02) RIGHTEOUSNESS: Is righteousness essential for freedom?

Questions Answered: Can a people remain free without the principles contained in the Gospel of Jesus Christ? Is freedom possible without a righteous populace? Does wickedness lead to captivity? Does temporal captivity follow spiritual captivity? What is the covenant on the land of promise?

Prophetic Statements

Brigham Young

There never was a better constitution on the face of the earth than the constitution of the United States. There is nothing but the people of God could enjoy under it. But the Federal constitution is trodden under foot. All that I am afraid of is that the Elders of Israel will forget their God. 1

[The Constitution] is the best earthly Government that ever was framed by man, and the true and righteous are alone worthy of it. It cannot long be administered by wicked hands. 2

Ezra Taft Benson

It is doubtful if any man can be politically free or even morally free who depends upon the state for his sustenance. An un-corrupted citizenry builds a great state. No state ever built an un-corrupted citizenry. 3

How then can we best befriend the Constitution in this critical hour and secure the blessings of liberty and ensure the protection and guidance of our Father in Heaven?

First and foremost, we must be righteous. . . .

Two great American Christian civilizations — the Jaredites and the Nephites — were swept off this land because they did not “serve the God of the land, who is Jesus Christ” (Ether 2:12). What will become of our civilization? 4

We must be righteous and moral. We must live the gospel principles—all of them. We have no right to expect a higher degree of morality from those who represent us than what we ourselves are. In the final analysis, people generally get the kind of government they deserve. To live a higher law means we will not seek to receive what we have not earned by our own labor. It means we will remember that government owes us nothing. It means we will keep the laws of the land. It means we will look to God as our Lawgiver and the Source of our liberty. (Ezra Taft Benson, CHB 28-31)

The Founding Fathers understood the principle that “righteousness exalteth a nation” (Prov 14:34), and helped to bring about one of the greatest systems ever used to govern men. But unless we continue to seek righteousness and preserve the liberties entrusted to us, we shall lose the blessings of heaven. Thomas Jefferson said, “The price of freedom is eternal vigilance.” The price of freedom is also to live in accordance with the commandments of God. The early Founding Fathers thanked the Lord for His intervention in their behalf. They saw His hand in their victories in battle and believed strongly that He watched over them.

The battles are not over yet, and there will yet be times when this great nation will need the overshadowing help of Deity. Will we as a nation be worthy to call upon Him for help? 5

It’s a great blessing to live in America. It’s a great blessing to have the opportunity to enjoy the freedoms which are ours today. I have seen people, thousands of them, who have lost the freedom which is ours, where they can no longer meet, as we meet here this morning, and express themselves as they see fit, where they no longer have freedom of movement, freedom to select their own jobs, their own educational opportunities, freedom to speak their minds, to write what they wish – freedom of enterprise. In many parts of the world today these rich blessings of freedom no longer exist. 6

Howard W. Hunter

What is the real cause of this trend toward the welfare state, toward more socialism? In the last analysis, in my judgment, it is personal unrighteousness. When people do not use their freedoms responsibly and righteously, they will gradually lose these freedoms. . . .

If man will not recognize the inequalities around him and voluntarily, through the gospel plan, come to the aid of his brother, he will find that through “a democratic process” he will be forced to come to the aid of his brother. The government will take from the “haves” and give to the “have nots.” Both have last their freedom. Those who “have,” lost their freedom to give voluntarily of their own free will and in the way they desire. Those who “have not,” lost their freedom because they did not earn what they received. They got “something for nothing,” and they will neither appreciate the gift nor the giver of the gift.

Under this climate, people gradually become blind to what has happened and to the vital freedoms which they have lost. 7

Gordon B. Hinckley

We who believe in the Book of Mormon accept these great words: “Behold, this is a choice land, and whatsoever nation shall possess it shall be free from bondage, and from captivity, and from all other nations under heaven, if they will but serve the God of the land, who is Jesus Christ.” (Ether 2:12.)

Declared the Psalmist: “Blessed is the nation whose God is the Lord.” (Psalm 33:12.)

An acknowledgement of the Almighty and a return to the teachings of God will do more than all else to keep our ship of state on a steady course as she sails into the third century of nationhood. Here is the answer to the conflicts that best us. Here is the answer to pornography, abortion, drugs, and the squandering of our resources on evil pursuits. Here is the answer to the great epidemic of litigation which consumes time, saps our financial strength, and shackles our entrepreneurial spirit. Here is the answer to tawdry politics which place selfish interest above the common good. 8

Can we doubt that there is a sickness in our society? We cannot build prisons, even here, fast enough to accommodate the need. We have in this nation more than a million people in prison. The number is constantly increasing. Why is this happening? I believe that a substantial factor in all of this is that we as a nation are forsaking the Almighty, and He is forsaking us…. A recent poll indicated that a majority of Americans believe that the private lives of public officials need not be considered as a factor in their eligibility for public office. How far we have come from the time of George Washington, who stated in that first inaugural address the mandate “that the foundations of our national policy will be laid in the pure and immutable principles of private morality. 9

Founders Statements

George Washington

Virtue or morality is a necessary spring of popular government, 10

Human rights can only be assured among a virtuous people. 11

Of all the dispositions and habits which lead to political prosperity, religion and morality are indispensable supports. In vain would that man claim the tribute of Patriotism who should labor to subvert these great Pillars of human happiness -these firmest props of the duties of Men and citizens. The mere Politician, equally with the pious man, ought to respect and to cherish them . . . let us with caution indulge the supposition that morality can be maintained without religion. Whatever may be conceded to the influence of refined education on minds of peculiar structure, reason and experience both forbid us to expect that National morality can prevail in exclusion of religious principle. 12

