Defending the Constitution goes beyond learning its individual provisions and history, says former federal judge

The Constitution creates a system of government that will only succeed when citizens seek to moderate and to unify on contested issues, said Thomas B. Griffith

As a former federal judge of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit, Thomas B. Griffith has taken an oath to support and defend the United States Constitution.

He believes and supports the bedrock and fundamental principles of the Constitution that need to be protected and defended — including freedom of religion, freedom of speech, the right to bear arms and equal protection of law.

Still when Griffith, a Latter-day Saint, heard President Dallin H. Oaks, first counselor in the First Presidency, speak about the Constitution during his April 2021 general conference address, one phrase stood out.  

I don’t believe that I’ve ever heard a more articulate statement of what it means to defend and support the Constitution than the one President Oaks gave in that talk when he said, ‘On contested issues, we [should] seek to moderate and to unify,’” said Griffith during a recent Church News interview. “If you want a template to measure your support for the Constitution, whether you are supporting and defending the Constitution, there it is. We need to ask ourselves, ‘Does that describe me?’”

The Constitution, said Griffith, creates a system of government that will only succeed when citizens seek to moderate and to unify on contested issues.

Latter-day Saints have a distinctive and unique role to play at this moment in history when there is division and contention in the United States.

Quoting the late Brigham Young University English professor Eugene England, Griffith said the organization of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints helps its members become natural bridge-builders. First, Latter-day Saints do not get to select their congregations. They are assigned by geography, and they worship with people who are different from them — socially, politically, economically and culturally. Second, as they serve in the Church with those who are different, they come to see the Lord loves them and they learn to love them too.

Latter-day Saints “know how to see somebody who’s different than us and learn to work with them and get along with them. Now, can we take that skill that we’ve developed in our wards and in our stakes to our community? Can we be the ones in our community who are agents of reconciliation? Can we be the builders of bridges?”

Former Judge Thomas B. Griffith at the U.S. Capitol in Washington, D.C., Tuesday, March 8, 2022. | Cheryl Diaz Meyer, for the Deseret News

Griffith said supporting and defending the Constitution goes well beyond learning its individual provisions and history. “It goes to what President Oaks was saying on contested issues — we seek to moderate and to unify. That’s the living spirit of the Constitution.”

Reconciliation, said Griffith, is something Latter-day Saints can give to the country at this time, using “the skills that we’ve developed in our church lives and bringing them into the lives of our communities and the life of our nation.”

Religious liberty should also be important to Latter-day Saints, said Griffith. Freedom of conscience “goes to the heart of what it means to be a human being,” he said.

“Some people’s conscience will lead them away from faith. Other people’s conscience will lead them to faith,” he said. “Having the freedom to follow conscience gets the heart and soul of what it means to be a human being.”

The need to worship God is deeply ingrained in most human beings, he continued. “Just a brief review of world history shows that most people, in most places, in most times worship,” he said.

Acknowledging there are some people who choose no faith at all, Griffith said for most people in the world, in most places, at most times, religion has been an integral part of what it means to be human. People long to “sense that you’re part of a grand design,” that they “live in a universe that has purpose and meaning and was created by a beneficent God.”

“For people of faith, the exercise of their faith, their freedom to worship, is as important to who they are as an individual as breathing is to the body of all of us,” he said.

Griffith said the founders of the U.S. Constitution determined to establish a government based on “We the people.”

The idea was that the people would decide the rules by which society would be governed — not a king or a monarch or any other leader.

One obligation of the people is to remember the words — “a more perfect union” — found in the preamble of the Constitution, he said. “We are here to create community. We are here to create a union. That means that you need to compromise. … That means you need to not only develop the skills of argument, you need to develop the skills of listening.”

Listening to one another may move the country to a better place, he said. “The Constitution created a system of government that compels compromise. It requires compromise. It’s the fundamental ethos.”

Griffith said Latter-day Saints should do their best “to create a just and a fair society.”

Quoting Mitch Daniels, the chancellor of Purdue University and former governor of Indiana, Griffith said, “‘In all things, our first thought is always for those on the first rung of life’s ladder and how we might help them climb.’

“That’s what we’re called to do, and the American experiment provides the best opportunity to do that in the world today.”

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