“We have learned by sad experience that it is the nature and disposition of almost all men, as soon as they get a little authority, as they suppose, they will immediately begin to exercise unrighteous dominion.” D&C 121:39

“And the people shall be oppressed, every one by another, and every one by his neighbor;” 2 Ne. 13:5

I live in a smallish, mostly Mormon town in the “Zion” of southern Idaho. Recently we had brouhaha in the local papers over a $41million school bond election. How should we decide whether to support taxes for schools or any other purpose?

There was a multitude of reasons given for supporting and another multitude for opposing, but it was distressing to me that almost no one could see the core issue. I submit that it was not a question of needs vs. wants, nor of whether we could afford it, nor of whether the economy was going to be good or bad, nor whether the children deserve it, nor whether it would be a good investment in the future of our community, nor whether it would cost more later, nor any of the other arguments that were made either for or against it. In fact, the issue was a moral question.

“A moral question,” you say, “how so?”

Here’s how. Government operates on the principle of coercion. Every law passed by governments either forbids or compels certain behaviors. Government holds a monopoly on the use of violence to enforce all its laws and regulations. Violators of the laws are threatened with the loss of property, then liberty, and ultimately of life. If a person resists the coercion of the government to do or not do that which has been decreed, that person will have his or her property confiscated. If he or she resists the confiscation of his or her property, he or she will be arrested and jailed and then have his or her property confiscated. If he or she resists being arrested and jailed, he or she will be killed. You could start the whole process with a simple parking ticket, or with a property tax, but the escalation process is the same in either case.

So every government law and regulation has the effect of depriving individuals of their agency to act according to their own choice and replaces it with the choice of bureaucrats or voters. Here’s where Mormons should be paying close attention: depriving a person of their agency is a moral issue. Therefore, every act of government is a moral issue because every act of government deprives people of agency. Remember that doctrine about war in heaven? What was that all about? Remember that scripture about unrighteous dominion? You thought that was just about beating your wife? Since there is no such thing as a right to injure another you must be extremely careful when you vote to be sure the officials and laws you support do not violate this principle of agency, otherwise you become an accessory to evil.

Here’s another thought: people cannot delegate to their government authority that they do not have in the first place. It doesn’t matter how many people agree with the action. A majority cannot make an immoral act moral. If 51% or 67% vote that it is OK to kill Jews (or Mormons if you can remember Missouri) it is still immoral. If you as an individual do not have the moral authority to use the ultimate violence of killing someone to either prevent or compel a certain behavior, you cannot empower a democratically elected government to do it for you. Misunderstanding this principle is the means by which we can commit sins (like stealing someone’s property or killing innocent people in the Middle East) and not be held accountable for it. Pretty neat! Everyman’s willingness to be accountable for his own sins is a precondition of liberty. (See Mosiah 29)

If you believe in agency only so long as people choose what you want them to choose, then you don’t believe in agency at all; you really believe in coercion. If you believe that the country’s (or school district’s) problems can be solved by government coercion, then you have switched sides in that war that began in heaven and continues here, and how you vote reveals what you believe. It hasn’t been said any better than by Bastiat in the last sentence of his work The Law, “…try liberty; for liberty is an acknowledgment of faith in God and His works.”

Image: Trevor LeyenhorstCC BY 2.0