top of page

Our Apostasy from the Constitution

Updated: 2 days ago

The following is the full text of an address I wrote to fulfill a speaking assignment in my church on Constitution Day 2023. It contains scriptural references and other quotes relevant to members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, but the general principles apply to all Americans and, indeed, all of humanity. In future posts, I plan on exploring in greater depth the topics I briefly touched on here. I delivered an abbreviated version due to time constraints. I recorded the full version after the fact and it's available on YouTube and Spotify.

United States Constitution

It is my privilege to speak to you on the subject of the United States Constitution. Today is Constitution Day, the celebration of the signing of the greatest political document ever written by man.

Why speak of the Constitution in a church setting? Elder Dallin H. Oaks did so in General Conference two years ago but included the admonition that “political choices and affiliations not be the subject of teachings or advocacy in any of our Church meetings.” So, in this assignment, I will do as he did and discuss the inspired principles undergirding and within the Constitution while abstaining from discussing political choices or affiliations. If we are taught correct principles, we can govern ourselves, in this case literally.

Modern-day revelation declares that God “established” the Constitution “for the rights and protection of all flesh” (D&C 101:77), not just Americans, that it “belongs to all mankind” (D&C 98:5) and that God did so “by the hands of wise men whom I raised up unto this very purpose” (D&C 101:80).

Modern-day prophets from Joseph Smith to Wilford Woodruff to David O. McKay to Harold B. Lee to Ezra Taft Benson to Dallin H. Oaks have spoken in defense of the Constitution1.

President Benson used unusually strong language, declaring in General Conference that “we as a nation have apostatized in various degrees from different Constitutional principles as proclaimed by the inspired founders.” Apostatized... In what ways have we apostatized?

President Joseph Fielding Smith declared in General Conference2 that “it is time the people of the United States were waking up with the understanding that if they don’t save the Constitution from the dangers that threaten it, we will have a change of government.” What are the dangers that threaten it?

And of course, most of us are familiar with Joseph Smith’s prophecy3 that “this nation will be on the very verge of crumbling to pieces and tumbling to the ground, and when the Constitution is upon the brink of ruin, this people will be the staff upon which the nation shall lean, and they shall bear the Constitution away from the very verge of destruction.”

I have been studying the Constitution and the principles upon which it was founded for the past two decades and I can add my testimony to that of those prophets that the danger is real, the apostasy is real, and brink of ruin is discernable and describable.

Individual and political freedom is a recipe with very specific ingredients. As those of you who cook or bake know, when you materially deviate from the recipe you get a very different outcome.

It is necessary to speak of the Constitution because it was essential to the establishment of the restored gospel and is essential to its forward progress. It is necessary because it and its underlying principles are for the benefit, happiness, and prosperity of all mankind, not just Americans. To quote one American president4, “If we lose freedom here, there is no place to escape to. This is the last stand on earth.”

So what are the principles we so dearly revere and must so vigilently protect? Is it that no one under the age of 35 can be elected president? Or is it that a Senator shall serve a term of six years? No. These are technical details, the ones our children will find on their Civics exams, but we must look deeper to see the principles inspired by God, the principles we have deviated from, that we have perhaps apostatized from.

We can only cover a few of these principles in the time we have available today. I will cover seven.

Human Nature and Human Rights

In the book of Genesis, we learn that we are all created in the image of God. This idea of “Imago Dei” was revolutionary. From it flows the idea that we are God’s children, with a God-given heritage, nature, and destiny. We are all equal before Him. We are our brother’s keeper, not our brother’s master. We are individually sovereign, i.e. “the power is vested in the people”. Life is God’s to give or take, not ours, except in self-defense. Rule by "might makes right" was overturned, in theory. It would be many centuries before it was overturned in practice. But the seed was planted. From these ideas were born our fundamental “inalienable” or Human Rights, our right to life, to liberty, and to the pursuit of happiness. But not happiness as we define it, but rather happiness as He defines it. If you trace the meaning of “the pursuit of happiness” from Jefferson and Franklin back through John Locke to Epicurus and Aristotle4 you will find that the pursuit of happiness meant the pursuit of godliness6. 350 years before Christ, Aristotle described in exquisite detail how each of us has a voice inside of us, a divine voice that tells us how to act, that tells us the difference between good and evil, that guides us in living a God-like life, a life of virtue, in developing character, which is the core ingredient in happiness. Virtue and character hard-won by listening to the divine voice in each of us.

