The world caught its breath this year, and especially this past month, as it watched freedom burst forth across the globe. People whose freedom had long been shackled in many of the great countries of the world found themselves in the streets, demonstrating and speaking out for the right to be heard. The image of their struggle exploded into our consciousness. Headlines, large and dark, announced the historic arrival of liberty. Television screens filled with seas of people united in an allegiance to a better future.
These are indeed historic times. Changes which a few years ago would have been dismissed as impossible have become reality. One result is that the gospel is being preached in countries today where only a few short years ago the very idea of religion was officially banned. Seldom has the torch of liberty shown brighter in this world than it does now, and all of this because people are becoming free to say what they want, meet with whomever they choose, print their uncensored thoughts and worship as they wish.And all of this can be traced in concept back to the Bill of Rights, those 10 amendments to the U.S. Constitution. This issue of the Church News takes special note of those rights, and particularly those of the First Amendment, in this, the 200th year since they were ratified. In the codification of these rights liberty gained its strongest foothold, and this with divine approval if not intervention. The Lord told Joseph Smith that "for this purpose have I established the Constitution of this land, by the hands of wise men whom I raised up unto this very purpose." (D&C 101:80.)
The Bill of Rights confirmed that mankind has inherent rights and offered the protection of the Constitution to those rights. Without that, the restoration of the gospel could not have occurred. Thus, Church members have an extra obligation to maintain those rights and renew them in each generation. Underlying the basic concepts in the Bill of Rights is the gospel truth that we each are unique, that we are our own person whose like will never be seen again in all creation.
The question of commitment must be raised in any discussion of human rights because implicit in the acceptance of freedom is the obligation to use it. Rights are meaningless if not invoked. The right to speak freely is silent when no one speaks up. The right to assemble is lost if no one attends. The right to a free press is useless if no one prints or reads, and the right to free exercise of religion remains a hollow promise if no one worships.
More than that is the inherent understanding that we must care for each other. That, after all, is the essence of the "social contract" between people and their governments. It means we must devote our energy and time to making the system work. Just as the Church requires the active participation of its members for them to receive the maximum good from the gospel, so too does government require our enthusiastic and informed support.
The Church addressed this concern in its declaration of belief regarding governments and laws in general, which forms the entire 134th Section of the Doctrine and Covenants. Part of the statement cautions: "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, both in making laws and administering them, for the good and safety of society." (D&C 134:1.) That is a clear direction to Church members that they should become involved in their civic duties.
Governments also have an obligation, whose parallel is found in the U.S. Declaration of Independence. The Church said, "We believe that no government can exist in peace, except such laws are framed and held inviolate as will secure to each individual the free exercise of conscience, the right and control of property, and the protection of life." (D&C 134:2.) How prophetic those words are can be seen today in the turmoil of countries where they have been ignored.
It's clear from latter-day scripture that we must be a part of the civic community. Common sense tells us that our further obligation is to become informed about the issues that concern our community and our world. We should be volunteering our insights and help whenever we can, in the spirit of King Benjamin's counsel to his people that "ye may learn that when ye are in the service of your fellow beings ye are only in the service of your God." (Mosiah 2:17.)
And finally, we must cherish these rights, holding them close to our hearts and protecting them with all our skills. As millions throughout the world glory in their new freedoms, let us rejoice in their good fortune and resolve that we will also embrace without question the enduring truth that all men are, indeed, created equal, and that they have rights that can never be separated from them, though worlds may end.