The Book of Mormon
and the Constitution

Chapter 15: The Golden Rule and That Law Which Is Constitutional

Both the “Laws” and the “Constitution” Were Established by the Lord

      Having considered the Nephite experience under a divinely established government of self-rule, let us now consider a similar experience by Gentiles living under the United States Constitution. Our purpose will be to describe our constitutional system and then apply to our problems, the lessons taught by the Nephite record. We first observe that the Lord stated that He suffered both the laws and the Constitution to be established. (D&C 101:77) What might be the difference between the two? In trying to answer this question let us observe that there are two main types of laws: (1) those called “substantive” which declare the God-given rights and privileges of the people, and (2) those called “procedural” which specify how government must proceed in adopting and executing substantive laws.

      Even though the Constitution is often described as the supreme law of the land, it might be more properly called the power to make and execute laws. It establishes the machinery of government, divides its powers into legislative, executive and judicial departments, and then specifies the manner in which those powers must be exercised. Thus it deals more with procedural than with substantive laws.

      In reality governments have no power to make substantive laws. Their power is limited to declaring those God-given rights and privileges which already exist. The Constitution does declare what those rights and privileges are and it forbids the government to abridge them. But the inalienable rights of man are one thing, and the method of protecting and enforcing them another. Perhaps it was this distinction the Lord meant to make in using the words, “the laws and Constitution.” To the officers in government the Constitution certainly is the supreme law of the land because it places limits on their powers and directs the manner in which [p. 100] they are to proceed. There is another limitation on their powers which is inherent in our constitutional system and to which we call attention. It is the limit which derives from the fact that all powers possessed by them come from the people.

      The preamble to the Constitution says in part:

We, the people of the United States . . . do ordain and establish this Constitution for the United States of America.

      According to this statement it was and is the people themselves who adopt the Constitution and not a government nor its officers. Through this document, the people confer certain powers on their servants in government. This being so, the people are the source of all powers possessed by those servants. Since it is a fundamental maxim that a power can rise no higher than its source, those officers do not and cannot possess any power which the people do not have. This restriction is of transcendent importance in a government of the people, by the people, and for the people. It is the touchstone by which the propriety of all governmental actions may be tested.

      In this chapter we will consider the nature and limit of the powers which the people possess, and which are delegable by them to government. We will observe that the right of a person to use force on another is limited by the principles of private morality declared by the Golden Rule. This being true, this same restriction limits the powers of their agents in government.

      In the chapter following this, we will consider those constitutional procedures which must be followed by government officers in the exercise of their powers.

The Lord’s Substantive Laws Protecting Freedom Are Eternal

      The Lord in giving commandments regarding the laws of the land in this last dispensation, specifically pointed out that His laws pertaining to freedom are always the same. In the revelations given to the prophet Joseph concerning the duty of Church members to obey His will concerning constitutional laws, He made these statements:

And that law of the land which is constitutional, supporting that principle [p. 101] of freedom in maintaining rights and privileges, belongs to all mankind, and is justifiable before me. (D&C 98:5)

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. (D&C 101:77)

Have mercy, O Lord, upon all the nations of the earth; have mercy upon the rulers of our land; may those principles, which were so honorably and nobly defended, namely, the Constitution of our land, by our fathers, be established forever. (D&C 109:54)

      If the constitutional laws and principles which the Lord has established in this dispensation, belong(s) to all mankind, are for the rights and protection of all flesh, and should be established forever, it is obvious that they are eternal and unchangeable. They are the same in this dispensation as in others. This being true, we may distinguish between those laws that are constitutional and those which are not, by referring to the commandments the Lord has given regarding laws and governments in other ages. In particular we can use the Ten Commandments and the Golden Rule with perfect confidence that they are in complete harmony with that law which is constitutional. We can test the constitutionality of any substantive law by noting whether it violates either of these two codes.

