COMMENTARY | Eugene Volokh relates an action by the Westminster Magistrate’s Court in England that would be chilling if it were funny. It seems that the court is summoning a leader of a major religion to prove whether the doctrine of his church is true.
The court is summoning Thomas Monson, the current President of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints to answer charges under the Fraud Act levied by two disaffected ex-Mormons.
“Information has been laid by Thomas Phillips of Kemp House, 152-160 City Road, London EC14 2 NX, UK
“Before me the undersigned
“That between 3rd February 2008 and 31st December 2013 dishonestly and intending thereby to make a gain for himself or another or a loss or risk of loss to another made or caused to be made representations to Stephen Colin Bloor, which were and which you knew were or might be untrue or misleading and thereby induce the said Stephen Colin Bloor to pay an annual tithe to The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, namely that
“i) The Book of Abraham is a literal translation of Egyptian papyri by Joseph Smith.
“ii) The Book of Mormon was translated from ancient gold plates by Joseph Smith is the most correct book on earth and is an ancient historical record.
“iii) Native Americans are descended from an Israelite family which left Jerusalem in 600 B.C.
“iv) Joseph and Hyrum Smith were killed as martyrs in 1844 because they would not deny their testimony of the Book of Mormon.
“v) The Illinois newspaper called the Nauvoo Expositor had to be destroyed because it printed lies about Joseph Smith.
“vi) There was no death on this planet prior to 6,000 years ago.
“vii) All humans alive today are descended from just two people who lived approximately 6,000 years ago.
“Contrary to section 1 of the Fraud Act 2006
“You are therefore summoned to appear before Westminster Magistrates’ Court, 181 Marylebone Road, London, NW1 SBA on 14/03/2014 at 10AM in Courtroom 6 to answer the said information
“Failure to attend may result in a warrant being issued for your arrest.”
Monson, by all accounts, is not interested in actually answering this summons. How the court would attempt to enforce it is open to entertaining speculation. Would a request be made to extradite Monson? Would Mormon Church property in England be seized?
The betting is that the matter will be handled (which is to say squelched) quietly without recourse to silliness. But the idea that any church or religion would have to be subjected to accusations of fraud because of its dogma opens up a fascinating can of worms.
Imagine a British court summoning an Iranian Ayatollah under a similar circumstance, say, buy a victim of an act of terrorism inspired by Islamist doctrine. Imagine the head of the Church of England, who happens to be Her Majesty the Queen, being charged in the same fashion.
Clearly either a judge nears to get his knuckles rapped for overreach or Parliament had better get busy amending the law so that churches are not put at risk.