Benjamin Franklin

Only a virtuous people are capable of freedom. 13

James Madison

To suppose that any form of government will secure liberty or happiness without any virtue in the people, is a chimerical [imaginary] idea. 14

Before any man can be considered as a member of civil society, he must be considered as a subject of the Governor of the Universe. 15

John Quincy Adams

The highest, the transcendent glory of the American Revolution was this—it connected, in one indissoluble bond, the principles of civil government with the precepts of Christianity. 16

Is it not that in the chain of human events, the birthday of the nation is indissolubly linked with the birthday of the Savior? – that it forms a leading event in the progress of the Gospel dispensation? Is it not that the Declaration of Independence first organized the social compact on the foundation of the Redeemer’s mission upon earth? – That it laid the cornerstone of human government upon the first precepts of Christianity? 17

John Adams

We have no government armed with power capable of contending with human passions unbridled by morality and religion. Avarice, ambition, revenge, or gallantry would break the strongest cords of our constitution as a whale goes through a net. Our Constitution was made only for a moral and religious people. It is wholly inadequate to the government of any other. 18

Thomas Jefferson

No government can continue good but under the control of the people; and … their minds are to be informed by education what is right and what wrong; to be encouraged in habits of virtue and to be deterred from those of vice… These are the inculcations necessary to render the people a sure basis for the structure and order of government. 19

Samuel Adams

Neither the wisest constitution nor the wisest laws will secure the liberty and happiness of a people whose manners are universally corrupt. He therefore is the truest friend of the liberty of his country who tries most to promote its virtue. 20

Benjamin Franklin

I’ve lived, sir, a long time, and the longer I live, the more convincing proofs I see of this truth: That God governs in the affairs of men. If a sparrow cannot fall to the ground without His notice, is it probable that an empire can rise without His aid? We’ve been assured in the sacred writings that unless the Lord builds the house, they labor in vain who build it. I firmly believe this, and I also believe that without His concurring aid, we shall succeed in this political building no better than the builders of Babel. 21

Patrick Henry

A vitiated [impure] state of morals, a corrupted public conscience, is incompatible with freedom. 22

U.S. Congress

At the time of the adoption of the Constitution and the amendments, the universal sentiment was that Christianity should be encouraged…In this age there can be no substitute for Christianity…That was the religion of the founders of the republic and they expected it to remain the religion of their descendants. 23

  1. Brigham Young, Journal History of the Church, 3-4.
  2. Brigham Young, Journal of Discourses 9:368.
  3. The Red Carpet, page 146.
  4. Ezra Taft Benson, “Our Divine Constitution” 6-7
  5. Ezra Taft Benson, Teachings of Ezra Taft Benson 601; from an address given at the Provo Freedom Festival, Provo, UT, 29 Jun 1986
  6. Ezra Taft Benson, “The LDS Church and Politics”, BYU Devotional, December 1, 1952
  7. Speeches of the Year 1965-1966, pp. 1-11, “The Law of the Harvest.” Devotional Address, Brigham Young University, 8 March 1966.
  8. Freedom Festival Address, Provo, Utah, June 26, 1988.
  9. Provo City Community Centennial Service, August 4, 1996.
  10. Victor Hugo Paltsits, Washington’s Farewell Address (The New York Public Library, 1935), p. 124.
  11. Washington to Marquis De Lafayette, February 7, 1788, John C. Fitzpatrick, ed., The Writings of George Washington, (U. S. Government Printing Office, Washington D. C., 1939), 29:410.
  12. Paltsits, Washington’s Farewell Address, p. 124.
  13. Jared Sparks, ed., The Writings of Benjamin Franklin, (Tappan, Whittemore and Mason, Boston, 1840), 10:297.
  14. Speech in the Virginia Ratifying Convention, June 20, 1788. Jonathan Elliot, The Debates in the Several State Conventions on the Adoption of the Federal Constitution (J. B. Lippincott Company, Philadelphia, 1891) 3:536.
  15. James Madison, Memorial and Remonstrance Against Religious Assessments (1785)
  16. John Quincy Adams on July 4, 1821. John Wingate Thornton, The Pulpit of the American Revolution, reprinted NY: Burt Franklin, 1860; 1970), p. 29.
  17. John Quincy Adams, Independence Day speech, Newburyport, MA, July 04, 1837
  18. John Adams, October 11, 1798, letter to the officers of the First Brigade of the Third Division of the Militia of Massachusetts. Charles Francis Adams, ed., The Works of John Adams, Second President of the United States, (Little, Brown, and Co., Boston, 1854), 9:229.
  19. Thomas Jefferson to John Adams, 1819. ME 15:234.
  20. William V. Wells, The Life and Public Service of Samuel Adams (Little, Brown, & Co., Boston, 1865), 1:22.
  21. Benjamin Franklin, Speech to the Constitutional Convention (28 June 1787); Manuscript notes by Franklin preserved in the Library of Congress
  22. Tryon Edwards, D.D., The New Dictionary of Thoughts – A Cyclopedia of Quotations (Hanover House, Garden City, NY, 1852; revised and enlarged by C.H. Catrevas, Ralph Emerson Browns and Jonathan Edwards, 1891; The Standard Book Company, New York, 1955, 1963), p. 337.
  23. House Judiciary Committee Report, March 27, 1854.
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