"We believe that rulers, states, and governments have a right, and are bound to enact laws for the protection of all citizens in the free exercise of their religious belief; but we do not believe that they have a right in justice to deprive citizen of this privilege, or proscribe them in their opinions, so long as a regard and reverence are shown to the laws and such religious opinions do not justify sedition nor conspiracy.
We believe that all religious societies have a right to deal with their members for disorderly conduct, according to the rules and regulations of such societies; provided that such dealings be for fellowship and good standing; but we do not believe that any religious society has authority to try men on the right of property or life, to take from them this world's goods, or to put them in jeopardy of either life or limb, or to inflict any physical punishment upon them. They can only excommunicate them from their society, and withdraw from them their fellowship."
I don't know where this chapter has been hidden from me all these years. I read as if experiencing it for the very first time. Even though I have read the Doctrine and Covenants many times before. The header says it is "a declaration of belief regarding governments and laws in general, adopted by unanimous vote at a general assembly of the Church." The declaration was given the following preamble: "That our belief with regard to earthly governments and laws in general may not be misinterpreted nor misunderstood, we have thought proper to present, at the close of this volume, our opinion concerning the same." This would have been the last chapter in the Doctrine & Covenants, but sadly the martyrdom of the Prophet Joseph Smith and his brother Hyrum Smith did not make that happen. They paid the ultimate cost of religious persecution, in which this chapter could have prevented. The Doctrine & Covenants will continue for several chapters because God has never stopped talking to us.
As I read this chapter I felt an absolute feeling of agreement on the position spoken. Some verses even put into alignment the things I had been pondering over. It even helped me understand why I had a trouble with a religious sect in particular, but knew they had just as much right to practice their religion as did I. Now I see the trouble is when a religion justifies sedition or conspiracy among its members. It should never use physical punishment, the loss of limb, or property and even life. None of these improper punishments would bring a person willingly to God. In fact a bad element could corrupt an otherwise peaceful religion with these tactics. The punishment for disorderly conduct for any religion should be dis-fellowship or excommunication. People should be able to leave of their own free-will.
I am grateful to know where the line is. As a government we can set laws to prevent atrocities from happening within a religion. At the same time allowing a religion the right to worship and practice its religion to the enjoyment of its people. There are acceptable bounds the Lord has set. I do wonder if in Joseph's time they had any idea of what a particular religious sect would be attempting to do in my day.