We claim the privilege of worshipping Almighty God according to the dictates of our own conscience, and allow all men the same privilege, let them worship how, where, or what they may.
We believe in freedom of religion. Don't you? Doesn't everybody? Isn't that one of the founding principles of this nation? Doesn't the first amendment say, "Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof"? It is the first statement of the first amendment to the Constitution, the first Bill of Rights.
We don't just believe in the principle, we claim it as a human right. All the Articles of Faith are "We believe" statements except this one. The "We claim" language is stronger. Joseph Smith is saying, "We have the right to practice our religion without persecution, mobbing, or imprisonment. We claim it as our right as citizens of the United States of America." This right was adopted by the 1st United States Congress in 1789, but it was theory more than practice for those who persecuted the early Mormons.
In the same Wentworth Letter that contains the Articles of Faith, Joseph Smith recounts the unconstitutional persecutions of the Latter-day Saints:
On the 6th of April, 1830, the "Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints" was first organized... From that time the work roiled forth with astonishing rapidity, and churches were soon formed in the states of New York, Pennsylvania Ohio, Indiana, Illinois, and Missouri; in the last named state a considerable settlement was formed in Jackson county: numbers joined the Church and we were increasing rapidly; we made large purchases of land, our farms teemed with plenty, and peace and happiness were enjoyed in our domestic circle, and throughout our neighborhood; but as we could not associate with our neighbors (who were, many of them, of the basest of men, and had fled from the face of civilized society, to the frontier country to escape the hand of justice,) in their midnight revels, their Sabbath breaking, horse racing and gambling; they commenced at first to ridicule, then to persecute, and finally an organized mob assembled and burned our houses, tarred and feathered and whipped many of our brethren, and finally, contrary to law, justice and humanity, drove them from their habitations; who, houseless and homeless, had to wander on the bleak prairies till the children left the tracks of their blood on the prairie. This took place in the month of November, and they had no other covering but the canopy of heaven, in this inclement season of the year; this proceeding was winked at by the government, and although we had warrantee deeds for our land, and had violated no law, we could obtain no redress.
There were many sick, who were thus inhumanly driven from their houses, and had to endure all this abuse and to seek homes where they could be found. The result was, that a great many of them being deprived of the comforts of life, and the necessary attendances, died; many children were left orphans, wives, widows and husbands, widowers; our farms were taken possession of by the mob, many thousands of cattle, sheep, horses and hogs were taken, and our household goods, store goods, and printing press and type were broken, taken, or otherwise destroyed,
Many of our brethren removed to Clay county, where they continued until 1836, three years; there was no violence offered, but there were threatenings of violence. But in the summer of 1836 these threatenings began to assume a more serious form, from threats, public meetings were called, resolutions were passed, vengeance and destruction were threatened, and affairs again assumed a fearful attitude, Jackson county was a sufficient precedent, and as the authorities in that county did not interfere they boasted that they would not in this; which on application to the authorities we found to be too true, and after much privation and loss of property, we were again driven from our homes.
We next settled in Caldwell and Daviess counties, where we made large and extensive settlements, thinking to free ourselves from the power of oppression, by settling in new counties, with very few inhabitants in them; but here we were not allowed to live in peace, but in 1838 we were again attacked by mobs, an exterminating order was issued by Governor Boggs, and under the sanction of law, an organized banditti ranged through the country, robbed us of our cattle, sheep, hogs, &c., many of our people were murdered in cold blood, the chastity of our women was violated, and we were forced to sign away our property at the point of the sword; and after enduring every indignity that could be heaped upon us by an inhuman, ungodly band of marauders, from twelve to fifteen thousand souls, men women, and children were driven from their own firesides, and from lands to which they had warrantee deeds, houseless, friendless, and homeless (in the depths of winter) to wander as exiles on the earth, or to seek an asylum in a more genial clime, and among a less barbarous people. Many sickened and died in consequence of the cold and hardships they had to endure; many wives were left widows, and children, orphans, and destitute. It would take more time than is allotted me here to describe the injustice, the wrongs, the murders the bloodshed, the theft, misery and woe that have been caused by the barbarous, inhuman, and lawless proceedings of the state of Missouri.
