Mormon folklore has long held that in the last days the persecution faced by members of the Church will exceed what the early Saints faced in Joseph Smith's day. True or not, we do know that the principle of freedom of religion which should shield people from religious persecution is at risk. How then are faithful Latter-Day Saints to react when that liberty is not just at risk, but actually lost?
The examples we have in the scriptures and the history of the Church show there are a number of possibilities. While we will need the guidance of a prophet as well as personal revelation to know what road to take, we should be aware of the possibilities
After his conversion, the prophet Alma and his followers were driven out into the wilderness by King Noah. Eventually, they were conqued by the Lamanites who made Amulon, one of King Noah's priests, a ruler over them. Amulon used them as slaves and put to death anybody seen praying. The people of Alma submitted to these injustices, limiting their prayers to secret prayers in their hearts. God in turn blessed them with strength to bear the burdens placed on them, and eventually delivered them from bondage (see Mosiah 24)
In Church history, there were many times where the early Saints submitted to unjust treatment. Probably the biggest example of this was over the issue of polygamy. Things had gotten to the point where it became a choice between submission, or revolution. President Wilford Woodruff saw in vision exactly what would happen if the Church did not submit, and he was willing to go down that road as well, except God instead released the Church from the obligation of practicing it, allowing them to submit in the matter so that the work could go forward. (see Official Declaration 1)
Through the missionary efforts of Ammon, many Lamanites came to accept the gospel and repent of their sins. This did not sit well with the other Lamanites and Nephite dissenters who repeatedly attacked them, killing many. While initially their submission to these attacks resulted in the conversion of more Lamanites, eventually their existence became threatened. At this point they fled their homeland and joined with the Nephites, who gave them the land of Jershon where they could live under Nephite protection. (see Alma 23-27)
Likewise, after much persecution the early Saints left for the Utah territory where they could live in peace for a time and grow in numbers.
Consider the story of Daniel and the Lion's Den. King Darius was convinced to make a binding decree that for the next 30 days, anybody who prayed or petitioned any God other than the king would be cast into a den of lions.
In Dan 6:10 we read:
Now when Daniel knew that the writing was signed, he went into his house; and his windows being open in his chamber toward Jerusalem, he kneeled upon his knees three times a day, and prayed, and gave thanks before his God, as he did aforetime.This was an act of deliberate civil disobedience. Daniel knew what the law was. He could have just prayed secretly in his heart, he could have hidden himself away to pray in secret, he could have just waited 30 days. Instead he carried on exactly as before, making no effort to comply and no effort to conceal his disobedience. If it was wrong for Daniel to do this, would God have still saved him when he was cast into the Lion's den? I think not.
Civil Disobendience was also used by several members of the Church, including General Authorities, when the government passed laws against polygamy. The Church held these laws as an affront to their religious freedom (and the American constitution) and chose to obey God rather than man. Several of them spent time in jail for refusing to disobey God. Only when God withdrew the obligation to practice polygamy did they submit.
An important point to note in these and other examples of legitimate civil disobedience is that there is no effort to avoid the consequences by denying there was any disobedience or trying to find some kind of technicality to escape punishment.
Captain Moroni led the Nephite armies in a long war against the Lamanites. If the Lamanites won the war, it would be the end of religious liberty for the Nephites and the end of the church among all the decedents of Lehi. When Captain Moroni found he was not receiving the support he needed from his government, he wrote to Pahoran, the Chief Judge. In the letter we read this:
25 And except ye grant mine epistle, and come out and show unto me a true spirit of freedom, and strive to strengthen and fortify our armies, and grant unto them food for their support, behold I will leave a part of my freemen to maintain this part of our land, and I will leave the strength and the blessings of God upon them, that none other power can operate against them—
26 And this because of their exceeding faith, and their patience in their tribulations—
27 And I will come unto you, and if there be any among you that has a desire for freedom, yea, if there be even a spark of freedom remaining, behold I will stir up insurrections among you, even until those who have desires to usurp power and authority shall become extinct. (Alma 60:25-27)
Think about that. Captain Moroni, the guy who if we were all like him it would shake the foundations of hell was telling his government that he would violently overthrow them if that is what had to be done to preserve their liberty.
A similar situation existed with the American Revolution. Captain Moroni didn't need to overthrow his government, but the American colonies did. The founding Fathers of the USA were in fact traitors to the king of England. From modern day revelation we know what the did was right in God's eyes.
78 That every man may act in doctrine and principle pertaining to futurity, according to the moral agency which I have given unto him, that every man may be accountable for his own sins in the day of judgment.
79 Therefore, it is not right that any man should be in bondage one to another.
80 And for this purpose have I established the Constitution of this land, by the hands of wise men whom I raised up unto this very purpose, and redeemed the land by the shedding of blood. (D&C 101:78-80)
This is God's option, not ours, but we should be aware of it.
We tend not to look at the story of the Exodus in terms of religious freedom, but more in terms of personal freedom from slavery. If we do that however we are missing part of the picture. Look at how the first meeting Moses had with Pharaoh's began:
2 And Pharaoh said, Who is the Lord, that I should obey his voice to let Israel go? I know not the Lord, neither will I let Israel go.
3 And they said, The God of the Hebrews hath met with us: let us go, we pray thee, three days’ journey into the desert, and sacrifice unto the Lord our God; (see Gen. 5:1-3)
Pharaoh of course refused to allow the children of Israel to worship God, and what followed was an outpouring of plagues and curses unlike anything known in history. A similar situation took place in the Book of Mormon with the people in the city of Ammonihah. After those who converted to the gospel were either cast into the fire or driven out of the city, and Alma and Amulek were imprisoned and persecuted further, God brought down the prison killing their tormentors and leaving them unharmed. Soon after every living soul in the city was killed in a Laminate attack.
Other examples exist, but for now this is sufficient to outline what kind of responses are justifiable when faced with losing one's freedom of religion.
Just because something may be justified doesn't mean that it is the wisest option, or the option God would approve. If Alma's followers responded to Ammulon's infringement of their rights with civil disobedience, they would have all been killed. If the founding Fathers of the American Constitution submitted to the king, there would not have been a land of freedom for the gospel to be restored in.
I have no doubt that both as a people and as individuals we well face situations where our religious liberty is taken from us in at least some degree. We are told to be good citizens of our nations and to follow the counsel of the 12th Article of Faith. It is always the wise course to follow the prophet, and we also need to have the spirit with us to help in our own individual situation. In the end the gospel will fill the earth, and Christ will come again, so be prepared, and also be of good cheer.