Spencer W Kimball, pictured above, was a Mormon “prophet” who masterminded a programme that placed thousands of young Native Americans in the homes of members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints between 1947 and 2000.
The Indian Student Placement Programme that drew in some 40,000 children stemmed from the Mormon belief that America’s indigenous people had fled from Israel in the year 600 BCE and had split up into two groups: the Nephites, a righteous and civilised people; and the Lamanites, an “idle, savage and bloodthirsty” people who, after hardening their hearts, were cursed by God with a “skin of blackness” and thus became “loathsome.”
Kimball, raised in southeastern Arizona, was called as an apostle – or one of the top leaders – of the Mormon Church in 1943. Then-president George Albert Smith gave Kimball a special assignment to:
Watch after the Indians in all the world.
Kimball served as the 12th President of the Church from 1973 until his death in 1985.
The Mormon Church, founded in upstate New York in 1830, believed it had a sacred obligation to convert and redeem the Lamanites. Their programme, also known as the Lamanite Placement Programme, was not just about education; it was also a way to instill in students the religious principles of the church.
In 1977 a federal investigation was launched to study accusations that the church was using its influence to push children into joining the programme. The government ultimately rejected the accusations, finding that the programme was largely positive and that it enjoyed enthusiastic support from Native parents and white foster parents.
But the programme faces fresh scrutiny as a result of a lawsuit launched last week by two members of the Navajo Nation against The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. It alleges that the church placed Native American children in Mormon foster homes where they were sexually abused and that LDS leaders did not take adequate steps to protect those children
The lawsuit, filed in Navajo Nation District Court on March 22, names The Corporation of the President of the LDS Church, The Corporation of the Presiding Bishop of the LDS Church, LDS Family Services and the LDS Church itself.
The two plaintiffs, a brother and sister, state they and another sibling experienced abuse while in the programme in Utah from 1976-1983.
Said Craig Vernon, one of the attorneys for the plaintiffs:
It was kind of a series of ongoing sexual abuse situations of varying degrees while in this programme.
The brother, named in the lawsuit as “RJ” to protect his privacy, reportedly suffered abuse that included fondling, sexual molestation and rape during his years in the programme.
The sister, “MM”, was placed in an LDS home in Utah in 1976. The girl was allegedly raped by a friend of her stepbrother, who was 40 years old at the time.
A few years later in 1983, after being placed in a different foster home in Centerfield, Utah, “MM” said she was again allegedly abused sexually, this time by her foster-father.
The lawsuit alleges the LDS Church did not take reasonable steps to protect the children – even after abuse was reported.
The lawsuit also alleges that LDS Church policies are designed to protect the church and its leaders from culpability rather than ensure that abuse is reported to authorities and justice pursued.
The lawsuit cites a Mormon policy that states:
‘To avoid implicating the Church in legal matters to which it is not a party, Church leaders should avoid testifying in civil or criminal cases or other proceedings involving abuse.’ (Handbook 1, Stake Presidents and Bishops 2010, section 17.3.2).
It also cites another policy that encourages church leaders to contact an LDS Bishop about abuse first rather than the police.
We want clear policy changes… that the Church is not going to investigate its own sexual abuse, it’s going to report it immediately and direct its members and leaders to report it immediately to police.
The lawsuit also asks the Church to create a policy to remove any leader named in abuse allegations from contact with children. Plus, the attorneys request that the LDS Church change their policy about directing leaders not to testify in civil or criminal cases involving abuse.
The lawsuit seeks damages for the injury caused to the plaintiffs, though no amount is specified.
And, Vernon said, the plaintiffs want to see the LDS Church write a formal apology for harms caused and to restore Navajo culture, which they allege was damaged by years of efforts to assimilate native children into white, Mormon culture.
The LDS Church released a statement last Thursday in response to the lawsuit through spokeswoman Kristen Howey:
The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints has zero tolerance for abuse of any kind and works actively to prevent abuse. The Church will examine the allegations and respond appropriately.
Hat tip: Peter Sykes