- LDS Church acquires 13 acres of land in downtown Salt Lake City, Utah. Deseret News
- Senator Harry Reid of Nevada is named 2009 Mormon of the Year. St. Louis Post (No, I’m sorry to report that this is not a joke).
- Anti-Mormon Vandals target a Sacramento, California area family. CBS
- A Virginia Circuit Court judge denied James Boughton Jr’s appeal for a new trial. Boughton shot two Mormon missionaries in January 2006. Elder Morgan Young was killed and though his companion Elder Joshua Heidbrink was also shot, he did not die. Boughton sought a new trial based on alleged juror misconduct. Virginia Pilot
Law.com is reporting that the LDS Church has taken the unprecedented step of hiring a federally registered lobbyist to help its efforts in obtaining a new legal status in Italy. The LDS Church has formed a coalition with several other denominations in an effort to lobby the Italian parliament for an intesa, or “understanding.” Like many countries, Italy has different status levels for religious denominations. According to John Zackrison, former in-house counsel for the Mormon Church and now outside counsel working at Kirton & McConkie, the intesa the Church seeks would provide benefits such as a streamlined process to license Mormon ecclesiastical leaders to perform civil marriages and easier missionary visa renewals. There are also significant tax benefits, such as easier property tax exemptions and some charitable contribution deductions for individual Mormons. The intesa sought by the LDS Church would actually entitle the Church to public funds, but Zackrison says the proposed draft agreement promises that the Mormon Church would never accept such funds.
These sorts of agreements take years to achieve, particularly in countries such as Italy where the government is not known for its efficiency. Additionally, the strong presence of the Roman Catholic Church impedes acceptance of new religions, causing tradition-oriented politicians to oppose such official recognition. But now that the Mormon Church has plans for a temple in Rome, the favorable conditions of an intesa are even more important.
This is not the first time representatives of the LDS Church have lobbied government officials for various causes or issues. The Church even maintains a Public Affairs in Washington, D.C., and has public relations and legal representatives in many countries. However, this marks the first time that the Church has hired an outside firm to help it’s lobbying efforts. Law.com reports Zackrison as saying: “The advice we’ve received is, if the U.S. government were to weigh in favor of the [agreements] in some way, that — with the current Italian government — could be helpful in the process . . . .” State Department spokesperson Darby Holliday says that the U.S. government hasn’t spoken with the Italian government on the issue, but the apparent goal of the new lobbying arrangement is to change that.
Authorities in Corvalis, Oregon, announced yesterday that they had found and identified the remains of Brooke Wilberger, a 19-year-old BYU student who disappeared in the Spring of 2004. At the time of her disappearance, Wilberger had been helping her sister clean the lamp posts of the apartment complex her sister and brother-in-law maintained near the Oregon State University campus.
The case was unusual in that a search commenced almost immediately. Law enforcement officials usually wait a few days before searching for a missing adult because adults have the autonomy to come and go as they please, but the Corvalis authorities agreed with family members that the straight-laced BYU coed was not the sort of young woman to disappear on her own. Despite the early and large-scale search and national headlines, Wilberger was not located no one reported having seen her.
Another unusual element of the case was the fact that Wilberger’s long-time boyfriend was immediately ruled out as a suspect. Significant others are frequently prime suspects in disappearance cases, but Wilberger’s boyfriend had an iron-clad alibi: he was in Venezuela serving as a Mormon missionary.
Eventually the investigation led to Joel Courtney, who was already doing 18 years in New Mexico for the kidnapping and rape of a college student in that state. Wilberger’s DNA and hairs were found in Courtney’s van, and Courtney was to go on trial in 2010 for the kidnapping and attempted rape and murder of two other Oregon State coeds, an incident that occurred on the same day Wilberger disappeared.
Yesterday Joel Courtney entered a guilty plea for the aggravated murder of Brooke Wilberger in order to avoid the death penalty. He received a life sentence without parole. As part of his plea, Courtney disclosed the location of Wilberger’s body, which police later confirmed. Courtney’s plea provides some closure to Wilberger’s family, who have waited more than five years to know what happened to their daughter.
The excellent Howard Friedman of Religion Clause writes today that the Census Bureau has decided that the upcoming 2010 Census will not count Mormon missionaries who are living overseas. This was a big issue for the State of Utah, which narrowly missed gaining an extra congressional seat in 2000. Instead, the seat went to North Carolina, which has several military bases. Military service members living in other countries are counted in the census, but missionaries and other U.S. citizens living abroad are not. There are an estimated 11,000 Mormon missionaries from Utah that are living overseas. Utah challenged the census methods in a 2002 Supreme Court case, Utah v. Evans, but was unsuccessful.
