Judges don’t know Jesus (or Muhammed, or Buddha, or…)

In my other life, I’m a law student and therefore an aspiring lawyer. I am always interested in court cases that involve churches or religion, and even more so when it involves the LDS Church (see my posts from about a month or so ago). What I have noticed is an unfortunate fact that courts do an incredibly poor job of taking cognizance of religious doctrine and organization. Some people may say that a court has no business delving into a religion’s doctrine and in many instances they would be correct. However, I can think of a couple of situations (including the OR Supreme Court case I discussed earlier) where it would be appropriate and necessary for a court to do so.

That being said, we, the Latter-day Saints, don’t exactly make this easy on them. I have seen some pretty awkward citations of the standard works as proof of our doctrine, but we know that we don’t believe everything in the scriptures and the scriptures don’t contain everything we believe. What is a judge to do? Does the Prophet have to be put up on the stand or deposed out of court? Even then, we don’t (or should not) make doctrine out of everything the Prophet says. A judge who is Mormon should clearly recuse himself/herself from any case involving the Church, so he/she would be little to no help. Supposedly unbiased and objective scholarship of the Church typically misapprehends the true form or substance of our beliefs as well, so it is an equally unreliable source. I guess my tentative conclusion is that we cannot expect to see any improvement in the treatment of religious doctrine in judicial opinions, because the sources are notoriously conflicted (even in our own hierarchical Church).


6 thoughts on “Judges don’t know Jesus (or Muhammed, or Buddha, or…)

  1. Speaking of lawyers, here are some funny quotes by Brigham Young. He was upset about members taking up trivial matters with “Gentile” courts, rather than solving them amongst themselves, or taking ti to a Church court:Do I say that lying is practised in those places [Gentile courts]? Yes, often from beginning to end. Men will take a solemn oath that they will tell the truth, in the name of Israel’s God, and nothing but the truth, and then, if they have a prejudice against Mr. A or B, they will tell their story to suit themselves, and if possible crush an innocent person. The juries are liable to be deceived, where there is so much darkness, and the whole posse will go to hell, and I will say it in the name of Jesus Christ. You men who follow after such a course of things as I refer to, I would not give the ashes of a rye straw for the whole of you, jurymen, witnesses, and every other person who countenances such a place. It is a cage of unclean birds, a den and kitchen of the devil, prepared for hell, and I am going to warn you of it.[THIS PART IS GREAT]:No principle would ever lead an honest man into a court room, only to preserve the innocent from being rode down and destroyed….I would like to see a strictly honest community, if we can have one, and then there would be no differences of opinion brought before a Gentile court-never, never! Every difficulty would be settled amicably, without ever calling upon a court. I am ashamed of many of you; it is a disgrace for men who profess to be men of dignity and character-men who have been judges in the supreme court of their country, to condescend to the mean, low-lived calling of a pettifogger, and miserable tools at that. I am ashamed for such persons, their conduct is a disgrace to them, and to the name of “Mormon.”…Men who love corruption, contention, and broils, and who seek to make them, I curse you in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ; I curse you, and the fruits of your lands shall be smitten with mildew, your children shall sicken and die, your cattle shall waste away, and I pray God to root you out from the society of the Saints. To observe such conduct as many lawyers are guilty of, stirring up strife among peaceable men, is an outrage upon the feelings of every honest, law abiding man. To sit among them is like sitting in the depths of hell, for they are as corrupt as the bowels of hell, and their hearts are as black as the ace of spades. I have known them for years; I know where they were begotten and by whom, and how they were brought forth, and the history of their lives. They love sin, and roll it under their tongues as a sweet morsel, and will creep around like wolves in sheep’s clothing, and fill their pocket’s with the fair earnings of their neighbors, and devise every artifice in their power to reach the property of the honest, and that is what has caused these courts. I say, may God Almighty curse them from this time henceforth, and let all the Saints in this house say, Amen, (a unanimous Amen from 3000 persons resounded through the house) for they are a stink in the nostrils of God and angels and in the nostrils of every Latter-day Saint in this Territory.(Journal of Discourses 3:236)there are a few more instances when he talks about lawyers, but this should suffice. Let it be known he did believe in some lawyers, such as A.W. Babbit.

  2. Interesting post. I can’t wait until I know something about law.I think it’s also difficult for judges to account for LDS practice, policy, and culture.For instance, in a current case, in which an LDS student is seeking to have a scholarship reinstated that was revoked when he took time off school to serve a mission, the state moved to dismiss, saying that LDS missions are only encouraged, not required. In their words, the student was “under no compulsion to choose between the tenets of his religion and continued receipt of the…scholarship.”The thing is, in LDS culture missions are virtually required of young men. But that may be a very difficult thing to grasp if you don’t come from an LDS background. Without a familiarity with LDS culture, I don’t think that a judge (or jury) could properly contextualize arguments made in such cases.

  3. The missionary should rely on any prior agreements of the University to hold such scholarship in waiting. If he had no promise, he really doesn’t have much of a case, imo. But I’m no lawyer.

  4. Steve,Your example actually raises another facet of the question entirely. Which doctrine should the court(s) take cognizance of- the doctrine as it is proclaimed from the pulpit OR the doctrine as it is lived by the “boots on the ground”? There are some obvious distinctions, and I think that this missionary example is one of them. From a technical doctrine point of view, missions are optional. You in no way make yourself ineligible for eternal life by not serving a mission. Lots of good members and even current Apostles did not serve missions (albeit under very different circumstances). However, as you point out, young men are almost required to go on missions. Your social standing in the Church (in this day and time) is very dependent on your having been a full-time missionary (and a good one at that). So which does the judge look at? The “technically no I don’t have to be a missionary in order to go to the Celestial Kingdom” or “I must go on a mission or my chances of marrying a good Mormon girl and getting to the Celestial Kingdom are shot”.lifeonaplate,BY certainly did have a problem with lawyers. Given the early experience of members of the Church with attorneys (dragging Joseph Smith into court for everything, etc.) I can sympathize. Yet I was reflecting last night and thinking that few educations prepare one as well for understanding and analyzing the deep things of the kingdom better than training as a lawyer. After all, we are bound by commandments (laws and statutes) and classical Mormonism believed in a God who was himself bound by laws and through obedience to those laws had become God. On the other hand, the Church has little use for theologians…

  5. I also think the “every worthy young man has a duty to serve a mission” rhetoric is worth taking into account, even though, technically, one’s eternal life isn’t necessarily jeopardized by a failure to serve a mission. But, I really can’t expect a non-LDS judge to be able to sift through the nuances of LDS culture.

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