SALT LAKE CITY — Everyone has a stake in protecting religious freedom because it contributes to better economic and business outcomes, Elder D. Todd Christofferson of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles of the LDS Church said Friday.
"Where religious freedom is respected and protected, society overall is more stable, safer and more prosperous," said Elder Christofferson, citing research data during a speech at the Utah Hispanic Chamber of Commerce's annual convention in Salt Lake City.
He referred to a 2014 study of 173 countries by researchers at Georgetown and BYU who found religious freedom is one of only three factors significantly associated with global economic growth.
An analysis of that study by one of the researchers, Georgetown's Brian Grim, found seven ways freedom of religion contributes to better economies and business outcomes. Elder Christofferson shared three of them.
First, he said, the presence of religious freedom is associated with lower levels of corruption, a key ingredient for sustainable economic growth.
Second, a growing body of research demonstrates that religious freedom fosters peace, which removes conflicts that disrupt economic activities and businesses.
Third, there is a strong correlation between the presence of religious freedom and other freedoms that lead to positive outcomes, from improved health care to higher incomes for women.
"Everyone — even those who aren't religious — has a stake in protecting religious freedom for this reason," Elder Christofferson said.
All should therefore be concerned about a rising tide of restrictions on religious freedom around the world, he said. Even Americans can no longer take for granted the existence of their broad religious freedom protections.
He said members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints know from their history that legal protections aren't always enough. To be effective, those protections need the broad support of society.
"The culture utlimately protects through law what it values," he said. "And for more and more Americans, religion is something they value less."
Americans tend to apply religious freedom protections selectively. They place a higher priority on preserving the freedoms of Christians than Muslims, for example, according to a recent poll.
"Whether you're religious or not — whether you initially recognize it or not — everyone has a stake in protecting religious freedom," Elder Christofferson said. "That's because protecting religious freedom protects the space we all need to live according to our most deeply held beliefs and values, where we're free to act according to belief or conscience."
A trained attorney, Elder Christofferson said the rights in the First Amendment work together, and weakening one weakens the others.
He called for less polarization and encouraged earnest engagement, civil dialogue and compromise. He acknowledged that path isn't easy, but he said it is effective.
"This approach runs counter to a troubling tendency — perhaps most evident in social media — for people to reduce others to caricatures when they disagree," he said. "A 'fairness for all' approach goes beyond this — asking people to try to understand the concerns and needs of others. Even when they disagree."
He quoted Elder Dallin H. Oaks, also of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles, who said "both sides should seek a balance, not a total victory."
Elder Christofferson said the church's practice of sending missionaries around the world teaches them a valuable lesson — that all people are alike.
"Whether through commerce or through religion," he concluded, "we need more of these experiences."