Exmormon forums are buzzing today about the latest bit of gossip: that the current and former editors of the anti-mormon website mormonthink have managed to organize a lawsuit against Thomas S. Monson, president of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints. We’ve tried to confirm this story, but so far we’ve not found any secondary sources.[edit: we found some, see below] Here’s the details of the rumor, take it for what it’s worth:
One of the biggest critics of Mormonism is the website mormonthink. While the site claims to be unbiased in its views, the current managing editor, Tom Phillips, has made dozens of hateful remarks against the church, as has the previous managing editor, David Twede. Today (Febuary 4, 2014) Phillips on exmormon forums and Twede on his blog claim to have organized a lawsuit against Thomas S. Monson in a court in England.
The image of the purported summons appears on this page. We can not yet confirm if this is legitimate or not.
The substance of the summons is that President Monson has engaged in fraud.
Monson accused of fraud.
The basis of this claim is that because the church (and therefore Monson) knowingly teaches things which are false, (according to those behind the claim) and because the church asks for money in the form of tithing, Thomas S. Monson must therefore be lying in order to get money out of people.
To simplify the claims of these accusers, here’s the logic they’re using:
- The church teaches things which are false
- President Monson must know they are false
- Therefore asking for tithing is fraud.
Twede and Phillips claim that President Monson has been served with papers as of this morning which require him to attend the court, Westminster Magistrates’ Court, on 14th March 2014.
Those who claim to be close to those instigating the proceedings say that this is just a part of their overall goal, and suggest that they hope to force the church to reveal its notoriously secret financial statements. Additionally, the filing lists 7 specific “lies” told by the church. Exposing believing members to these lies is seen as a huge benefit of a public court proceeding for those who wish to discredit the LDS church.
As of this writing there is no response from the LDS church.
Beyond those facts of the situation, if this is true, the questions that remain are these:
Will President Monson attend? Will the court even consider hearing a case which seeks to determine what a church can or can not teach and therefore believe? Will the church bring in “experts” to refute the claim that their teachings are false? Are beliefs to be tried in court now? Perhaps most importantly: How could the accusers hope to prove, in court, that President Monson does not believe the promises of the church?
All these questions cast a shadow on the idea that this is real.
Will Monson Attend?
General consensus in the exmormon communities seems to be “no.” The people there suggest that appearing in person would reveal that he has been hiding some secret like that he has dementia. However not showing up means that he could be prevented from ever visiting England again. A high price for a frequently traveling prophet.
Will the court even hear the case?
England does have some precedent for making tough decisions against religious institutions. For example, scientology is not considered a religion and receives no tax benefit from the state there. On the other hand, a man tried to accuse a Catholic Priest of fraud for claiming Christ existed had his case thrown out and was fined “for bringing a fraudulent suit.” I’m not familiar with the British court systems, so anybody who is, please comment!
Are beliefs to be tried in court now?
In faithful lds forums, the question becomes “if a court can decide what a religion preaches based on if science declares it “true” or “false,” how long before beliefs are curtailed by the law? If a state says a religion can’t teach things which disagree with science, how is that different from the dark ages when the state said science couldn’t teach things which disagreed with religion?”
What do you think? Does this case have any merit? Is it even real? Will it go far? Pull out your urim and thummim and give us the predictions.
EDIT: 8:30PM: An attorney friend of mine, who wishes to be anonymous, says the following:
This is not a criminal condemnation of Monson.
The information presented to the magistrate only needs three things:
- Describes the offence in ordinary language. R.7.3(1)(a)(i) Crim.PR.
- Identifies any legislation that creates it. R.7.3(1)(a)(ii) Crim.PR.
- Contains such particulars of the conduct constituting the commission of the offence as to make clear what the prosecutor alleges against the defendant. R.7.3(1)(b) Crim.PR.
This is a very low bar. Basically, the writer needs to be able to form complete sentences.
Moreover, there is no obligation upon a magistrate or clerk to make any inquiries before issuing a warrant. A warrant may be issued without giving the parties an opportunity to make representations and without a hearing. R.7.4(1) Crim.PR.
What we have here is an exparte, rubber-stamped complaint made by a private citizen the UK court. The church will just send a lawyer to hearing and likely get it dismissed on constitutional grounds.
See Relevant UK Rules of Crim Pro & Summary of Private Prosecution
See also: Official guide to private prosecution which shows that information only needs to be sufficient to show a prima facia case i.e. can check the boxes for a fraud claim.
Pleading Fraud in Federal Civil Court in the US has a higher standard that what is present here. FRCP Rule 9
I’m not a UK lawyer, but I saw stuff like this in Court all the time. People would sue the Pope all the time. In this case, the distinction between a Civil case in the US and the Semi-Civil realm of Private Prosecution UK is not particularly compelling.
So, based on that much, this seems to be more of a “statement” made notable only because of who is taking credit for it. If true, it puts quite a tarnish on the mormonthink claims of neutrality, since it chooses to have such strong antagonistic voices as managing editors.
Lawsuits are nothing new to the church, so I’m still reaching out to those in the exmormon community who might be able to explain the reasoning behind Phillips calling this “the mormon apocalypse.” But for now it seems to be a lot of sizzle with no steak.
EDIT 2: USA today has picked up the story. They found sources that confirm it’s a real court filing, however most people are saying it’s got no legs.