In the situation before alluded to, we arrived in the state of Illinois in 1839, where we found a hospitable people and a friendly home; a people who were willing to be governed by the principles of law and humanity. We have commenced to build a city called "Nauvoo," in Hancock county. We number from six to eight thousand here, besides vast numbers in the county around, and in almost every county of the state. We have a city charter granted us, and charter for a Legion, the troops of which now number 1,500. We have also a charter for a University, for an Agricultural and Manufacturing Society, have our own laws and administrators, and possess all the privileges that other free and enlightened citizens enjoy. (History of the Church, 4:538-540)
The Mormons wanted to worship "Almighty God according to the dictates of [their] own conscience"-that's all. Written March 1, 1842, the Prophet was happy to lay claim to this right, saying, we "possess all the privileges that other free and enlightened citizens enjoy." Joseph could claim it, but he wouldn't enjoy it-not for long.
About the same time, Elder Lewis Barney had an experience in a small branch 90 miles north of Nauvoo. Assembled to worship according to their First Amendment Rights, the meeting was interrupted by a mob.
They marched upon the door full of rage, cursing and swearing and damning old Joe Smith and the Mormons, brandishing their clubs and knives in the air. At this the congregation became frightened, the women and children were crying, screaming, and then all rushed out the back door as the mob were coming in at the front door. Leyland stopped preaching. James Carl crouched up in the corner under the desk and Leyland followed suit. This left Brother Tippits and myself to face the music. The house being filled with an infuriated mob. I sprang upon one of the benches and said,
"Gentlemen don't be excited. I am an American citizen and I presume you are also Americans. We enjoy the liberty, the rights and privileges that our fathers fought for in the Revolutionary war and many of them laid down their lives to secure us the privilege we now enjoy, or living on our farms and pleasant houses unmolested. I was a volunteer in the Blackhawk war and ventured my life to reach this country, the Iowa Territory, from the hands of the Indians, even this land on which you have your homes. My father also was a volunteer in the war of 1812 and ventured his life for the protection of our liberties. My grandfather was a commander on the seas and commanded a large fleet and fought one of the most decisive battles in the Revolutionary War. We as American citizens are enjoying the fruits of their sufferings and labors. We wish you to enjoy the privileges of living on your farms unmolested. We have not come here out of any evil motives. We believe the Bible. We believe in God the Father and in the Lord Jesus Christ and the Holy Ghost. We came here to have a visit with the folks up here and to have a little meeting. Now I ask you kindly if you have any objections to our having a little prayer meeting this evening? And as far as the Mormons are concerned you will never be disturbed in the enjoyment of your homes and your rights and privileges. And after our meeting we will return to our homes."
They listened to my remarks with marked attention. The captain of the mob stepped upon a bench and said,
"That does not agree with the ideas we have heard about the Mormons. We believe them to be the most wicked, corrupt, scoundrels that live upon the earth. And as to your believing the Bible, you are as far from it as the East to the West. We want no more Mormon meetings in our settlement;" (Lewis Barney, Autobiography, BYU Special Collections, Writings of Early Latter-day Saints, 21)
Ironic, that America was established as an ensign for religious liberty, but became a haven for the most heinous religious bigotry! This irony was not lost on the early saints, many of whom descended from veterans of the Revolutionary War. Some were veterans themselves. Elder B.H. Roberts tells of the atrocities that occurred in Daviess County, Missouri, 1838:
"Scenes of mob violence were of almost daily occurrence; property was destroyed, men were tied up and beaten until blood streamed down their backs; the chastity of women was forcibly outraged; cattle and hogs were wantonly shot down; houses were ruthlessly burned in the presence of their owners; fields of grain destroyed-but this was not the worst-helpless women and children were brutally murdered together with defenseless old men, some of whom had fought in the continental army during the American Revolution. Elder [John] Taylor, in relating these scenes some thirty years after they had occurred, refers to one who had been of the class last named:
"My mind wanders back upwardly of thirty years ago," he says, "when in the state of Missouri, Mr. McBride, a gray-haired, venerable veteran of the Revolution, with feeble frame and tottering steps, cried to a Missouri patriot: 'Spare my life, I am a revolutionary soldier, I fought for liberty, would you murder me? What is my offense, I believe in God and revelation?' This frenzied disciple of a misplaced faith said, 'Take that you God d-d Mormon,' and with the butt of his gun he dashed his brains out, and he lay quivering there, his white locks clotted with his own brains and gore, on the soil that he had heretofore shed his blood to redeem-a sacrifice at the shrine of liberty!" (B. H. Roberts, Life of John Taylor [Salt Lake City: George Q. Cannon & Sons, 1892], 62)
