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Congregants of the Chabad of Poway synagogue in California heard gunshots instead of prayers as they attended services April 27.

The recent shootings at Poway and Christchurch Mosque in New Zealand undoubtedly have caused feelings of sadness, fear and anger. My heart ached — and still does — for our fellow brothers and sisters that feel fear as they worship.

With the news of hate crimes against houses of worship and religious groups growing more common, I couldn’t help but think about two things. First, why we must defend religious freedom and second, why I love other religions.

While we hold to the truth of the Gospel, we have to recognize the importance of defending religious freedom and diversity. If you support the constitution of the United States and the freedoms it stands for, then you believe in the right for all men and women to practice whichever religion they choose.

The First Amendment states, “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof.”

As members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, we accept the teaching of God’s plan for us to come to this earth and exercise our free agency. This includes letting people decide what religion they practice.

Growing up in the Church, I knew what I believed. While I had friends of all different religions, I had never studied what beliefs they held.

During my freshman year here, I had a Sunday School teacher that served her mission in the South say, while people in the “Bible Belt” thought they had a great relationship with God and the Gospel in their lives, they just don’t because they weren’t members of our church.

As someone from South Carolina, I was pretty annoyed someone who had spent only a tiny fraction of her life in the South summed up the people as not truly having a relationship with God just because their names were written on the roll at another church.

That same year, I decided I didn’t want to take a “Mormon” religion class. I knew what I believed, but it was time to widen my horizons. If I could find a class such as that, it would be a way for me to familiarize myself with other religions and to be a better advocate on their behalf.

I signed up for the World Religion class (which I highly recommend to all students). Here I learned the core beliefs of Islam, Hinduism, Judaism, Catholicism and several other significant religions throughout the world.

My favorite part of this class consisted of finding “Holy Envies” from each religion we studied. A Holy Envy is something you admire about the religion, whether it be a practice or a belief, that we wanted to include in our own practice of religion.

Some of my favorite holy envies include…

1. Islam’s teaching of practicing ‘Righteous Intent’, or doing a religious duty for the right reason and with pure motives.

2. Judaism’s teaching of having a purpose to testify of God’s presence in the world.

3. Hinduism’s teaching of bearing responsibility for our actions.

Learning about the core beliefs and practices of these religions has helped me better understand those of other faiths. Instead of seeing a certain religion as abominable, weird, different or just straight up wrong, I can connect the dots and see how we are alike.

I believe that, if more people could look past labels and instead look at shared principles and values, there would be a lot more love in this world. I believe that building on similarities makes the foundation of humanity stronger.

Let’s ditch the labels and work on adding strength to that foundation.

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