PHOENIX (RNS) The leader of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints has been ordered to appear before a magistrate in England on fraud charges filed by a disaffected ex-Mormon who disputes fundamental teachings of the religion, according to documentation obtained by The Arizona Republic.

But some legal experts in England say it is unlikely prosecutors would seek to have him extradited, and they are surprised the summonses were issued at all.

(RNS) Thomas S. Monson is the next president of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. RNS photo courtesy Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.

(RNS) Thomas S. Monson is president of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. RNS photo courtesy Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints


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Two summonses direct Thomas S. Monson of Utah, the church president, to attend a March 14 hearing in the Westminster Magistrates Court of London to answer accusations that key tenets of the LDS faith are untrue and have been used to secure financial contributions.

The criminal complaint was lodged by Tom Phillips, a Mormon who said he withdrew from the church after holding positions in England as bishop, stake president and area executive secretary. He now serves as managing editor of MormonThink, an online publication that critiques the church’s history and doctrine.

“The church occasionally receives documents like this that seek to draw attention to an individual’s personal grievances or to embarrass church leaders,” said Eric Hawkins, a spokesman at church headquarters in Salt Lake City who said he had not seen the legal document. “These bizarre allegations fit into that category.”

Legal scholars in England expressed bewilderment at the summonses, saying British law precludes challenges to theological beliefs in secular courts.

“I’m sitting here with an open mouth,” said Neil Addison, a former crown prosecutor and author on religious freedom. “I think the British courts will recoil in horror. This is just using the law to make a show, an anti-Mormon point. And I’m frankly shocked that a magistrate has issued it.”

Phillips’ complaint is based on the Fraud Act of 2006, a British law that prohibits false representations made to secure a profit or to cause someone to lose money. Conviction may carry a prison sentence of up to 10 years.

Judge Elizabeth Roscoe signed the summonses Jan. 31. A court official in London confirmed the issuance of the paperwork, which directs Monson to answer allegations that untrue religious precepts were used to obtain tithes comprising 10 percent of church members’ incomes. Two British subjects, Stephen Bloor and Christopher Ralph, are identified as victims.

Harvey Kass, a British solicitor, referred to the summons as “bizarre,” adding: “I can’t imagine how it got through the court process. It would be set aside within 10 seconds, in my opinion.”

Kass and Addison said they see no likelihood that the British government would seek to extradite Monson or that the United States would comply with such a request.

Phillips listed seven church teachings that he claims are demonstrably false, including the origins of the Book of Mormon and the Book of Abraham, part of the church’s canon of scripture. “These are not statements of mere ‘beliefs’ or opinions or theories,” he wrote. “They are made as actual facts and their truthfulness can be objectively tested with evidence.”

Phillips, who lives in Portugal, alleged that the LDS church in Great Britain has taken in $257 million in member donations since 2007. He said tithes are mandatory for good standing in the church.

According to Phillips’ online biography, he converted to Mormonism in 1969 and rose through church leadership for 33 years. Before leaving the faith in 2004, the biography says, he served as LDS area controller for the British Isles and Africa and as financial director for corporate entities in the United Kingdom.

Phillips said his belief in LDS doctrines eroded as he began researching questions raised by fellow Mormons. He now describes himself as “a secular humanist or atheist, or whatever you want to call it.”

(Dennis Wagner writes for USA Today and The Arizona Republic.)

MG END WAGNER

 

11 Comments

  1. The English Legal System is not quite so accommodating to religious organisations as in the USA. What might be unheard of in Utah as far as religious accountability is concerned, is very diffferent in the UK and Europe, where much more stringent laws and checks are applied.
    In the Mormon church, members have been coerced into paying 10% of their annual income into the church as a direct requirement to enter Mormon Temples, to partake of sacred and essential temple ordinances and by dutiful repitition, gain entry into Mormon Celestial Heaven.
    The member must also attend two bi-annual interviews and answer specific questions regarding personal obedience and worthiness to Mormon standards. One of them is obedience to Tithing as part of the qualification process.
    Furthermore, an annual Tithing Settlement interview is conducted with the member at the end of each year, to ascertain that the member is indeed a full Tithe payer.
    These demands on each member to comply to the payment of Tithing as it relates to Temple attendance qualification and essential Celestial advancement, amounts to nothing more than financial extortion on a massive scale.
    There is nothing voluntary about that little business venture.
    Always keep in mind, that this action is under English law jurisdiction and will not take place in the cosy, unquestioning theocratic utopia that is Mormon Utah.

    • The big problem with the lawsuit will be in what kind of evidence the plaintiff has and how much can really be obtained or even asked for in discovery. Making the accusations are one thing, being able to prove them based on the preponderance of the evidence is another.

      This should be fun.

    • Andy,
      I have received tithing for the church (5 years), recorded and reconciled tithing receipts (4 years) and paid tithing (over 40 years). Using the term “financial extortion” for that process is absurd.
      The payment is optional, tithing settlement is optional, bi-annual interviews are optional, going to the temple is optional, nobody calls you like a collection agent. I have sat in Priesthood Quorum meetings with a member who had not paid tithing for 20 years. Nobody said a thing and he was treated kinder if he was treated differently at all.
      For those who believe the doctrine of the church, the humble, honest payment of tithes and offerings is not an expense. It is a disbursement, for sure, but not an expense.
      I hope Tom Phillips has amended his tax returns and removed those charitable deductions and paid his taxes properly.

  2. No, no, really. The Gold plates were real. It’s just that the angel Moroni took the plates back to heaven, so no, sorry, you can’t see them to see if Joseph Smith’s rock in the hat really turned up so many lengthy passages lifted directly from the King James Bible. Yes, and while modern scholars may tell us the papyrus that so clearly LOOKS like the one that made up the Book of Abraham is just an ordinary Egyptian funeral scroll–and not nearly as old as Abraham–well, I get a burning in my BOSOM when I read it. And I prayed to Heavenly Father to help me find my car keys and BOOM, there they were. So, I know that the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints is TRRRRUUUEEE!

    • Oh please, all religious assertions of fact are ridiculous nonsense on their face. Its no worse than most of the fictions slung around by most Christians which pretends to be facts.

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