U.S. Constitution, and what it means to Mormons

Did you know that today is U.S. Constitution Day? Most people don’t. No banks or government offices will be closed today, and most of us will spend nearly half our time laboring to pay taxes to the various levels of government. Even our politicians likely won’t take notice of the day. We should be mindful of the role the U.S. Constitution has played in the success of Mormonism. It created the freest and most affluent environment for religious growth on earth during the time the LDS Church was formed. Despite this the early Church still experienced a great deal of persecution and even government tyranny.

The religious freedom created under the First Amendment, allowed many Christian religions to flourish that had otherwise been persecuted and oppressed by government sponsored and intolerant religious sects, and eventually provided a springboard for them to reach back into the rest of the world. The scriptures are full of examples of God blessing those who able to freely worship him. In the U.S. even our poorest citizens live as kings compared to much of the rest of the world. A strong case can be made that the Constitution has very much to do with this.

Elder Dallin H. Oaks, as the keynote speaker at Utah’s Constitution Day Celebration that took place at in the Tabernacle at Temple Square in Salt Lake City, Utah on September 17, 2010, stated the United States Constitution’s fundamental principles must be understood, valued and protected.

Elder Oaks Remarks on the Constitution

Elder Oaks’ Remarks on the Constitution

The Fundamental principles he pointed out were:

  1. Popular Sovereignty: “The people are the source of government power; it is they who consented to a constitution that delegates certain powers to the government . . . [and] implies responsibility in the people. Instead of blaming their troubles on a king, on a cabal of military leaders, or on some distant group of wise men, citizens who are sovereign must share a measure of the burdens and responsibilities of governing.”
  2. Division of Powers in a Federal System: “. . . divides government powers between the nation and the various states . . . [which] was unprecedented in theory or practice. In a day when it is fashionable to assume that the national government has the power and means to right every perceived injustice, we should remember that the United States Constitution limits the national government to the exercise of powers expressly granted to it. The Tenth Amendment provides: “The powers not delegated to the United States by the Constitution, nor prohibited to it by the States, are reserved to the States respectively or to the people.””
  3. Bill of Rights: “. . . came by amendment, but I think almost all Americans look upon these first ten amendments as an essential part of the original Constitution . . . The Bill of Rights begins with what many believe to be the most important guarantee in the United States Constitution . . . “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof.” . . . religious freedom, is one of the supremely important founding principles in the United States Constitution . . . I maintain that in our nation’s founding and in our constitutional order, religious freedom, and the freedoms of speech and press associated with it in the First Amendment, are the motivating and dominating civil liberties and civil rights.”
  4. Separation of Powers: “The concept of separating the executive, legislative, and judicial functions was established in the American colonies in the 1700s . . . If the idea of checks and balances is to work properly, each branch of government must preserve its independence from the others. Moreover, the powers of each of these three branches must be exercised in a good faith effort to serve the interests of the public, rather than to dominate the others or to enhance the personal position of a particular official . . . each branch of government must fulfill its duties fully, and each must refrain from attempting to exercise the functions of the others.”
  5. The Judicial Branch’s Role in Separation of Powers: “. . . many believe the courts have a legitimate function in lawmaking when the problem is large and urgent enough and the legislative and executive branches have shown by inaction or ineffective action that they are unable to perform their functions to resolve it. The opposite point of view argues that the courts should stay entirely out of the domain of legislative lawmaking, leaving this function to the popularly elected legislative bodies and the elected chief executives who presumably reflect the will of the people . . .The differences in these approaches will not be resolved. Both will be followed in their time, with the ebb and flow of judicial appointments, politics, and legal thought. But it is important to note that we currently have widespread public dissatisfaction on this subject . . . that if not attended to it will threaten the independence the judicial branch must have to perform its function in our system of separation of powers . . . In my opinion, the judicial lawmaking that has been legitimately criticized as judicial activism concerns the interpretation of state and federal constitutions. This kind of judicial action is not reversible by the popularly elected lawmakers, and cannot even be changed by the sovereign people except in those unusual circumstances in which a constitutional amendment is feasible. If such judicial action sets aside laws enacted or approved by a direct vote of the people, it offends two fundamentals: separation of powers and popular sovereignty.”
  6. Citizen Responsibilities: ” We have a great Constitution whose fundamental principles many believe to be divinely inspired. Therefore what? I will suggest five responsibilities that I believe are appropriate for all citizens—whatever their religious or philosophical persuasion. Understand the Constitution . . . Support the Law . . . Practice Civic Virtue . . . Maintain Civility in Political Discourse . . . [from] “The Mormon Ethic of Civility.” I quote from that statement: “The Church views with concern the politics of fear and rhetorical extremism that renders civil discussion impossible. . . . Our democratic system [should] facilitate kinder and more reasoned exchanges among fellow Americans than we are now seeing.” . . . Promote Patriotism . . . “
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