The Book of Mormon is a book of scripture comparable to the Bible and was written by prophets who lived in the ancient Americas. Its primary purpose is to bring people to Christ. “Of more than 6,000 verses in the Book of Mormon, far more than half refer directly to Him”.
Our God-given right to liberty is an essential part of the Gospel of Christ. The apostle Paul said “Stand fast therefore in the liberty wherewith Christ hath made us free, and be not entangled again with the yoke of bondage.” [Galatians 5:1]. Therefore, it is natural that a book which focuses on Christ would also have a lot to teach us about the principles of liberty. Anyone who loves liberty should be intrigued to study the Book of Mormon because they will find that it adamantly defends our rights.
Several liberty principles that are taught, according to my understanding, are listed below. This article contains only a few highlights of quoted scriptures for each principle—an extensive list for each of these principles can be found here, where over 175 verses are cited.
Soon after the people in the Book of Mormon arrived to the Americas, they split into two groups: the Nephites who were generally the righteous followers of Christ, and the Lamanites who were generally more wicked. Most examples below are taken from the Nephites. However, there were times when Lamanites were righteous while the Nephites were wicked, so some examples are from the Lamanites during these times. The verses cited below can be found online at http://www.lds.org/scriptures/bofm?lang=eng, and a free physical copy of the Book of Mormon can be obtained at http://mormon.org/free-book-of-mormon.
1. Life, Liberty, Property: All our rights can be summed up with these three rights, and often they are mentioned together. The righteous people defended these by force.
- After the Lamanites had initated a war, the Nephites prepared for battle because it was it was their design “to support their lands, and their houses, and their wives, and their children, that they might preserve them from the hands of their enemies, and also that they might preserve their rights and their privileges, yea, and also their liberty, that they might worship God according to their desires” [Alma 43:9].
- “And again, the Lord has said that: Ye shall defend your families even unto bloodshed. Therefore for this cause were the Nephites contending with the Lamanites, to defend themselves, and their families, and their lands, their country, and their rights, and their religion.” [Alma 43:47].
- The Nephites “were exceedingly rejoiced because of the liberty which had been granted unto them” [Mosiah 29:39].
- “Therefore they did assemble themselves together at this time, as many as were able to take up arms, and they called themselves Nephites. And they entered into a covenant to fight for the liberty of the Nephites, yea, to protect the land unto the laying down of their lives; yea, even they covenanted that they never would give up their liberty, but they would fight in all cases to protect the Nephites and themselves from bondage.” [Alma 53:16–17].
2. Freedom of Religion: Under Nephite law, all were free to preach and believe according to their desires.
- “Now the law could have no power on any man for his belief.” [Alma 1:17].
- “Now if a man desired to serve God, it was his privilege; or rather if he believed in God it was his privilege to serve him; but if he did not believe in him there was no law to punish him… There was no law against a man’s belief…” [Alma 30:9,11].
3. Right to Bear Arms
- The Nephites “multiplied exceedingly, and spread upon the face of the land… making all manner of tools of every kind to till the ground, and weapons of war—yea, the sharp pointed arrow, and the quiver, and the dart, and the javelin, and all preparations for war” [Jarom 1:8].
- Zeniff, a Nephite leader, writes: “Lamanites came upon them and began to slay them, and to take off their flocks, and the corn of their fields… And it came to pass that I did arm [the Nephites] with bows, and with arrows, with swords, and with cimeters, and with clubs, and with slings, and with all manner of weapons which we could invent, and I and my people did go forth against the Lamanites to battle” [Mosiah 9:14–16].
4. Free Market System
- When the Nephites and Lamanites had established a free market system and free trade, their economies both prospered exceedingly: “And behold, there was peace in all the land, insomuch that the Nephites did go into whatsoever part of the land they would, whether among the Nephites or the Lamanites. And it came to pass that the Lamanites did also go whithersoever they would, whether it were among the Lamanites or among the Nephites; and thus they did have free intercourse one with another, to buy and to sell, and to get gain, according to their desire. And it came to pass that they became exceedingly rich, both the Lamanites and the Nephites; and they did have an exceeding plenty of gold, and of silver, and of all manner of precious metals, both in the land south and in the land north” [Helaman 6:7–9].
5. Freedom of Immigration:
- See the previously quoted verses: when the Nephites and Lamanites had an open immigration policy, allowing people to move and work where there were jobs and where they desired, both nations’ economies prospered exceedingly [Helaman 6:7–9].
6. Right of Due Process
- The Nephites established a system to judge against crimes: “Let us appoint judges, to judge this people according to our law; and we will newly arrange the affairs of this people, for we will appoint wise men to be judges, that will judge this people according to the commandments of God” [Mosiah 29:11].
- “For there was a law that men should be judged according to their crimes” [Alma 30:11].
7. Punishable Crimes were those in which there was a Victim: murder, theft, lying, and enslavement
- “Nevertheless, they durst not lie, if it were known, for fear of the law, for liars were punished… And they durst not steal, for fear of the law, for such were punished; neither durst they rob, nor murder, for he that murdered was punished unto death.” [Alma 1:17–18].
