Church in Court
Compiled and Arranged by Elbert A. Smith
OF UNITED STATES AND CANADIAN COURTS AFFECTING
THE STANDING OF THE REORGANIZED CHURCH OF
JESUS CHRIST OF LATTER DAY SAINTS
Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints was organized April 6,
1830. Joseph Smith, sometimes known as Joseph Smith the Martyr, was
the chief instrument in the hands of God in perfecting this
Smith was slain June 27, 1844. A period of confusion and
disorganization ensued. Ambitious leaders arose. Among them was
Brigham Young, who led a certain number to Utah, where they acquired
more or less temporal power, and where they began to promulgate
certain doctrines, such as polygamy, that had been no part of the
belief of the church in the days of Joseph the Martyr.
members of the original church came together and reorganized on the
original plan, forming what has since been termed the Reorganized
Church. Joseph Smith, the oldest son of Joseph Smith the Martyr,
took his place at the head of the Reorganized Church April 6, 1860.
He had received a divine personal call to that position, besides
having been blessed and set apart for that work by his father.
Reorganized Church claims to be in fact the church of Christ. It
claims further to be the legal heir, and in succession to all
rights, privileges, and properties belonging to the church
established in 1830.
claims have been challenged, and on several occasions the question
has been carried to the civil courts, where evidences could be
weighed before unprejudiced tribunals and where an authoritative
decision could be rendered.
KIRTLAND TEMPLE SUIT
February 23, 1880, the Reorganized Church of Jesus Christ of Latter
Day Saints, by its attorneys, appeared before the Court of Common
Pleas, Lake County, Ohio, (see journal entry, February term, 1880)
as plaintiff, asking for possession of the Kirtland Temple, an
edifice erected during the early days of the church, and prior to
the death of Joseph Smith the Martyr. The church in Utah, then
presided over by John Taylor, was named with others as defendants.
L. S. Sherman rendered the following decision:
at this term of the Court came the Plaintiff by its attorneys,
E. L. Kelley, and Burrows and Bosworth, and the Defendants came
not, but made default; and thereupon, with the assent of the
Court, and on motion and by the consent of the Plaintiff a trial
by jury is waived and this cause is submitted to the Court for
trial, and the cause came on for trial to the Court upon the
pleadings and evidence, and was argued by counsel; on
consideration whereof, the Court do find as matters of fact:
1st. That notice was given to the Defendants in this action by
publication of notice as required by the statutes of the State
of Ohio; except as to the Defendant, Sarah F. Videon, who was
personally served with process.
That there was organized on the 6th day of April, 1830, at
Palmyra, in the State of New York, by Joseph Smith, a religious
society, under the name of "The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter
Day Saints," which in the same year removed in a body and
located in Kirtland, Lake County, Ohio; which said Church held
and believed, and was founded upon certain well defined
doctrines, which were set forth in the Bible, Book of
Mormon, and Book of Doctrine and Covenants.
That on the 11th day of February, A. D. 1841, one William Marks
and his wife, Rosannah, by Warranty Deed, of that date, conveyed
to said Joseph Smith as sole Trustee-in-Trust for the Church of
Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints, being the same Church
organized as aforesaid, the lands and tenements described in the
petition, and which are described as follows:
[The description of the land is omitted. -- E. A. S.]
upon said lands said Church had erected a church edifice known
as The Temple, and were then in the possession and occupancy
thereof, for religious purposes, and so continued until the
disoganization of said Church, which occurred about 1844. That
the main body of said religious society had removed from
Kirtland aforesaid, and were located at Nauvoo, Illinois, in
1844, when said Joseph Smith died, and said Church was
disorganized and the membership (then being estimated at about
100,000) scattered in smaller fragments, each claiming to be the
original and true Church before named, and located in different
States and places.
That one of said fragments, estimated at ten thousand, removed
to the Territory of Utah under the leadership of Brigham Young,
and located there, and with accessions since, now constitute the
Church in Utah, under the leadership and Presidency of John
Taylor, and is named as one of the defendants in this action.
