The Fight for Religious Freedom: The Canterbury Medal Award


"Our society is not held together primarily by law and its enforcement, but most importantly by those who voluntarily obey the unenforceable because of their internalized norms of righteous or correct behavior."

— Elder Dallin H. Oaks

Last week the Becket Fund for Religious Liberty held their annual Canterbury Medal Award Dinner in NYC. Dave and I were honored to be able to attend. It didn't take more than just a few steps into the Pierre Hotel Ballroom to be overwhelmed by the diversity of ethnicity, religious garb, and—perhaps most impressively—by a feeling of mutual respect and admiration throughout the room. 

The Becket Fund for Religious Liberty is a non-profit, public interest law firm, who is at the epicenter in the battle for religious liberty. They are seen as the experts in this field, and are committed to protect the free expression of all religious traditions—as they say from "Anglicans to Zoroastrians". 

Knowing that the work they do is impressive and complex, I was encouraged and surprised to leave feeling inspired that even average believers like me have a role to play in this fight.

To my left in the picture (above) is Princeton's Robert P. George, a previous Canterbury Medal Dinner recipient, who also was honored last month by the Sutherland Institute and his remarks are worth the reading! Read more here

The Canterbury Medal Award was presented to Elder Dallin H. Oaks, a member of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles for The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, who has done much in both his personal and professional life to defend religious freedom. His acceptance speech was stirring (found here), and gave a great overview to what is currently being done, and what each of us can and must do in the battle. 

He spoke with an urgency that I believe stirred everyone in the room. As I reflected on my own gratitude for religious liberty, I quickly realized how often I take it for granted. According to Elder Oaks, this is common, as a recent poll found that only 20% of adults worry about whether they could lose the religious freedom we enjoy today. In stark contrast, many leading minds in the field believe that religious freedom could be “the civil rights issue of the next decade.”  

The message that personally inspired me the most is that even the average person of faith can do something about it. Elder Oaks challenged us to “unite to strengthen our freedom to teach what we have in common, as well as to teach and exercise our very real religious differences.” We are free, for now, to unite with those of all  faiths and spirituality-especially including the increasing number of those with no denominational affiliation (currently 33% of young adults!). There is beauty in our differences as well as our similarities, but if we are not active in claiming those blessings we may not always be able to enjoy them. As Elder Oaks stated, "In the long run, the vitality of religious freedom must rely on public understanding and support." It isn't enough to stand alone, or just with those of our faith. We need to stand unashamed and united to help educate and create understanding about this essential freedom. I hope The Small Seed can play a role in this important work!

As Elder Oaks spoke, it was empowering to look around and see so many heads nodding in agreement, and feel that I wasn't alone. Ironically enough, those of us with religious beliefs are far from alone, as Elder Oaks pointed out that even still, “80% of Americans report that they believe in God.” This is clearly a majority, and was a powerful message particularly painted against the backdrop of diversity of dress, nationality and faith. 

What an honor to be in attendance, and stand in ovation to a man and a group that has done so much to ensure that I, and you, can worship and believe as we choose.  

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lizzy jensen