Citizen Responsibilities

Called Unto Liberty, 20th Century Sermons, Dallin H. Oaks

U.S. citizens have an inspired Constitution, and therefore, what? Does the belief that the U.S. Constitution is divinely inspired affect citizens’ behavior toward law and government? It should and it does.

U.S. citizens should follow the First Presidency’s counsel to study the Constitution. They should be familiar with its great fundamentals: the separation of powers, the individual guarantees in the Bill of Rights, the structure of federalism, the sovereignty of the people, and the principles of the rule of the law. They should oppose any infringement of these inspired fundamentals.

They should be law-abiding citizens, supportive of national, state, and local governments. The twelfth Article of Faith declares:

“We believe in being subject to kings, presidents, rulers, and magistrates, in obeying, honoring, and sustaining the law.”

The Church’s official declaration of belief states:

“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 all men are bound to sustain and uphold the respective governments in which they reside.” (D&C 134:1, 5.)

Those who enjoy the blessings of liberty under a divinely inspired constitution should promote morality, and they should practice what the Founding Fathers called “civic virtue.” In his address on the U.S. Constitution, President Ezra Taft Benson quoted this important observation by John Adams, the second president of the United States:

“Our Constitution was made only for a moral and religious people. It is wholly inadequate to the government of any other.” Similarly, James Madison, who is known as the “Father of the Constitution,” stated his assumption that there had to be “sufficient virtue among men for self-government.” He argued in the Federalist Papers that “republican government presupposes the existence of these qualities in a higher degree than any other form.”

It is part of our civic duty to be moral in our conduct toward all people. There is no place in responsible citizenship for dishonesty or deceit or for willful law breaking of any kind. We believe with the author of Proverbs that “righteousness exalteth a nation: but sin is a reproach to any people.” (Prov. 14:34.) The personal righteousness of citizens will strengthen a nation more than the force of its arms.

Citizens should also be practitioners of civic virtue in their conduct toward government. They should be ever willing to fulfill the duties of citizenship. This includes compulsory duties like military service and the numerous voluntary actions they must take if they are to preserve the principle of limited government through citizen self-reliance. For example, since U.S. citizens value the right of trial by jury, they must be willing to serve on juries, even those involving unsavory subject matter. Citizens who favor morality cannot leave the enforcement of moral laws to jurors who oppose them.

The single word that best describes a fulfillment of the duties of civic virtue is patriotism. Citizens should be patriotic. My favorite prescription for patriotism is that of Adlai Stevenson:

“What do we mean by patriotism in the context of our times? . . . A patriotism that puts country ahead of self; a patriotism which is not short, frenzied outbursts of emotion, but the tranquil and steady dedication of a lifetime.”

I close with a poetic prayer. It is familiar to everyone in the United States, because U.S. citizens sing it in one of their loveliest hymns. It expresses gratitude to God for liberty, and it voices a prayer that he will continue to bless them with the holy light of freedom:

Our fathers’ God, to thee,
Author of liberty,
To thee we sing;
Long may our land be bright
With freedom’s holy light.
Protect us by thy might,
Great God, our King!


Source: Dallin H. Oaks, The Divinely Inspired Constitution, February 1992 Ensign magazine. Dallin Harris Oaks (born August 12, 1932) is an American attorney, jurist, author, professor, public speaker, and religious leader. Since 1984, he has been a member of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (LDS Church). He is a former professor of law at the University of Chicago Law School, a former president of Brigham Young University, and a former justice of the Utah Supreme Court.


Return to “Called Unto Liberty” Home Page.


Called Unto Liberty is a project of Steve Farrell and The Moral Liberal.


The Moral Liberal recommends Ezra Taft Benson’s: The Constitution: A Heavenly Banner