That after the departure of said fragment of said church for
Utah, a large number of the officials and membership of the
original church which was disorganized at Nauvoo, reorganized
under the name of the Reorganized Church of Jesus Christ of
Latter Day Saints, and on the 5th day of February, 1873, became
incorporated under the laws of the State of Illinois, and since
that time all other fragments of said original Church (except
the church in Utah) have dissolved, and the membership has
largely become incorporated with said Reorganized Church which
is the Plaintiff in this action.
That the said Plaintiff, the Reorganized Church of Jesus Christ
of Latter Day Saints is a Religious Society, founded and
organized upon the same doctrines and tenets, and having the
same church organization, as the original Church of Jesus Christ
of Latter Day Saints, organized in 1830, by Joseph Smith,
and was organized pursuant to the constitution, laws and usages
of said original Church, and has branches located in Illinois,
Ohio, and other States.
That the church in Utah, the Defendant of which John Taylor is
president, has materially and largely departed from the
faith, doctrines, laws, ordinances and usages of said original
Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints, and has
incorporated into its system of faith the doctrines of celestial
marriage and a plurality of wives, and the doctrine of Adam-god
worship, contrary to the laws and constitution of said original
the Court do further find that the Plaintiff, the Reorganized
Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints, is the True and
Lawful continuation of, and successor to the said original
Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints, organized in 1830,
and is entitled in law to all its rights and property.
leading points sustained by the above quoted decision may be
summarized as follows:
Reorganization is the legal successor to the church organized April
6, 1830, under the leadership of the Prophet Joseph Smith.
polygamy and kindred false doctrines were first promulgated and
adopted by the church in Utah, such doctrines not having any place
in the faith of the original church during the days of the Prophet
the Reorganized Church, being one with the original church in
organization and doctrine, is the legal continuation of said church,
and heir to all its rights and properties.
RULING OF A CANADIAN COURT
1893, Hiram Dickout, a regularly ordained priest of the Reorganized
Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints, at Niagara Falls,
Canada, solemnized the marriage of Abraham H. Taylor and Alice E.
Dickout was arraigned before a police magistrate and fined ten
dollars. The charge in effect was that the Reorganized Church of
Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints was not a Christian denomination,
and hence under the laws of the Dominion (R. S. O., ch. 131, sec. 1)
a minister of that church could not legally solemnize a marriage.
appeal was taken and the case came before Chief Justice Armour, in
the Court of the Queen's Bench, Chancery, Common Pleas Division of
the High Court of Justice, for Ontario, at Toronto, November 28,
1893. The following decision was rendered by Judge Armour, see
Ontario Reports, vol. 24, pp. 250-254, also reported in the
Toronto Mail, November 28, 1893; also in the Globe:
think it quite clear that this conviction can not be maintained.
The defendant was clearly a duly ordained minister of this
religious body, and there is no doubt that it is a religious
denomination within the words of the statute. Assuming that
Christianity is the law of the land in a sense, there is
nothing contrary to Christianity in the tenets of this body.
It is true they have some authorized works supplemental to the
Bible, but that is the case with every church or denomination.
The Church of England has its creeds, and the Presbyterian
Church its confession. That does not make the church an
anti-Christian one. The statute should receive a wide
construction. It does not say "Christian", but "religious." If
it said "Christian," it would exclude Jews. The fundamental law
of the province makes no distinction between churches or
denominations. Every person is at liberty to worship his Maker
in the way he pleases. We have, or ought to have, in this
country, perfect freedom of speech and perfect freedom of
worship. Conviction quashed.
the above decision Latter Day Saints enjoy equal rights with other
churches in Canada and retain their standing as a religious body.
Enemies of the church sometimes charge that it is not Christian, but
the charge can not be maintained before an unprejudiced court.
The Temple Lot is between the
Auditorium and the Stone Church in the foreground. The church
of the Hedrickites is on the left of the Temple Lot. In the
upper left corner is the Utah Mormon museum. On the parking lot to
the far left is the spot on which the Community of Christ has built
their temple. The original temple lot is a 63 acre plot.
