The following is an excert from Dallin H. Oaks speech on Utah's Constitution Day Celebration:
We have a great Constitution whose fundamental principles many believe to be divinely inspired. Therefore what? I will suggest five responsibilities that I believe are appropriate for all citizens—whatever their religious or philosophical persuasion.
1. Understand the Constitution
All citizens should be familiar with its great fundamentals: the sovereignty of the people, the structure of federalism that divides powers between the state and the federal government, the individual guarantees in the Bill of Rights, and the principle of separation of powers among the various branches of government. We should take alarm at and consider how to oppose any action that would infringe these fundamentals.
2. Support the Law
All citizens should give law-abiding support to their national, state, and local governments. My religious faith expresses this principle in an official declaration of belief:
“We believe that governments were instituted of God for the benefit of man; and that he holds men accountable for their acts in relation to them. . . .
“We believe that all men are bound to sustain and uphold the respective governments in which they reside” (D&C 134:1, 5).
3. Practice Civic Virtue
Those who enjoy the blessings of liberty under our national and state constitutions should promote morality, and they should practice what the Founding Fathers called “civic virtue.” John Adams, the second president of the United States, declared, “Our Constitution was made only for a moral and religious people. It is wholly inadequate to the government of any other.”
James Madison argued in the Federalist Papers that “republican government presupposes the exercise of these qualities [of virtue] in a higher degree than any other form.”
Citizens should also be practitioners of civic virtue in their conduct toward our states and our nation. They should obey the laws. They should be ever willing to fulfill the duties of citizenship. This includes compulsory duties like military service and the numerous voluntary actions they must take if they are to preserve the principle of limited government through citizen self-reliance. For example, since U.S. citizens value the right of trial by jury, they must be willing to serve on juries, even those involving unsavory subject matter.
Then there is the matter of voting. I have been alarmed at the steady decline of voter turnout in many parts of the United States, including Utah. Voting is a fundamental right and responsibility that must not be taken for granted. Political participation can be inconvenient. It requires sacrifices of time and resources, but it is essential to our democratic society. Without substantial voter turnout, the people abrogate the great fundamental of popular sovereignty.
It is also part of civic virtue to be moral in our conduct toward all people. We believe with the author of Proverbs that “righteousness exalteth a nation: but sin is a reproach to any people” (Proverbs 14:34). The personal righteousness of citizens will strengthen a nation more than the force of its arms.
4. Maintain Civility in Political Discourse
If representative government is to function effectively under our constitutions, we must have civility in political discourse. We currently have an excess of ugliness and contentiousness in our communications on many political issues. I don’t need to give examples; we have all been exposed to it, and some of us have occasionally been part of it. We all bear some responsibility for the current political polarization and the stalemates that have resulted from it. We ought to tone it down. Meaningful debate and discussion about policies, programs, and procedures is essential to a democratic society. But contentiousness for the sake of division is bad for democracy. It is bad for law observance. It is bad for neighborly relations. And it is particularly destructive as an example for the rising generation, who, if not taught better, will perpetuate and magnify its ugliness and divisiveness for generations to come.
A year ago our Church published a statement called “The Mormon Ethic of Civility.” I quote from that statement:
“The Church views with concern the politics of fear and rhetorical extremism that renders civil discussion impossible. . . . Our democratic system [should] facilitate kinder and more reasoned exchanges among fellow Americans than we are now seeing.”
Our President, Thomas S. Monson, has said, “When a spirit of goodwill prompts our thinking and when unified effort goes to work on a common problem, the results can be most gratifying.”
5. Promote Patriotism
Finally, the single word that best describes a fulfillment of the responsibilities of citizenship is patriotism. Citizens should be patriotic. My favorite prescription for patriotism is that of Adlai Stevenson, the Illinois governor who was twice the Democratic candidate for President:
“What do we mean by patriotism in the context of our times? . . . A patriotism that puts country ahead of self; a patriotism which is not short, frenzied outbursts of emotion, but the tranquil and steady dedication of a lifetime.”
FULL SPEECH HERE!!