MORMONISM: PERSPECTIVES ON THE CONSTITUTION
These prophetic words were recorded in 1840 by the first prophet and founder of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, Joseph Smith.
It should surprise no observant American that Mormons have a particular interest in our Constitution and the model of government by the people which it provides for us. Literally hundreds of articles have been written by researchers and pundits, Mormons and non-Mormons alike, connecting the dots of Mormon history and doctrine to the tenets of human liberty articulated in our Founding Documents. Members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints have a traditiona of sustaining and fortifying Constitutional principles since 1830, when the church was formally organized.
A fledgling religion emerging without the sanction or support of any existing churches or governments, and whose founders and members were persecuted continuously, would never have survived in a nation where human liberty was not protected by the Law of the Land. Mormons love and embrace the Constitution of the United States because without it The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints would have been persecuted and legislated into extinction.
Joseph Smith, a farm boy with no formal education and who was taught to read from the Bible, also had an exacting philosophical understanding of the Constitution and its role in the lives of Americans. The following quote is from The Teachings of the Prophet Joseph Smith p. 278
The Constitution is not a law, but it empowers the people to make laws… The Constitution tells us what shall not be a lawful tender… The legislature has ceded up to us the privilege of enacting such laws as are not inconsistent with the Constitution of the United States… The different states, and even Congress itself, have passed many laws diametrically contrary to the Constitution of the United States…
Shall we be such fools as to be governed by its laws, which are unconstitutional? No! … The Constitution acknowledges that the people have all power not reserved to itself. I am a lawyer; I am a big lawyer and comprehend heaven, earth and hell, to bring forth knowledge that shall cover up all lawyers, doctors and other big bodies. This is the doctrine of the Constitution, so help me God. The Constitution is not law to us, but it makes provision for us whereby we can make laws. Where it provides that no one shall be hindered from worshiping God according to his own conscience, is a law. No legislature can enact a law to prohibit it. The Constitution provides to regulate bodies of men and not individuals.
On September 16, 1987, in recognition of the bicentennial anniversary of the ratification of the United States Constitution, the President of the LDS Church, Ezra Taft Benson gave a speech which he titled, “The Constitution: A Heavenly Banner.” The following are are excerpts from that speech.
The Principle of Agency
The first basic principle is agency. The central issue in the premortal council was: Shall the children of God have untrammeled agency to choose the course they should follow, whether good or evil, or shall they be coerced and forced to be obedient? Christ and all who followed him stood for the former proposition—freedom of choice; Satan stood for the latter—coercion and force. The war that began in heaven over this issue is not yet over. The conflict continues on the battlefield of mortality. And one of Lucifer’s primary strategies has been to restrict our agency through the power of earthly governments.
Look back in retrospect on almost six thousand years of human history! Freedom’s moments have been infrequent and exceptional. We must appreciate that we live in one of history’s most exceptional moments—in a nation and a time of unprecedented freedom. Freedom as we know it has been experienced by perhaps less than one percent of the human family.
The Proper Role of Government
The second basic principle concerns the function and proper role of government. These are the principles that, in my opinion, proclaim the proper role of government in the domestic affairs of the nation. [I] believe that governments were instituted of God for the benefit of man; and that he holds men accountable for their acts in relation to them. . . .
[I] believe that no government can exist in peace, except such laws are framed and held inviolate as will secure to each individual the free exercise of conscience, the right and control of property, and the protection of life. . . .
[I] believe that all men are bound to sustain and uphold the respective governments in which they reside, while protected in their inherent and inalienable rights by the laws of such governments. [D&C 134:1–2, 5] In other words, the most important single function of government is to secure the rights and freedoms of individual citizens.
The Source of Human Rights
The third important principle pertains to the source of basic human rights. Rights are either God-given as part of the divine plan, or they are granted by government as part of the political plan. If we accept the premise that human rights are granted by government, then we must be willing to accept the corollary that they can be denied by government. I, for one, shall never accept that premise. We must ever keep in mind the inspired words of Thomas Jefferson, as found in the Declaration of Independence: We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty, and the pursuit of Happiness.
That to secure these rights, Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed.
People Are Superior to Governments
The fourth basic principle we must understand is that people are superior to the governments they form. Since God created people with certain inalienable rights, and they, in turn, created government to help secure and safeguard those rights, it follows that the people are superior to the creature they created.
