I’ve heard some skepticism about this, but I think it’s a good thing. First, here’s what happened:
Tom Phillips based his complaint on the Fraud Act of 2006, a British law that outlaws making a profit off of false representations. According to Phillips, this is precisely what the Mormon Church does — it uses statements it knows to be factually untrue in order to secure tithes from members of the Church.
The facts in question, court records show, are tenets of the Mormon faith, including that Joseph Smith translated The Book of Mormon from ancient gold plates, that Native Americans are descendants of a family of Israelites, and that death didn’t exist on this planet until 6,000 years ago.
“These are not statements of mere ‘beliefs’ or opinions or theories,” Phillips wrote. “They are made as actual facts and their truthfulness can be objectively tested with evidence.”
This is like a Catholic waking up to hear the Pope had been summoned to court to defend himself on charges of fraud. Tom Phillips, the man who lodged the complaint is, of course, correct. But it’s unlikely that Monson will be convicted and, even if he were convicted, more unlikely that anything would come of it.
A British solicitor, Harvey Kass, said “I can’t imagine how it got through the court process. It would be set aside within 10 seconds, in my opinion.” Neither Kass nor Addison believes the British government will act upon the summonses and seek to extradite Monson, or that the United States would comply with an extradition request made on anti-religious grounds.
But the important thing to note is that it wasn’t just cast aside. The courts are actually entertaining the idea that Mormon leaders are conning their followers. It’s not unthinkable as countless religious leaders have been exposed as frauds, having more followers shouldn’t lead us to believe that the religious leader is somehow above that (indeed, the historical precedent suggests that megachurch pastors seem more likely to be exposed as con artists). There is even international precedent for this. Just last year French courts upheld the verdict of fraud against the Church of Scientology.
Mostly it’s good that more people are realizing religious organizations for the frauds they are, even if a ruling against them for fraud isn’t feasible.