Bednar Speaks on COVID-19 and Religious Liberty


By: Luke Harmuth

On June 17, an online session of the 2020 Religious Freedom Annual Review was held with two keynote speakers: Dr. Alaa Murabit and Elder Bednar. 

Dr. Murabit spoke on the importance of giving platforms to amplify those in religious communities that don’t normally have a voice (ethnic minorities, women, etc.). She made a very good point that everyone interprets the scriptural text differently based on their personal and unique experiences, even violent experiences, and because of this, we need to have an open dialogue on what we believe. 

She also warned about the fusing of a specific religion with the government because in the past it has led to negative consequences, especially for women. She mentions genital mutilation and even the desire to not have baby girls as her evidence for that. 

Dr. Murabit concludes with her hypothesis that at the end of the day, no matter what belief system you have, that all belief systems aim to provide the same thing: love and compassion in some form. So even if two people fundamentally agree, they hold to their belief systems because of that dependence on the care that the system gives them. 

Elder Bednar outlined his reflections on the COVID-19 crisis and its impact on religious liberty. 

He opens by saying that COVID has opened our eyes to our national vulnerabilities, such as reliance on foreign nations for medical and strategic supplies. This is probably alluding to China producing our medical supplies. According to the New York Post: …Rosemary Gibson of The Hastings Center and author of the book “China Rx,” “Industry data reveal that Chinese companies formed a cartel, colluded to sell product on the global market at below market price, and drove all US, European, and Indian producers out of business.” They also mentioned that since 2010, imports on Chinese pharmaceuticals increased by 75%. A Department of Commerce study found that 97% of all antibiotics in this country came from China. President Trump has warned about China’s production power over the U.S. and ordered firms to relocate back to the U.S. Elder Bednar also mentioned the second vulnerability, our national and local healthcare systems

He focused the bulk of his remarks on the dangers posed to religious liberty that the pandemic highlighted:

“I believe it is vital for us to recognize that the sweeping governmental restrictions that were placed on religious gatherings at the outset of the COVID-19 crisis, truly were extraordinary. In what seemed like an instant, most western governments and many others simply banned communal worship. These restrictions eliminated public celebrations of Easter, Passover, Ramadan, and other holy days around the world. No other event in our lifetime, and perhaps no other events since the founding of this nation, has caused quite this kind of widespread destruction of religious gatherings and worship.” 

Religious institutions were deemed as non-essential and members around the globe were forbidden to meet. This pandemic displayed the readiness of citizens to forfeit their rights for the protection and security of the government. A survey pointed out that 90% of houses of worship ceased normal operations. Easter was a particularly contentious time for the religious community, as many people around the country defied the orders from their local governments to cease services. 

Elder Bednar said in relation to these orders: “We must not become accustomed to sweeping assertions of governmental power. Invoking emergency powers, government executives summarily imposed numerous orders and directives that in many ways are analogous to martial law…As we have just experienced, religious freedom can quickly be swept aside in the name of protecting other societal interests.”

Religious liberty is considered, as Elder Oaks said in 2016 at a BYU devotional: “…as just another human right, competing with other human rights when it seems to collide with them.” Both he and Elder Bednar noted the encroachment on other liberties essential to religious freedom, notably the freedom of the press and peaceful assembly. It is curious to note how the media treated the protesters on the right in April and May and the protesters on the left starting in July, one would hardly know if we were in a pandemic right now. Calls for the disbandment of large groups have gone silent as the BLM protests erupted across the nation. Some of this is due to the timing of the protests, as the people on the right protested at the wake of the pandemic, whereas now the curve was flattened and we are less concerned. It is also due to ideological reasons, as the mainstream media skews left, it is understandable that they would be more likely to defend large protests from people on their side of the argument. This is vital to understand as in the future, as religious communities protest they will again not be in the good grace of those controlling the vast majority of the mainstream media when it is not the interest of the political left to protect the religious liberty and favor more other ideas. Say, for example, a scenario in which our Church is being pressured to seal homosexual couples. Protests to enforce the Church to take such an action will have a positive framing from the media. 

It is foreseeable that given the secularization of society, driven in part by the already secularized universities, and the rise of postmodern thought, that religious liberty will be downplayed even more by the rising generation in the public sphere. Religion will be seen as an obstacle to other ideological advances. Subsequently, the members will be viewed in that way as well.

Other quotes from Elder Bednar:

“Freedom of Religion stands as a bulwark against unlimited government power.”  

“Government power can never be unlimited.”

“if the faithful are not gathering, sooner or later they will begin to scatter.”

“In the name of protecting physical health and security, or advancing other social values, government often acted without regard to the importance of protecting spiritual health and security. It often seemed

“In a time of crisis, sensitive tools are necessary to balance the demands of religious liberty with the just interests of society. Now I am not saying that religious freedom can be unlimited in the middle of a pandemic. Nor am I saying that all government officials have disregarded religious rights. Far From it. What I am saying is we can no more disregard the valid claims of religious freedom in a time of crisis. ”

“Never again must the fundamental right to worship be trivialized below the ability to buy gasoline.”

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