Ezra Taft Benson who served as Secretary of Agriculture in the Eisenhower Administration warned repeatedly throughout his political and church leadership careers about the dangers of Communist influence in American institutions. The contrast between a Constitutional Republic and a Communist Dictatorship could not have been more stark to one such as Ezra Taft Benson. During a church conference speech in 1960 he said the following:
We believe in a moral code. Communism denies innate right or wrong. As W. Cleon Skousen has said in his timely book, The Naked Communist: The communist ‘has convinced himself that nothing is evil which answers the call of expediency.’ This is a most damnable doctrine. People who truly accept such a philosophy have neither conscience nor honor. Force, trickery, lies, broken promises are wholly justified.
J. Reuben Clark, who served as an Undersecretary of State in the Coolidge Administration, was also an Apostle of the Mormon Church during the mid-20th Century. A supporter of the Monroe Doctrine, he said the following about the Constitution and the fight required to sustain it:
God provided that in this land of liberty, our political allegiance shall run not to individuals, that is, to government officials, no matter how great or how small they shall be. Under His plan the only allegiance we owe as citizens of the United States, runs to our inspired Constitution which God himself set up.…This principle of allegiance to the Constitution is basic to our freedom.
I wish to say with all the earnestness I possess that when you see any curtailment of these liberties I have named, when you see government invading any of these realms of freedom which we have under our Constitution, you will know that they are putting shackles on your liberty, and that tyranny is creeping upon you, no matter who curtails these liberties or who invades these realms, and no matter what the reason and excuse therefore may be.
I say to you that the price of liberty is and always has been blood, human blood, and if our liberties are lost, we shall never regain them except at the price of blood. They must not be lost.
In an audio recording from 1957, J. Reuben Clark expounds governmental principles of the Constitution in a. These are quotes from that lecture:
Three Independent Branches
First – The Constitution provided for three departments of government – the legislative., the executive, and the judicial.
These departments are mutually independent the one from the other. Each department was endowed with all the powers and authority that the people through the Constitution conferred upon that branch of government – the legislative, the executive, and the judicial, respectively.
No Encroachment by One Branch Upon Another
No branch of the government might encroach upon the powers conferred upon another branch of government. In order to forestall foreseeable encroachments, the Convention provided in the .
Constitution itself for a very few invasions by one or the other; into one of the other departments, to make sure that one department should not absorb the functions of the other or encroach thereon, or gain an overbalancing power and authority against the other. These have been termed “checks and balances.”
Non-delegation of Powers
A third principle that was inherent in all the provisions of the Constitution was that none of the departments could delegate its powers to the others. The courts of the country have from the first insisted upon the operation of this principle. There have been some fancy near-approaches to such an attempted delegation, particularly in recent years, and some unique justifying reasoning therefor, but the courts have consistently insisted upon the basic principle, which is still operative.
For the truly curious, Mitt Romney has brought a microscopic scrutiny to The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. From the perspectives of the bigoted, Romney’s candidacy has focused a laser of contempt and suspicion on the Mormon Church. As for me, I simply like to connect the dots. With an honest review of three, out of numerous, Mormon leaders quoted in this article, who write soberly and emphatically about the Constitution, there should not be a Conservative in the country who maintains a fear that a United States President who belongs to the LDS Church would not uphold the Constitution. The last few paragraphs of J. Reuben Clark’s remarks illustrate his understanding of the “separation of powers” enunciated in the Constitution. There is also a separation of powers in the Mormon Church.
The structure of authority in the Mormon Church effectively prevents one man or woman, or group of men or women, from usurping power that is not properly given to them through an orderly and implicit process. The church is lead by the President and his two Counselors. Serving with then are the Twelve Apostles. Branching from them are the auxiliary organizations: The General Relief Society (the woman’s organization), The Presiding Bishopric, The General Primary (the children’s organization), and the General Young Men’s and Young Women’s organizations. Equal to these organizations are the missionary branches such as the Seventies, and hundreds of mission presidents. Serving at the regional and local levels are thousands of Stake Presidents, Bishops, and women and men who serve in the local auxiliary organizations. Although the Mormon church is lead by a prophet and his counselors, the power structures are formed in such a way that power is separated, and checks and balances are intrinsic from the bottom up.
Mormons rarely aspire to authority within the LDS Church. Most members of the church hold voluntary positions to which they are called, such as leading, teaching and other ministerial duties. The entire regional and local clergy of the Mormon Church is unpaid. There is no financial incentive for a Mormon to aspire to leadership. To serve in the LDS Church means to work in a challenging capacity with only the Blessings of Heaven as remuneration.
With this knowledge, it is untenable to imagine that Mitt Romney’s church would somehow become puppet master to a Mormon president. Quite the opposite is true. The Mormon Church eschews power for power’s sake. The understanding of and regard for the Constitution of the United States being such an essential aspect of Mormon character further cements the notion that freedom–whether it be from sin or tyranny–is the ultimate goal of members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.
By Marjorie Haun 3/8/13