I gave a lesson to the youth in my ward on July 4th; they asked me to talk about the gospel and its connection to the government. I meant to post about it earlier, but a kidney stone (which made itself known literally five minutes before the lesson, calmed down for the lesson, and then came back with a vengeance to ruin most of the rest of the week) derailed me. (My strength is finally back to almost-normal, I think.)
I don't think they knew what they were getting themselves into by asking me to teach. I didn't. Teaching adults is easy--create good questions and have them discuss the questions until time runs out. The teenagers here had a harder time speaking up, meaning I had to teach more.
Anyway, I made some interesting discoveries in researching the lesson. The first thing that came to mind was the 12th Article of Faith. While important, alone it's way too simplistic for any decent discussion of the topic. Plus, it seems like many people focus on that one scripture and ignore all other scriptures. Fortunately, an entire section in D&C provides some real meat.
I highly recommend a thorough reading of Section 134. Here's what I found most interesting.
First, separation of church and state. Verse 4 reads in part, "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." In other words, the government has no right to tell us when to pray or how to worship. To me, this sounds like an argument against things such as mandatory prayers in school (although I realize this scripture can be interpreted in different ways). Certainly, minority religions (such as the LDS church) depend on the separation of church and state to keep majority religions from telling us how to worship. It's unfortunate, in this respect, that the Supreme Court, the body that interprets the First Amendment which gives us our religious liberties, is so void of religious diversity.
Verse 5 is also interesting. It begins, "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 government." Notice the exception? We're not bound to sustain or uphold governments when our inherent and inalienable rights are not protected. What rights are those? Verse 2 gives us some hints: "The free exercise of conscience, the right and control of property, and the protection of life." In other words, if your free exercise of conscience is not protected, you have no obligation to uphold the government. My interpretation is that the free exercise of conscience includes the freedom of speech and the freedom of religion. LDS teenager Helmut Huebener, then, committed no sin when he and his friends spoke out against the Nazis in Nazi Germany, even though they broke the law by doing so. Those who engage in religious ceremonies that harm no one are also, in my opinion, not committing sin, even though the U.S. government may view such acts as illegal.
Any thoughts on this subject? It's much more nuanced than those who frequently quote the 12th Article of Faith realize. In any case, I'm grateful for the freedom of religion in the U.S. It may not be the optimum level of freedom, but it's better than most other countries (even most other civilized countries). I'm a big fan of Europe, but when it comes to religious freedoms, the U.S. is superior.