The Law of the Land and the Twelfth Article of Faith

We believe in being subject to kings, presidents, rulers, and magistrates, in obeying, honoring, and sustaining the law” (Articles of Faith, 12)

Twelfth Article of Faith - Law of the Land

Some Latter-day Saints take the 12th Article of Faith at face value without understanding the additional context provided in other scriptures and from statements of church leaders.

It’s not uncommon to hear this from a Latter-day Saint: “We are obeying _____ ordinance because it is the law and saints are required to sustain and uphold the law.”

It is important to consider a more complete context of LDS doctrine & teachings regarding obedience to law, lest we act in ignorance.

“And now, verily I say unto you concerning the laws of the land, it is my will that my people should observe to do all things whatsoever I command them. And that law of the land which is constitutional, supporting that principle of freedom in maintaining rights and privileges, belongs to all mankind, and is justifiable before me. Therefore, I, the Lord, justify you, and your brethren of my church, in befriending that law which is the constitutional law of the land; And as pertaining to law of man, whatsoever is more or less than this, cometh of evil.

“I, the Lord God, make you free, therefore ye are free indeed; and the law also maketh you free. Nevertheless, when the wicked rule the people mourn. Wherefore, honest men and wise men should be sought for diligently, and good men and wise men ye should observe to uphold; otherwise whatsoever is less than these cometh of evil. And I give unto you a commandment, that ye shall forsake all evil and cleave unto all good, that ye shall live by every word which proceedeth forth out of the mouth of God.” (D&C 98:4-11)

We are only required to obey that law which is constitutional and supports freedom. However, if we choose to disobey the dictates of evil men, we may also risk having to face the unjust punishment of man; nevertheless we would be justified before God in our actions.

“…it is my will that they should continue to importune for redress, and redemption, by the hands of those who are placed as rulers and are in authority over you — According to the laws and constitution of the people, which I have suffered to be established, and should be maintained for the rights and protection of all flesh, according to just and holy principles; That every man may act in doctrine and principle pertaining to futurity, according to the moral agency which I have given unto him, that every man may be accountable for his own sins in the day of judgment.

“Therefore, it is not right that any man should be in bondage one to another. And for this purpose have I established the Constitution of this land, by the hands of wise men whom I raised up unto this very purpose, and redeemed the land by the shedding of blood.” (D&C 101: 76-80)

Again we have more revelation from the Lord, to Joseph Smith, stating that though the wicked may rule it is our responsibility to stand up for our rights and for just and holy principles.

Consider these excerpts from Doctrine & Covenants section 134, which is a declaration of belief regarding governments and laws in general:

“We believe that governments were instituted of God for the benefit of man; and that he holds men accountable for their acts in relation to them…

“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 men are bound to sustain and uphold the respective governments in which they reside, while protected in their inherent and inalienable rights by the laws of such governments; and that sedition and rebellion are unbecoming every citizen thus protected…”

Additionally, Joseph Smith made other statements regarding our duty to the law:

Joseph Smith“The different states, and even Congress itself, have passed many laws diametrically contrary to the Constitution of the United States…

Shall we be such fools as to be governed by its laws, which are unconstitutional? No! … The Constitution acknowledges that the people have all power not reserved to itself. … This is the doctrine of the Constitution, so help me God. The Constitution is not law to us, but it makes provision for us whereby we can make laws. Where it provides that no one shall be hindered from worshiping God according to his own conscience, is a law. No legislature can enact a law to prohibit it. The Constitution provides to regulate bodies of men and not individuals.” (Teachings of the Prophet Joseph Smith, 278)

It is quite clear that while we do believe in “obeying, honoring, and sustaining the law”, there is a requirement that those laws be just and do not infringe on the rights of the people. As Thomas Aquinas stated, “an unjust law is not really a law at all.”

The United States of America would not exist if the Founding Fathers believed, as many do today, in obeying the edicts of corrupt government officials.

Thomas Jefferson believed that “disobedience to tyrants is obedience to God” and he made it his personal seal. Virginia, home to a Bible believing society, with such men as George Washington and James Madison, had it as its official seal in 1776. Benjamin Franklin suggested it as the official motto of the United States.

