Week 5

The Constitution as an Inspired Document

Jesus ChristConstitution
President Dallin H. Oaks explains why the US Constitution is important to members of The Church living anywhere in the world. “God revealed that He ‘established’ [the US Constitution] ‘for the rights and protection of all flesh’ That is why this constitution is of special concern for The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints throughout the world’

I feel it a duty to express my profound & solemn conviction, derived from my intimate opportunity of observing and appreciating the views of the Convention, collectively and individually, that there never was an assembly of men, charged with a great and arduous trust, who were more pure in their motives, or more exclusively or anxiously devoted to the object committed to them, than were the members of the Federal Convention of 1787, to the object of devising and proposing a constitutional system which would best supply the defects of that which it was to replace, and best secure the permanent liberty and happiness of their country.

James Madison, Notes of Debates in the Federal Convention of 1787

A Heavenly Banner

While imprisoned in Liberty Jail, the Prophet Joseph Smith penned a lengthy letter addressed to The Church. In this letter, some of which became Sections 121, 122, and 123 of the Doctrine and Covenants, the Prophet described in detail the crimes and atrocities committed against The Church by state and local governments. He opened his heart to the struggling saints and shared the doctrines received while inside the walls of his prison-temple. At this time of severe persecution, unfair accusations, unjust verdicts, and refusals from the government, the Prophet wrote:

Joseph Smith in Liberty Jail
Hence we say, that the Constitution of the United States is a glorious standard; it is founded in the wisdom of God. It is a heavenly banner; it is to all those who are privileged with the sweets of its liberty, like the cooling shades and refreshing waters of a great rock in a thirsty and weary land. It is like a great tree under whose branches men from every clime can be shielded from the burning rays of the sun.

The saints wanted and expected the things promised by the U.S. Constitution. And because of the ideals expressed in the Constitution, groups previously denied these rights can find support and justification in the principles of the Constitution. The American Constitution has weathered many storms and prevented the abuses of power that come when power remains unchecked. 

I. The US Constitution established for the benefit of everyone

In his talk “Defending Our Divinely Inspired Constitution,” President Dallin H. Oaks explained that a “constitution is the foundation of government. It provides structure and limits for the exercise of government powers.”

The title of his talk provokes thoughts about how the Constitution applies to all members of The Church, even those who do not live in, or who are not from, the United States.

President Oaks explained why the US Constitution is important to members of The Church living anywhere in the world:

God and the US Constitution

1. “God revealed that He ‘established’ [the US Constitution] ‘for the rights and protection of all flesh’. That is why this constitution is of special concern for The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints throughout the world.”

2. The US Constitution is known as one of our greatest exports because “it soon became a model worldwide. Today, every nation except three have adopted written constitutions.”

God's Hand in Establishing the US Constitution

President Oaks explains that the US Constitution grants men and women enough freedom in order to exercise their moral agency, which is “the power to decide and to act,” so that we “may be accountable” for our own decisions on our day of judgment. The principles in the US Constitution that allow people to exercise their God-given right of moral agency are listed below:

  1. Popular Sovereignty
  2. Federalism (or Division of Powers)
  3. Separation of Powers
  4. A Written Bill of Rights (the first 10 Amendments)
  5. Rule of Law

It is important to note that “our belief that the United States Constitution was divinely inspired does not mean that divine revelation dictated every word and phrase, such as the provisions allocating the number of representatives from each state or the minimum age of each.”

II. The Inspired Principles

A. Popular Sovereignty

Here is how President Oaks explained the inspired principle of popular sovereignty:

The source of government power is the people. In a time when sovereign power was universally assumed to come from the divine right of kings or from military power, attributing sovereign power to the people was revolutionary. Philosophers had advocated this, but the United States Constitution was the first to apply it. Sovereign power in the people does not mean that mobs or other groups of people can intervene to intimidate or force government action. The Constitution established a constitutional democratic republic, where the people exercise their power through their elected representatives.

