June 10th, 2011

The Justified Breaking of Unjust Laws

Today, the LDS Church released an updated statement on immigration. A portion of the article seems to support amnesty (which is a good thing) in advocating an approach to immigration in which “undocumented immigrants are allowed to square themselves with the law and continue to work…”

This means, of course, that the law must be changed in order to make an illegal person un-illegal. Thus, the primary offender in this relationship is not the individual, but the unjust law.

What’s more interesting, however, is a brief companion article also released by the Church today, which states the following:

The First Presidency has for many years taught that undocumented status should not by itself prevent an otherwise worthy Church member from entering the temple or being ordained to the priesthood.

In essence, this basically states that the Church is not troubled with the violation of immigration law per se. Clearly, this is not endorsement of identity theft, fraud, or any other actual crime committed. It is simply a statement that the violation of immigration law does not, in the Church’s view, achieve a sufficient level of severity so as to deny an individual the opportunity to join and participate in God’s kingdom.

Stated more plainly, the Church here has endorsed the violation of a lesser law to fulfill a higher one. Let that sink in for a moment.

Is this a bad thing? I argue that it is not. In fact, I’ve dedicated a whole chapter to this subject in Latter-day Liberty, demonstrating with supporting scripture and examples in Church history the many cases in which this has previously occurred.

Critics point, with fingers and blood pressure both raised, to the violation of the law itself, tautologically saying that “illegal immigrants” are illegal. They then point to references such as the 12th Article of Faith to claim that since we must obey the law, these individuals should be denied Church membership and ordinances since they are not in compliance.

This argument, however, is so extremely full of holes that it is has more holes than substance. It relies upon a narrow and incorrect interpretation of that Article, to say nothing of the related scriptures and historical examples which clearly demonstrate a number of qualifiers involved when considering the obligation to comply with any given law. The subject requires a lengthy treatment to be fully explained, so I’ll hold off here and let the inquiring individual wait for my book.

The Church has, in my estimation, done the right thing here, and has taken a position that is consistent with both scripture and precedent. While immigration is a heated and complex issue, the simple act of living and working without the federal government’s permission does not brand one a criminal unworthy of God’s blessings.

31 Responses to “The Justified Breaking of Unjust Laws”

  1. Carina
    June 10, 2011 at 2:06 pm #

    While I often disagree with your views, Connor, we’re simpatico on this issue. I’m thrilled at the new statement and hope that it will cool the raging fires a bit.

    Although some people might have an issue with the use of this phrase, to me this fits perfectly with the idea of civil disobedience; the law is unjust and a violation of it isn’t, by and large, a hindrance to living a moral life.

    Thanks for this post.

  2. Geoff B
    June 10, 2011 at 3:17 pm #

    Connor, well-stated. I look forward to your book. Keep up the good work. Geoff B.

  3. Doug Bayless
    June 10, 2011 at 3:58 pm #

    Great thoughts and write-up Connor!

    It always seems to me that those that pull the 12th Article of Faith out-of-context to condemn others on this particular issue, should probably keep reading right through the next Article of Faith.

    In my estimation, if we’re really into “being honest” and “benevolent” and “doing good to all men” then we might need to be honest about our current troubled, unsustainable, racist, often blatantly xenophobic, inconsistent, and byzantine Federal immigration system. Certainly there is little that is “lovely, or of good report or praiseworthy” in the current system and so beating people over the head with it just seems contrary to our core beliefs.

    Too many of the arguments I hear in favor of *stricter* enforcement for those — often unjust and unpraiseworthy — laws are the exact same as you’d hear from a Ku Klux Klan member or a “Zero-population” fanatic.

    One of the things I am most interested to see is how much effect these recent statements will have on the largely LDS dominated local GOP chapters. There are so many in my local UT County and State GOP agitating for *even stronger* condemnation of “illegals” and *even stronger* condemnation of anything approaching forgiveness or “amnesty” and *even stronger* stratification of society that pushes those not lucky enough to be born in the USA down into a probably-permanent second-class person status that I’m hoping and praying that the language in these recent LDS statements helps a few more to re-think those kind of stances.

  4. Andrea
    June 10, 2011 at 5:28 pm #

    The thinking has been done. Time to move on to something else where the thinking has not been done.

  5. Bryan Hyde
    June 10, 2011 at 9:23 pm #

    I’m with you on this one as well, Connor. Can you imagine the day when saints are gathering in Zion from all corners of the globe? Will the immigration pharisees still be demanding proper documentation?

