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Civil Disobedience

by W. John Walsh

The Articles of Faith state "We believe in being subject to kings, presidents, rulers, and magistrates, in obeying, honoring, and sustaining the law."  Generally speaking, the Church does not support its members in exercising civil disobedience.  This position is based on at least three key factors. 

First,  the Church believes that even bad government is preferable to no government (i.e., anarchy).  Second, a common tactic by enemies of the Church has been to falsely portray its members as enemies of the state who seek to overthrow the constituted government of the land.  These fabrications have led to many incidents of persecution (e.g., murder, rape, false imprisonment, seizure of property, etc.) against the Church and its members.  Therefore, the Church is very careful to avoid even the appearance that we are poor citizens.  Third, we believe that God has a plan and the human family is working according to a divine timetable.  Since we believe the time will come when God will right all wrongs, we do not feel the compulsion to correct all evils in this life.

However, while the Church rarely supports civil disobedience, it does occasionally happen.  The most notable example is the Church's response to the U.S. government's stern anti-polygamy crusade. (See Anti-Polygamy Legislation) It should be noted that any approved civil disobedience actions will be announced by Church leadership.  Members who take it upon themselves to participate in unlawful actions should not expect any encouragement or support from the Church.   Lawful actions (e.g., boycotts, petitions, lawful protest assemblies) consistent with Church values are encouraged by the Church.  Latter-day Saints are counseled to be full participants in their respective communities.

It should also be noted that while the Church is very hesitant to support civil disobedience, the Church does encourage its members to stand up for their rights in a court of law.  For example, while the Church would not support someone not paying their taxes because they believe the tax code is unjust, it is perfectly acceptable for a member to challenge an unjust ruling in a court proceeding.

(See Basic Beliefs home page; Doctrines of the Gospel home page; Teachings About Law home page)

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