Monday, September 18, 1995

Part 1. Moral case for individual liberty

(from a series of letters I wrote in 1995)

This section is about the way liberty relates to individuals dealing with each other. It does not consider the relationship between government and individuals. Governments will be considered in section two.

Source of Liberty

Some of the books I have read have attempted to explain where the rights of man come from. There are a number of different ideas. Some say men have natural rights because they are human. Others say men have rights because, from a utilitarian point of view, they feel there are benefits. Many say governments grant rights. However, as members of the church, we believe our rights come from God. Specifically God granted to those of us that chose the correct side in the war in heaven, life and free agency. President Benson said "Reason, necessity, tradition and religious convictions all lead me to accept the divine origin of these rights. If we accept the premise that human rights are granted by government, then we must be willing to accept the corollary that they can be denied by government" (emphasis added). Thomas Jefferson wrote in our Declaration of Independence "We hold these Truths to be self evident, that all Men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable rights, that among these are Life, Liberty, and the Pursuit of happiness" (emphasis added).

Range of Liberty

There are legitimate limits to our freedoms, but before considering the limits it is important to understand that the range of agency should be as great as possible. First, agency should not be limited because it is a gift from God. God allows us great latitude in the use of our agency. As it says in one of our hymns "God will force no man to heaven." There is lots of wickedness in the world that God could stop if the principle of agency was not so crucial. Another reason we must be left free to choose is that, if righteousness was forced, we would not learn nor would we be rewarded for the acts we perform. Satan presented a plan to take away our agency; we rejected his plan. He continues to pursue his goal. Therefore, we must think very carefully about the limits we desire to place on other individuals.

Legitimate Limits on Liberty

We should be free to do whatever we choose, as long as we do not infringe on another individual’s freedoms. Therefore, the only time an individual can justifiably take life or limit liberty is to protect life or liberty. In other words individuals can only use force defensively. The only other case where force may be appropriate is in teaching and raising children, but we cannot use force on adults except to protect ourselves.

There are many examples where the use of force by one individual to limit the liberty of another individual is clearly immoral. We do not go into our neighbors' homes and attempt to compel them to act in ways we desire even if the actions we desire would benefit them or others. We cannot coerce others to give money, goods, or service to us even for righteous causes. It would be wrong to control where our friends shop, what they buy or how much they pay. If we are with a friend when we see someone asking for money, we can reach into our pocket and give willingly but we can't reach into our friend’s pocket to help him give. We believe that alcohol and tobacco are bad, but we do not try to force others to stop using them. We would not want our neighbor to control the shows we watch, the books we read, or the people we associate with. We don't want him to select the church we go to or the things we believe. As individuals we generally should not try to control each other.

The Relationship between Property Ownership and Liberty

As free individuals there are numerous ways we can use our liberties to acquire property. We can trade our labor for property, we can trade things we already own for other goods, we can give or receive gifts from others. Liberty gives us the right to own things, all types of things, land, cars, houses, clothes, food, etc. To be clear I would like to offer a definition of ownership: The owner of an object is the individual that can decide what to do with the thing that is owned. The owner can sell, trade, destroy, improve, save, or do anything else desired with his property.

Because liberty allows us to own property, using force to protect property is equivalent to protecting liberty. If someone attempts to steal our property or take control of it, we have the right to use force to keep it.

Additionally, property ownership draws a line when there are conflicts between individuals using their liberties. Because the owner of an object has the right to control it, we can not claim that liberty allows us to do what we want wherever we want. In our own homes we have almost no limits placed on our liberty. When we invite others into our home, they must abide by our standards or we can make them leave. When we are in another person’s home our liberties our significantly restricted.


Because I have said we can use force to protect life, liberty and property, does not mean I advocate, a system where each of us individually must constantly resort to force for protection. The point I am trying to make is that we will always have the right to use force defensively. Nothing can take away our right to protect our families, our friends, and our property.

To summarize, Liberty is a gift from God. We should place the minimum limits necessary on liberty. The only legitimate use of force is to protect life, liberty, and property. Property ownership draws a line when there are conflicts between individuals exercising their liberties.

In my next letter I will try to show how these principles of individual liberty relate to the proper role of government.

Part 0: Introduction

(from a series of letters I wrote in 1995)

As all of you know, I have recently been spending considerable time studying about the role of government and its relationship to the governed. About a week ago I watched a tape of a talk given by President Benson on September 16, 1987 at a BYU devotional. The titled of the talk was "The Constitution, a Heavenly Banner.” The next day I went down to Deseret Book and purchased a pamphlet that contained this talk. I also found a book by Ezra Taft Benson entitled "An Enemy Hath Done This." I have just finished reading this book. I strongly recommend it to all.

In the general priesthood session of conference on April 9, 1966 President David O. McKay stated:

We therefore commend and encourage every person and every group who is sincerely seeking to study Constitutional principles and awaken a sleeping and apathetic people to the alarming conditions that are rapidly advancing about us. We wish all of our citizens throughout the land were participating in some type of organized self-education in order that they could better appreciate what is happening and know what they can do about it.

With this recommendation from President McKay I would like to share with you some of the things I have learned. This will be the first in a series of letters that will explain my opinions about government and attempt to back them up. I will likely quote from President Benson extensively. It's likely there are items that I am wrong about. If my beliefs are in any way out of harmony with the teachings of the church, I will change my beliefs. Obviously there will be cases where you disagree with me. When you do, let me know why so we can discuss it. I am continually trying to increase my understanding. Feel free to share these letters with your family and friends.

I have organized the material I would like to share into the following four sections: 1) Moral case for individual liberty, 2) Government, 3) Pragmatic case for liberty, and 4) Actions we can take to improve our government.