This center spot is only a small portion of that which was dedicated
by Joseph Smith, Jr. and others for the building of the temple in
Independence. However, this spot is held sacred by the Indians
who believe that some day they will play an important role in
building God's kingdom here.
TEMPLE LOT SUIT
case was tried before Judge John F. Philips, in the Circuit Court of
the United States, for the Western District of Missouri, Western
Division, at Kansas City, Missouri.
property involved was a tract of land in the city of Independence,
Missouri, known as the Temple Lot, acquired by the church in the
early thirties, and at a later date claimed by a body of people
known as the Church of Christ, more commonly called "Hedrickites."
Reorganized Church of Jesus Christ appeared as plaintiff, the Church
of Christ or "Hedrickites" as defendant. The dominant church in Utah
came to the aid of the defendant, not openly, but to such an extent
that Judge Philips in his decision spoke of it as "the power behind
the throne." They furnished many leading witnesses, including
Wilford Woodruff, president of the Utah church, Lorenzo Snow,
president of the Utah twelve, and at least two of the women who had
become notorious by reason of their claim that they were plural
wives of Joseph Smith the Martyr.
attorneys represented both sides, and many witnesses were summoned.
An abstract of the evidence fills a book of five hundred and
ninety-seven pages. The decision of the judge occupies an additional
question was largely one of doctrine, and a desperate attempt was
made to prove that Joseph Smith the Martyr taught polygamy. Every
effort possible was made to break down the claim of the Reorganized
Church to succession.
judge sustained the Reorganized Church on every material point. On
an appeal to the Appellate Court the decision as to the possession
of the property was set aside and the defendants were permitted to
retain possession of the Temple Lot, solely on the ground that the
Reorganized Church had not moved soon enough, a question of
latches. The decision by Judge Philips as to the weight of
evidence presented and the standing of the Reorganized Church as the
legal successor to the church established April 6, 1830, was never
reversed and still stands. The Reorganized Church was merely
unfortunate in not presenting its claims at a date sufficiently
early to come within the statute of limitation.
decision, rendered March 16, 1894, Judge Philips said:
Beyond all cavil, if human testimony is to place any matter for
ever at rest, this church was one in doctrine, government, and
purpose from 1830 to June, 1844, when Joseph Smith, its founder,
was killed. It had the same federal head, governing bodies, and
faith. During this period there was matter fundamental,
or affecting its oneness.
only authorized and recognized books of doctrine and laws
for the government of the church from 1830 to 1846 were the
Bible, the Book of Mormon, and the Book of Doctrine and
Covenants. The Book of Doctrine and Covenants, which consisted
principally of claimed divine revelations to Joseph Smith, was
the edition published at Kirtland, Ohio, in 1835, and at Nauvoo
There can be no question of the fact that Brigham Young's
assumed presidency was a bold and bald usurpation. The
Book of Doctrine and Covenants (printed in 1846) page 411,
containing a revelation to Joseph Smith, January 19, 1841, gave
unto them "my servant Joseph, to be a presiding elder over all
my church, to be a translator, a revelator, a seer, and a
prophet." ... The book clearly taught that the succession should
descend lineally and go to the first-born. Joseph Smith so
taught, and, before his taking off, publicly proclaimed his son
Joseph, the present head of Complainant Church, his successor,
and he was so anointed....
Book of Mormon itself inveighed against the sin of polygamy....
Conformably to the Book of Mormon, the Book of Doctrine and
Covenants expressly declared "that we believe that one man
should have but one wife, and one woman but one husband." And
this declaration of the church on this subject reappeared in the
Book of Doctrine and Covenants, editions of 1846 and 1856. Its
first appearance as a dogma of the church (the dogma of
polygamy) was in the Utah Church in 1852.
Claim is made by the Utah Church that this doctrine is
predicated of a revelation made to Joseph Smith in July, 1843.
