The topic of discussion for this Constitution Monday is the connection between Elder Dallin H. Oaks of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints and the Constitution of the United States of America. Elder Oaks has been a member of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles since May 1984 and often speaks about the U.S. Constitution.
Elder Oaks graduated from Brigham Young University (1954) and the University of Chicago Law School (1957). He practiced law and taught law in Chicago. He accepted the assignment from the Church to serve as the president of Brigham Young University. When his service there was completed, he served as a justice of the Utah Supreme Court from 1980 until he resigned in 1984 to accept his calling as an apostle. With his 50-year career in law and his position as an apostle, Elder Oaks is particularly capable of speaking about the Constitution.
Elder Oaks sometimes speaks about the four principles that define the Constitution. According to Elder Oaks, the first principle defined in the Constitution is popular sovereignty, meaning the power of the government comes from the people being governed. “Instead of blaming their troubles on a king, on a cabal of military leaders, or on some distant group of wise men, citizens who are sovereign must share a measure of the burdens and responsibilities of governing.”
The second principle that Elder Oaks speaks about is the division of powers in a federal system. This principle has served our nation well but is currently being neglected. Whatever the merits of current controversies over the laws of marriage and child adoption and the like, let us not forget that if the decisions of federal courts can override the actions of state lawmakers on this subject (which is one reserved to the states), we have suffered a significant constitutional reallocation of lawmaking power from the lawmaking branch to the judicial branch and from the states to the federal government.”
The third fundamental principle is the Bill of Rights, beginning with the guarantee of religious freedom. According to Elder Oaks, the freedom of religion is one of the most important of the founding principles in the Constitution. “We are fortunate to have such a guarantee in the United States, but many nations do not. … The importance of that guarantee should make us ever diligent to defend it. And it is in need of being defended. During my lifetime I have seen a significant deterioration in the respect accorded to religion in our public life, and I believe that the vitality of religious freedom is in danger of being weakened accordingly.”
The fourth fundamental principle is the system of checks and balances between the three branches of government. Elder Oaks said that for that system to work properly, “Each branch of government must preserve its independence from the others. Moreover, the powers of each of these three branches must be exercised in a good faith effort to serve the interests of the public, rather than to dominate the others or to enhance the personal position of a particular official. Politics, revenge or personal gain must never be the primary driving force in the application of checks and balances.”
Elder Oaks even suggests how We the People can help sustain and protect the Constitution: (1) understand the Constitution, (2) support the law, (3) practice civic virtue, (4) maintain civility in political discourse, and
(5) promote patriotism.
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