Selected Teachings on
Nobody Can "Take Away" Your Agency

Dallin H. Oaks (Quorum of the Twelve)

[B]ecause *agency is a God-given precondition to the purpose of mortal life, no person or organization can take away our agency in mortality.

[W]hat can be taken away or reduced by the conditions of mortality is our freedom, the power to act upon our choices. Agency is absolute, but in the circumstances of mortality freedom is always qualified.

Freedom may be qualified or taken away (1) by physical laws, including the physical limitations with which we are born, (2) by our own action, and (3) by the action of others, including governments....

A loss of freedom reduces the extent to which we can act upon our choices, but it does not deprive us of our God-given agency....

Interferences with our freedom do not deprive us of our agency. When Pharaoh put Joseph in prison, he restricted Joseph's freedom, but he did not take away his agency. When Jesus drove the money changers out of the temple, he interfered with their freedom to engage in a particular activity at a particular time in a particular place, but he did not take away their agency.

During my nine years at BYU I read many letters to the editor in the Universe that protested various rules as infringements of agency. I am glad I don't see those funny arguments anymore, probably because I no longer have to read the letters to the editor in the Universe....

Freedom is obviously of great importance, but as these examples illustrate, freedom is always qualified in mortality. Consequently, when we oppose a government-imposed loss of freedom, it would be better if we did not conduct our debate in terms of a loss of our agency, which is impossible under our doctrine. We ought to focus on the legality or the wisdom of the proposed restriction of our freedom.

[W]e receive assurance from our doctrine that Satan, who sought to take away our agency in the premortal existence, is not permitted to take it from us in this life. The Prophet Joseph Smith taught that the devil cannot compel men to do evil; he has "power over us only as we permit him" (Teachings, pp. 181, 187, 189). Elder James E. Faust elaborated this in our last conference, when he said, "Certainly he can tempt and he can deceive, but he has no authority over us which we do not give him" ("The Great Imitator," Ensign, October 1987, p. 35). ("Free Agency and Freedom," BYU Devotional, 11 October 1987; *the word "free" has been removed each time it precedes the word "agency" in this quotation to bring it up to date with the modern usage of this term by the Apostles today; see "Free Agency is Not a Scriptural Term")