  6. wonderdog
    June 11, 2011 at 4:35 am #

    And how does this square with those that refuse to pay what they feel is an unfair and unjust tax? We excommunicate tax cheats.

  7. Mark D.
    June 11, 2011 at 8:44 am #

    Stated more plainly, the Church here has endorsed the violation of a lesser law to fulfill a higher one

    On the contrary, in its statement released the other day, the Church stated: “As a matter of policy, The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints discourages its members from entering any country without legal documentation, and from deliberately overstaying legal travel visas.”

    Ignoring violations of immigration related laws (like document fraud and identity theft) for worthiness determination purposes does not endorse those violations, it simply implies that the Church does not think that they are serious enough to warrant ecclesiastical sanction.

  8. Marianne
    June 11, 2011 at 10:42 am #

    Just because the LDS church allows people to obtain a temple recommend even if they violate a law doesn’t mean it is endorsing or advocating the law’s violation nor is it saying the law is unjust. I occasionally speed or park in incorrect places and therefore have violated laws, but I am not denied a temple recommend. By granting me a recommend, the church is not endorsing the laws’ violations or making a statement about the justness of the laws. (I would imagine the Church would say that those laws are just and should be enforced.) Laws present a range of moral culpability. (In the alternative, there are many actions that are not illegal but morally objectionable.) As a result, the LDS church must decide the moral culpability of violating a particular law and then decide if it rises to the level as to deny someone a recommend. This is different than making a statement as to a law’s validity or endorsing its violation.

  9. zo-ma-rah
    June 11, 2011 at 9:34 pm #

    I’m completely on board the train with not having to be in compliance with unjust laws. The issue I have is that it is ok with the Church(TM) to have a temple recommend and violate immigration laws. Yet at the same time its not ok with the Church(TM) to violate laws against Plural Marriage. Why is it ok to violate unjust laws in one circumstance but not the other?

  10. Andrea
    June 12, 2011 at 7:04 pm #

    The Church’s position has nothing with justness or unjustness of laws. Hispanics on both sides of the border are an important source of converts for the Church. In Arizona, the face of anti-immigration is a Mormon. This hurts the Church tremendously.

    We must also suspect that the Mexican government is putting pressure on the Church as well. Remittances from immigrants are a major source of revenue for Mexico, and a robust guest worker program would be a hugh boon for Mexico. Utah’s guest worker program is much more than just a program to bring in unskilled laborers. This program will allow skilled craftsmen like plumbers, electricians, heavy equipment operators and maybe even skilled white collar jobs like accountants.

    There really is no limit as to what type of jobs can be sourced by Mexico. There are tens of thousands of educated Mexicans who would love to come to the U.S. and work for much less than the typical American IT geek.

    This would be a huge benefit to American taxpayers. Instead of spending tax dollars at state colleges and universities to train Americans to be employable, Mexico could spend their own money training their own people to fill these jobs.

    The guest worker program is a huge deal. It’s good for the Church and it’s good for Mexico.

  11. Connor
    June 12, 2011 at 10:49 pm #


    And how does this square with those that refuse to pay what they feel is an unfair and unjust tax? We excommunicate tax cheats.

    Actions have consequences, including defiance of the law. In this scenario, the Church has chosen to create as policy the requirement that members pay all applicable taxes or face ecclesiastical discipline. I can’t speak for why they have chosen such an approach in this case where in others they have not. I have my theories, but I can’t say for certain.


    Ignoring violations of immigration related laws (like document fraud and identity theft) for worthiness determination purposes does not endorse those violations, it simply implies that the Church does not think that they are serious enough to warrant ecclesiastical sanction.

    I should perhaps make more clear what I mean by endorse. They are clearly not advocating the breaking of the law, in that they are not encouraging that it be done or suggesting it as a course of action in any way. But they are implying that the violation itself is not enough to be deemed unworthy of membership and ordinances. In this way, I argue that they are endorsing the violation of the law. They’re surely not using those terms, but that’s what I see, fundamentally, in how they are considering the law and what their response is. By endorse, I mean that they are giving agreement and approval for the circumstance. I see an endorsement as passive, whereas advocacy is proactive.


    I occasionally speed or park in incorrect places and therefore have violated laws, but I am not denied a temple recommend. By granting me a recommend, the church is not endorsing the laws’ violations or making a statement about the justness of the laws.