Popular sovereignty means that the people are the source of political power. We see this recognition in the Constitution’s opening line, “We the People.” In other words, the people delegate, or authorize, the government to use the people’s political power to protect their rights, which will allow for the common benefit and safety of the people.

The idea that political power comes from the people and not kings also implies “popular responsibility.

Popular sovereignty

Instead of blaming their troubles on a king or other sovereign, all citizens must share the burdens and responsibilities of governing.”

People Should be Accountable

God created us to be our own agents—to act and not be acted upon. “The most desirable condition for the effective exercise of God-given moral agency is a condition of maximum freedom and responsibility. In [popular sovereignty] men are accountable for their own sins and cannot blame their political conditions on their bondage to a king or a tyrant.”

After the chaotic events of Shays’ Rebellion, the Founders wondered and doubted if the people could handle a government that required popular sovereignty. The Founders were inspired with a way to organize the government.

Diagram from the talk of Elder Dallin H Oaks" The Divinely Inspired Constitution"

Popular sovereignty is not a checklist that was completed when the Constitution was ratified. The people continue to be the appropriate source of political power. Other inspired principles discussed throughout this chapter help protect that political power.

B. Federalism (Division of Powers)

President Oaks explained the division of power in this way:

The division of delegated power between the nation and its subsidiary states. In our federal system, this unprecedented principle has sometimes been altered by inspired amendments, such as those abolishing slavery and extending voting rights to women, mentioned earlier. Significantly, the United States Constitution limits the national government to the exercise of powers granted expressly or by implication, and it reserves all other government powers “to the States respectively, or to the people.

Federalism or Division of Powers

Federalism, or division of power, “means that through the Constitution, the people delegate (or authorize) some of their political power to the national government and some political power to the state government.” This creates some natural tension between the national and state governments over which entity should have power to govern in certain areas: a brand new, revolutionary concept.

The Founders, however, reasoned that they had been living in a pseudo-federalist state while under King George III and their local governing bodies, due to the Articles of Confederation. This experience showed them it could work, but there would be constant tension between the two governmental powers.

President Oaks explained that any powers not expressly given in the US Constitution are reserved for the state. Over the years, amendments to the Constitution have been added to expressly give the federal government certain powers that the states have either abused or incorrectly applied. The two listed examples of this in President Oaks’s talk are slavery and women’s right to vote. The reverse is also true. The federal government has taken more power that rightfully belongs to the states, like laws governing marriage, but this is the natural tension between two governmental powers. The following graphic gives a list of some of the independent and shared powers.

Federalism equals a division of powers:

  • Declare war
  • Maintain armed forces
  • Regulate interstate and foreign trade
  • Admit new states
  • Establish post offices
  • Set standard weights and measures
  • Coin money
  • Establish foreign policy
  • “Necessary and Proper” - make laws necessary and proper for carrying out delegated powers
  • Maintain law and order
  • Levy taxes
  • Borrow money
  • Charter banks
  • Establish courts
  • Provide for public welfare
  • Establish and maintain schools
  • Establish local governments
  • Regulate business within the state
  • “Police Powers” - provide for public health and safety
  • Make marriage laws
  • Assume other powers not delegated to the national government of prohibited to the states

C. Separation of Powers

The Founders divided and separated governmental power so that it was decentralized. The US Constitution divides our sovereignty between two separate government entities (federal and state). The Constitution then takes the federal government’s power and separates it into 3 branches that check each other.

Here is a brief timeline of influential factors for the Constitution:

1688—The English Parliament achieved an initial separation of legislative and executive authority when they wrested certain powers from the king in the revolution of 1688.

1748—The political philosophy of the French writer Montesquieu in The Spirit of the Laws (1748) was particularly influential for those in attendance at the convention. Montesquieu argued that “when the legislative and executive powers are united in the same person, or in the same body of magistrates, there can be no liberty … Again, there can be no liberty, if the judiciary power be not separated from the legislative and executive.” Although England believed in a separation of powers in principle, “the British constitution provided for separation of personnel, rather than for division of function, and even that principle had come to be largely disregarded in practice.”

