more than 90 percent of those who attend weekly worship services donate to charity, and nearly 70 percent volunteer for charitable causes.

Some laud these good works but attempt to marginalize the beliefs and practices that motivate them. Such efforts are unfortunate. Distinct religious beliefs and practices are fundamental to the moral actions they arouse. Examples abound of religious faith inspiring communities to profound acts of charity and selfless service. These positive contributions underscore the need to preserve the fundamental human right of religious freedom.

Indeed, preserving religious freedom also has its benefits. Bundled with other freedoms, religious liberty boosts society’s socio-economic progress and reduces violent conflicts. As a result, societies are more likely to flourish when citizens have this freedom to voice their deepest beliefs and highest ideals. In short, both religion and religious freedom contribute to a more peaceful, stable and charitable society.

Religion’s constitutional protection

For these full effects to take hold, the protection of religious freedom must extend beyond just worship. Religious freedom must include protecting morally or religiously motivated public expression. People of faith and religious-based institutions continue to play an important role in shaping social and moral issues through proper democratic channels. Like other worthy organizations and causes, religious people and institutions deserve to be heard in the public sphere – neither religious nor secular voices should be silenced.

To read the full article, please visit Religion’s Vital Place in Society on the Mormon Newsroom website.