The waning days of 2009 saw the possible loosening of Utah liquor laws as a national story. Meanwhile, in a development covered by Mormon Matters, the Deseret News suggested that 2009 marked the end of a decade that saw the growing influence of Mormonism in American culture. What was the LDS experience in 2009 in one particular institution – the American courts? After all, court opinions are at least one indication of the larger attitude towards a minority group.
In 2009, I counted around 50 federal and state court opinions involving the LDS Church and its members. (This does not include cases where the Church is named in a cited opinion and where the Church or its members were not otherwise involved in the controversy). This count is slightly down from prior years; in 2007 and 2008, there were 71 and 63 cases, respectively. Many of these 2009 cases fall neatly into the various topics I have been writing about over the past few months.
My September 12, 2009 post, “The Surprising Truth About Mormon Employment Discrimination,” for example, noted that the LDS Church differs from the Jehovah’s Witnesses and the Seventh-Day Adventists because most of its employment discrimination cases involve Mormon employers. Put another way, where the LDS Church is mentioned in employment discrimination cases, it is generally a Mormon alleged as the discriminator (against non-Mormons), rather than an aggrieved Mormon employee who is suing a non-Mormon employer. This is not yet true of the other two American faiths.
This past year followed this trend. I counted four employment discrimination cases in 2009 that mention Mormonism. Three of these involved Mormon supervisors who, it was claimed, engaged in religious discrimination against non-Mormons. Aga v. Winter, 2009 WL 4406086 (D.Haw. December 1, 2009); DeFreitas v. Horizon Inv. Management Corp., 577 F.3d 1151, 2009 WL 2482030 (10th Cir. August 14, 2009); Webb v. ATK Thiokol Inc., 2009 WL 2043853 (D.Utah July 7, 2009). The fourth mentioned the LDS Church in its facts but did not fall into this pattern. It involved a plaintiff who claimed that his colleagues were harrassing him, by teasing and name-calling, and by signing him up for visits from Mormon missionaries and to receive Nazi literature. McWhorter v. Miller, Einhouse, Rymer & Boyd, Inc., 2009 WL 92846 (M.D.Fla. January 14, 2009).
In “Overseas Persecution of Mormons: A Comparative Analysis” (September 5, 2009), I examined cases in which alien Mormons sought to stay within the U.S. by showing a well-founded fear of religious persecution in their homelands. The year 2009 saw only two cases of Mormon asylum-seekers. Terreros-Guarin v. Holder, 2009 WL 4282847 (10th Cir. December 2, 2009)(Mormon who feared being sent to Colombia); Xue Zhi Chen v. Attorney General Of U.S., 2009 WL 3367628 (3rd Cir. October 21, 2009)(Mormon investigator who feared being sent back to China). This could be good news for people who think about Mormonism: it might be a sign that fewer of the LDS faith are being persecuted abroad.
The year 2009 saw more Mormons doing nasty things, the title of my September 9, 2009 post, which asked whether Mormons are more likely to engage in crime than members of other similar religions. This past year saw some Mormon murders and an LDS rapist. Sayres v. Walker, 2009 WL 1834310 (C.D.Cal. June 24, 2009); Forrest v. State, 290 S.W.3d 704, 2009 WL 1674922 (Mo. June 16, 2009); People v. Carpenter, 2009 WL 776113 (Cal.App. 4 Dist. March 25, 2009). Other criminal cases involved Mormon victims. People v. Avila, 46 Cal.4th 680, 2009 WL 1651379 (Cal. June 15, 2009); State v. Marchet, 219 P.3d 75, 2009 WL 2960392 (Utah App., September 17, 2009).
There were several Mormon prisoners who took to the courts in 2009, a phenomenon I described in “What Mormon Prisoners Want” (September 16, 2009). Ramirez v. Ferguson, 2009 WL 3158205, (W.D.Ark., September 28, 2009); Barhite v. Caruso, 2009 WL 440682 (W.D.Mich. February 23, 2009); Blount v. Echols, 2009 WL 1110815 (W.D.Ark. April 24, 2009). Another prisoner claimed that the Utah Board of Pardons shows favoritism towards Mormon sex offenders. Straley v. Utah Bd. of Pardons, 582 F.3d 1208 (10th Cir. September 28, 2009).
How did Mormons fair in family court this past year? Mormons were involved in some ugly divorces in 2009. In re Marriage of Mataele and Brittain, 2009 WL 1264069, Cal.App. 4 Dist., May 08, 2009); DeLay v. Larsen, 150 Wash.App. 1003, 2009 WL 1178512 (Wash.App. Div. 1 May 4, 2009). As I discussed in “Family Court, Mormon Style” (September 30, 2009), however, there is relatively little anti-LDS animus exhibited by judges in divorce and custody disputes. Instead, family courts tend to view Mormonism as a source of family stability. Jarnagin v. Jarnagin, 2009 WL 4639740 (La.App. 3 Cir. December 9, 2009); In re R.N., 178 Cal.App.4th 557, 2009 WL 3353630 (Cal.App. 2 Dist. October 20, 2009); In re K.M., 2009 WL 2737532 (Cal.App. 1 Dist. August 31, 2009).