1776—After declaring independence, each of the colonies created their own state republics which incorporated a separation of powers. This “was reflected in all the Revolutionary state constitutions and explicitly endorsed in six of them.” Below is one example with the Massachusetts Constitution of 1778:

The legislative department shall never exercise the executive and judicial powers, or either of them: the executive shall never exercise the legislative and judicial powers, or either of them: the judicial shall never exercise the legislative and executive powers , or either of them: to the end it may be a government of laws and not of men.

Popular Sovereignty = power to govern is delegated and divided.

It is clear that “the idea of separation of powers came long before the U.S. Constitutional Convention.” However, the inspiration came during the convention as “the delegates found just the right combination to assure the integrity of each branch, appropriately checked and balanced with the others.” This “right combination” is important to keep these 3 branches separate from each other. One supreme court justice explained “Without a secure structure of separated powers, our Bill of Rights would be worthless, as are the bill of rights of many nations of the world that have adopted, or even improved upon, the mere words of ours.”

However, despite the inspired creation of a government with separation of powers, there needed to be additional restraints against democratic tyranny. James Madison, understanding human nature, wrote that “ambition must be made to counteract ambition … [thus] supplying by opposite and rival interests the defect of better motives.”

Each branch would have a unique function or responsibility that ensures power does not centralize. This function also allows for balanced ambition and power. For example, the executive branch is the only one with the authority to veto a legislative bill, while the judicial branch has the unique authority to declare a law constitutional if it comes before the court. The following graphic shows the other checks and balances created by the Constitution.

System of Checks and Balances in the US Federal Government

D. A Written Bill of Rights (The First 10 Amendments)

Elder Oaks introduces the Bill of Rights in this way:

A fourth inspired principle is in the cluster of vital guarantees of individual rights and specific limits on government authority in the Bill of Rights, adopted by amendment just three years after the Constitution went into force. A Bill of Rights was not new. Here the inspiration was in the practical implementation of principles pioneered in England, beginning with the Magna Carta. The writers of the Constitution were familiar with these because some of the colonial charters had such guarantees.

Summary cartoon of the first 10 amendments to the U.S. Constitution - The Bill of Rights.

A written bill of rights was not included in the original text of the US Constitution. When the delegates went home to persuade the people of their respective colonies to vote in favor of the US Constitution, some colonies did not want a written bill of rights. James Wilson, former supreme court justice, explained “that itemizing the rights would be dangerous; no one could list all human rights, and the failure to include some could be used as an excuse to violate them.” If a right or law is not found on the list then it might be assumed that a person does not have that right or power.

Despite compelling arguments against a written list of “do nots,” James Madison promised religious minorities in his Virginia constituency (as a member of Congress) that he would bring an amendment for a written bill of rights if they supported the ratification of the Constitution. On June 8, 1789, Madison proposed the subject of amendments to the Constitution for the House to consider. The Bill of Rights was ratified by the close of 1791, three years after the US Constitution was ratified.

President Oaks explains the importance of this written bill of rights:

Without a Bill of Rights, America could not have served as the host nation for the Restoration of the gospel, which began just three decades later. There was divine inspiration in the original provision that there should be no religious test for public office, but the addition of the religious freedom and antiestablishment guarantees in the First Amendment was vital. We also see divine inspiration in the First Amendment’s freedoms of speech and press and in the personal protections in other amendments, such as for criminal prosecutions.

One example of the importance of freedom of speech comes from our Savior, who was punished under an anti-free speech crime of sedition (speech that threatens the form of government. The Jews first tried our Savior under the crime of blasphemy, which is also an anti-free speech crime, but “no Jewish tribunal had authority to inflict the death penalty; imperial Rome had reserved this prerogative as her own.” The Romans did not have a blasphemy crime, but they did have corporate punishment for sedition. Ultimately, the Savior gave up His own life, but His legal crime was that of thinking differently. This is just one example why a written bill of rights is so vital to every human being and the restoration of the gospel of Jesus Christ.

ecce homo "behold the man" by Antonio Ciseri

E. Rule of Law and Not Rule of Men

President Oaks said:

I see divine inspiration in the vital purpose of the entire Constitution. We are to be governed by law and not by individuals, and our loyalty is to the Constitution and its principles and processes, not to any office holder. In this way, all persons are to be equal before the law. These principles block the autocratic ambitions that have corrupted democracy in some countries. They also mean that none of the three branches of government should be dominant over the others or prevent the others from performing their proper constitutional functions.