The current Census Bureau policy counts military service members, federal employees, and citizens on merchant vessels. Other groups of U.S. citizens living abroad are not counted. Representative Bob Bishop (R-Utah) has opposed the policy as unfair an inaccurate. The most recent challenge to Census policies does not contest the counting of military members or federal employees, but instead argued that other groups (such as Mormon missionaries) should also be counted. I actually think this argument has some merit, particularly since the Census Bureau currently counts people on merchant vessels. Military service members and federal employees are serving their country, and may therefore be entitled to special treatment. But how is a crew member on a merchant vessel different from a missionary or a businessperson or a Peace Corp volunteer living abroad? The Census Bureau responds to these criticisms that they have found no feasible way to accurately count every American overseas.
There was a brief attempt earlier this year to change Census policies through congressional act, but the bill (S.160) (PDF) failed in the House when members of Congress attempted to use the bill as a vehicle to invalidate D.C.’s firearm restrictions.
Religion Clause: 2010 Census Again Will Not Count Overseas Mormon Missionaries
Salt Lake Tribune: Census count to exclude overseas missionaries—again
U.S. Census Bureau: Issues of Counting Americans Overseas in Future Censuses
Photo credit: noneck.
I usually try to keep posts here strictly legal, but this topic was too interesting to pass up. A family member mentioned this Dear Abby column that ran in a newspaper about a week ago, and it raised a lot of red flags. The question and answer are brief so I will reproduce them in their entirety:
I generally think the new Dear Abby distributes poor advice, but she’s right-on this time. I wanted to know more about the situation. First and foremost, is this a Mormon mission? The two-year time period and Arizona location would seem to support this possibility, as would the family members’ disapproval of the church in question. But if that is the case, I’m just as embarrassed as the writer in Arizona.
I’m sure the Mormon Church has methods or forms to enable interested family members or friends. However, I’m reasonably certain that mass-mailings are discouraged, if not prohibited. I find it particularly troubling that the young missionary-to-be was seeking a fixed number of sponsors (50) that were supposed to donate a certain amount per month ($50-100). While that may be a legitimate fund-raising tactic in other areas, it seems to run against the personal sacrifice aspects of Mormon missionary services. I find it extremely hard to believe that the Mormon Church would instruct its missionaries to gather sponsors in such a way. In fact, the general guidance is for young men and women to save money in their teenage years to pay for the cost of serving a mission.
I see two possibilities behind the Dear Abby question. The first is that this aspiring missionary is actually a member of another denomination that performs missionary service. If that is the case I have no problem with it. It seems somewhat in poor taste, but they can set their own rules. The second possibility is that this is indeed a young man going on a Mormon mission who is misrepresenting the LDS Church’s missionary system in order to defray the cost of service. I wish I could say that it was impossible that a young man or family would try to pass on the cost of a mission, but I can’t. I hope that it is not the case.
Is anyone aware of specific LDS Church policy prohibiting missionary funding schemes like this? I don’t have immediate access to a Handbook of Instructions, but I can check. I can’t find any specific policies on mission funding on the LDS.org missions page. The most guidance I can find is the following passage from the LDS Newsroom page on the Missionary Program. It states: “Missionaries fund their own missions — except for their transportation to and from their field of labor — and are not paid for their services.”
In January 2006, James Boughton Jr. of Chesapeak, Virginia murdered Mormon missionary Elder Morgan W. Young and shot his missionary companion Elder Joshua Heidbrink. Boughton shot the two missionaries because he feared hat may have witnessed him attempt to shoot a nearby person after a drug deal went bad.
- Reaching out to undocumented immigrants soften immigration views of LDS missionaries. Salt Lake Tribune
- Gay couple detained near Main Street Plaza after kiss. After being asked to leave the private property the two men became hostile and refused; they were both cited with misdemeanor trespassing. AP
The Salt Lake Tribune recently wrote an article highlighting the problem the LDS Church is facing with it’s missionaries who are illegally living in the United States, yet serving full-time missions. According to the Tribune, would-be missionaries who are “undocumented” are now being assigned only to “state side” missions where they will have a decreased chance of having problems with immigration issues.