Op-Ed: We Must Never Again Let Our Freedoms Become ‘Nonessential’

Nothing like a global pandemic to get you thinking about what matters most. The forced physical isolation and disruption from the “daily drill” have created solitary moments of introspection and the opportunity to define what is truly essential in our lives.

I recently interviewed best-selling author Greg McKeown for my “Therefore, What?” podcast. His book “Essentialism” is a must-read for many reasons. When I asked him for some specific applications of the principles for living as an “essentialist,” he quickly flipped it into an intervention and used me and my current schedule as clinical material to make the point.

Greg gave me a series of things to consider so that I would be able to better function at my highest, most discerning, most impactful and most authentic self. (More on that next month, as I am in the middle of a 30-day essentialism challenge. I am learning that there is a lot of nonessential stuff cluttering my time and attention.)

In the midst of this quest for what is essential, I listened to an address by Elder David A. Bednar, a member of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles in The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. His keynote address was part of Brigham Young University’s three-day Religious Freedom Annual Review.

Elder Bednar is a master teacher who clears out the clutter so listeners can become learners and discover for themselves what is needful, mindful and essential. The title of his address struck me, “And When He Came to Himself,” taken from the Parable of the Prodigal Son in the New Testament. Hardly the title or approach you would expect for an address delivered for a law school on the topic of religious liberty.

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In his masterful way, Elder Bednar presented an observation and then provided moments for the participants to discern the meaning on a multitude of levels.

The individual application, “coming to one’s self,” was understood quickly. The pandemic has provided many with a wake-up call to what is important and essential in their lives. Elder Bednar shared a tender conversation he once had with his aging apostolic associate, Elder Robert D. Hales.

Elder Bednar asked, “What lessons have you learned as you have grown older and been constrained by decreased physical capacity?”

Elder Hales paused for a moment and responded, “When you cannot do what you have always done, then you only do what matters most.”

That truly is a “lesson for a lifetime.” It is a lesson that actually applies to individuals, organizations, governments, communities and countries. Focus always precedes success, and focusing on only the essential accelerates success. In a surprising and powerful way, that lesson is encompassed in the protection and pursuit of religious liberty.

The first freedoms established in the First Amendment are central to the vitality and vibrancy of the American experience. First freedoms, especially the first of the first freedoms — freedom of religion — are essential.

The pandemic has caused many to review things that are essential and nonessential in nature to society. It also has undeniably demonstrated that governments are often not well suited to determine what is truly essential. In some states, the sale of alcohol, animal care and legal services were deemed essential and allowed to continue, while the work of clergy, ministering to individuals and other expressions of religion were categorized as nonessential.

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