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Mormons in the Dock

Judging Religious Beliefs . . . in Court



Beyond disturbing. A British court wants to decide the truth of religious beliefs. Don’t believe me? Stay tuned to BreakPoint.

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Eric Metaxas

Last week, a British magistrate issued what the Telegraph newspaper called “one of the most unusual documents ever issued by a British court.”

What was this “unusual document?” It was an order to the head of the Mormon church to defend seven of that body’s doctrines in connection with possible fraud charges.

Now let me get this out of the way from the beginning: I am every bit as skeptical of many Mormon doctrines as the magistrate might be, perhaps even more so. But unlike the magistrate, I believe in religious freedom, which is why, my skepticism notwithstanding, I am deeply troubled by this development and the ugly precedent it could set.

You should be, too.daily_commentary_02_06_14

On February 4, District Judge Elizabeth Roscoe issued a summons ordering Thomas S. Monson, the president of the Mormon church, to appear in Westminster Magistrates Court in London on March 14.

The purpose of his appearance will be “to defend the church’s doctrines including beliefs about Adam and Eve and Native Americans,” among other things.

In her order, Roscoe listed seven Mormon teachings which Monson is expected to defend. These include the teachings that “American Indians are descended from a family of ancient Israelites,” and the belief that “Adam and Eve lived around 6,000 years ago.”

To show she means business, Roscoe’s summons warns Monson that a warrant for his arrest could be issued if he fails to appear on March 14.

Roscoe justifies her order by arguing that “asking members of the church to make contributions while promoting theological doctrines which ‘might be untrue or misleading’ could be a breach of the Fraud Act [of] 2006.”

The order was issued in response to a “little-used legal procedure” in which “people who say they have evidence that someone has committed a crime can ask a magistrate to issue a summons requiring them to attend a court hearing.”

In this case, the person doing the asking was “Tom Phillips, a disaffected former Mormon who now runs MormonThink a website highly critical of the church.”

It doesn’t require much imagination to see how, if this precedent is allowed to stand, this “little-used legal procedure” can become an oft-used tool by the disaffected and, especially, those hostile towards people of any faith.

After all, many evangelicals and their churches believe in what is called “young-Earth creationism.” And these churches all solicit and even expect contributions. Arguably, they could also run afoul of the Fraud Act.

Even more troubling than the summons itself is the idea that a government official, in this case a judge, is fit to pass judgment on the content of people’s beliefs.

It so happens that Mormonism is especially vulnerable on this score, with its claims that the Book of Mormon was “translated from ancient gold plates by Joseph Smith,” and that its Book of Abraham “was translated from Egyptian papyri by Joseph Smith.”

Newsletter_Gen_180x180_BClaims like these and its stories about the origins of Native Americans can be falsified in ways that, for instance, the Resurrection and Virgin Birth cannot be.

But once you concede the principle that religious beliefs can be judged in this manner, religious freedom is more than jeopardized -- it’s effectively a dead letter. “Untrue or misleading” becomes whatever a judge says it is.

And that leaves us all, regardless of our beliefs, markedly less free.  For more on this story, please come to BreakPoint.org and click on this commentary.

Further Reading and Information

BP-Takeaction_020614Mormons in the Dock: Judging Religious Beliefs . . . in Court

This is a specific example of the threat to religious liberty overseas. What happens in Europe often crosses over the Atlantic. Could this happen here in America?

Be prepared and equipped to defend the rights of all people of faith to enjoy religious liberty, here and abroad. Click on the links below for more details on this case as well as information on protecting freedom of religion.



Resources:

Head of Mormon church Thomas Monson summoned by British magistrates' court over Adam and Eve teaching
John Bingham | The Telegraph | February 5, 2014

Claims filed vs. LDS Church in U.K.
Dennis Wagner | The Republic | February 5, 2014

The Global Public Square: Religious Freedom and the Making of a World Safe for Diversity
Os Guinness | IVP Books | September, 2013

Civil Disobedience
Timothy George, Chuck Colson | ColsonCenter.org


Comments:

Who?
Everyman,

Who is defending mormonism? You did not address your comment to either Mr. Metaxas or myself. I can only speak for myself, but I would say with Voltaire, "I do not agree with what you [Mormons] have to say, but I'll defend to the death your right to say it." That's what the free speech clause in the first amendment to the U.S. Constitution is all about. It was not written to defend popular speech, but unpopular speech. Popular speech doesn't need defending. And I am gung ho in favor of free speech for everybody. Even you! And that, I think, is what this commentary is about.
Defending Mormonism
I'm sorry, but no matter how great the threat, I cannot understand how anyone can defend the Mormon Faith. They bring a different Christ. We are told not to even great them. How can we defend them? Is the situation likely to lead to attacks on genuine Christianity? Probably, but if you're asking for sympathy for a system of beliefs that was founded by a confidence artist and has led to countless miseries and suffering in the name of God, I cannot support your position. Are Mormons currently waging a war for acceptance through good deeds in the hopes that they'll be embraced at last as genuinely Christian? Sure. Does that make them Christian? No, it does not. The record is clear. They do not draw their doctrine from the Bible, but from modern revelation. Even then, there is a movement that says they no longer even esteem the writings of the LDS organization to be equal in importance to the actual historical record of practical Mormonism today. And I say again, if the Mormons don't draw their doctrine from the Bible and don't draw their beliefs from their own writings, who are they that we should involve our reputation in defending them? We will each give an account before God. It is exactly this slippery slope of quiet acceptance that has allowed them to continue to prosper and mislead so many to-date. I'm sorry, but I respectfully disagree with your view.
Britain vs. America
I agree with just about everything in this commentary. The problem is in what is left out.

What is not mentioned is that while the United States has a written Constitution which includes the First Amendment, which grants citizens religious freedom and prohibits government from infringing on that or favoring one religion over another. Britain does not have a written constitution. So the fact that they can do things that would violate ours is not, in and of itself, all that disturbing as far as its implications for our government are concerned.

What is disturbing is that the U.S. Supreme Court has handed down decisions based on laws and rulings in European countries, which could cause such practices as this commentary deals with to become allowed here. Also, while evolution is taught as established fact in most public schools in this country, attempts to get Intelligent Design taught along with it have largely failed. On the other hand, when fossils are discovered that prove the existence of genetically European humans on this continent before the so-called Native Americans arrived from Asia, the Native tribes believe that they were here before anyone else, and their god(s) created them here. So when the issue comes before an American court, the judges rule that the tribes have jurisdiction, and the fossils are to be turned over to them so they can sweep the evidence under the rug, because who are we to argue with their religious beliefs? Go figure.

I am not altogether unhappy about the tide turning a little bit in favor of the Native tribes after a couple of centuries of breaking treaties with them. But when our courts basically kowtow to their pagan beliefs while demeaning Christianity, something is wrong. Oh, and don't get me started on Islam and Sharia law!