Life, Liberty and the Pursuit of Happiness

Lesson 2

Topics: Agency, Freedom, Liberty, Fundamental Rights

God is the source of all light, truth and intelligence. He is also the source of Man’s rights.

“We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.” (The Declaration of Independence)

The Declaration of Independence asserted that God has given us certain fundamental rights. These are rights that are not to be violated by anyone, not even government. We may forfeit some of these rights, and face certain consequences, if we choose to infringe upon the rights of others.

The great Thomas Jefferson asked:

“Can the liberties of a nation be thought secure when we have removed their only firm basis, a conviction in the minds of the people that these liberties are of the gift of God? That they are not to be violated but with his wrath?” (Works 8:404; P.P.N.S., p.141)

Starting at the foundation of the pyramid, let us first consider the origin of those freedoms we have come to know are human rights. There are only two possible sources. Rights are either God-given as part of the Divine Plan, or they are granted by government as part of the political plan. Reason, necessity, tradition and religious convictions all lead me to accept the divine origin of these rights. If we accept the premise that human rights are granted by government, then we must be willing to accept the corollary that they can be denied by government. I, for one, shall never accept that premise. As the French political economist, Frederick Bastiat, phrased it so succinctly, “Life, liberty, and property do not exist because men have made laws. On the contrary, it was the fact that life, liberty, and property existed beforehand that caused men to make laws in the first place.” (The Law, p.6) (Ezra Taft Benson, The Proper Role of Government)

Also consider the following statement by David O. McKay:

“If man is to be rewarded for righteousness and punished for evil, then common justice demands that he be given the power of independent action. … If he were coerced to do right at all times, or were helplessly enticed to commit sin, he would merit neither a blessing for the first nor punishment for the second” (“Free Agency… A Divine Gift,” Improvement Era, May 1950, 366).

What is a Fundamental Right?

The following video provides a definition of Fundamental Rights…

Fundamental Rights are those rights which all people can simultaneously claim without forcing someone to serve their needs (watch the above video for examples and further explanation).

What is the difference between Agency, Freedom and Liberty?

Let us first consider the scriptures which use these three terms implying separate meanings:

Wherefore, men are free according to the flesh; and all things are given them which are expedient unto man. And they are free to choose liberty and eternal life, through the great Mediator of all men, or to choose captivity and death, according to the captivity and power of the devil; for he seeketh that all men might be miserable like unto himself (2 Nephi 2:27)

Analyze the statement “they are free to choose liberty”. You may also want to read the surrounding verses in that chapter to get the full context.

We are told that we are free to choose liberty or captivity. The choice implies that we have agency, or the ability to choose between Liberty or Bondage. We are free to choose which means we have the ability to do the action that will decide the outcome. In this case, we can choose a path of Liberty or Captivity/Bondage.

Agency is the ability to choose an action, whereas Freedom is the capability to do an action. What’s the difference? Here’s an example. You have the agency or ability to make the choice to visit a website, and can make that choice even if you don’t have a computer or internet connection. You have made the choice, despite the absence of the ability to act on that choice. It is the access to a computer and internet connection that will provide you with the Freedom, or capability, to actually visit a website. Agency is the ability to choose an action, whereas Freedom is the capability to actually do the action.

Liberty is given as being opposite of Captivity. Liberty is often confused as having the same meaning as Freedom, yet there is a difference. We’ve defined Freedom as the capability of choosing an action. Liberty comes from choosing and doing the right actions, those which are just before God. It’s really impossible to separate Liberty from Obedience to the Laws of God.

Real Liberty only comes from obeying a commandment or law to reach the destination you want. Bondage, or Captivity, is choosing a path and being bound to the outcome, whereas Liberty is choosing your destination or outcome and being bound to the path required to achieve such an outcome.

The Key to understanding and experiencing Liberty lies in choosing the outcome we want versus receiving the outcome our path dictates.

If you want the Liberty that comes from being healthy and having the ability to run an not be weary, walk and not faint (D&C 89) you must choose that outcome of healthiness and have your path dictated accordingly. If you are committed to that outcome you are not going to consume donuts and soda pop all day – that choice would bind you to the outcome inherent in unhealthy living, and you would be in bondage.

We can “choose liberty and eternal life, through the great Mediator of all men, or choose captivity and death, according to the captivity and power of the devil”. It is only through choosing the plan of God, through Christ and His plan of Salvation that we can truly have and experience Liberty. This was also the understanding of the Founding Fathers. “Our constitution,” said John Adams, “was made only for a moral and religious people. It is wholly inadequate to the government of any other”.

Going back to 2nd Nephi Chapter 2, verse 25 we read that “men are that they might have joy”. It is in choosing Liberty that we will experience joy, or happiness.

To choose Liberty is to choose to stand up for Truth and Righteousness, to be found on the Lord’s side. Choosing Liberty results in experiencing the ultimate level of Freedom.

This gives a new meaning to the words “Life, Liberty and Happiness“. This Life is a time for us to be “tried, to be tested, and to choose. Our decisions determine our destiny… Those who choose the Lord’s way” (choose Liberty) and “who prove faithful shall inherit the kingdom of God, … and their joy (Happiness) shall be full forever.” (Russell M. Nelson, Now Is the Time to Prepare, Ensign, May 2005, 16).

And ye shall know the truth, and the truth shall make you free. (John 8:32)

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Other recommended resources:


Lessons on Liberty – Table of Contents