    The context for my article is, of course, the near-rabid nature with which some Church members seek to treat “illegal immigrants,” and the elevation of immigration law to some supposedly sacrosanct standard that should be used to swiftly and severely punish those who are in violation.

    So when I say that they are endorsing the violation of the law, I do so in general agreement with what you’ve said. They’re not saying that it’s good or even okay to defy the law, but they are saying that it’s okay to break the law and still be a member in good standing. They’re saying that it’s okay to break the immigration law and still be a member of the Church in good standing, with access to the temple. (That also implies that they feel one can answer “yes” to the question “are you honest with your fellow man?” while in violation of that law. Interesting.)


    Yet at the same time its not ok with the Church(TM) to violate laws against Plural Marriage.

    The Church disallows marriage to more than one spouse, and thus considers it adultery. This is a sin. Thus, the issue here for the Church is not the law outlawing plural marriage, but the act itself.

  12. Steve
    June 20, 2011 at 9:04 am #

    It seems odd to me that President Wilford Woodruff recommended compliance with the law against plural marriage (which was a law of God), while the Church today encourages or at least tolerates non-compliance with immigration laws.

  13. AV
    July 9, 2011 at 1:32 pm #

    Not only is plural marriage considered one of the worst of sins now, but we finally understand that it is ‘unconstitutional & abusive’ to women, for it does not protect & respect the equal rights of women.

    It would never work again, for righteous self-respecting women now understand their equal worth, position, power & privileges in marriage, church & society.

  14. Steve
    July 9, 2011 at 4:42 pm #

    You must have little respect for those ancient and pioneer women who both lived and proclaimed the divine origin of plural marriage.

  15. AV
    July 9, 2011 at 6:32 pm #

    I believe most all of them were very unhappy women living polygamy, even if they said they liked it & believed in it.

    But there are women even today who are living polygamy who say it is wonderful & right.

    Are they right or is the Church right saying that polygamy is wrong today? For we know that ‘wickedness never was happiness’, so how can those women today say they are happy?

  16. Chris
    July 26, 2012 at 4:36 pm #

    God is the same, yesterday, today and forever. Plural marriage is an eternal law. It has been postponed, but not rescinded because of the ignorance of the world. It is a celestial law and will be instituted and practiced by a celestial people.

    I was told this by a patriarch. Like it or not, it is what it is. We can either agree and comply or have the Lord judge us because of it.

  17. Chris
    July 26, 2012 at 4:37 pm #

    PS: I am not a polygamist, nor am I advocating polygamy during this postponement period. All I am saying is that it has not gone away, or changed in the least. It is only postponed during our stay in this wicked world.

  18. jimz
    July 26, 2012 at 6:44 pm #

    I am opposed to polygamy due to the loss of genetic variation which occurs from the founder effect. If the population is very small and isolated, this is dramatically increased. Most of the time this is very negative and leads to an increase of genetic disorders. The FLDS still practice this and has an increase of mental retardation called Fumarase Deficiency.

    “The birth defect — an enzyme deficiency — causes severe mental retardation, epilepsy and disfigurement of features. “The retardation is in the severe range — an IQ around 25,” Dr. Tarby says. Afflicted children are missing portions of their brain, often cannot sit or stand, and suffer grand mal seizures and encephalitis.” Time, US, Tracing the polygamists’ family tree.

    This is one example of a possible increase in genetic disorders from polygamy practiced in a small population. I cannot imagine that it is an eternal law. To a lesser extent monogamy could also reduce genetic variation. If there is an eternal law, it would be one of spouse sharing or adultery, to maintain or increase genetic diversity.

  19. Chris
    July 27, 2012 at 9:00 am #

    jimz, interesting… you can’t imagine that this is an eternal law, as are each and every one of Father’s laws since the beginning. So Father made a mistake when instituting polygamy and has since changed his mind?

    I know nothing of birth defects coming from plural marriage. “Facts” are quoted every second of every day. Some of them are indeed facts but I daresay the majority are actually untrue. I would need to see the studies done on this. I highly doubt a true scientific study could have been done to isolate all other possibilities out of the equation as causes for birth defects among a small group of people like the FLDS.