As discussed in Week 2, the Rule of Law “means that stable, impartial laws rule over society.” President Oaks explains ideas about rule of law that build on each other and are divinely inspired:

  1. The rule of law prevents the rule of tyranny or capriciousness.
  2. The separation of powers help uphold the rule of law.
  3. Checks and balances help keep powers separate.

The Preamble of the Constitution explains that the goal is to create a society that is peaceful, prosperous, and just. The rule of law allows for these outcomes to exist.

The 3 main characteristics for the rule of law are the following:

  1. Everyone is equal under the law and the law applies to everyone.
  2. People and/or their claims will be judged by an independent judiciary.
  3. People must have access to the laws.

The Constitution was written to protect the sovereign power of all people living under it. That was the hope of the founders. However, as we learned in Week 4, there were compromises in order to secure the votes of all the states in favor of the Constitution. Despite this, people like Martin Luther King, Jr. understood the meaning and significance of equality under the law created in the Constitution. In his “I Have a Dream” speech, he said the following:

When the architects of our republic wrote the magnificent words of the Constitution and the Declaration of Independence, they were signing a promissory note to which every American was to fall heir. This note was a promise that all men—yes, black men as well as white men—would be guaranteed the unalienable rights of life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.

The Constitution does not promise equality, but it promises everyone a system to try and prevent unequal treatment by the government. President Oaks explains that “our loyalty is to the Constitution and its principles and processes.” We follow the laws and use the proper channels to right wrongs we believe we have suffered. Joseph Smith exemplified this pattern in Liberty Jail. He wrote a letter to Edward Partridge asking him to go before the Missouri state legislature to reassure the people of Missouri that the Saints were friends and not enemies. Edward Partridge said responded:

In laying our case before your honorable body, we say that we are willing, and ever have been, to conform to the Constitution and laws of the United States and of this State. We ask in common with others the protection of the laws. We ask for the privilege guaranteed to all free citizens of the United States and of this State to be extended to us, that we may be permitted to settle and live where we please, and worship God according to the dictates of our conscience without molestation. And while we ask for ourselves this privilege, we are willing all others should enjoy the same.

We know Joseph Smith and the Saints continued to suffer injustices without protection or redress by the law of the Constitution; however, Joseph Smith and the early Saints did show us that the way to try and create peace is by following the laws of the Constitution. This is an example of displaying public virtue. We now turn to why public virtue matters so much.

III. The Role of Public Virtue in Relation to the Inspired Principles

The Constitution cannot function properly if the people do not use their moral agency for good. In 1798, John Adams, one of the Founders and future president of the United States, said, “Our Constitution was made only for a moral and religious People. It is wholly inadequate to the government of any other.”

George Washington agreed, asserting, “It is substantially true that virtue and morality are a necessary [foundation] of popular government.”

Regardless, the Constitution is threatened without individual virtue and morality. If those who hold the power (the people) are not filled with truth and light, the system will not function as it should. Additionally, it is a foundational principle that the primary check on government is the wise and virtuous actions of its citizens. Public virtue is key in this scenario.

For our purposes, we can think of virtue as behavior that shows high moral standards. Public virtue is high moral standards in public behavior. A citizenry that embodies public virtue is willing to do the following:

James Madison explained in Federalist 51 (see diagram 1 at the end of the reading for more information) that if people always acted with perfect public virtue, no government would be needed. But since people aren’t always angels, it is important to have systems in place to check the power of the different parts of government. This is the idea behind the system of checks and balances described above. It might be easier to understand Madison’s powerful argument with a modern day translation next to his passages.

