Mormon leader Thomas Monson fraud case thrown out

Thomas Monson Mormon leader Thomas Monson will not face prosecution in the UK

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The head of the Mormon Church will not appear in a British court over claims some of its teachings amount to fraud, a judge has ruled.

A former follower brought a private prosecution against Thomas Monson, president of the US-based Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.

Tom Phillips claimed Mr Monson breached the Fraud Act by seeking money using "untrue or misleading" statements.

But Senior District Judge Howard Riddle called it an "abuse" of court process.

Malcolm Adcock, the Mormon Church's assistant director for public affairs in Europe, said: "This case was a misuse of the legal system and should never have been brought."

Awkward implications

Speaking at Westminster Magistrates' Court, the judge said: "I am satisfied that the process of the court is being manipulated to provide a high-profile forum to attack the religious beliefs of others."

Analysis

There has been a long history of reluctance by judges to intervene in theological disputes.

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".

Since then judges have become more outspoken in distancing the law from religion.

Had the court decided to intervene in claims by the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, it might have had awkward implications for other religions.

Even vehement Christian critics of the Mormons accept that a court ruling against the literal truth of Adam and Eve could be the start of a slippery slope, inviting challenges to other beliefs, such as the belief that Jesus was born to a virgin.

The court's verdict will be a relief to Mormons, whose 12th article of faith expresses a belief in "being subject to kings, presidents, rulers and magistrates, in obeying, honouring and sustaining the law".

The summons alleged that, between February 2008 and December 2013, Mr Monson had induced two men to pay an "annual tithe" based on teachings which were untrue.

These included teachings maintaining:

  • there were no deaths on Earth before 6,000 years ago
  • all humans are descended from two people who lived approximately 6,000 years ago
  • Joseph Smith translated the Book Of Mormon from ancient gold plates and it is historically accurate
  • Native Americans are descended from Israelites who left Jerusalem in 600BC

The summons, signed by District Judge Elizabeth Roscoe, had ordered Mr Monson to appear at Westminster and threatened arrest if he did not.

But Judge Riddle ruled the threat of arrest was "wrong" and should not have been made.

He described the attempted prosecution as "tenuous", with no chance of ever making it to trial even if Mr Monson attended.

"To convict, a jury would need to be sure that the religious teachings of the Mormon Church are untrue or misleading," he said.

"No judge in a secular court in England and Wales would allow that issue to be put to a jury."

BBC religious affairs correspondent Robert Pigott said a court decision to pursue the case would have had "awkward implications" for other religions.

He said a "ruling against the literal truth of Adam and Eve" could have been seen as the "start of a slippery slope" of legal challenges to religious beliefs.

Neither Mr Phillips nor Mr Monson was in court for the hearing.

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