    Regardless, I don’t presume to argue or apologize for Father in Heaven. It simply is what it is. Again, He doesn’t change His mind. All of His laws are eternal laws. In addition we can choose to obey His laws or not. He has always said “nevertheless thou mayest choose for thyself…” I do believe that, for now, polygamy has been put on hold for reasons already mentioned. I also believe, and logic dictates, that this is an eternal law and will again be practiced by a celestial people.


  20. jimz
    July 27, 2012 at 2:59 pm #

    Anytime there is a small community that inbreeds, genetic disorders usually increase. The founder effect increases the possibility, such as in the case of polygamy. These are biological laws.

  21. Chris
    July 27, 2012 at 3:35 pm #

    jimz, what makes you think that polygamy is inbreeding? It is not. Unless they are inbreeding it is ridiculous to think that having more than 1 wife causes birth defects. If the wives are not related to you by blood it is not inbreeding.

    Once again, plural marriage is an eternal law. You can think whatever you want and say what ever you want. The fact remains.

  22. jimz
    July 27, 2012 at 4:52 pm #

    You don’t understand, in that small FLDS community all the people are descendants of either Barlow or Jessup or both of them. Its suspected that at least one of them had the gene that causes fumarase deficiency. So they are all related. So, they are actually inbred, but it might have been difficult for them to see and know that, if they didn’t do the research to see how they are related. Technically, they might not have been sisters, or cousins etc, but they might have had a lot of common ancestors.

    When I was active LDS I knew a number of people for years, and later I found out that we had common ancestors, and were in fact related, but we had no idea. It was pretty far back, so it didn’t seem or feel that close.

    But if you select for a mate based on a common belief, like religion, and race, and you multiply this by hundreds of years, if not thousands, there can be subtle inbreeding which can increase the amount of genetic disorders.

  23. AV
    July 29, 2012 at 11:50 am #


    You don’t seem to know church history. God did not institute polygamy or plural marriage, in fact he had Joseph Smith preach and warn against it his whole life. Joseph Smith taught that anyone who lived polygamy or did anything else ‘contrary’ to the scriptures would be damned.

    So how can you say that God instituted polygamy, when all the scriptures preach against it, accept D&C 132 which BY added years later in Utah after Joseph died and he even ‘cast out’ the scriptures and laws that Joseph included in the D&C against polygamy.

    Brigham Young was the one who instituted polygamy, contrary to the scriptures and teachings of Joseph Smith & Christ & ancient prophets.

    A celestial person would never live or believe in polygamy in any form, they would know that it is the vile evil & whoredom that Joseph Smith and other prophets said it ‘always’ was. Celestial & righteous people would know that the scriptures and teachings we received from Joseph Smith were right and couldn’t be changed and that they trump anything future church presidents like Brigham Young and others may do or say.

    Joseph Smith & many other prophets have always taught that if anyone, even prophets, teach doctrine or present a revelation that is ‘contrary’ to what the scriptures say, as BY did, then we are to know that it is false and we are not to follow them.

    The Church went into a deep apostasy after Joseph died, because it’s leaders and members were deceived to fall for abominations and become corrupt by philosophies of men (like polygamy, etc.), which Joseph tried to stop but couldn’t, just as ancient Prophets in the BoM said it would in these last days.

    Christ and Joseph Smith will return soon and re-establish his true church & authority upon the earth, which has been lost generally because of abominations by church leaders & members.

    A few righteous men still have the true Priesthood though and do the best they can with their families to live the Gospel contained in the Holy Scriptures, especially the Book of Mormon and original D&C that Joseph Smith gave us.

  24. AV
    July 29, 2012 at 11:58 am #

    God would never punish anyone for breaking any unjust or unconstitutional law, even if the LDS Church & the government unfortunately would.

    God never obligates anyone to go along with evil, at any level.

    No manmade law is of any validity if it is contrary to God’s laws.

    One need only look to the founding fathers and how the Spirit attended them, for proof about that.

    Any church leader who says we are bound to obey any unrighteous law is wrong.

  25. outside the corridor
    August 3, 2012 at 9:37 am #

    Chris, there are those of *us* who don’t believe polygamy is ‘of God’–

    we may believe firmly in God and in the restoration, but we don’t believe polygamy is inspired. Allowed, possibly, sometimes, maybe, theoretically, but certainly not inspired–

    God has allowed many people to do questionable things; He believes in agency–

    but that doesn’t mean He loves the acts they perform–

    including polygamy.