In the Declaration of Independence we find this important directive:

“Whenever any Form of Government becomes destructive of these ends (defending the rights of the people), it is the Right of the People to alter or to abolish it, and to institute new Government.”

For a better understanding of why these concepts are important, consider the proper role of government:

“…the proper function of government is limited only to those spheres of activity within which the individual citizen has the right to act. By deriving its just powers from the governed, government becomes primarily a mechanism for defense against bodily harm, theft and involuntary servitude. It cannot claim the power to redistribute the wealth or force reluctant citizens to perform acts of charity against their will. Government is created by man. No man possesses such power to delegate. The creature cannot exceed the creator.

“In general terms, therefore, the proper role of government includes such defensive activities, as maintaining national military and local police forces for protection against loss of life, loss of property, and loss of liberty at the hands of either foreign despots or domestic criminals.” (Ezra Taft Benson, The Proper Role of Government)

John Taylor explained our obligation to the laws of man, and of God, as he spoke of celestial and terrestrial laws:

John Taylor“There are again celestial laws as before referred to, and terrestrial laws, and the question arises, what is the meaning of a celestial law; and what again is the meaning of a terrestrial law; a celestial law pertains to the law of heaven; and is a principle by which the intelligences in the celestial world are governed. The Gospel in its fulness places those who obey it, under its influences, while at the same time it does not relieve them from other obligations of a terrestrial nature.

“It is said in the Doctrine and Covenants, that he that keepeth the laws of God, hath no need to break the laws of the land. It is further explained in section 98, what is meant in relation to this. That all laws which are constitutional must be obeyed, as follows: ‘And now, verily I say unto you concerning the laws of the land, it is my will that my people should observe to do all things whatsoever I command them. And that the law of the land which is constitutional, supporting that principle of freedom in maintaining rights and privileges, belongs to all mankind, and is justifiable before me. Therefore, I, the Lord, justify you, and your brethren of the church, in befriending that law which is the constitutional law of the land; And as pertaining to law of man, whatsoever is more or less than this cometh of evil.’

“That is taking this nation as an example, all laws that are proper and correct, and all obligations entered into which are not violative of the constitution should be kept inviolate. But if they are violative of the constitution, then the compact between the rulers and the ruled is broken and the obligation ceases to be binding. Just as a person agreeing to purchase anything and to pay a certain amount for it, if he receives the article bargained for, and does not pay its price, he violates his contract; but if he does not receive the article he is not required to pay for it. Again we ask, what is this celestial law? The celestial law above referred to is absolute submission and obedience to the law of God. It is exemplified in the words of Jesus, who, when He came to introduce the Gospel said, ‘I came not to do my will but the will of the Father that sent me;’ and His mission was to do the will of the Father who sent him, or to fulfill a celestial law.”

(John Taylor, Remarks before the High Council of Salt Lake Stake of Zion, Feb 20, 1884. Journal of Discourse 26:350)

Ezra Taft Benson, in a talk titled “The Twelfth Article of Faith“, further expounded upon these concepts:

Ezra Taft Benson“In it is a declaration requiring obedience, loyalty to, and respect for duly constituted laws and the officials administering those laws. In justifying such loyal compliance, however, the Lord also promulgated certain safeguards and conditions which must be observed if freedom and liberty are to be preserved and enjoyed. These are emphasized primarily in the 98th and 134th sections of the Doctrine and Covenants. How I wish these fundamental concepts were emblazoned on the hearts of all our people!”

“We must be eternally vigilant as Latter-day Saints and inspire in the lives of our children a love for eternal principles and a desire to seek out honorable men—the best possible—to stand at the head of our political governments, local, state, and federal. Only in this way can we safeguard the liberties which have been vouchsafed to us as our inalienable rights. Unless we do so, we may very easily lose them because of our indifference, because of our failure to exercise our franchise, because we permit men who are unworthy to rise to positions of political power.”

(Ezra Taft Benson, The Twelfth Article of Faith. From God, Family, Country: Our Three Great Loyalties, 279. 1974.)

All this being said, we live in a wicked world full of tyrants, corrupt politicians, and oppressive laws. In all that we do we must consider the risks and use the Holy Spirit as our guide.