700 years after Aristotle, the prophet Mormon wrote of this same voice, “The Spirit of Christ is given to every man, that he may know good from evil” (Moro. 7:16-17). Aristotle also taught that if you ignored or disobeyed this voice it would diminish.

A life of virtue and happiness is synonymous with the life of the Gods, Aristotle wrote. The pursuit of happiness is the pursuit of the kind of life lived by God, doing as He would do, to ourselves, and to our fellow man.

Jefferson was reading Greek from the age of nine7. He knew his Aristotle and his New Testament and read both in their original Greek.

The Pursuit of Happiness, to the Founders, was not, as it is often interpreted today, doing whatever happens to float your individual boat. It was a unifying concept based in Judeo-Christian theology and Greek philosophy or telos, pointing all human beings to the same end.

Life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness…

Liberty is essential to pursuing happiness or godliness because we must choose the good freely. It does no good if coerced, or as Mormon taught, “except he shall do it with real intent it profiteth him nothing.” (Mor. 7:6) Property, Aristotle taught, is also essential to the “complete life” of which happiness is an essential part, because it allows us to be independent, self-sufficient, and generous.

The change in the language of the Declaration of Independence during its drafting from “life, liberty, and property” to “life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness” was neither trivial nor random. The final version was more whole, more comprehensive than the original. And we would know that if we have read Aristotle.

We are made in the image of God, our nature and our rights come from Him. Happiness is the object and design of our existence and the voice of God inside each of us guides us on the path to achieving it.

The Proper Role of Government

In John Locke's A Letter Concerning Toleration and his Second Treatise Concerning Government, he argued that the proper role of government is limited to the defense of life, liberty, and property8. He got this idea from the Book of Genesis.

God gave us the earth to till and take care of. The mixture of our life or time with the products of nature becomes our property9. Therefore, because we are God’s children, no one has a right to injure us, or our loved ones, or take our things.

From this is derived our right of self-defense. Because we each hold that right individually, we can justly delegate it to another, say a sheriff or a government to do that work for us, so we can spend our time making a living, raising a family, and developing our talents. Because we have no other right to use force on our fellow man other than in the defense of life, liberty, and property, so too does government have no other proper role than those three10.

If you carefully read Article 1 section 8 of the U.S. Constitution, which outlines the 18 powers delegated by “we the people” to Congress, you’ll find that they can each be traced to one of those three rights11.

All other social goods and values can only be justly pursued through persuasion, cooperation, consent, compassion, and competition - not through force - giving space for and allowing maximum use of liberty for each of us to be "anxiously engaged in a good cause" (D&C 58:27-28), deeply and meaningfully involved in our communities, and negating the disconnect, discord, and corruption inherent in the centralizing of power.

But, can that work in real life, you might ask? When Alexis de Tocqueville wrote his observations about early 19th-century American society in his landmark work “Democracy in America”, he remarked12:

“In the United States, as soon as several inhabitants have taken an opinion or an idea they wish to promote in society, they seek each other out and unite together... From that moment, they are no longer isolated but have become a power seen from afar whose activities serve as an example and whose words are heeded.

“Americans group together to hold [celebrations], found seminaries, build inns, construct churches, distribute books, dispatch missionaries to the [natives]. They establish hospitals, prisons, schools by the same method. Finally, if they wish to highlight a truth or develop an opinion by the encouragement of a great example, they form an association.”

Our church is just one such example of such an association. So is the Red Cross and your local PTA. Under the Constitutional model, “we the people” are meant to do more for society and within our communities than just form governments.

