All of us have a certain teacher, those who we look to who have influenced us and taught us the most important lessons about those things in our lives which we become passionate about. Elder Dallin H. Oaks, a member of the Twelve Apostles of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, has become, for me, a sort of tutor from afar, on the topic of religious freedom. The Mormon Newsroom reports “Elder Oaks was presented the prestigious Canterbury Medal for his lifetime service in promoting the cause of religious freedom. The medal recognizes individuals who demonstrate courage in the defense of religious freedom and is named for Canterbury Cathedral, where Thomas Becket stood in defense of religious freedom against King Henry II.”

I heard late last night, that Elder Oaks was receiving this well-deserved award, and could not help myself from “noising it abroad” via social media as fast as my fingers could make it happen. As I said, Elder Oaks, to me, is my virtual tutor on this topic: religious freedom. I have spent many hours reading and re-reading many of his articles/speeches over the last few years as I’ve desired to better understand the principles of religious freedom, and how to best fulfill my covenants, as a member of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, to defend my beliefs in the public square. His counsel and instruction is the foundation upon which I have conducted myself in much of what I do in speaking out on many sensitive issues with confidence. His CES fireside address, given in September of 2011, "Truth and Tolerance" is among my favorites.

I am a proud ‘student’ of Elder Oaks', nearly beaming with delight on his behalf. It must be such a satisfying feeling to have spent so much of one’s energy in life teaching these righteous principles of truth, but also feel humble to then receive such an honor. “The free exercise of religion is the basic civil liberty because faith in God and His teachings and the active practice of religion are the most fundamental guiding realities of life,"  
Elder Oaks said. 

I also loved hearing, as reported by the Mormon Newsroom that Princeton Professor Robert P. George, serves on the Becket Fund Board of Directors. If that name sounds vaguely familiar, it should. George is one of the three authors of the very important book, "What is Marriage? Man and Woman: A Defense" “George praised Elder Oaks not only for being an example to “people like myself, Catholics and Evangelicals, people of other faiths who look to Dallin Oaks not only for his excellent judgment and leadership as a lawyer, but also for his great love of God and the great witness he gives as a man of God.””

This year, I have personally seen a great uniting of many faiths as we have pulled together in defense of religious freedom, so that we might better defend values such as traditional marriage. In my opinion, It is no wonder that George would think so highly of Elder Oaks, as they share the same love for righteous principles. I sincerely believe that these are the points of truth upon which the children of God will ultimately find unity, as one, in Christ. We need each other, and it is truth that will bring us together. 

Which brings me to 'why' my ultimate love for religious freedom: it allows those who love truth, to find one another. It allows truth to be revealed. Without the maintenance of religious freedom, we become a bound people without the ability to freely express and live who we are. However, we will only lose our freedoms by not speaking up to maintain them. We lose our freedom through our own fear.

The Mormon Newsroom has a beautiful report up on the proceedings of this medal presented to Elder Dallin H. Oaks. I honor him tonight and give thanks to him for his life’s work in this important area: religious freedom; and for what he has taught me personally. It has strengthened me to do that which I have come to love: speaking what I know is right and true, even when difficult.

I am grateful for the agency which God has given to me. I never want to be found binding myself because I feared man more than God. I am confident that the Lord expects each of us to not be silent, or tolerant, of those things which we have made covenants to stand as witnesses for, and against, and which is why we have an Apostle of the Lord upon the earth, at this time, boldly teaching, to the entire world these principles upon which all of our greatest expressions in this life can be realized: our liberty and freedom. 

Elder Oaks' presented a powerful address at the award's ceremony, in a desire to strengthen the future of religious freedom. As with most of his speeches/talks, at least for me, it requires multiple readings; thus my 'student' status when it comes to his works. I've already been through it once and can see that truly we have a watchman on the tower, looking ahead at where we are headed and what we need to do to best manage the future of our priceless freedoms. 

Kathryn Skaggs

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