The cure to some of the "ills and irritations" of government is to get personally involved, President James E. Faust counseled July 2 as he addressed a capacity audience at the BYU Marriott Center.
"In a democracy, if we are not involved in our duty as citizens we have the kind of government we deserve," said President Faust, second counselor in the First Presidency.He spoke at the patriotic service of the annual America's Freedom Festival in Provo, Utah. His wife, Ruth, attended the service with him.
As U.S. citizens commemorate the Independence Day holiday, President Faust said, they celebrate 223 years of the establishment of a government in a country unlike any other in the history of the world. "It has had at its very heart the concept of a government `instituted of God for the benefit of man,' " he said, quoting D&C 134:1. "The deepest taproots of our nation and state have lain in the very essence of our humanity, our faith in God."
President Faust explained he learned many lessons by living in countries under military dictatorships, "where the principal authority is the man who has the rubber stamp which grants authority and rights. The law is, in large measure, what the man in authority decides it is." In some of those countries, he continued, inadequate respect was shown for stop signs, traffic lights or even civil authority.
"I have learned that obedience to law must come from one's own heart and one's own conscience, reinforced by a patriotic feeling of duty and citizenship," President Faust declared.
In his lifetime, he said he has seen a decay in the respect for the legal system and a disrespect and mistrust of civil authority in this country. "Cynicism and distrust of government are abroad in the land."
He added, "I am quick to admit that some laws seem irrational, but they are the law, and should be changed by orderly process."
Some think, he explained, that Watergate and the Vietnam War have something to do with the growing cynicism. "The Watergate scandal concerned the betrayal of trust by those in the highest positions of the Executive Branch. To me, the most remarkable experience of Watergate was that the constitutional processes of the government functioned to remove the head of state peacefully from office."
President Faust said Americans should marvel at that orderly transfer of power without bloodshed or damage to the constitutional institutions of the nation. Many, however, only see the failings of some individuals and overlook the strength of the constitutional processes, he remarked.
Continuing, President Faust spoke of serving in the military, the right to bear arms and civil disobedience.
He declared one of the highest duties of citizenship is to defend one's country because often wartime service demands the ultimate sacrifice - life itself. However, because war is so horrible in its consequences, he said, it is hard to defend the settlement of disputes through war.
"I was drafted
for three years during World War IIT and served because it was the law of the land. I was no hero, but I believe I did the right thing. If I had to do it over, I would not try to avoid my wartime obligation to my country," said the second counselor in the First Presidency.
"My father served in the American Army
during World War IT because it was the law of the land of his citizenship. His German cousins were in the same position, serving in the German Army because it was the law of their land," he explained. "They had no power in the grand military or political strategies of that war. They were just decent, law-abiding citizens doing their civil duty no matter how personally abhorrent it was to them."
Speaking of the right to bear arms, President Faust said he is well aware of the provision in the U.S. Constitution which guarantees that right.
"But I seriously doubt," he emphasized, "if the framers of the constitution intended that children would be bringing guns to school. Does the right to bear arms include a citizenry where some are armed with automatic assault weapons empowering them to take the law into their own hands by overpowering force?"
Speaking of civil disobedience, President Faust said it has become fashionable for a few with strongly held political agendas.
"Even when causes are meritorious, if civil disobedience were to be practiced by everyone with a cause, our democracy would unravel and be destroyed," he affirmed. "Civil disobedience is an abuse of political process in a democracy."
President Faust said recently a new convert urged that the Church resort to civil disobedience and violence because of the moral wrongness of abortion.
"I told him that it was our belief that even though we disagreed with the law, and even though we counseled our people strongly against abortion, and even though we bring into question the membership of those involved in abortion, we are still obliged to recognize the law of the land until it is changed," he said.
"I tried to explain that when we disagree with a law, rather than resort to civil disobedience or violence, we are obliged to exercise our right to seek its repeal or change by peaceful and lawful means."
President Faust said the Declaration of Independence articulates that all men and women are endowed by their Creator with inalienable rights, which are guaranteed by seven fundamental rights set forth in the Bill of Rights: the freedom of speech, religion, press, peaceful assembly and from unreasonable search, and the right to have a lawyer and a trial by jury.
"It becomes the duty of all of us, not only to claim these rights for ourselves, but to honor and secure them for our fellow countrymen," he said.
Referring to his "principal suggestion" to get personally involved, President Faust quoted from a 1994 First Presidency letter: "Members are encouraged to participate as responsible citizens in supporting measures that strengthen society morally, economically and culturally. They are urged to be actively engaged in worthy causes to improve their communities and make them more wholesome places in which to live and rear families."
He said there is a widespread feeling that the time-honored values of this nation are eroding and must be re-enthroned, such as absolute honesty, complete integrity, decency, civility, marriage, independence, industry, thrift, self-reliance, respect for law and order, and hard work.
"I do not wish to be a voice of doom," he said. "I wish to be a voice of confidence and hope in our country. The United States, with all its challenges and problems, is still the greatest haven of opportunity in the world."
He said the desirability of the United States will persist so long as its citizenry are a God-fearing people with the integrity to obey the law of the land - including the laws people do not like.
He said if people will face up to their personal and public challenges and have individual responsibility, then, as Abraham Lincoln said, "government of the people, by the people and for the people shall not perish from the earth."
President Faust concluded, "As the flag unfurls on July 4th, and with it a fresh wave of national pride, may God help us to increase our personal and individual devotion to the cause of the great country it represents."