God’s Law is Higher than Man’s Law

From the book of Exodus and 1st Samuel, we get the revolutionary idea that there exists a higher law that all human laws must be in harmony with, otherwise the human law is unjust and invalid.

When Moses came down from Mount Sinai with God’s law, it didn’t matter what “the majority” of Israelites wanted to do if their desire was contrary to God’s law.

When King Saul disobeyed God’s law he willingly recognized and accepted Samuel’s authority over him as God’s mouthpiece. The King was also a subject. He recognized a law higher than himself.

Marcus Tullius Cicero, who lived 50 years before Christ, concurred. In his masterpiece, On the Commonwealth, this great defender of the Roman Republic spoke of what he called “True Law”, stating that “all nations at all times will be bound by this one eternal and unchangeable law” and that God is:

“The one common master and general of all the people…the author, expounder, and mover of this law; and the person who does not obey it will be in exile from himself [because in doing so] he scorns his nature as a human being, by this very fact he will pay the greatest penalty, even if he escapes all other things that are generally recognized as punishments.”

Like the Jews before him and the Christians after him, Cicero recognized that there is a law above human law and that justice will be served whether it is rendered in this life or the next.

There is a reason the Ten Commandments are inscribed on the United States Supreme Court. Our founders recognized this higher law. It is from this principle, after all, that they could justify separation from Great Britain in the first place, for in keeping with the True Law the Declaration of Independence eloquently proclaimed:

“...when a long train of abuses and usurpations, pursuing invariably the same Object evinces a design to reduce them under absolute Despotism, it is their right, it is their duty, to throw off such Government, and to provide new Guards for their future security.”

Where does that right and duty come from? From God’s Law.


In the book of Exodus, we find the ministry and writings of Moses where we learn that responsibility and action should take place at the lowest possible level in a society. Individuals should do all that individuals can for themselves. Marriages should do all they can for themselves. Families, both nuclear and extended should do all they can do for themselves, and so on and so forth up the social and political hierarchy.

If something can’t be handled at the proper level, we look to the next highest level. This teaches responsibility and accountability, it discourages laziness and entitlement, it place incentives and rewards, action and consequence in their proper place, and is in perfect harmony with God’s intent for our use of liberty, to obey him in developing ourselves and helping our neighbor.

Subsidiarity is also in perfect harmony with our next principle.

Separation of Powers and Federalism

D&C 88 commands us to “seek ye out of the best books words of wisdom; seek learning, even by study and also by faith.” We are told to study, among other things, the “perplexities of nations” and to gain “a knowledge of countries and kingdoms.” Some of the best books on those subjects are the words written by the founding generation of this country or by those whom the founding generation themselves studied.

President Ezra Taft Benson, in General Conference13, admonished the members of the Church to read the Federalist Papers, written by John Jay, James Madison, and Alexander Hamilton with the express purpose of explaining and defending the Constitution. I testify of their importance. If we have not read them we cannot understand our liberties and we cannot protect them. I will share just one principle from them.

In D&C 121:39, written in 1839 we read:

“We have learned by sad experience that it is the nature and disposition of almost all men, as soon as they get a little authority, as they suppose, they will immediately begin to exercise unrighteous dominion.”

Thirty years later in 1870, Lord Acton famously described the same principle when he said14:

“Power tends to corrupt, and absolute power corrupts absolutely. Great men are almost always bad men, even when they exercise influence and not authority, still more when you [superimpose] the tendency or the certainty of corruption by authority.”

This principle was well-known to the founders. In Federalist 9, Alexander Hamilton mourned the “wretched nurseries of unceasing discord” of earlier democracies where power was allowed to centralize. Once power centralizes, persuasion and cooperation give way to power struggles and coercion.

In Federalist 10, James Madison, often referred to as the Father of the Constitution, wrote of factions, which he defined as a number of citizens united by some common passion or interest to use force to impose their desired will on the rest of their fellow citizens. We can’t destroy faction without destroying liberty, Madison wrote, therefore the solution lies in limiting the uses of force as I mentioned earlier.

