Additional Resource

Remarks at the 2023 Notre Dame Law School Religious Liberty Summit

By Camille N. Johnson, Relief Society General President

Relief Society General President Camille N. Johnson delivered these remarks at the 2023 Notre Dame Law School Religious Liberty Summit at Inner Temple in London on Thursday, July 13, 2023. President Johnson’s panel discussed the topic, “Religious Responses to the Rise of Autocracy.”


I am grateful for the invitation to be here with you in London, at the Inner Temple, and in the shadow of Temple Church. This is a place where we are reminded of the importance of fundamental principles of the rule of law. What an appropriate setting for our discussion.

I bring the greetings and well wishes of President Dallin H. Oaks of the First Presidency of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, who enjoyed his participation in the Notre Dame Religious Liberty Summit in Rome last year.

On that occasion, President Oaks emphasized that “we must unite and find common ground for defending and promoting religious liberty. This is not a call for doctrinal compromise, but rather a plea for unity and cooperation on strategy and advocacy toward our common goal of religious liberty for all.”1

I echo President Oaks’ call for seeking common ground and raising united voices on behalf of religious liberty for all people, in all places.

I also bring warm regards from Elder Jeffrey R. Holland of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles of the Church, who had hoped to be with us here today.

I am familiar with some of the things Elder Holland loves most, and among those is this place and the people who live here.

Personal Introduction

I am a lawyer by profession, practicing primarily civil litigation in the United States for nearly 30 years. I am a wife and mother of three sons and grandmother to five grandchildren. But I speak to you today in my capacity as the president of the Relief Society of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.

Introduction of the Relief Society

The Relief Society is one of the oldest and largest women’s organizations in the world, with more than 7 million members in 188 countries.

Organized in 1842, in Nauvoo, Illinois, at a time of extreme poverty and persecution of members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, the Relief Society was established to provide relief, both temporal and spiritual, to the early Saints and their neighbors.

The main body of Latter-day Saints—fleeing religious persecution, including an extermination order issued by the governor of Missouri—sought refuge outside the boundaries of the United States. After a westward trek across America’s plains, the first Church members, including some of my beloved ancestors, arrived in the Salt Lake Valley in 1847. Those pioneers made the desert bloom and built homes, farms, and communities in the area which later became the state of Utah.

Picture with me women in various degrees of deficiency and deprivation trying to lift the burdens of other women, men, and children in similar degrees of scarcity and suffering.

But even in those early difficult times, pioneer accounts are filled with rejoicing in the sisterhood and joy they found in serving each other. Indeed, in providing relief, the members of Relief Society found their own divine relief.

Speaking to a global audience in the Church’s semiannual general conference, I recently said:

“Our covenantal blessing is to partner with Jesus Christ in providing relief … to all of God’s children. We are the conduit through which He provides relief.” “[A]nd in the process [we] find our own relief in Jesus Christ.”2

The purpose of Relief Society remains the same today: to bring temporal and spiritual relief to women, men, and children, who we know to be our sisters and brothers—all children of God.

Members of the Relief Society exercise executive responsibility in planning, directing, and administering global humanitarian projects and in ministering to the needs of their neighbors. Relief Society members speak out, serving in government, education, and community organizations, and, importantly, in their own homes. Motivated by their faith in God and the love of God and their neighbors, members of the Relief Society care for those in need. They teach in their congregations and at home. They courageously defend morality and families. The members of Relief Society have always “expect[ed] extraordinary occasions and pressing calls.”3

Protecting religious liberty in a rapidly evolving society is surely an extraordinary occasion and a pressing call.4

The Church’s Approach

The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints is a universalist movement in the sense that we believe we have a message and mission for all people in all places.

The Church has congregations and members who live under many types of government and who respond to a variety of legal structures that encompass religion and a life of faith. How does The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints respond in a rapidly evolving society, which includes autocracies? Or to put it metaphorically and scripturally, how do we try to act as “light,” “salt,” and “leaven” in a world beset by so many difficulties?

Let me begin by saying a few words about light, salt, and leaven.

Light, Salt and Leaven

When it is darkest, even a small light can make a big difference. So we believe that the Savior’s injunction—that His followers should be a light—applies to us, especially in times of darkness.

From our Latter-day Saint scriptural tradition, 3 Nephi 18:24 reads, “Therefore, hold up your light that it may shine unto the world. Behold I am the light which ye shall hold upthat which ye have seen me do.”

In addition to asking followers to be a light, Jesus Christ compares His followers to salt, but with a warning. Matthew 5:13, says, “Ye are the salt of the earth; but if the salt have lost his savor, wherewith shall it be salted?”

And in one of His shortest parables, Jesus said, “The kingdom of heaven is like unto leaven, which a woman took, and hid in three measures of meal, till the whole was leavened.”5

Salt and leaven can make a big difference in small doses, but only if they retain their distinctive character and savor.

Members of the Relief Society seek to be that light, salt, and leaven. We do so through our humanitarian efforts, including a global initiative focused on the needs of all young children and their mothers. That global initiative, in which the Relief Society takes a leading role, includes child nutrition, immunizations, maternal and newborn care, and primary education. We let our light shine globally and, like salt and leaven, seek to address the needs of those in need of relief who live in our own homes and neighborhoods.

Principles Guiding the Church’s Work and Which May Guide the Response of Other Religious Organizations to Autocratic Rule

I will highlight several principles that guide the Church’s work globally and which may guide the response of other religious organization to autocratic rule.

We believe in a universal right to the “free exercise of conscience” and believe all people and institutions should be able to express publicly their views on issues facing society.6

The Church follows a “front door” policy of operating in countries pursuant to law. Indeed, “honoring and sustaining the law” is one of the basic points of belief highlighted in the Church’s Articles of Faith.7 This includes acting pursuant to law even in places where severe limits are placed on the Church’s operations.