Federalist No. 51Translation
It may be a reflection on human nature, that such devices should be necessary to control the abuses of government but what is government itself, but the greatest of all reflections on human nature? If men were angels, no government would be necessary. If angels were to govern men, neither external nor internal controls on government would be necessary.Angels are perfect begins who would keep a perfect balance of sovereign power. However, men are not angels, but men can act with public virtue. Public virtue would be enough to have a fair and just government, but men are not angels. Therefore, they will make mistakes and need extra help to maintain the proper balance.
In framing a government which is to be administered by men over men, the great difficulty lies in this: you must first enable the government to control the governed; and in the next place oblige it to control itself.Imperfect people will be the ones running the government so it will be hard to convince people to (1) give (or delegate) their sovereign power to the imperfect people and (2) find ways to put controls on the government in order to protect their sovereign power.
A dependence on people is, no doubt, the primary control on the government; but experience has taught mankind the necessity of auxiliary precautions.Public virtue is the best check on government because people will want to keep their sovereign power separated, which brings peace and stability. However, people are prone to revolution and wanting to concentrate power. Therefore, the people need auxiliary precautions, or extra help, in order to keep their powers separated.

The Founders recognized from the beginning that it was unrealistic to expect people to always be virtuous. This caused them to develop a system of auxiliary precautions to counteract the inevitabilities of human nature. “Auxiliary precautions” essentially means structure in the government that makes it more difficult for power to become concentrated in any one group's hands. An article written in BYU Studies Quarterly sheds more light on this definition when it says, “The structure of government, the separation of powers and checks and balances, the scheme of representation—all were auxiliary to the primary protection against the excesses of governmental power.”

One way to visualize this is the Book of Mormon being referred to as the “keystone” of our religion. Public virtue, likewise, is the keystone to good government (see Diagram 2 at the bottom). No matter how well-structured the government is on paper, there is not enough police power to restrain the people if the people decline in virtue. (We will see this next week when we discuss the Civil War.) As James Madison emphasized the following:

Is there no virtue among us? If there be not, we are in a wretched situation. No theoretical checks—no form of government—can render it secure. To suppose that any form of government will secure liberty or happiness without any virtue in the people, is a chimerical idea.

The Book of Mormon repeatedly expresses a related idea.

Inasmuch as ye shall keep my commandments ye shall prosper in the land; and inasmuch as ye will not keep my commandments ye shall be cut off from my presence. Alma 9:13

Virtue in society, according to the Founders, is connected to religion in society. President George Washington said, “Let us with caution indulge the supposition that morality can be maintained without religion.”

We will address the importance of religion and religious freedom in a democratic republic in a later lesson.

Ideally, citizens filled with public virtue will function fairly and justly within the government created by our divinely inspired Constitution. However, given that humans are not perfect and we all have our moral agency, problems inevitably arise.

IV. Threats to the Inspired Principles

When he was elected president of the United States, Abraham Lincoln faced the staggering challenge of a nation on the brink of rupture. President Lincoln reasoned that according to universal law and the Constitution of the United States, it was not legal for a state to secede from the United States. In his First Inaugural Address, he said,

Abraham Lincoln
I therefore consider that, in view of the Constitution and the laws, the Union is unbroken; and, to the extent of my ability, I shall take care, as the Constitution itself expressly enjoins upon me, that the laws of the Union be faithfully executed in all States.

President Lincoln, armed with an unfailing determination to be guided by the Constitution, successfully navigated the country through the crisis of the Civil War.

It is important to recognize that although the Constitution laid out a plan for a successful structure of government, inevitably questions, problems, and even occasional constitutional crises such as the Civil War have arisen in our nation’s history. As President Oaks explained, “Despite the divinely inspired principles of the United States Constitution, when exercised by imperfect mortals their intended effects have not always been achieved.”

This helps us understand why a country with a divinely inspired Constitution, problems, and significant injustices have marred, and continue to mar, the pages of our history.

Current Threats

In his 2021 Conference address, President Oaks listed several threats to the divinely inspired principles of the Constitution. These are current, applicable issues that we encounter in our day, and they deserve our attention and concern.