So, not only do we have the principle of the proper role of government, of minimizing the role of government which has a monopoly on force to the protection of life, liberty, and property, which is the only legitimate use of force any of us possess individually, but we separate the legislative, executive, and judicial components of that power into three and then three again, at the federal, state and local levels.

The concept of federalism, this horizontal and vertical separation of powers act like the watertight bulkheads in a ship15. If one becomes corrupted or “flooded” the rest of the ship doesn’t immediately sink, giving sailors, or in our case, the citizens, time to fix the breach. Not only does this, in theory, resist the centralization of power but it facilitates the “laboratories of democracy”16 idea in which citizens of each state can work to solve societal problems without risk to the rest of the country and the rest of the country can learn from and build upon the efforts of the others.


Only a moral people can be free, otherwise, they will require masters. Only a moral people will avoid the temptation to use government to further their own interests. Only a moral people will exercise the wisdom, judgment, and self-sacrifice to create healthy, prosperous families and communities. The founders knew this as well.

George Washington, our first president, famously said in his Farewell Address:

"Of all the dispositions and habits which lead to political prosperity, religion and morality are indispensable supports. In vain would that man claim the tribute of patriotism, who should labor to subvert these great pillars of human happiness, these firmest props of the duties of men and citizens. The mere politician, equally with the pious man, ought to respect and to cherish them. A volume could not trace all their connections with private and public felicity. Let it simply be asked: Where is the security for property, for reputation, for life, if the sense of religious obligation desert the oaths which are the instruments of investigation in courts of justice? And let us with caution indulge the supposition that morality can be maintained without religion. Whatever may be conceded to the influence of refined education on minds of peculiar structure, reason and experience both forbid us to expect that national morality can prevail in exclusion of religious principle."

John Adams, our second president, also famously said16,

"We have no Government armed with Power capable of contending with human Passions unbridled by morality and Religion. Avarice, Ambition Revenge or Galantry, would break the strongest Cords of our Constitution as a Whale goes through a Net. Our Constitution was made only for a moral and religious People. It is wholly inadequate to the government of any other".

Sometimes we hear the argument that you can’t expect people to be good and do all the good necessary to solve society's problems, but the truth is that a moral people is necessary to any non-tyrannical form of government that aspires to any pretense of freedom. Societal freedom is only possible in an environment of individual self-control. That same self-control is the twin of charitable impulses.

What morality are we to live? Our political solution was built on a Judeo-Christian moral framework. We must study and live the teachings of the Master Teacher, our Savior and Exemplar Jesus Christ. He teaches us how to be sons and daughters, brothers and sisters, husbands and wives, employers and employees, neighbors and citizens.

And what about the separation of church and state? At bottom, there is no such thing. Everyone has a religion, a set of values they live by or want everyone else to live by whether they believe in God or not. And laws or legislation is simply the codifying of someone’s set of values and imposing it on everyone else.

For this reason, the founders minimized the role of government which has a monopoly on force, so that the levers of power would be used for the protection of fundamental rights only. Which, being honest, IS itself an imposition of a value set or religion. After all, the founders valued life, liberty, and property and enshrined protections for them in the law, but it’s the minimum possible value set founded on Christian scripture and Christian-compatible philosophies of men. Everything else ought to be pursued through persuasion and cooperation.

Knowledge and Wisdom

Thomas Jefferson saidXX, “If a nation expects to be ignorant & free, it expects what never was and never will be.” He is also credited with sayingXX, “The price of freedom is eternal vigilance.”

We must study the principles of freedom. President Benson called on our people to elect good, wise, and honest men and women to office. He was simply reiterating Doctrine & Covenants 98:10 which tells us, “Honest men and wise men should be sought for diligently, and good men and wise men ye should observe to uphold;”

Have we apostatized as a nation from some of these core principles, as a modern prophet warned; that we are made in the image of God, that “equality” means equal before God and the law, that happiness is the pursuit of godliness, that life is sacred, that the proper use of liberty is to choose virtue, that human law must be in harmony with God’s law, that the proper role of government is the protection of life, liberty, and property, that subsidiarity, federalism, and the separation of powers prevent corruption and center incentive, action, and consequence on the proper shoulders, that morality is essential in a free people, that knowledge and wisdom is essential to be an effective and responsible citizen?

