Civil Disobedience in Latter-Day Saint Thought

Forthcoming in "Civil Disobedience in Latter-day Saint Thought" in Open Questions in Latter-Day Saint Thought (Eric Eliason & Terryl Givens, eds.)

William & Mary Law School Research Paper No. 09-388, 2019

16 Pages Posted: 27 Feb 2019 Last revised: 7 Mar 2019

Date Written: February 5, 2019


The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints is one of the largest of the religious traditions born in the United States. What is the role of civil disobedience in Latter-day Saint thought? Some passages in the scriptures of the church suggests an almost unlimited obligation to comply with secular law. In other places, the Latter-day Saint canon suggests a more limited duty of obedience, one that is broadly speaking contingent on the legal system being what might be called “a nearly just regime.” In practice, when pushed by a hostile state, the Saints have been willing to declare if “the laws of my country should come in contact with the laws of God …I shall invariably choose the latter.” However, history also reveals that the calculus for Latter-day Saints has never been this simple. Church leaders have generally counseled obedience to unjust laws coupled with engagement to improve them. More tellingly, in the face of at times suspicious and vicious governments, Latter-day Saints have been counseled to obey the law as a way of protecting themselves and their community from predatory state actors. In short, their religion does not provide the Latter-day Saints with any neat or clear answer to the perennial question of where to draw the line between the claims of God and the claims of Caesar. Rather, it gives them a native tradition within which to consider such questions.

Keywords: Mormon, Latter-day Saint, Civil Disobedience, Thoreau

JEL Classification: Law & Religion, Religious Studies

Suggested Citation

Oman, Nathan B., Civil Disobedience in Latter-Day Saint Thought (February 5, 2019). William & Mary Law School Research Paper No. 09-388, 2019. Available at SSRN:

Nathan B. Oman (Contact Author)

William & Mary Law School ( email )

South Henry Street
P.O. Box 8795
Williamsburg, VA 23187-8795
United States


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