LDS women’s leader speaks to E.U. Parliament about religious freedom


‘Global sisterhood’ can help foster world peace, Relief Society president tells European Union Parliament in advance of International Women’s Day.

(The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints) Relief Society General President Camille Johnson of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints speaks at the European Union Parliament in Brussels on Monday, March 4, 2024, on religious liberty for women.

Women who are empowered to live their faith are key to world peace, the top female leader of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints told the European Union Parliament this week.

In doing so, Camille Johnson, head of the faith’s global Relief Society, joined the ever-expanding chorus emanating from the church’s top brass emphasizing the importance of religious freedom.

“Our greatest success,” she told officials Monday in Belgium, according to a news release, “will be in unleashing the power of our global sisterhood by unleashing the power of women as expressed through faith and conscience.”

The speech, given in advance of Friday’s International Women’s Day celebration, was part of a larger event staged by the church’s international affairs office in Brussels in partnership with a Dutch member of the parliament, Anja Haga of the Christian Union party in the Netherlands.

Other speakers included a representative from the Baha’i faith and Open Doors International, a nongovernmental organization designed, according to its website, “to support persecuted Christians worldwide.”

The power of ‘sisterhood’ and global cooperation

(The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints) Relief Society General President Camille Johnson of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints addresses the European Union Parliament in Brussels on Monday, March 4, 2024, on religious liberty for women.

Johnson, a lawyer whose past experience includes a short stint in Republican politics, acknowledged in her presentation the harms done in some cases against women in the name of religion.

This fact, she reasoned, should not be used to curtail religious freedoms. Instead, it requires that “we better communicate with and actually empower our sisters in these desperate situations to reach across social divisions to solve problems.”

Johnson echoed a previous speech of hers delivered at a Religious Freedom Symposium at Iowa’s Drake University in 2022. Given while she served as president of Primary, the church’s organization for Latter-day Saint children, that presentation also sought to connect the right to worship to alleviating suffering worldwide.

Johnson returned to the theme of a shared “sisterhood” throughout her Brussels address, explaining she believed its power, “unburdened by prejudice and oppression, can unite across boundaries through the simplest of acts.”

“The most important and impactful work of women continues to be done when we care for our own children,” she said, “teach a friend to read, patiently address the needs of an elderly neighbor, prepare a meal for the sick, or cry with a sister who is grieving.”

Aiding women in this effort are their “unique moral compass,” she said, quoting church President Russell M. Nelson, and “special spiritual gifts and propensities” to sense the needs of others.

Johnson also took the opportunity to reinforce the Relief Society’s commitment to providing humanitarian aid — from maternal and newborn care to immunizations — through collaboration with other groups.

Historically, the church of 17 million-plus members has partnered with the United Nations — to the alarm of some of its more conservative U.S. Latter-day Saints — including a recent $2 million donation to help bring faster aid responses to disaster sites in the Caribbean.

Jennifer Walker Thomas, co-executive director of Mormon Women for Ethical Government, was not present for Johnson’s talk but applauded what the church reported about it.

“We love that she highlighted the fact that women do better in pluralistic (and we’d add democratic) societies,” Thomas wrote in an email, explaining “those societies are more likely to be peaceful and economically stable.”

Thomas, who co-hosts the podcast “Proclaim Peace” with Latter-day Saint historian Patrick Mason, also said she agreed that “women of sincere faith” have an important role to play in promoting “change through peaceful means.”

She added: “Truly effective peacemaking and society building happen when we move from intuition and desire into concrete action.”

Religious freedom and LGBTQ rights

Johnson did not appear to identify specific threats to religious freedom or groups she thought were particularly at risk.

The church has been vocal, however, in calling for a balancing of religious liberty and LGBTQ protections. It succeeded in passing such legislation in Utah and has pushed for similar measures in Arizona and Georgia.

It also backs the proposed federal Fairness for All Act, which a number of prominent LGBTQ and civil rights groups oppose, and celebrated passage of the Respect for Marriage Act. Signed by President Joe Biden in 2022, the law codified same-sex marriage while specifying that the government cannot compel religious organizations to perform these unions themselves.

Apostle Dallin Oaks, next in line to lead the church, has shown particular zeal for the issue of religious freedom, while acknowledging the needs for limits.

“Some other citizens may … have competing constitutional rights,” he said in a 2022 speech in Rome, “against which some religious liberties must be balanced.”

Johnson’s speech marked the second time a Relief Society president has addressed the European Union Parliament in Belgium.

Predecessor Jean Bingham did so in November 2017, declaring that “religious freedom is a critical right for empowering women.”

Bingham and her husband, Bruce Bingham, are now serving a mission as government relations representatives in Brussels.



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