In “Bringing Out the Delusional” (September 19, 2009) I asked whether the Church tends to bring out the delusional in some people. The most high-profile alleged delusional in Mormondom who was in court this year was almost certainly Brian David Mitchell, Elizabeth Smart’s abductor. U.S. v. Mitchell, 2009 WL 3837222 (D.Utah November 16, 2009). Some other less famous litigants rolled out some strange theories. Frank G. Fox believes that LDS Church employees are cyberstalking him, harrassing him through electronic communications. Fox v. Tippetts, 2009 WL 3790173 (W.D.La. November 10, 2009); Fox v. Eyring, 2009 WL 675355 (D.Utah March 12, 2009). Roland Cooke maintains that the Mormon Church and the FBI confiscated hundreds of millions of dollars of his property in violation of the Constitution. Cooke v. Federal Bureau Of Investigation, 2009 WL 3188470 ( D.Ariz. September 29, 2009); Cooke v. Corporation of President of Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints, 2009 WL 2450478 (D.Ariz. August 11, 2009). Paul Desfosses believes there is a grand criminal conspiracy involving the LDS Church, several IRS officers, Idaho Democratic party officials and politicians, including former U.S. Representative Richard H. Stallings, former Idaho Supreme Court Justice Robert C. Huntley, former United States Attorney Thomas E. Moss, and Chief United States District Judge B. Lynn Winmill, who worked together in an effort to “destroy Congressman George Hansen.” Desfosses v. Keller, 2009 WL 3109814 (D.Idaho September 22, 2009)
Finally, there are indications that the bad news will continue in light of the growing Mormon sex abuse scandals (September 23, 2009). Mormon pedophiles were charged, and the Church is being sued by people who claimed it was negligent in not redressing child molestation about which it should have known. State v. Archibeque, 2009 WL 4840740 (Ariz.App. Div. 1, December 15, 2009); Kathleen B. v. Shubeck, 2009 WL 4647873 (Cal.App. 4 Dist. December 9, 2009); Kathleen B. v. Corporation of President of Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints, 2009 WL 2438419, (Cal.App. 4 Dist. August 11, 2009); Doe v. Corporation of The Ass’n of the Presiding Bishop of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints, 2009 WL 2132722 (D.Or. July 10, 2009); In re Detention of Andrews, 150 Wash.App. 1007, 2009 WL 1212039 (Wash.App. Div. 2 May 5, 2009).
In addition to these cases, there were a couple of curiosities that did not fit into the categories about which I have written.
The FLDS Church was in the news, and it was similarly in the courts. An excommunicated FLDS member got in trouble for sending threatening communications to the IRS (U.S. v. Barlow, 2009 WL 2516843 (10th Cir. August 19, 2009)), and a major Salt Lake City law firm was disqualified from being involved in the disposition of the FLDS assets. Snow, Christensen & Martineau v. Lindberg, 2009 WL 3584003 (Utah November 3, 2009).
At the University of Florida, where the University of Utah’s former President and football coach are both employed, the Beta Chi Upsilon fraternity sued to protect its right to exclude non-Christians from membership. (The fraternity maintains that Mormons were not Christians.) Beta Upsilon Chi Upsilon Chapter at the University of Florida v. Machen, 586 F.3d 908 (11th Cir. October 27, 2009).
The Mormon Church’s involvement in the California anti-gay marriage initiative gained the Church some unwanted attention, and entered into legal lore. Opponents of the measure interrupted church services in Michigan, and two Mormon temples and one Knights of Columbus headquarters received envelopes containing white powder. ProtectMarriage.com v. Bowen, 599 F.Supp.2d 1197, 2009 WL 440211 (E.D.Cal. January 30, 2009). In a First Amendment case case, a court in New York wrote:
Like all Americans, clergy members have First Amendment rights. … Thus, the Rev. Martin Luther King could rally against segregation without rendering integration unconstitutional. Catholic Priests can endorse restrictions on abortion. Mormon-affiliated organizations can campaign against gay marriage. And Reform Judaism’s Religious Action Center can advocate for health care reform. Simply put: mere advocacy from a religious figure cannot transform an otherwise constitutionally acceptable government policy into a First Amendment violation.
Incantalupo v. Lawrence Union Free School Dist. No. 15, 2009 WL 2766705 (E.D.N.Y. August 24, 2009)(emphasis added). A Mormon judge in Hawaii was challenged for disqualification because of his vocal stand against gay marriage. Bayley v. Bayley, 121 Hawai’i 201, 216 P.3d 127, 2009 WL 2778315 (Hawai’i App. August 31, 2009).
Some additional interesting tidbits from the 2009 cases: the LDS Church is involved in litigation with the architects it hired to plan its center in Nauvoo (3 North, PLLC v. Corporation of the Presiding Bishops of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints, 2009 WL 4884394 (E.D.Va. December 10, 2009)), and the Reorganized LDS Church is suing to protect its trademark. Community of Christ Copyright Corp. v. Devon Park Restoration Branch of Jesus Christ’s Church, 613 F.Supp.2d 1140 (W.D.Mo., April 23, 2009).