    Brigham Young never claimed to be a prophet, a president yes, and I believe he held the keys, but he always deferred to Joseph Smith. It was Brigham Young’s belief (I believe he held that belief wrongfully) that Emma kept Joseph from living polygamy, and Brigham tried to correct that ‘error’, which I don’t believe was an error. I don’t think Brigham understood the relationship between Joseph and Emma and the mutual respect. Brigham wasn’t a man who was capable of that kind of marital relationship–

    he collected wives, certainly, but he didn’t understand a close relationship with a woman–

    and he resented Emma terribly and declared ‘war’ against her–

    his tantrum lasted all the way until his death and after when others who were more inspired finely stopped the beastly practice of polygamy–

    or whatever it’s called–

    even Joseph Smith, whom I believe WAS a prophet . . . warned the ‘saints’ constantly that he was just a man and subject to error–

    prophets/presidents/apostles/regular members make mistakes ALL the time–

    mistakes can be corrected, but there are always consequences–

    even the FLDS need the atonement of Jesus Christ–

    to base a religion on . . . marrying more than one wife seems just really . . .

    sad to me.

    But then I had ancestors who were very unhappy living polygamy and were hugely relieved when it was ended–

  26. outside the corridor
    August 3, 2012 at 9:39 am #

    Jimz, you are correct; plural marriage caused an increase in various genetic diseases in Utah–

    that have ramifications even now–

    sad . . .

  27. outside the corridor
    August 3, 2012 at 10:01 am #

    I don’t want anyone to think I am anti-Brigham Young. He had his gifts and, I believe, his calling–

    There are things Brigham Young did that nobody else could have done as well–

  28. Chris
    August 3, 2012 at 10:10 am #

    That’s it… just pick and choose which doctrines you agree with and leave the rest as heresy or just coming from a false prophet.

    I make no apologies for the gospel. As you said above, choice is always your right. You can likely choose not to practice it, if you make it to the Celestial kingdom. I don’t ‘believe’ the Lord will force it on anyone.

    I believe I have spoken my mind, and IMHO – the truth, on this issue. If it makes you guys feel better to post your disagreements, please feel free. However, you are wrong. You either take the gospel, as a whole, as it is or you leave it alone. Polygamy is an eternal law and I feel no need to keep arguing or posting that fact over and over.

  29. jimz
    August 3, 2012 at 10:32 pm #

    How much experience, if any do you have with plural marriage? If I might be so brave do ask? I think many LDS are comfortable with the teaching as long as its theory and doctrine, but they have no actual experience.

    Some time ago I watched a reality tv show about a modern plural FLDS family. My interest was intense, but also brief. I was constantly shocked at all the differences with everything I was familiar with. For instance the guy getting excited at meeting someone new, and starting to date another woman when he already had 4 wives. Of course she was very young. I got the sense that when this was happening he largely emotionally abandoned his wives and family. Never occured to me that the field is always open for additions, at least for the man and that he always had his eye open for something new.

    The other part was my perception that the guy was extremely smug and arrogant. Yet despite all his seeming confidence I really wondered how he supported the wives and children, and multiple homes required. He had some simple job which wouldn’t seem to be able to provide.

  30. jimz
    August 3, 2012 at 10:46 pm #

    “God is the same, yesterday, today and forever.”
    where does this quote come from? I read that quoted on a jewish webpage which advocated the following of all 613 laws stated in the torah. Apparently, in judaism there are those that call themselves jews, and don’t follow even the more obvious ones like kosher food restrictions.

    I am not sure how many, if any of the laws of the torah LDS members actually follow, if any. But in theory, if god is the same, yesterday, today and forever, shouldn’t the followers of YHWH keep kosher?

  31. AV
    August 5, 2012 at 12:25 pm #


    We are supposed to pick and choose which doctrines are correct and from God and which ones are not. We are asked to not just believe everything that even Prophet say, we are commanded to ‘prove all things’ 1st before we accept them as true. Even Prophets can and have been wrong or fall and lead us astray.

    I believe in the Gospel but polygamy never was and never will be part of the Gospel of Jesus Christ.

    We must study the scriptures that Joseph Smith gave us and judge everyone’s revelations by them, especially D&C 132 that Brigham Young added after Joseph died.

    The Prophet say that if a revelation, even from a prophet, is contrary to existing scripture, which D&C 132 was and is, then we are to consider it wrong.

    Thus D&C 132 proves itself very wrong and contrary to the scriptures and those who follow blindly are deceived to fall for it will be held eternally accountable.

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