Freedom vs. Agency and the Book of Mormon

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In a nation that is politically torn, professors discussed the eternal and unifying principles of freedom of speech and the distinctions between agency and freedom.

Just days following the election that marked an end to much of the political banter and rhetoric that recently consumed the nation, Professors Ed Carter and Kenneth Plowman highlighted the importance of freedom of speech and LDS understandings of freedom versus agency.

Professor Ed Carter, of the Communications Department at BYU, presented his research regarding the Book of Mormon and fundamental examples of first amendment rights purported throughout the book.

“This might seem counter-intuitive to some members of the Church,” Carter said. “We often associate freedom of speech with angry and vulgar protest, dissent and disloyalty or sexually-oriented images and messages, but our goal was to see if the Book of Mormon itself provides doctrinal and historical support of modern American values of freedom of expression, which we did indeed find.”

Carter continued citing examples such as Amlici, Korihor, various kings such as King Mosiah, King Limhi and at times even evil leaders such as King Noah, whose examples demonstrate the overarching theme of the book of a need for self-governance as well as collaborative, democratic discussions on political issues.

Following Carter’s remarks, Professor Plowman, also a BYU professor of communications, presented research discussing important distinctions between agency and freedom. This topic has never been researched before and highlighted important distinctions in the definitions many LDS members have about freedom and agency.

Citing individuals interviewed for the research, Plowman highlighted these differences.

“First amendment rights allow people with a doctrinal understanding of agency to better exercise personal rights and to do so wisely,” Plowman said.

He ultimately concluded that there are not freedoms, but that agency is what allows those freedoms to be manifest. Professor Plowman cited that one’s freedom can be taken away; many do not experience the same freedoms Americans do, but a person’s agency is inherent can never be taken away.

While neither professor discussed political parties or decisions of lawmakers in their presentations, they pointed toward greater American ideals and beliefs and connected these beliefs to LDS culture and doctrine.

In a time when many practices in politics are changing, Plowman and Carter highlighted that the eternal truths remain constant and are worthy of academic study and research.

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