It is the Best of Times and the Worst of Times While Building Zion: J. Reuben Clark Law Society Annual Fireside

Religious freedom was the topic of the annual J. Reuben Clark fireside on Friday, January 19, 2024.  Speaking to an audience in the Conference Center Little Theater in Salt Lake City, Alexander Dushku discussed the importance of protecting the first amendment to retain religious freedom. Before he addressed the audience, the evening began with the Salvador Brazil JRCLS chapter accepting the Franklin S.Richards Service Award.  The Salvador Brazil chapter has partnered with the Baptist church to provide legal services, and the chapter has also offered courses in the area on real property.  The legacy of service and selflessness by the Salvador Brazil chapter is exemplary.

Elder Dushku has over thirty years of experience working as an attorney before his call to church service. Elder Dushku began the evening saying it is the best of times and it is the worst of times, coining the Dickens phrase to discuss the importance of protecting religious liberty rights in society today.  Our culture is moving away from church attendance instead extolling the self, explained Dushku.  Dushku cited Berkeley professor Robert Bellah coining the phrase “expressive individualism.”  Bellah explains that “expressive individualism” is sloganed in society phrases like, “follow your heart” or  “you do you” or “be true to yourself.”   Historically,  meaning was shaped and derived from family, god or country to find meaning but, “Now we are in a very different culture than the one that produced for example the scout oath which speaks of honor, duty to God and country, obedience, law, sacrifice and moral rigor….those notions were what were understood to define the character of the soul and the self.  That has now changed.”  As Dushku pointed out, Western culture now sees the realization of individuality as life’s primary purpose; the modern moral imperative is to liberate the self from virtually any constraint.  Religion has become a “private hobby” and this comes into conflict with the “doctrine of Christ.” “By contrast,” said Elder Dushku, “Jesus Christ invites us to follow Him and thereby find our highest and best selves through Him. And so the Lord gave us commandments and covenants, precepts and principles, prophets and pastors, to help define us as a peculiar people — as His people — and to guide us back into His eternal presence.”

Dushku listed 3 vital zones of religious freedom.  Elder Dushku said that Latter-day Saints need to understand and advocate for three zones of religious freedom: (1) The freedom “to believe, live and express our faith in our private and family spaces.” This means parents should be able to transmit their faith to their children and teach their children the doctrine of Christ, “ and “revealed truth about marriage, family, gender and sexuality.”  (2) The freedom, “to express our faith and live the gospel openly as equal citizens.”   We have jobs and participate in the community sharing our talents and expertise.  Dushku starkly pointed out, “We have a moral right to not be treated as second class citizens, social pariahs or outcasts such as being excluded from professions, the academy or public office based on our religion.”  (3) The freedom “to gather — to be of one heart and one mind and dwell together in one heart and one mind.”  One of the greatest tasks of defending religious freedom, added Elder Dushku, is therefore to ensure Saints have sufficient freedom to establish Zion. They gather together and become a Zion people, inviting all people of goodwill to join. “Zion is a refuge from the storm of faithlessness,” Elder Dushku said. “It is a shelter from the spiritual and moral chaos of our time. It is a place and a space where we can gather, unite and be who we are — where the truths we cherish, the standards we live, the practices and patterns that define our lives, and the very gospel language we speak are natural and well understood.” President Russell M. Nelson has called the gathering of Israel, “The greatest challenge, the greatest cause, and the greatest work on Earth.”   Building up Zion is not just a hope or far-off possibility. He said, “It is essential to our very survival.” And in order to build up Zion, Latter-day Saints need to uphold religious freedom.

Lastly, Dushku explained that we can reinvigorate and advocate for religious freedom by upholding seven critical legal doctrines. These legal doctrines are:

  1. The rule of law.
  2. The principle of nondiscrimination and equality before the law.
  3. The free exercise of religion.
  4. The freedom of speech.
  5. The rights of parents to direct the upbringing of their children.
  6. The right of religious communities to organize.
  7. The autonomy of religious organizations to govern their internal affairs without outside interference.

It is the best of times and the worst of times pertaining to religious liberty but not the church itself.  Dushku pointed to a bright future of building temples and living prophets and apostles guiding the people.  “People of faith”, he said, “can advocate for a robust religious liberty by defending the rule of law and showing the world the worth of religion. At a time of widespread skepticism about the value of faith and churches, we can open our mouths and our laptops and bear witness to the immeasurable good religion does.” As attorneys we can actively participate in the bright and glorious future of gathering Israel.


For details on how to view the broadcast, click here