Joseph Smith“Our lives have already become jeopardized by revealing the wicked and bloodthirsty purposes of our enemies; and for the future we must cease to do so. All we have said about them is truth, but it is not always wise to relate all the truth. Even Jesus, the Son of God, had to refrain from doing so, and had to restrain His feelings many times for the safety of Himself and His followers, and had to conceal the righteous purposes of His heart in relation to many things pertaining to His Father’s kingdom. When still a boy He had all the intelligence necessary to enable Him to rule and govern the kingdom of the Jews, and could reason with the wisest and most profound doctors of law and divinity, and make their theories and practice to appear like folly compared with the wisdom He possessed; but He was a boy only, and lacked physical strength even to defend His own person; and was subject to cold, to hunger and to death. So it is with the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints; we have the revelation of Jesus, and the knowledge within us is sufficient to organize a righteous government upon the earth, and to give universal peace to all mankind, if they would receive it, but we lack the physical strength, as did our Savior when a child, to defend our principles, and we have a necessity to be afflicted, persecuted and smitten, and to bear it patiently until Jacob is of age, then he will take care of himself.”

(Joseph Smith, Not Always Wise to Expose Evil. TPJS Section Six 1843-44, p.392 — June 27, 1844.)

While there are some threats to liberty that we must bear patiently, we do have a responsibility to do something. Ezra Taft Benson spoke about our immediate responsibility, regarding freedom, stating:

Ezra Taft Benson“We have been warned again and again and again. The Lord’s spokesman has consistently raised his voice of warning about the loss of our freedom. Now he that has ears, let him hear, and ye who praise the Lord, learn to also follow His spokesman.

“‘No greater immediate responsibility rests upon the members of the church, upon all citizens of this republic and of neighboring republics than to protect the freedom vouchsafe by the Constitution of the United States.’

In this mighty struggle each of you has a part. Be on the right side. Stand up and be counted.

(Ezra Taft Benson. Our Immediate Responsibility. BYU University. October 25, 1966.)

By , On .

11 Responses to “The Law of the Land and the Twelfth Article of Faith”

  • Avatar for LDSC Keith Mitchell Says:

    So quick question what do we do with an unconstitutional law for me I feel there are many such as the seat belt laws how should one repeal such a law. And are we to wait for the prophet to say something?

  • Avatar for LDSC Ralph W Hughes Says:

    I consider the words “while protected in their inherent and inalienable rights by the laws of such governments” to mean the same as “as long as protected….” And today in America we are not protected in all of our inherent and inalienable rights. Not that there is much we can do about under our present government.

  • Avatar for LDSC Ed Kugler Says:

    Great article! Thanks for sharing the whole story of our history of obeying, honoring and sustaining the law. If we lived in China should be we honor their laws of religion? I think not. Outstanding.

  • Avatar for LDSC Jared H. Says:

    Nice article!

    I have been wondering about the following and would be interested to hear any comments on it.

    Any thoughts on how to stand these two statements below up to each other? I’m specifically interested in implications on the legitimate sphere of gov’t power.

    1- “governments were instituted of God for the benefit of man” (Scripture)
    2 – “deriving its just powers from the governed” (ETB/The Declaration)

    If instituted by God, can a gov’t NOT derive it’s powers from the consent of governed but instead derive them from God? And would that change the scope of potential power/authority?

    Perhaps as an example, how was #2 active in other known cases were God instituted the respective governments?

    My hope would be that we would see consistent application of the ‘eternal principles’ found in the Constitution.


  • Avatar for LDSC Bruce Braun Says:

    If ever there was a government insider who understood the workings of big government, and its hidden agenda, it certainly was Ezra Taft Benson. His biography written by Sherri Dew is a testament of his love for our Constitution and the Founding Fathers of our country. There’s no doubt that he would have members of The Lord’s Church do whatever may be required to protect the principles outlined in this document. Here’s a direct quote taken from an address he gave entitled, “The Constitution: A Heavenly Banner.”: “…The war that began in heaven is not yet over. The conflict continues on the battlefield of mortality. And one of Lucifer’s primary strategies has been to restrict our agency through the power of earthly governments.” In my opinion, it is only a matter of time before another Council of 50, or more, will be required to protect the inalienable rights guaranteed by our beloved Constitution.