The Fundamental Law of Human Relations Is the Golden Rule

      When the Lord came to earth in the meridian of time, He gave to His followers in Palestine and in the Americas, a law or rule of behavior which is so fundamental and so complete that it comprehends and includes all other laws pertaining to human relations. Among men it is known as the Golden Rule and was stated by the Lord as follows:

Therefore all things whatsoever ye would that men should do to you, do ye even so to them; for this is the law and the prophets. (Matt. 7:12; 3 Ne. 14:12)

      This same law was given to the children of Israel as part of the Mosaic code, but was stated somewhat differently: . . . Thou shalt love thy neighbor as thy self. (Lev.19:18)

      One who loves his neighbors as himself will, of course, obey the Golden Rule by treating them as he would be treated. [p. 102]

The Golden Rule Is a Complete Law with Rewards and Penalties

      In what way is the Golden Rule a law? That is, if it is a law as the Lord stated, what are the rewards for obedience and the penalties for disobedience? Simply this: as we do unto others, so shall it be done unto us. This was made plain by Christ in another statement in the sermon on the mount wherein He said:

Judge not unrighteously, that ye be not judged; but judge righteous judgment.

For with what judgment ye judge, ye shall be judged; and with what measure ye mete, it shall be measured to you again. (Matt. 7:2, 3; JST)

      It is noted that the word judgment is used in the Bible to mean a penalty or a punishment imposed by government or by the Lord. For example, after having Moses give the Ten Commandments to the Children of Israel, He told him:

Now these are the judgments which thou shalt set before them. (Exodus 21:1)

      The Lord then proceeded to reveal to Moses the punishments which the judges should inflict upon those who violated His commandments and statutes.

Harmony Between the Golden Rule and the Law of Moses

      The penalties prescribed by the law of Moses were essentially those mandated by the Golden Rule. Those guilty of offenses were to be treated or dealt with as they had dealt with their victims. The measure which they had meted out, was to be measured to them again as is indicated by the following familiar decree:

And thine eye shall not pity; but life shall go for life, eye for eye, tooth for tooth, hand for hand, foot for foot. (Deut. 19:21)

      In this passage, the application of the Lord’s fundamental rule of justice is set forth in simplicity and plainness. However the following [p. 103] explanations seem necessary to avoid unwarranted conclusions regarding its meaning: (1) The accused was judged by his intent to do evil rather than by the amount of harm he had caused. Actions serve merely as evidence of intent. However, experience teaches that we are usually justified in assuming that a person intends the natural and probable consequences of his actions. In other words, when a person causes harm, we are usually safe in assuming he intended to do so. Nevertheless if it is discovered that the injury was inflicted accidentally or in justifiable self-defense for example, no punishment should be imposed even though it may be proper to compel him to make restitution. (2) In accordance with the fundamental tenet of the Golden Rule, the judge should mentally place himself in the position of the accused before imposing sentence. By so doing he can better determine the real intent of the accused and thus establish a fair standard for judging him. The Lord has warned however that: “Thine eye shall not pity” that evil might be done away from among you. (3) Except in cases like murder where restitution is impossible, the wrongdoer in a criminal case was not required to suffer in the same manner as did his victim if he was able to atone for his crime otherwise such as by making restitution with goods or services. (Ex. 21:18, 19; 21:30) (4) In cases of theft or malicious destruction of property, the wrongdoer was required to pay his victim several times the value of the property taken. This was apparently necessary for two reasons: (A) To effectively deter crimes of this nature and, (B) To more adequately compensate the victim not only for his lost property, but also for lost time, trouble and inconvenience. (Ex. 22:1) (5) In non-criminal cases, that is in those situations where one person had caused harm negligently and without intending to do so, he was required to make restitution equal to the damage inflicted and thus suffer only to the extent he had caused another to suffer. It is submitted that observance of the Golden Rule would require adherence to the foregoing.

The Golden Rule Places Limitations on Government Power

      Not only does the Golden Rule provide government with a precise standard regarding what it should do, but it sets up an equally precise standard regarding what it should not do. The rule applies to all of the [p. 104] actions of men whether they are committed alone or while acting in concert with others and thus places the same restraints on governments as on individuals.

      This conclusion may seem novel to some since the rule is generally thought of as having application only to individual behavior. But there are compelling reasons why men should obey it when they act under the authority of the state. Before enumerating them we desire to point out that when men act through government they use force and the threat thereof. This fact seems to be so little understood and so commonly overlooked that it requires special and repeated attention.

      There are two methods of influencing human behavior: one is by compulsion, the other by persuasion. A distinct line separates these methods. Let us examine it. When compulsion is used the one being compelled is not allowed his choice in the matter. He is commanded or forbidden to act in a specified manner and if he fails to do so he is physically punished until he complies. If he resists he is overpowered or punished until his resistance ceases. Punishment consists of depriving him of one of those possessions which every person desires to retain—life, liberty or property. When persuasion is used the one doing the persuading may use argument, pleading, logic or even the offer of a bribe. However, the one being influenced is left free to make his own decision. He knows that if he decides not to obey, he may incur the displeasure of his persuader but nothing more. Neither his life, liberty nor property are in jeopardy. No physical punishment is inflicted or threatened; otherwise the case is one of compulsion.