1. Threat to Federalism

President Oaks said:

Important subjects of lawmaking, such as some laws governing family relationships, have been taken from the states by the federal government.

Originally, the United States Constitution was written to limit the power of the federal (national) government, allowing states to retain a high degree of power and autonomy. One reason for this is the idea that the states are closer to the people so they have a better idea of how to help the people. It is also easier to hold state and local politicians accountable for laws that directly affect the people in everyday life. Like countries, different states have different interests. For example, Idaho is known for potatoes while Texas is known for their oil. The people in Idaho naturally have different economic interests than the people of Texas. These powers over the public’s health and physical safety that the states “retain,” or keep, are collectively known as the “police powers.” Subsequently, state governments have retained the power to make laws and public policy concerning:

Over time, power has incrementally been transferred from the states to the federal government. Two recent Supreme court cases are excellent examples. In 1973 the Supreme Court ruled in Roe v. Wade that the right to an abortion was a federal issue, not a state issue (NOTE: this has since been overturned). Similarly, in the 2015 Obergefell v. Hodges case, the Supreme Court ruled that the federal government, not the state governments, could decide whether homosexual marriage was legal. These are examples of issues being taken away from the states and given to the federal government. 

Although there are many other examples of this in our nation’s history, President Oaks specifically mentions laws governing family relationships. Issues involving the family are of particular concern to The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints due to their belief in the importance of the family.

2. Threat to Free Speech

President Oaks explained:

The First Amendment guarantee of free speech has sometimes been diluted by suppression of unpopular speech.

The Founders knew that for a republic to function well, there must be a free and unfettered exchange of ideas with plenty of opportunities for debate. “The Founders also understood that free speech is more than just part of the natural right to liberty; it is an important check to keep government power limited and accountable … The power to criticize the government is key to preventing tyranny and the First Amendment ensures that citizens retain this right.”

We also know that true ideas are not always popular. This means that for truth to prevail, there must be opportunities for even minority groups to speak and be heard.

3. Threat to the Separation of Powers

President Oaks stated:

The principle of separation of powers has always been under pressure with the ebb and flow of one branch of government exercising or inhibiting the powers delegated to another.

An example of this is Presidential executive orders, which can have the effect of writing new laws. In general, executive orders can be a necessary function of the Presidency in order to “execute” the laws that Congress passes. Let’s look at one example in the following graph about the “Secure Fence Act.”

Legislative BranchExecutive Branch
Writes LawsExecutes Laws
2006: Congress passes the Secure Fence Act and tells the Executive Branch to build a 700-mile “fence” along the Mexican border. House of Representatives: Passed 283/138Senate: Passed 80/19 Not seen as a controversial bill.2011: Department of Homeland Security (DHS) under President Obama completed 649 miles, but construction had stalled. 2017: President Trump signs Executive Order 13767 instructing the Executive Branch how it will finish building the “fence.”

However, presidents’ generous use of executive orders has led to the creation of new laws or going beyond what the law allows. This type of action can prevent the necessary checks on our powers that will create an imbalance, which leaves minority groups vulnerable. Korematsu v. United States (1944) is an example:

Legislative BranchExecutive BranchJudiciary Branch
Writes LawsExecutes LawsInterprets Laws
1940: Congress makes amendments to section 4, Act of April 20, 1918. The law redefines certain terms, i.e., “national-defense material,” “nation-defense premises,” and “national-defense utilities.”1942: President Franklin D. Roosevelt signs Executive Order 9066. Directs military commanders to designate whatever areas they deem necessary to detain people that they believe is necessary for national defense reasons. Military detained about 112,000 men, women, and children of Japanese ancestry.1944: Fred Korematsu challenges the constitutionality of EO 9066 in Korematsu v. United States. In a 6/3 decision, the Supreme Court said the need to protect from espionage was greater than the constitutional rights of Americans with Japanese ancestry and ruled EO 9066 constitutional

We will be discussing executive order 9066 more in Week 10, but the decision in Korematsu v. United States (1944) underscores another important point that President Oaks made:“[W]e do not see inspiration in every Supreme Court decision interpreting the Constitution.” Chief Justice John Roberts explained:

The forcible relocation of U.S. citizens to concentration camps, solely and explicitly on the basis of race, is objectively unlawful and outside the scope of Presidential authority.

