Elder Dallin H. Oaks
I speak first to my fellow believers—those advocating the maximum free exercise of religion. I begin with the reminder that for believers there are two different systems of law: divine and civil. While all believers revere divine law, most also acknowledge that civil law is also ordained of God. The Lord Jesus Christ directed, “Render therefore unto Caesar the things which are Caesar’s; and unto God the things that are God’s” (Matthew 22:21). So taught, we must, to the extent possible, obey both systems of law. When there are apparent conflicts, we must seek to harmonize them. When they are truly irreconcilable, we should join with others of like mind in striving to change the civil law to accommodate the divine. In all events, we must be very measured before ever deciding—in the rarest of circumstances—to disregard one in favor of the other. “The Boundary Between Church and State,” Part IV.A of transcript, Second Annual Sacramento Court/Clergy Conference, October 20, 2015; see also Remarks at Claremont Graduate University Religious Freedom Conference, Part IV, March 25, 2016.
As to the rule of law, all should acknowledge the validity of and submit to those laws that have been sustained by the highest available judicial authority. It is worth remembering that even the great practitioners of civil disobedience such as Mahatma Gandhi and Martin Luther King were willing to suffer the consequences of arrest and punishment required by the laws they were challenging. It is almost always better to try to live with an objectionable law than to be lawbreakers who contribute to the anarchy a young lawyer named Abraham Lincoln anticipated when he declared, “There is no grievance that is a fit object of redress by mob law.” Remarks at Claremont Graduate University Religious Freedom Conference, Part IV, March 25, 2016 (citing Abraham Lincoln, “Address Before the Young Men’s Lyceum of Springfield, Illinois” (Jan. 27, 1838), reprinted in Collected Works of Abraham Lincoln, ed. Roy P. Basler (1953), 113).
Divine Law and Civil Law