Religious Freedom "Is Not a Luxury"

Secretary General urges religious liberty advocates to protect freedom from "gradual erosion"

“Religious freedom is not a luxury, it is a fundamental and established human right,” said Dr. John Graz, Secretary General of the International Religious Liberty Association, addressing scholars, religious liberty experts and religious leaders at an April 4 conference in Provo, Utah. 

The 22nd annual conference of the LDS International Society was held on the campus of Brigham Young University, and explored the theme of “The Erosion of Religious Liberties: Impact on the International Church.”

Dr. Graz reported on the current state of religious freedom around the world, and said the past decade has seen a number of disturbing trends emerge in many countries, including an increase in the level of control exerted by states over religion, the formation of new alliances between governments and religion, and an increasing belief that proselytism is a “factor of destabilization” and must therefore be controlled or curtailed. The net result, said Dr. Graz, is a growing sense among many religious communities that they are “under attack.”

Defenders of religious freedom, said Dr. Graz, should remember that this is a fundamental right, which is acknowledged and protected under international law. Nevertheless, he warned, “we have to be wise in expressing ourselves, even though we have rights.” Dr. Graz suggested that the most productive way forward is through pursuing interreligious dialogues, being positively active in our communities, and promoting religious liberty for everyone, no matter what their faith tradition.

The keynote speaker was for the event was Dr. Michael Young, president of the University of Utah and former chair of the United State Commission on International Religious Freedom . Dr. Young spoke about the slow but progressive erosion of religious freedom in the United States, where religion has gone from being seen as something "special" and protected, to something that is viewed, by many, as either solely a "private matter" or a force that has an actively negative effect in society.

Dr. Graz called his visit "productive and interesting." Before his Monday presentation, Dr. Graz also attended a Session of the Church of Jesus Christ Later Days Saints and met with several LDS leaders. "I was impressed by their level of commitment to religious freedom," said Graz. "They expressed tremendous support for the work of the IRLA and for its future activities, including the 7th World Congress in April 2012."