Dallin H. Oaks
Religious liberty is the oldest of the internationally recognized "human rights," providing motivation, precedent, and support for the growth of other freedoms, such as the freedoms of speech, the press, and assembly. For many of the Founding Fathers, and for many Americans today, religious liberty is the basic civil liberty because faith in God and his teachings and the active practice of religion are the most fundamental guiding realities of life. Thus, for many citizens, religious liberty provides the reason all other civil liberties are desired. ("Religion in Public Life," Ensign, July 1990, 7)
Mark E. Petersen
Remember that you are to be true to the Constitution of the United States... remember that you cannot preach that gospel without freedom of speech, and you cannot publish that gospel without freedom of the press, and you cannot gather together in congregations without freedom of assembly, and you cannot worship the Lord your God according to the dictates of your own conscience without freedom of religion. (Conference Report, April 1946, Afternoon Meeting 172)
We... allow all men the same privilege, let them worship how, where, or what they may
M. Russell Ballard
One of the most cherished tenets of our faith has to do with honoring religious diversity. As our church's first president, Joseph Smith, taught: "We claim the privilege of worshiping Almighty God according to the dictates of our own conscience, and allow all men the same privilege, let them worship how, where, or what they may."
We really do believe that. Just as we claim the right to worship as we choose, we believe you have the right to worship-or to not worship-as you see fit. All of our interpersonal relationships should be built on a foundation of mutual respect, trust, and appreciation. (Our Search for Happiness, [Salt Lake City: Deseret Book Co., 1993], 5)
Gordon B. Hinckley
We respect all other churches. We do not stand out in opposition to other churches. We respect all men for all the good that they do, and we say to those of all churches, we honor the good that you do and we invite you to come and see what further good we can do for you. We think that we have some significant things to offer which are not found in other churches, but, I repeat, we respect all men. We believe in worshiping God according to the dictates of our conscience and allow all men the same privilege, let them worship how, where, or what they may. (Teachings of Gordon B. Hinckley [Salt Lake City: Deseret Book Co., 1997], 667)
Joseph Fielding Smith
I am willing to defend any man in the privilege which is his by his agency. If he wants to worship a cat, or a dog, the sun, or the moon, a crocodile, or a bull-men have done all these things-is his privilege. But it is also my privilege and right to try to teach him to do better and to accept a better worship. I will defend him in his rights, and at the same time endeavor to teach him that he may see more clearly and walk in the light of truth. (Conference Report, October 1936, Second Day-Morning Meeting 61)
[In the Millennial Zion] When the nations shall see the glory of God together, the spirit of their feelings may be couched in these words, "I will be damned if I will serve You." In those days, the Methodists and Presbyterians, headed by their priests, will not be allowed to form into a mob to drive, kill, and rob the Latter-day Saints; neither will the Latter-day Saints be allowed to rise up and say, "We will kill you Methodists, Presbyterians, &c.," neither will any of the different sects of Christendom be allowed to persecute each other.
What will they do? They will hear of the wisdom of Zion, and the kings and potentates of the nations will come up to Zion to inquire after the ways of the Lord, and to seek out the great knowledge, wisdom, and understanding manifested through the Saints of the Host High. They will inform the people of God that they belong to such and such a Church, and do not wish to change their religion...
They will ask, "If I bow the knee and confess that he is that Saviour, the Christ, to the glory of the Father, will you let me go home and be a Presbyterian?" "Yes." "And not persecute me?" "Never." "Won't you let me go home and belong to the Greek Church?" "Yes." "Will you allow me to be a Friend Quaker, or a Shaking Quaker?" "O yes, anything you wish to be, but remember that you must not persecute your neighbors, but must mind your own business, and let your neighbors alone, and let them worship the sun, moon, a white dog, or anything else they please, being mindful that every knee has got to bow and every tongue confess. When you have paid this tribute to the Most High, who created you and preserves you, you may then go and worship what you please, or do what you please, if you do not infringe upon your neighbors." (Journal of Discourses, 26 vols. [London: Latter-day Saints' Book Depot, 1854-1886], 2: 317)