The judicial branch was able to serve as a “check” on the executive branch in Trump v. Hawaii, but this check to restore balance occurred 74 years after Korematsu. This demonstrates why separation really does protect our sovereign powers.

4. Individual Liberty

President Oaks stated:

There are other threats that undermine the inspired principles of the United States Constitution. The stature of the Constitution is diminished by efforts to substitute current societal trends as the reason for its founding, instead of liberty and self-government.

As we study the basis of liberty and self-government created through the Constitution, we are better able to put current societal trends into perspective. Myron Magnet notes the following about the The Founders motivations and inspirations in terms of individual liberty:

The Founders sought only liberty, not equality or fraternity. They aimed to make a political revolution, not a social or economic one … their Lockean social-contract political philosophy taught them that the preservation of individual liberty was the goal of politics.

5. Ignoring Divine Principles

President Oaks warned:

The authority of the Constitution is trivialized when candidates or officials ignore its principles. The dignity and force of the Constitution is reduced by those who refer to it like a loyalty test or a political slogan, instead of its lofty status as a source of authorization for and limits on government authority.

The Constitution is not to be used as a wedge issue, an issue to divide and never to be solved (some examples of wedge issues are gun rights, abortion, healthcare, medicare, free speech, religion, and so on). Although wedge issues are politically popular, the Constitution is an inspired framework intended to protect our God-given natural rights.

V. Responsibilities as Citizens and Church Members

President Oaks ended his 2021 Conference address with a list of specific responsibilities and duties of Latter-day Saints around the world. These are exciting opportunities—action items—that will allow us to make a difference in our communities and help prepare the world for things to come. Here are the full closing remarks of President Oaks’ talk:

Our belief in divine inspiration gives Latter-day Saints a unique responsibility to uphold and defend the United States Constitution and principles of constitutionalism wherever we live. We should trust in the Lord and be positive about this nation’s future.

What else are faithful Latter-day Saints to do? We must pray for the Lord to guide and bless all nations and their leaders. This is part of our article of faith. Being subject to presidents or rulers of course poses no obstacle to our opposing individual laws or policies. It does require that we exercise our influence civilly and peacefully within the framework of our constitutions and applicable laws. On contested issues, we should seek to moderate and unify.

There are other duties that are part of upholding the inspired Constitution. We should learn and advocate the inspired principles of the Constitution. We should seek out and support wise and good persons who will support those principles in their public actions. We should be knowledgeable citizens who are active in making our influence felt in civic affairs.

In the United States and in other democracies, political influence is exercised by running for office (which we encourage), by voting, by financial support, by membership and service in political parties, and by ongoing communications to officials, parties, and candidates. To function well, a democracy needs all of these, but a conscientious citizen does not need to provide all of them.

There are many political issues, and no party, platform, or individual candidate can satisfy all personal preferences. Each citizen must therefore decide which issues are most important to him or her at any particular time. Then members should seek inspiration on how to exercise their influence according to their individual priorities. This process will not be easy. It may require changing party support or candidate choices, even from election to election.

Such independent actions will sometimes require voters to support candidates or political parties or platforms whose other positions they cannot approve. That is one reason we encourage our members to refrain from judging one another in political matters. We should never assert that a faithful Latter-day Saint cannot belong to a particular party or vote for a particular candidate. We teach correct principles and leave our members to choose how to prioritize and apply those principles on the issues presented from time to time. We also insist, and we ask our local leaders to insist, that political choices and affiliations not be the subject of teachings or advocacy in any of our Church meetings.

The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints will, of course, exercise its right to endorse or oppose specific legislative proposals that we believe will impact the free exercise of religion or the essential interests of Church organizations.

This content is provided to you freely by Ensign College.

Access it online or download it at https://ensign.edtechbooks.org/american_heritage/week_5_the_constitution_as_an_inspired_document.