1 Behold, now it came to pass that the king of the Lamanites sent a proclamation among all his people, that they should not lay their hands on Ammon, or Aaron, or Omner, or Himni, nor either of their brethren who should go forth preaching the word of God, in whatsoever place they should be, in any part of their land.
2 Yea, he sent a decree among them, that they should not lay their hands on them to bind them, or to cast them into prison; neither should they spit upon them, nor smite them, nor cast them out of their synagogues, nor scourge them; neither should they cast stones at them, but that they should have free access to their houses, and also their temples, and their sanctuaries.
3 And thus they might go forth and preach the word according to their desires, for the king had been converted unto the Lord, and all his household; therefore he sent his proclamation throughout the land unto his people, that the word of God might have no obstruction, but that it might go forth throughout all the land, that his people might be convinced concerning the wicked traditions of their fathers, and that they might be convinced that they were all brethren, and that they ought not to murder, nor to plunder, nor to steal, nor to commit adultery, nor to commit any manner of wickedness.
When the sons of Mosiah began preaching among the Lamanites, their lives were in genuine danger. Ammon was able to win the good will of King Lamoni fairly quickly, but his brother Aaron was not so fortunate. He and his two companions, Ammah and Muloki, were imprisoned in the city of Middoni and “suffered many things” (Alma 21:13-14). After being freed by Ammon and King Lamoni, Aaron taught Lamoni’s father, who was the king over all of the Lamanites. When the king was converted, he sent the proclamation described in the verses above to all of his people, so that these missionaries would no longer be persecuted for their beliefs. The decree not only forbade violence against them but also required the people to allow the missionaries access to venues where they could share their message. The goal of the proclamation, Mormon tells us, was “that the word of God might have no obstruction.”
This proclamation doesn’t establish religious freedom as we know it today. It favors one religion: the one accepted by the king. But the proclamation does illustrate an important principle: religious freedom includes not only the right to believe as you choose but the right to communicate your beliefs.
Elder D. Todd Christofferson taught this principle during an interfaith meeting in Brazil:
Religious freedom is the cornerstone of peace in a world with many competing philosophies. It gives us all space to determine for ourselves what we think and believe—to follow the truth that God speaks to our hearts. It allows diverse beliefs to coexist, protects the vulnerable, and helps us negotiate our conflicts. Thus, as the European Court of Human Rights has wisely concluded in multiple cases, religious freedom is vital to people of faith and “is also a precious asset for atheists, agnostics, sceptics and the unconcerned.” This is because “the pluralism indissociable from a democratic society, which has been dearly won over the centuries, depends on it.”
A robust freedom is not merely what political philosophers have referred to as the “negative” freedom to be left alone, however important that may be. Rather, it is a much richer “positive” freedom—the freedom to live one’s religion or belief in a legal, political, and social environment that is tolerant, respectful, and accommodating of diverse beliefs (“A Celebration of Religious Freedom,” Interfaith Address in São Paulo, Brazil, April 29, 2015).
I like Elder Christofferson’s vision, in which a collective commitment to religious freedom creates an environment for the open exchange of ideas, giving us all space to decide what we believe. While governments play an important role in establishing religious freedom, we all play an important role in setting a tone of religious freedom in our communities. We do this by treating all people with respect, by encouraging them to speak up about their beliefs and convictions, and by listening and learning from them.
Today, I will choose to respect the beliefs of the people around me. I will do this by not only tolerating but embracing a diversity of belief and expression of that belief. I will remember that an environment of respect for one another’s beliefs and a willingness to listen to one another is critical for the work of the Lord. Such a free exchange of ideas allows the truths of the gospel to be disseminated without obstruction.