I had a funny feeling that this case was going absolutely nowhere.
A British judge confirmed all of my thoughts in a strongly worded ruling. The “fraud case” against the head of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints has been thrown out.
The ruling by Judge Howard Riddle, chief magistrate in Westminster Magistrates’ Court said “the court is being manipulated to provide a high-profile forum to attack the religious beliefs of others.”
Tom Phillips, a former Mormon bishop and stake president, had charged that church President Thomas S. Monson has “made representations … which were untrue or misleading” – including that “the Book of Mormon, the church’s signature scripture, was translated from ancient gold plates by church founder Joseph Smith; that the Book of Abraham, another text viewed as scripture, is a literal translation of Egyptian papyri by Smith ” – to “make a gain for himself or another,” according to news reports.
Unfortunately for Phillips, Riddle ruled that:
“To convict, a jury would need to be sure that the religious teachings of the Mormon Church are untrue or misleading. No judge in a secular court in England and Wales would allow that issue to be put to a jury.” He added that “it is an abuse of the process of the court.”
James Lewis, an attorney acting on behalf of the church and President Monson, filed the prehearing document with the court and used it to characterize the summonses as “an abuse of the process” that never should have been issued because they allege issues regarding faith.
According to the document: “The charges as set out are inherently flawed in that they would require a criminal court to adjudicate upon issues of religious doctrine and belief.” There is no precedent for them to be scrutinized in a secular court. Citing past British law cases, they argued: “As the charges are worded, it is impossible for any court to adjudicate upon them without being drawn into arguments regarding the ‘truth or reasonableness of the doctrines’ of the church and ‘to adjudicate on the seriousness, cogency and coherence of theological beliefs’ of the church.”
I agree with the church’s position that Phillips was not authorized under British law to even file his complaint, in the first place. And the lawyers for Monson took it one step further. Since that is a criminal offense, the church’s filing suggested he was guilty of contempt of court.
British law also allows for the plaintiff in cases like this to be held liable for the defendant’s legal costs. The church asked the court to rule that Phillips should pay.
The Latter Day Saint position was rock solid. They made the unbeatable argument that it would be similarly inappropriate for a court to consider whether relics attributed to the Islamic prophet Muhammad are real, or if Roman Catholic relics such as the Shroud of Turin possess validity.
The LDS Church “regards Joseph Smith as a prophet inspired by God and regards the Book of Mormon as Holy Scripture,” the application for dismissal stated. “Any question therefore as to the origin, provenance or teachings of the Book of Mormon” isn’t appropriate for the same reasons.
Many observers are pleased with the ruling by the British court, and have flooded social media sites and comment sections on news pages to express their joy. Those without an ax to grind, reasonable people from all faiths (including atheists) predicted this outcome. Imagine the flood of cases against every possible religious idea, if this frivolous lawsuit was allowed to continue.
Thomas S. Monson has always done the right thing. Now the British courts have too.