Government and Religion

I was reading Doctrine and Covenants section 134 today. I have read it before on various occasions, but my perspective on government has sharpened considerably since the last time I read it and it struck a chord with me as a wonderful description of the proper interaction between government and religious organizations.

We 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.

We believe that all governments necessarily require civil officers and magistrates to enforce the laws of the same; and that such as will administer the law in equity and justice should be sought for and upheld by the voice of the people if a republic, or the will of the sovereign.

We believe that religion is instituted of God; and that men are amenable to him, and to him only, for the exercise of it, unless their religious opinions prompt them to infringe upon the rights and liberties of others; but 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 34:2-4

That resonates with my thoughts that government is a divinely sanctioned necessity for maintaining secular order in an otherwise chaotic world and also that the purposes of government are limited to establishing that order while stopping short of interfering with the legitimate agency of its citizens.

I wonder if any government has ever managed to avoid overstepping those very limited bounds consistently.

About David

David is the father of 8 extremely organized children (4 girls / 4 boys) who is constantly seeking answers to tough questions related to parenting, education and politics while moonlighting for 40 hours each week as a technology professional. He also enjoys cooking, gardening, and sports.
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6 Responses to Government and Religion

  1. “unless their religious opinions prompt them to infringe upon the rights and liberties of others;”

    In reading this passage, does this authorize, or reject the idea of using the apparatus of the state to enforce one’s own religious values on the rest of the population?

    Not that it means anything to me, given I reject the D&C as an authoritative document, but I wonder how LDS members interpret that passage?

  2. David says:

    I can’t claim to speak for everyone, but for myself I would say that it rejects the idea of using the state to enforce your own religious views. Unfortunately given some of the laws in this state is is obvious that my interpretation is not universally held.

    Although you do not hold the D&C as authoritative I would like to know if that particular section sounds to you like an acceptable delineation of the boundary between religious and government authority.

  3. I agree whole-heartedly with the first two paragraphs. Depending on interpretations, I agree to much of the third paragraph, though with the caveat, that I believe religion to be instituted by men, and if men are “amenable” to other men, it is at their discretion that they relinquish a certain amount of their personal sovereignty.

    BTW, I think I managed to change my blog so it is easier for non-googlers to post. I’m stil kind of new to this blogging thing. I would like to think that the quality of my posts is a fair bit better than my tecno-expertise. But I’m sure that is a matter of opinion.

    Best regards.

  4. David says:

    Since you don’t believe in God it is natural that you would consider religion to be instituted by men. From that perspective I think you would word the third paragraph to state that “men are amenable to their own conscience for the exercise of their religion, unless their religious opinions prompt them to infringe upon the rights and liberties of others.”

    P.S. In my opinion, your posts are generally of the best quality. Thanks for opening the commenting to OpenID.

  5. Chino Blanco says:

    I just wound up here while trying out this new LDS blog aggregator that everyone’s talkin’ about …

    I enjoyed reading the D&C passage you blockquoted, and I guess the only thing I’d add is that maybe we should stop wondering about which or what government has ever avoided overstepping, and start wondering why it is that we ourselves tend to be so inconsistent in demanding justice from our elected governments.

  6. David says:

    You might be right – we would probably be better off asking why we are inconsistent in demanding justice. If we were not inconsistent a representative government would be less likely to overstep those bounds.

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