Thomas Phillips has filed a lawsuit in London accusing the president of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, Thomas Monson, of fraud. A British magistrate has signed the summons, ordering Monson to appear before the court in March.
Phillips is a former regional church leader in England who now runs a website that challenges church history and doctrine.
British legal scholars say they are surprised a judge signed off on the summons, and they told The Arizona Republic it is unlikely Monson will be forced to attend any hearing or that the lawsuit moves forward.
Neil Addison, a former crown prosecutor in England and author on religious freedom, told the newspaper that British law precludes challenges to theological beliefs in secular courts.
“I’m sitting here with an open mouth,” Addison said. “I think the British courts will recoil in horror. This is just using the law to make a show, an anti-Mormon point. And I’m frankly shocked that a magistrate has issued it.”
The summons are bizarre and should be set aside in “10 seconds,” British solicitor Harvey Kass told the newspaper
Monson, 86, has been president of the Mormon church since February 2008. As the highest leader in the faith, he is considered a prophet. The Utah-based faith has 15 million members worldwide, including 188,000 in the United Kingdom.
Monson is not accused of committing any fraud on a personal level but is listed in the lawsuit as a representative of the global church.
In the summons, Phillips lays out seven claims made by Mormons that he believes are false. They include the belief that the Book of Mormon was translated from ancient gold plates by church founder Joseph Smith and that all humans descend from two people who lived approximately 6,000 years ago, Adam and Eve.
Phillips brought the lawsuit under a British law enacted in 2006 that makes it illegal to make false representations for profit.
Church spokesman Eric Hawkins said officials occasionally receive similar documents that seek to “draw attention to an individual’s personal grievances or to embarrass Church leaders.
“These bizarre allegations fit into that category,” Hawkins said in a statement.