The duties of citizenship cannot be delegated. We can delegate the study of bridge building to the engineers, the study of dentistry to the dentists, the study of flight to the pilots, but moral and political philosophy must in some degree be understood and lived by each of us or as President Joseph F. Smith warned, “we will have a change of government.” In truth, we already have - in important ways. After all, what else does apostasy mean?

And such a change actually becomes necessary. In 1748, the French philosopher Baron Charles de Montesquieu published his seminal work, The Spirit of the LawsXX, which was profoundly influential on the founders. In it, he articulated the need for key concepts like the separation of powers which we see in all modern governments today. He also said that the spirit of the law must match the heart of the people, or they would be ungovernable. As a people stray further away from God’s laws, they are less capable of freedom. God himself illustrated this principle when he took the higher law from the children of Israel and gave them instead the Law of Moses.

There are other forms of government that are detrimental to human freedom and flourishing. We don’t have to dig very deep into history or current events to see just how blessed we are to live in this nation, however far we may have strayed thus far. In 1878, British Prime Minister William Gladstone, describedXX the American Constitution as “the most wonderful work ever struck off at a given time by the brain and purpose of man.” He was right. We must do the difficult work of understanding and preserving it. Our attitude must be that of Thomas Paine who saidXX, “'If there must be trouble, let it be in my day, that my child may have peace.”

Eighty years ago in celebration of I Am An American Day, Judge Learned Hand had this to sayXX:

“I often wonder whether we do not rest our hopes too much upon constitutions, upon laws and upon courts. These are false hopes; believe me, these are false hopes. Liberty lies in the hearts of men and women; when it dies there, no constitution, no law, no court can even do much to help it. While it lies there it needs no constitution, no law, no court to save it. And what is this liberty which must lie in the hearts of men and women? It is not the ruthless, the unbridled will; it is not freedom to do as one likes. That is the denial of liberty, and leads straight to its overthrow. A society in which men recognize no check upon their freedom soon becomes a society where freedom is the possession of only a savage few; as we have learned to our sorrow.”

The good news is that if we understand correct principles we can advocate for them, we can eloquently and lovingly express them, we can live them, we can teach them to our children, we can select candidates and vote accordingly.

On this Constitution Day, I bear my testimony of these principles. We are the third Christian civilization to live in this land. The first two, the Jaredites and the Nephites, fell because they did not hearken to their covenants with the Lord. They experienced “a change of government.” It is my prayer that as a people we will fulfill our responsibility to do as President Benson said, “bear the Constitution away from the very verge of destruction.” Its principles are part and parcel of the Gospel of Jesus Christ. “Wherefore, how great the importance to make these things known unto the inhabitants of the earth.”

Footnotes & Citations

  1. See, for example, the 235-page volume Latter-day Prophets and the United States Constitution, ed. by Donald Q. Cannon (Provo, Utah: Religious Studies Center, Brigham Young University, 1991)

  2. Doctrines of Salvation, Vol. 3, p. 326 and Conference Report April 1950, p. 159

  3. 19 July 1840, as recorded by Martha Jane Knowlton Coray; ms. in Church Historian’s Office, Salt Lake City; Joseph Smith Papers, LDS Church Historical Archives, Box 1, March 10, 1844

  4. Jefferson specifically referenced Aristotle, Cicero, Locke, and Sidney as sources for his ideas in the Declaration in a May 8, 1825 letter to Henry Lee.

