When King Mosiah proposed to his people that they abolish the monarchy and establish a new government consisting of judges appointed “by the voice of the people,” one important feature of this new system was the protection of each citizen’s rights:
Now I desire that this inequality should be no more in this land, especially among this my people; but I desire that this land be a land of liberty, and every man may enjoy his rights and privileges alike,Mosiah 29:32
One of those rights was the right to choose what they believed:
- “Now the law could have no power on any man for his belief” (Alma 1:17).
- “Now there was no law against a man’s belief; for it was strictly contrary to the commands of God that there should be a law which should bring men on to unequal grounds” (Alma 30:7).
The First Amendment to the United States Constitution specifies, “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof.” The first half of this statement, known as the “Establishment Clause,” prohibits the government from favoring one religion over another. The second half, the “Free Exercise Clause,” guarantees the right of citizens to believe as they choose and to act on those beliefs.
In 1835, The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints adopted a statement about governments and laws which reiterates both of these clauses:
- Establishment Clause: “We do not believe it just to mingle religious influence with civil government, whereby one religious society is fostered and another proscribed in its spiritual privileges, and the individual rights of its members, as citizens, denied” (Doctrine and Covenants 134:9).
- Free Exercise Clause: “We do not believe that human law has a right to interfere in prescribing rules of worship to bind the consciences of men, nor dictate forms for public or private devotion; that the civil magistrate should restrain crime, but never control conscience; should punish guilt, but never suppress the freedom of the soul” (Doctrine and Covenants 134:4).
Joseph Smith emphasized that even though we may believe differently from other people, we should all be committed to protecting one another’s freedom to believe as we choose:
If it has been demonstrated that I have been willing to die for a Mormon, I am bold to declare before heaven that I am just as ready to die in defending the rights of a Presbyterian, a Baptist or a good man of any other denomination; for the same principle which would trample upon the rights of the Latter day Saints would trample upon the rights of the Roman Catholics or of any other denomination who may be unpopular and too weak to defend themselves.“History, 1838–1856, volume E-1 [1 July 1843–30 April 1844],” p. 1666, The Joseph Smith Papers, accessed November 18, 2021, https://www.josephsmithpapers.org/paper-summary/history-1838-1856-volume-e-1-1-july-1843-30-april-1844/36
Today, I will uphold the right of people to believe and worship as they choose. I will remember that protecting this right is fundamental to maintaining a “land of liberty.”