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British judge tosses fraud case against Mormon prophet
Britain » Judge tosses the case, but an ex-LDS bishop vows to fight.


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• That Joseph and Hyrum Smith were killed as martyrs in 1844 because they would not deny their testimony of the Book of Mormon.

• That the Illinois newspaper called the Nauvoo Expositor had to be destroyed because it printed lies about Joseph Smith.

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• That there was no death on this planet before 6,000 years ago.

• That all humans alive today are descended from just two people who lived approximately 6,000 years ago.

To prevail, Phillips and his allies would have had to prove not only that these ideas are false, but also that Monson knows they are untrue and uses them to "get gain" — namely, through members’ tithing money.

Sarah Barringer Gordon, a legal expert and historian at University of Pennsylvania, said previously that the United States has similar laws against religious fraud but they cannot be applied to "good-faith practice of religious convictions — such as promises to cure through prayer, claims of truth (historical or otherwise), and advice on how to lead a happy and productive life."

Gordon cited a 1944 Supreme Court decision regarding alleged mail fraud involving literature produced by the defendants, who promised to cure many diseases through the ministrations of a divine messenger.

"Men may believe what they cannot prove," Justice William O. Douglas wrote in the case. "… Many take their gospel from the New Testament. But it would hardly be supposed that they could be tried before a jury charged with the duty of determining whether those teachings contained false representations."

Any body of scripture, including the Book of Mormon and Book of Abraham, "is constitutionally protected in the United States," Gordon noted. "Historical claims in scripture are not subject to judicial investigation."

In Britain, there has been "a long history of reluctance by judges to intervene in theological disputes," Robert Pigott, BBC News’ religious-affairs correspondent wrote in an analysis of the Phillips case. As far back as 1949, a senior judge said that "no temporal court of law can determine the truth of any religious belief ... and it ought not to attempt to do so."


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If the Magistrates’ Court had attempted to examine LDS Church claims, "it might have had awkward implications for other religions," he wrote. "A court ruling against the literal truth of Adam and Eve could be the start of a slippery slope."

What would be next? he wondered. The belief that Jesus was born to a virgin?

pstack@sltrib.com

Twitter: @religiongal



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