- “But if he murdered he was punished unto death; and if he robbed he was also punished; and if he stole he was also punished; and if he committed adultery he was also punished; yea, for all this wickedness they were punished” [Alma 30:10].
8. Capital Punishment: The death penalty was used to punish at least two types of crime–murder and attempting to overthrow liberty.
- “Wo unto the murderer who deliberately killeth, for he shall die” [2 Nephi 9:35].
- “For he that murdered was punished unto death” [Alma 1:18].
- Paanchi, who tried to overthrow a liberty-based government “was taken, and was tried according to the voice of the people, and condemned unto death; for he had raised up in rebellion and sought to destroy the liberty of the people” [Helaman 1:7–8].
9. Money System Based on Precious Metals: The Nephite money system consisted of various quantities of gold and silver. The values are explained in detail in Alma 11:4–19. Here’s a portion:
- “Now these are the names of the different pieces of their gold, and of their silver, according to their value… Now the reckoning is thus—a senine of gold, a seon of gold, a shum of gold, and a limnah of gold. A senum of silver, an amnor of silver, an ezrom of silver, and an onti of silver. A senum of silver was equal to a senine of gold, and either for a measure of barley, and also for a measure of every kind of grain…”
10. Taxation should be Very Little or None: When the Nephites came to the America, they first had kings before establishing a constitutional representative democracy (more on this in a later section). The wicked kings laid large taxes, such as 20%, while the righteous kings had little or no tax:
- The wicked king Noah: “He did not keep the commandments of God, but he did walk after the desires of his own heart… [he did] that which was abominable in the sight of the Lord… He laid a tax of one fifth part of all they possessed, a fifth part of their gold and of their silver, and a fifth part of their ziff, and of their copper, and of their brass and their iron; and a fifth part of their fatlings; and also a fifth part of all their grain” [Mosiah 11:2–3].
- The wicked king Riplakish of the Jaredites (another group of inhabitants of the ancient Americas): “And it came to pass that Riplakish did not do that which was right in the sight of the Lord, for he did have many wives and concubines, and did lay that upon men’s shoulders which was grievous to be borne; yea, he did tax them with heavy taxes; and with the taxes he did build many spacious buildings. And he did erect him an exceedingly beautiful throne; and he did build many prisons, and whoso would not be subject unto taxes he did cast into prison; and whoso was not able to pay taxes he did cast into prison; and he did cause that they should labor continually for their support; and whoso refused to labor he did cause to be put to death.” [Ether 10:5–6].
- Here was the tax policy of righteous kings. This provides a true definition of a “public servant”, for they provided for themselves by laboring with their own hands to rather than living off taxes. King Benjamin: “[I] have not sought gold nor silver nor any manner of riches of you… And even I, myself, have labored with mine own hands that I might serve you, that ye should not be laden with taxes, and that there should nothing come upon you which was grievous to be borne” [Mosiah 2:12–14].
- King Mosiah: “And king Mosiah did cause that they should till the earth. And he also, himself, did till the earth, that thereby he might not become burdensome to his people, that he might do according to that which his father [King Benjamin] had done in all things” [Mosiah 6:7]. The Nephites “did wax strong in love towards Mosiah; yeah, they did esteem him more than any other man; for they did not look upon him as a tyrant who was seeking for gain, yea, for that lucre which doth corrupt the soul; for he had not exacted riches of them, neither had he delighted in the shedding of blood” [Mosiah 29:40].
11. Wars Only in Defense
- During the times that the Nephites were generally righteous, they only fought defensive wars in which they were protecting life, liberty, and property:
- “Nevertheless, the Nephites were inspired by a better cause, for they were not fighting for monarchy nor power but they were fighting for their homes and their liberties, their wives and their children, and their all, yea, for their rites of worship and their church” [Alma 43:45].
- “And again, the Lord has said that: Ye shall defend your families even unto bloodshed. Therefore for this cause were the Nephites contending with the Lamanites, to defend themselves, and their families, and their lands, their country, and their rights, and their religion” [Alma 43:47].
- A defensive war principle is not to be the first aggressor, but only fighting after someone else has initiated force first:
- “And they were doing that which they felt was the duty which they owed to their God; for the Lord had said unto them, and also unto their fathers, that: Inasmuch as ye are not guilty of the first offense, neither the second, ye shall not suffer yourselves to be slain by the hands of your enemies” [Alma 43:46]
- “Now the Nephites were taught to defend themselves against their enemies, even to the shedding of blood if it were necessary; yea, and they were also taught never to give an offense, yea, and never to raise the sword except it were against an enemy, except it were to preserve their lives” [Alma 48:14].