No such revelation was ever made public during the life of
Joseph Smith, and under the law of the church it could not
become an article of faith and belief until submitted to and
adopted by the church. This was never done ....
Utah Church further departed from the principles and
doctrines of the original church by changing in their
teaching the first statement in the Article of Faith, which was,
"We believe in God, the Eternal Father, and in his Son, Jesus
Christ, and in the Holy Ghost," and in lieu thereof taught the
doctrine of "Adam-god worship." ...
has introduced societies of a secret order, and established
secret oaths and covenants, contrary to the book of teachings of
the old church. It has changed the duties of the President, and
of the Twelve, and established the doctrine to "Obey Counsel,"
and has changed the order of the "Seventy, or Evangelists." ...
considerable number of the officers and members of the church at
Nauvoo did not ally themselves with any of the factions, and
wherever they were they held onto the faith, refused to
follow Brigham Young to Utah, and ever repudiated the
doctrine of polygamy, which was the great rock of offense on
which the church split after the death of Joseph Smith.
1852 the scattered fragments of the church, the remnants of
those who held to the fortunes of the present Joseph Smith, son
of the so-called "Martyr," gathered together sufficiently for a
nucleus of organization. They took the name of "The Reorganized
Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints," and avowed their
allegiance to the teachings of the ancient church; and their
epitome of faith adopted, while containing differences in
phraseology, in its essentials is but a reproduction of that of
the church as it existed from 1830 to 1844. To-day they are
twenty-five thousand strong. [At present, 1911, the membership
is about sixty thousand. -- E. A. S.]
is charged by the Respondents, as an echo of the Utah Church,
that Joseph Smith, "the Martyr," secretly taught and practiced
polygamy; and the Utah contingent furnishes the evidence, and
two of the women, to prove this fact. It perhaps would be
uncharitable to say of these women that they have borne false
testimony as to their connection with Joseph Smith; but, in
view of all the evidence and circumstances surrounding the
alleged intercourse, it is difficult to escape the conclusion
that at most they were but sports in "nest hiding." In view of
the contention of the Salt Lake party, that polygamy obtained at
Nauvoo as early as 1841, it must be a little embarrassing to
President Woodruff of that organization when he is confronted,
as he was in the evidence in this case, with a published card in
the church organ at Nauvoo in October, 1843, certifying
that he knew of no other rule or system of marriage than the one
published in the Book of Doctrine and Covenants, and that the
"secret wife system," charged against the church, was a creature
of invention by one Doctor Bennett, and that they knew of no
such society. That certificate was signed by the leading
members of the church, including John Taylor the former
President of the Utah Church. And a similar certificate was
published by the Ladies' Relief Society of the same place,
signed by Emma Smith, the wife of Joseph Smith, and Phoebe
Woodruff, wife of the present President Woodruff. No such
marriage ever occurred under the rules of the church, and no
offspring came from the imputed illicit intercourse, although
Joseph Smith was in the full vigor of young manhood, and his
wife Emma, was giving birth to healthy children in regular
order, and was enciente at the time of Joseph's death.
if it were conceded that Joseph Smith, and Hyrum, his brother,
did secretly practice concubinage, is the church to be charged
with those liaisons, and the doctrine of polygamy to be
predicated thereon of the church? If so, I suspect the doctrine
of polygamy might be imputed to many of the Gentile churches.
Certainly it was never promulgated, taught, nor recognized,
as a doctrine of the church prior to the assumption of
Brigham Young. -- Decision of Judge Philips in Temple Lot Case,
reading the foregoing decision the reader will discover the
Young's assumption of the presidency was a bold and bald usurpation.
was who introduced polygamy and kindred false doctrines.
false doctrines are denounced in the Bible, Book of Mormon, and
Doctrine and Covenants, which three books were the standards of
authority in the church during the days of Joseph Smith, and are
still standards of authority to the Reorganized Church.
effort to prove that Joseph Smith was a polygamist can not
successfully be made before a competent court that is capable of
weighing evidence, not even when his reputed plural wives are
Reorganized Church is in line of succession and has kept the faith,
having shaped its course in harmony with the word of God and in such
a way as to merit the approval of all good men.
