Recognize responsibilities as well as rights

Citizens of the United States should recognize their responsibilities as well as their rights, Elder Dallin H. Oaks told an audience in the BYU Marriott Center on July 3.

Elder Oaks of the Council of the Twelve delivered his address during the Patriotic Service of the America's Freedom Festival in Provo."At a time when most of our public discourse concerns rights, it may seem strange to speak of responsibilities," Elder Oaks told the audience in the nearly-full Marriott Center. "But a democratic republic needs patriotic citizens who are fulfilling their responsibilities as well as claiming their rights."

Elder Oaks focused on three fundamental responsibilities of citizens - serving in the military, paying taxes, and participating in democratic government.

He said some argue against the government's compulsion to serve in the military and to pay taxes because those duties interfere with freedom.

Then he added that some citizens feel they have a right to refuse military service if they object to a war their country is involved in, such as the Vietnam War, and some feel justified in withholding taxes if they do not agree with the way the government is using the revenue.

"One does not have to approve of all of the uses of military power," he stated, "nor all of the uses of tax revenues to see that taxpayers and young men of military age cannot resist compulsion on the basis of disagreements with some of the policies of the government that seeks to compel them. A government could not survive if the enforceable responsibilities of its citizens were divisible according to their individual preferences. We cannot be expected to welcome military service or to relish the payment of taxes, but we should recognize these as essential responsibilities of citizenship, even where we disagree with some of the actions of the government we support."

He noted, "The United States Constitution and the constitutions of the several states have defined the powers citizens have granted to their governments, the procedures for amending those grants, and the means by which controversies over the exercise of those powers can be resolved."

He then turned to the principle of participating in democratic government.

He said: "The solution to many of the major problems in our nation is for more citizens to participate more actively and more effectively in democratic government, by their votes and by their letters and other communications to elected representatives. This fundamental responsibility of citizenship is a prerequisite for the perpetuation of freedom."

He cited three major national problems that he believed would yield, long-term, to increased citizen participation - the budget deficit, the acquiring of additional powers by the federal government that were previously left to state and local governments, and the idea that the national government presumably possesses powers except to the extent limited by some individual right.

But he cautioned against citizen participation in single-interest groups, asking, "If most who are politically active see the political process and the future of our country only through the keyhole of one particular special interest, where will we get the vision and perspective necessary to guide the ship of state on the largest and most important issues that confront us?"

Finally, he spoke of the relationship of responsibilities to the matter of heroes.

"The genuine hero achieves that status by accomplishments measured against a consensus of what is good and praiseworthy," he said.

He later stated: "I suggest that there are few heroes in a world that focuses on rights. Is a person a hero for getting his or her rights? . . . No, the pursuit of rights is rarely the stuff of which heroes are made. And so, in a time of preoccupation with rights it should not surprise us that we live in a world with few heroes.

"Heroes win that status by distinction in the fulfillment of responsibilities. If we could resurrect the prominence of responsibilities in our society, we would resurrect the framework of belief and the measures of distinction by which heroes can be recognized and honored."

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