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Edmonton Faiths Meet in Support of Religious Freedom

Speakers from Catholic, Jewish, Mormon, Muslim and Sikh communities drew a crowd of close to 300 people of different faiths to the Edmonton Alberta Bonnie Doon Stake Centre of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints on March 18, 2017, for a panel discussion billed as “Religious Freedoms: A Community Conversation.”

“While religious liberty is our first freedom, we need to focus on creating a space where everyone is free to act upon their core beliefs and values, so long as they aren’t harming the health or safety of others. That’s fairness for all,” said Elder G. Lawrence Spackman, an Area Seventy of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. “We focus on shared values, discover where we agree, and then find solutions that don’t force any group to act in a way that goes against its core beliefs.”

Muslim Sideed Ali had seen a post on Facebook a few days before the event and said he was glad he attended. “Like-minded people today need to come together — calm heads that are trying to move forward and recognize that we do need to live together. We need to support one another,” Ali said. “I see this as part of our duty as citizens, as part of our duty as members of different faith groups. It’s great to see so many people gelling together and showing that [we] can make it work.”

Robert Mendenhall, president of the Edmonton Alberta Bonnie Doon Stake of the Church, chaired the event’s organizing committee. “I was pleased with the turnout and more pleased with what the speakers had to say,” he commented. “I really felt that they gave me a wonderful perspective on religious freedoms. Each was able to speak from his or her own experience, from [his or her] own faith background. There is power in understanding other individuals. It was wonderful.”

Netta Phillet, director of the Edmonton Interfaith Centre for Education and Action, addressed the gathering, representing conservative Judaism. After the panel discussion, she called for future similar events to be held. “We need regular events like this,” Phillet said. “We need to not take religious freedoms for granted. We live in a very liberal country, but the forces of darkness are trying to make us afraid of each other. We need to educate ourselves about our own religion and other people’s faiths and not be ruled by fear. Never let fear be motivation for anything we do.”

Elder Spackman spoke of the Church’s long interest in the fight for religious freedoms, a fight dating back to the time of Joseph Smith, the first president of the Church. In 1843 Smith said, “I am just as ready to die in defending the rights of a Presbyterian, a Baptist, or a good man of any denomination; for the same principle which would trample upon the rights of the Latter-day Saints would trample upon the rights of the Roman Catholics, or of any other denomination who may be unpopular and too weak to defend themselves. It is a love of liberty which inspires my soul — civil and religious liberty to the whole of the human race” (History of the Church, 498–99 [discourse given by Joseph Smith on July 9, 1843, in Nauvoo, Illinois]).

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