STATEMENT BY HON. JULIUS C. BURROWS AND THE
HON. FRED T. DUBOIS
Smoot, a member of the twelve apostles of the dominant church in
Utah, having been elected to the United States Senate, took the oath
of office, March 5, 1903.
protest against the seating of Reed Smoot having been filed with the
Senate, the matter was referred to the Committee on Privileges and
committee, composed of leading senators of the United States,
summoned many witnesses, including the president of the dominant
church in Utah, investigated a great mass of documentary evidence,
and made a thorough and exhaustive investigation of "Mormon"
history. Their work of investigation continued until June, 1906. A
transcript of the evidence taken and speeches made fills four large
Committee on Privileges and Elections was not a court, in the strict
sense of the term, but it had some of the functions of a court. The
Reorganized Church was not directly involved, as it had no interest
in the seating of Reed Smoot, but the matter was overruled, divinely
or otherwise, so that it terminated to our favor.
these reasons, we have decided to use in this connection certain
statements made by the chairman of the committee, United States
Senator Julius C. Burrows, while reviewing the matter before the
United States Senate, December 11, 1906. The position of the man
making the statements, the unusual opportunity that had been his to
discover the truth, the great publicity of the utterance, and the
fact that it was made before one of the greatest legislative bodies
in the world, gives great weight to that which we shall quote.
Concerning the origin of polygamy
Senator Burrows said:
order to induce his followers more readily to accept this
infamous doctrine, Brigham Young himself invoked the name of
Joseph Smith, the Martyr, whom many sincerely believed to be a
true prophet, and ascribed to him the reception of a revelation
from the Almighty in 1843, commanding the Saints to take unto
themselves a multiplicity of wives, limited in number only by
the measures of their desires.... Such the mythical story palmed
off on a deluded people. -- Congressional Record, December
Concerning the Reorganized Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day
Saints, he said:
death of Joseph Smith in 1844, however, carried dismay and
demoralization throughout the entire membership of the Mormon
church, scattering its adherents in divers directions and for
the time being seemed to presage the complete overthrow and
dissolution of the organization. Recovering, however, from the
shock, the scattered bands soon reappeared in various parts of
the country and promulgated their doctrines with increased zeal,
and set to work to reassemble and reorganize their scattered
forces, resulting finally in the formation of what is now known
and recognized as the Reorganized Church of Jesus Christ of
Latter Day Saints, with headquarters at Lamoni, Iowa, and
presided over by Joseph Smith, a son of the Prophet. The courts
have repeatedly declared this organization to be the
legitimate successor of the original Mormon church, and its
adherents, numbering some 50,000 peaceable, patriotic, and law
abiding citizens scattered throughout the United States in small
church societies, conforming to the laws of their country
wherever they may be and adhering to the faith of the founder
of their creed, repudiating and denouncing the doctrine of
polygamy and its attendant crimes, without temple, endowment
house, or secret order, worship in the open like other church
organizations, unquestioned and unmolested. -- Congressional
Record, December 13, 1906.
member of the Committee on Privileges and Elections, Senator Fred T.
Dubois, in a speech before the United States Senate, December 13,
1906, confirmed the statements made by Mr. Burrows. Senator Dubois
is only fair, I think, for me to say -- and I am glad the
distinguished Senator from Michigan (Mr. Burrows) treated upon
it the other day -- that there is a branch of the Mormons,
called the "Josephites," who ought to be separated clearly in
the minds of all Senators from the Brighamite Mormons. The
Josephites claim that they are the custodians of the church as
it was founded. They claim that Brigham Young has interjected
doctrines into the church which the Mormons did not accept in
the beginning. At any rate, however that may be, the Josephite
Mormons, with their headquarters at Lamoni, in the State of
Iowa, and wherever they are, no matter in what part of the
country, are among the best of our citizens in all respects. --
Congressional Record, December 17, 1906.