Special Feature | BYU Studies

Special Feature

Joseph Smith and Religious Freedom
February 7, 2017
Special Feature
Joseph Smith and Religious Freedom
The Joseph Smith Papers Project

Religious freedom has been central to The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints since its founding, but that doesn't mean it was always enjoyed by the church's members. Joseph Smith first faced issues pertaining to religious freedom as a young man and many times later as the leader of a new church. Many opposed him for publicizing his early visions and unfamiliar teachings, and that opposition carried over and intensified into widespread persecution of members of the church. The problem became so prevalent that in 1844, the year he died, Smith embarked on a presidential campaign intent on securing religious and civil freedoms for both the Saints and other marginalized peoples.

Smith was vocal and passionate about his stance on the issue. For instance, in a meeting with the Council of Fifty on 11 April 1844 he said, "God cannot save or damn a man only on the principle that every man acts, chooses, and worships for himself; hence the importance of thrusting from us every spirit of bigotry and intolerance towards a man's religious sentiments, that spirit which has drenched the earth with blood. When a man feels the least temptation to such intolerance he ought to spurn it from him. It becomes our duty on account of this intolerance and corruption—the inalienable right of man being to think as he pleases, worship as he pleases, etc., being the first law of everything that is sacred—to guard every ground all the days of our lives." The Joseph Smith Papers staff has gathered this and many other instances where Joseph Smith spoke and wrote about religious freedom. These statements can be read in a new article at josephsmithpapers.org, "Religious Freedom."

Joseph Smith and his associates created a wide variety of documents that modern historians will find helpful in their research of the early church. Some of the most frequently searched-for documents have been grouped together by topic to aid in this research. Religious freedom is only one of those topics. Finding aids relating to multiple other specific topics and linking to pertinent documents can be found at the Joseph Smith Papers website.