Understanding religious freedom’s effects on society can increase support for it

Written by William C. Duncan

January 14, 2022

Reflecting on a life of scholarship, practice and advocacy of religious freedom, President Dallin H. Oaks of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints recently shared important advice: that religious leaders

must not overlook the fact that the preservation of religious freedom ultimately depends on public appreciation and support for the related First Amendment freedoms of religious conscience, association, and free exercise. In turn, such appreciation and support depends on the value the public attaches to the positive effects of the practices and teachings in churches, synagogues, mosques, and other places of worship.

In recent years, Sutherland has been cataloging some of these effects, which are powerful and wide ranging.

For instance, participation in religious activities has positive effects on family. On average, it promotes greater equality between men and women in families. Religious weddings and religious observance are associated with faithfulness to marriage vows. Religion also encourages men’s participation in family life.

Religious organizations bolster our social safety net. They provide critical services to the homeless. They are the forefront of refugee relief. Churches, church members, and faith-based charities are critical to the functioning of the foster care system. Among the most vulnerable are those who are in jail or have been released from incarceration. Here too, religious groups have an outsize influence.

Individuals, too, benefit from religious influence in profound ways. Religious practice promotes mental, physical and behavioral health. It is linked to better physical health and healthy habits. Adherence to religious beliefs and practices protects against the risk of drug abuse and facilitates recovery. Religious belief is associated with improved psychological resilience.

Religious nonprofits, churches and people of faith operate schools that educate thousands of students. They sponsor programs and services for those out of work. They provide mental health programs, provide relief to individuals with HIV/AIDS, and provide a variety of social services for children. Beyond all this, they encourage charitable giving by adherents, making up an enormous segment of private giving.

These are some of the important positive effects of the teachings and practices of religious groups and people of faith. A wider understanding of these effects – which will happen only if people share them with others – could appropriately strengthen the nation’s commitment to religious freedom protections.

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