  • Avatar for LDSC Sarah Says:

    Even God doesn’t rule without the consent or submission of the governed. He also is bound by law. When He rules on earth and in heaven it will be a people prepared for His rule.

  • Avatar for LDSC Sam Says:

    For me, this talk by ETB on our responsibility re:government was very enlightening, especially when I considered it in the historical context of when it was given, what was happening then, what has happened since, and where we are now.

    I know the future is as bright as our faith, but I think we have a long dark tunnel to go through before we get to that bright light.

    There is a transcription of that talk here on, but it has some errors, and, reading it while listening to Elder Benson give the talk was even more powerful than just reading the transcription.

  • Avatar for LDSC Thomas Says:

    Can some please explain this from D&C 101:12

    but we do not believe it right to interfere with bond-servants, neither preach the gospel to, nor baptize them contrary to the will and wish of their masters, nor to meddle with or influence them in the least to cause them to be dissatisfied with their situations in this life, thereby jeopardizing the lives of men; such interference we believe to be unlawful and unjust, and dangerous to the peace of every government allowing human beings to be held in servitude.

    It seems to counter what the Lord said in section 98.

  • Avatar for LDSC Ralph Hughes Says:

    Does anyone else wonder if the First Presidency would prefer that Church members leave the subjects of the U.S. Constitution and secret combinations alone and not discuss them among Church members ?

  • Avatar for LDSC Jessica Smith Says:

    @Ralph Hughes
    Same question. The new handbook even says not to discuss “baseless conspiracy theories” though the book of Mormon is FILLED with warnings about conspiracy facts. The current propoganda being forwarded by the church seems to follow the current narrative of our day. It’s very confusing and difficult to be an observer to this. I am an active recommend holding member and it’s been painful to see things unfolding in the church. I just can’t make any sense of it. I am completely at a loss.

  • Avatar for LDSC Cindy Says:

    Yes I agree with the above comment of Jessica Smith. When Covid arrived on the scene, mask were mandated for every person by the GOVERNMENT, as I was walking through a parking lot to go into a store in the very beginning of this, I had on my mask, as I looked around me, everyone was in a mask, I pulled it down and said to my daughter, I just had the darkest most dreadful feeling and thoughts come over me, this is the beginning of communism. It’s at our doors, I cannot comply with this, I went back to my car. I refused to be a part of this. Then President Trump announced , ” operation Warp speed” again that darkness fell upon me, I Said to my family, do not get this. I knew as a retired nurse there was no way a safe or effective vaccine could be created but for me, it was much more than this, I felt an evil attack coming upon America, the world, yet the leader of my church told everyone to get this vaccine. So now I was very confused, I didn’t want to disobey my church leader but yet I knew I shouldn’t do this. It was through prayer that I made the decision. I was right about what I knew when operating warp speed was announced. Now 2023 millions dead, permanently injured and the deaths, injuries are mounting. Did the church agree to get this to keep peace between the church and the Gov’t at the expense of the injuries and deaths of mankind, including children? Am i missing something? Am i misunderstanding something?I don’t know but it put me in a very confusing situation. Many of us now know the next virus that will be released, the medication they will use for it with frightening side effects and of course a frightful vaccine. Does our scriptures tell us of plagues,famine, pestillence, etc? Past prophets have made ever so clear, the need to prayerfully read study the scriptures, that we are given the blessing of personal revelation. The great power and blesdings of the Holy Ghost and its my humble opinion, just that, my opinion that we are in such evil times we will have to rely on personal revelation. We have to rely on our Heavenly Father, our Savior Jesus Christ before anyone or anything but to do so we must be reading studying scriptures, prayerful, seeking wisdom discernment and pitting all of our Faith in God, not man! I have no desire to miskead, I’m not a prophet, I’m just a mother, godmother that loves my Heavenly Fsther, my Savior,my family, my fellowman and my Nation. I’m so grateful for my testimony of the gospel. I know the gospel is true, I understand the very elite can be deceived, can fall and this is why I understand personal revelation which too I’m indeed so very grateful for. It’s my humble prayer that the hearts of the people of this Nation, see our errors, shortcomings, our sins, repent and stand united together under God to preserve, protect and defend Gods laws of this land, which too are in our Declarations. This is Gods intent for this Nation and its the duty of the people to ensure a Govt instituted of God by and through we the people.

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