  5. Ronald Reagan, Address on Behalf of Senator Barry Goldwater: "A Time for Choosing" Online by Gerhard Peters and John T. Woolley, The American Presidency Project

  6. I wrote extensively on Aristotle's concept of happiness here.

  7. See

  8. For example, see Locke's Second Treatise, chapter II, section 6.

  9. Ibid, chapter V

  10. Ibid, chapter II: 8-10; VII:87; VIII:95,97,99

  11. The 18 powers enumerated in Article 1, Section8 of the Constitution and their relation to the protection of life, liberty, and property:

  12. Borrow Money - to carry out legitimate role of government

  13. Regulate Commerce - property

  14. Naturalization and Bankruptcies - national defense, property

  15. Coin Money, Regulate Value, Weights and Measures - property

  16. Counterfeiting - property

  17. Post Offices and Roads - national defense (communications)

  18. Copyrights and Patents - property

  19. Constitute Tribunals - life, liberty, property

  20. Piracies, Felonies, International Relations - life, liberty, property, national defense (standing among nations)

  21. Declare War - national defense

  22. Raise Armies - national defense

  23. Maintain Navy - national defense

  24. Regulation of land and naval Forces - national defense

  25. Militia I - national defense (foreign and domestic)

  26. Militia II - national defense (foreign and domestic)

  27. Seat of Government and Military Installations - national defense

  28. Make Laws - to carry out legitimate role of government

  29. Tocqueville, Alexis de, 1805-1859. Democracy in America. New York:G. Dearborn & Co., 1838.

  30. See Benson, Ezra Taft, "Our Divine Constitution", October 1987 General Conference.

  31. Letter to Bishop Mandell Creighton, April 5, 1887 Transcript of, published in Historical Essays and Studies, edited by J. N. Figgis and R. V. Laurence (London: Macmillan, 1907).

  32. This was an analogy I often used when I was a Citizenship in the Nation merit badge counselor for the Boy Scouts of America. I further elaborated on this idea in an article entitled Sinking Our Ship of State, Sept. 30, 2020.

  33. Justice Louis D. Brandeis famously gave birth to the Laboratories of Democracy idea in his dissenting opinion in the 1932 case New State Ice Co. v. Liebmann, 285 U.S. 262, 311. In it, Judge Brandeis spoke of states trying "novel social and economic experiments without risk to the rest of the country". I agree with Columbia Law Review's Tyler & Gerken that the role of the experimenter was misplaced by Brandeis - it's not the states but rather non-governmental actors that experiment. I disagree, however, with their recommendation for further regulation of competition between political networks.

  34. Adams, John. The Works of John Adams, vol. 9 (Letters and State Papers 1799-1811). Little, Brown, and Company, 1854. Retrieved from

  35. Gladstone, William E. “Kin Beyond Sea,” The North American Review, September–October 1878, p. 185.

  36. Thomas Jefferson to Charles Yancey, January 6. -01-06, 1816. Manuscript/Mixed Material. Retrieved from the Library of Congress, <>.

  37. This quote is often mistakenly attributed to Thomas Jefferson and John Philpot Curran. Wendell Phillips is another source, from a speech in 1852, where he said, "Eternal vigilance is the price of liberty; power is ever stealing from the many to the few. The manna of popular liberty must be gathered each day or it is rotten. The living sap of today outgrows the dead rind of yesterday. The hand entrusted with power becomes, either from human depravity or esprit de corps, the necessary enemy of the people. Only by continued oversight can the democrat in office be prevented from hardening into a despot; only by unintermitted agitation can a people be sufficiently awake to principle not to let liberty be smothered in material prosperity.” However, according to Anna Berkes, a research librarian at The Jefferson Library, the first use was in a 1809 biography of Major General James Jackson, written by Thomas Charlton. See here for more information.

  38. Montesquieu, Charles de Secondat, Baron de, 1689-1755. The Spirit of Laws. London: Printed for J. Collingwood, 1823.

  39. Paine, Thomas. The American Crisis No. 1, Boston, 1776. Retrieved from the Library of Congress, <>

  40. Hand, Learned. Speech entitled The Spirit of Liberty, 1944. Retrieved from

72 views0 comments

Recent Posts

See All
Post: Blog2_Post
Post: Blog2 Custom Feed
bottom of page