- Another defensive war principle is to focus your efforts on building up your homeland defenses:
- “Teancum, by the orders of Moroni, caused that they should commence laboring in digging a ditch round about the land, or the city, Bountiful. And he caused that they should build a breastwork of timbers upon the inner bank of the ditch; and they cast up dirt out of the ditch against the breastwork of timbers; and thus they did cause the Lamanites [prisoners of war] to labor until they had encircled the city of Bountiful round about with a strong wall of timbers and earth, to an exceeding height.” [Alma 53:3–4]
- “And it came to pass that after Moroni had fortified those parts of the land which were most exposed to the Lamanites, until they were sufficiently strong, he returned to the city of Zarahemla” [Alma 62:42]
- On at least one occasion, the Lord commanded the Nephites to stay home and defend on their own lands rather than enter and fight in enemy territory: “Now the people said unto Gidgiddoni [a prophet]: Pray unto the Lord, and let us go up upon the mountains and into the wilderness, that we may fall upon the robbers and destroy them in their own lands. But Gidgiddoni saith unto them: The Lord forbid; for if we should go up against them the Lord would deliver us into their hands; therefore we will prepare ourselves in the center of our lands, and we will gather all our armies together, and we will not go against them, but we will wait till they shall come against us; therefore as the Lord liveth, if we do this he will deliver them into our hands” [3 Nephi 3:20–21].
- After the war, the Nephites immediately returned home after the fight was over and the dead taken care of: ”And it came to pass that they did cast their dead into the waters of Sidon, and they have gone forth and are buried in the depths of the sea. And the armies of the Nephites, or of Moroni, returned and came to their houses and their lands” [Alma 44:22–23].
12. Kings are Frowned Upon, A Constitutional Representative Democracy is Established: When the Nephites first arrived to America, they established kings (probably because that is what they were used to in Israel, from whence they came). However, eventually kings were eradicated and a Constitutional Representative Democracy was established by righteous Nephite leaders, which the Book of Mormon calls “The Reign of the judges”.
- When the Nephites were still recently arrived to America, the prophet Nephi discouraged them from having a king, but upon the people’s insistence, he became the first king: “And it came to pass that they would that I should be their king. But I, Nephi, was desirous that they should have no king; nevertheless I did for them according to that which was in my power” [2 Nephi 5:18].
- After a group had been freed from the wicked King Noah, the priest Alma told them, “Behold, it is not expedient that we should have a king; for thus saith the Lord: Ye shall not esteem one flesh above another, or one man shall not think himself above another; therefore I say unto you it is not expedient that ye should have a king… I desire that ye should stand fast in this liberty wherewith ye have been made free, and that ye trust no man to be a king over you” [Mosiah 23:7,13].
- When the righteous King Mosiah was nearing the end of his life, he eradicated kings and established a Constitutional Representative Democracy (the reign of the judges), a system in which judges were elected by the people to judge according to a constitutional law was established
- “Therefore, choose you by the voice of this people, judges, that ye may be judged according to the claws which have been given you by our fathers, which are correct, and which were given them by the hand of the Lord… Therefore, it came to pass that they assembled themselves together in bodies throughout the land, to cast in their voices concerning who should be their judges, to judge them according to the claw which had been given them; and they were exceedingly rejoiced because of the liberty which had been granted unto them… And thus commenced the reign of the judges throughout all the land of Zarahemla, among all the people who were called the Nephites; and Alma was the first and chief judge… And thus ended the reign of the kings over the people of Nephi” [Mosiah 29:10–47]
- The Nephite government was constitutional in that the major points of law were already established based on rights—elected leaders judged people according to the laws that existed: “In the first year of the reign of the judges over the people of Nephi… [Mosiah] had established laws, and they were acknowledged by the people; therefore they were obliged to abide by the laws which he had made” [Alma 1:1].
- There was a system of checks and balances in that elected leaders, the judges, were kept in check by other judges: “And now if ye have judges, and they do not judge you according to the law which has been given, ye can cause that they may be judged of a higher judge. If your higher judges do not judge righteous judgments, ye shall cause that a small number of your lower judges should be gathered together, and they shall judge your higher judges, according to the voice of the people” [Mosiah 29:28–29].
13. America should be a Land of Liberty: Several times America is prophesied as a land of liberty, as long as people will obey the commandments of God:
- “And this land shall be a land of liberty unto the Gentiles, and there shall be no kings upon the land, who shall raise up unto the Gentiles” [2 Nephi 10:11].
- “Behold, this is a choice land, and whatsoever nation shall possess it shall be free from bondage, and from captivity, and from all other nations under heaven, if they will but serve the God of the land, who is Jesus Christ, who hath been manifested by the things which we have written.” [Ether 2:12].
14. Free Nephites still Willingly Helped the Poor: Although righteous government leaders defended the people’s rights to their own property, and had little or no tax, they still encouraged people to willingly donate to and help out those less fortunate. The poor were still taken care of by people (not the government):
- King Benjamin said: “And also, ye yourselves will succor those that stand in need of your succor; ye will administer of your substance unto him that standeth in need; and ye will not suffer that the beggar putteth up his petition to you in vain, and turn him out to perish” [Mosiah 4:16].
- The Nephites “did impart of their substance, every man according to that which he had, to the poor, and the needy, and the sick, and the afflicted; and they did not wear costly apparel, yet they were neat and comely” [Alma 1:27].