      When governments act they use the compulsion method. Every law, regulation or rule which they adopt contains a penalty clause which directs the officers to take either the life, the liberty or the property of those who disobey. Unless a law provides for the loss of one of these possessions it cannot be properly termed a law. It is nothing more than a request or a recommendation which the people are as free to disregard after its enactment as before.

The Effect of Using Force Is the Same Whether Used by the State or Individuals

      It cannot be denied that the nature and consequence of an act of force is not altered merely by changing the number engaged in its use. [p. 105] The effect is the same whether done by one person or a million. The one against whom it is used is just as dead and just as surely bereft of his liberty or property in the one case as the other. Insofar as he is concerned it makes not the slightest difference from whence the force proceeds.

      Furthermore the mere passing of a law which legalizes an act of violence has no effect either. Clothing force in the robes of legality may obscure or hide the naked fact from view, but it does nothing to change its nature. Legislatures, monarchs and democratic majorities are as powerless to alter the effect of an act of compulsion on a human as to alter the effect of the law of gravity on him.

      Therefore if it would be wrong, and a violation of a person’s rights for him to suffer at the hands of an individual, it would be equally wrong for him to suffer at the hands of the multitude. If the act is reprehensible, it remains so regardless of who does it.

      On the other hand, if the use of force is proper; that is, if the one against whom it is employed deserves to be punished or compelled to pay a debt—the effect upon him is again the same regardless of its source. This being so, logic requires that we use the same standard to determine the propriety of its use in both cases. If the Golden Rule is a proper rule for the individual, it is proper for the group. If it is a proper standard for the citizen, it is a proper standard for the state.

The Golden Rule Is a Universal Code of Justice

      The need and desire for justice seems to be inherent in every person who believes in moral values and who accepts the fact that there is a distinction between good and evil. Those who believe in good and evil also believe that the good should be rewarded and the evil punished. Or to state the matter otherwise, when people believe in right and wrong, they also believe that when wrong is committed it remains so until proper punishment is imposed, a correct restitution is made, or both. Their sense of justice is satisfied only when this occurs.

      Furthermore the punishment must fit the crime and the restitution be equal to the injury. If the penalty is either too severe or too lenient, or the restitution too great or small, to this same extent, justice has not been done.

      It is submitted that by enforcing the Golden Rule, man’s desire for justice is satisfied. It is also submitted that there is no other standard of [p. 106] justice upon which men can agree. Thus the Lord’s Golden Rule is not only the fundamental code of justice for Christians, but for the entire human race. It is the only code that has universal acceptance. One who is punished or compelled to make restitution according to this standard has no grounds for complaint. By his actions toward others he has set a standard of behavior. He has indicated how he wants to treat others. Can he complain when others treat him according to that same standard? Is this not what he would consider just if he were the injured party or the one administering justice? No case is being made here for revenge nor for disobeying the commandment to forgive. We are merely stating here an eternal law of the harvest which the Lord has repeated in every dispensation. (Ex. 20; Matt. 7; D&C 1:10)

      This is one of those irrevocable laws decreed in heaven before the foundations of the earth, and the blessing of freedom is available only to those who learn and obey it. To comply with the law, it is as necessary to punish evil as to reward virtue. The Lord obeys the law Himself, and if we are just, we will do likewise.

The Golden Rule Is Universally Known and Easily Applied by All

      It seems incredible that the entire law as well as the prophets could be comprehended in one short sentence. However mature reflection will show this to be so. The Lord in His infinite wisdom has provided humanity with a complete standard of behavior in language both clear and concise. In those few words He has stated not only the law, but also the reward for obedience and the penalty for violation.

      The Golden Rule is easily understood and remembered even by the young, the simple and the uneducated. It rests solidly upon a universally known standard of morality which arises out of the common knowledge that what is good and bad for ourselves is equally so for others. It has the indispensable virtue of being unchangeable and therefore predictable. It incorporates into the administration of justice those elements of certainty and stability so essential to public tranquility. Let that person who would reject it as a standard, undertake to formulate another to take its place. [p. 107]

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