The Church follows a policy of political neutrality and does not involve itself in electoral politics, while reserving the right to speak out on important moral issues. In June 2023, the Church issued a statement reiterating this policy, stating in part:

“The Church does not seek to elect government officials, support or oppose political parties, or, generally, take sides in global conflicts. The Church is neutral in matters of politics within or between the world’s many nations, lands and peoples. However, as an institution, it reserves the right to address issues it believes have significant moral consequences or that directly affect the mission, teachings or operations of the Church.”8

The Church’s mission of respect, care, and relief extends to all people in all circumstances, regardless of their interest in the gospel, political persuasion, or membership in any specific faith, party, or tribe. Jesus Christ, in the New Testament, gave instructions to look after the poor. The Book of Mormon: Another Testament of Jesus Christ describes our commitment in this way:

“And thus, in their prosperous circumstances, they did not send away any who were naked, or that were hungry, or that were athirst, or that were sick, or that had not been nourished; and they did not set their hearts upon riches; therefore they were liberal to all, both old and young, both bond and free, both male and female, whether out of the church or in the church, having no respect to persons as to those who stood in need.”9

Humanitarian Work

And so The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints sponsors humanitarian service in extremely complex settings around the world, including places with autocratic rulers, failed governments, and countries controlled by factions. In these settings, like everywhere else, citizens and families are trying to do the best they can under their circumstances.

The Church’s humanitarian aim is to relieve suffering and build social cohesion through shared efforts and volunteerism. This allows for faiths, political parties, universities, and communities to work together on local priorities at whatever level is possible. Principles of neutrality, independence, and impartiality guide the Church’s humanitarian work.

In 2022, the Church’s efforts to care for those in need included more than US$1 billion in expenditures, 6.3 million volunteer hours, and 3,692 humanitarian projects in 190 countries and territories, according to the Church’s annual report, “Caring For Those in Need.”

The motivation for our humanitarian work is the two great commandments found in the New Testament: to “love the Lord thy God” and to “love thy neighbour as thyself.” The way we love our neighbors who are very different from us is evidence that we indeed love God. This is the first and most important principle of humanitarian work.

Humanitarian efforts and missionary zeal must be kept separate. As President Dallin H. Oaks has explained:

“Church humanitarian aid is intended primarily for those who are not members of [the Church]. It is distributed without any strings attached. … [H]umanitarian aid is not distributed by bishops or other local leaders, by proselytizing missionaries, or through the Church’s missionary organization.

“… It is separately administered by professional workers and by specially called humanitarian [service] missionaries.”10

Whenever possible, the Church seeks to work in collaboration with other organizations doing good work—collaborations that are both broad and deep.

For example, during the Christmas season, Light the World Giving Machines collected funds to buy food and other items for those in need in 28 different locations around the world. In 2022 alone, almost half a million individual donations totaled more than US$7 million, and 100% of the proceeds were distributed involving a network of nearly 125 local and global nonprofits.11

In 2022, the Church donated more than US$32 million to the World Food Programme and US$5 million to UNICEF’s global nutrition program, which helps malnourished children.

A portion of the Church’s humanitarian budget each year focuses on emergency relief to respond to disaster and crisis.

In 2022, these relief efforts included aid to Ukrainian refugees; drought in the Horn of Africa, tsunami survivors in Tonga; storm victims in Kentucky, Florida, and South Africa; and victims of civil conflict in the Democratic Republic of the Congo.12

In addition to donating commodities and cash, the Church also sponsors volunteerism. is a free platform connecting volunteers with local opportunities. It currently operates in 14 countries—including the UK. Last year, it facilitated 16,285 service projects.

In recent years the Church has become more sensitive to environmental stewardship initiatives.

More than 500 of our meetinghouses worldwide now have solar panels.

Deseret Industries, a network of Church-owned thrift shops, processes more than 73 million pounds of recycled goods in a year.

Earlier this year, the Church donated 20,000 acre-feet of water to the Great Salt Lake, in an effort to help save this shrinking body of water.

Since its humble beginnings in 1842, the Relief Society of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints has sought to “relieve the poor” and “save souls.”13 Established on that foundation, the Relief Society has increased in influence and impact around the world. I express my profound appreciation to all those who join with us in providing relief to our sisters and brothers.

Wherever we are in the world, religious believers should seek to be light, leaven, and salt. We should try to pursue principles of political neutrality and take care to protect our institutional independence and integrity. In our humanitarian work, we should endeavor to be guided by principles of love, focusing on those whose needs are most profound.



1. Speech reproduced at

2. Camille N. Johnson, “Jesus Christ Is Relief,” Liahona, May 2023.

3. Emma Smith in Relief Society Minute Book, Nauvoo, Illinois, Mar. 17, 1842, 12.

4. The impression that democratic institutions are under incredible stress is bolstered by social science research that quantifies these pressures. For example, according to The Economist’s Democracy Index, “almost half (45.3%) of the world’s population live in a democracy of some sort,” only 8% reside in a full democracy, and “more than a third (36.9%) live under authoritarian rule.”

5. Matthew 13:33.

6. Doctrine and Covenants 134:4 (“We believe that religion is instituted of God; and that men are amenable to him, and to him only, for the exercise of it, unless their religious opinions prompt them to infringe upon the rights and liberties of others.”)

7. The twelfth article of faith states, “We believe in being subject to kings, presidents, rulers, and magistrates, in obeying, honoring, and sustaining the law.”

8. See June 1, 2023, Church statement.

9. Alma 1:30.

10. Dallin H. Oaks, Deseret News, Nov. 11, 2006.

13. See Joseph Smith, in Relief Society Minute Book, Jun. 9, 1842, 63, Church History Library, Salt Lake City.

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