By Sharon Lindbloom
23 August 2016
Beginning circa 1950, the Mormon Church promoted an “Indian Student Placement Program” for young Native American Mormons. According to the Encyclopedia of Mormonism,
“The Indian Student Placement Services was established among native americans by the LDS Church in part to fulfill the obligation felt by the Church to help care for the Indians in the Americas (2 Ne. 10:18-19). The program places Indian students in [non-Native American] Latter-day Saint [foster] homes, where they live while attending the public school of the community during the academic year.”
In 1972 nearly 5,000 children were participating in this program. In order to get a better education than they could receive at home, these kids, as young as 8 years old, enjoyed free clothing as well as free room and board, during the school year in a foster home, with foster parents who had been recommended by their bishops.
Twelfth LDS Church President Spencer W. Kimball considered this program successful. In 1960 he infamously reported,
“The day of the Lamanites is nigh. For years they have been growing delightsome, and they are now becoming white and delightsome, as they were promised. …The children in the home placement program in Utah are often lighter than their brothers and sisters in the hogans on the reservation. At one meeting a father and mother and their sixteen-year-old daughter were present, the little member girl–sixteen–sitting between the dark father and mother, and it was evident she was several shades lighter than her parents–on the same reservation, in the same hogan, subject to the same sun and wind and weather. There was the doctor in a Utah city who for two years had had an Indian boy in his home who stated that he was some shades lighter than the younger brother just coming into the program from the reservation. These young members of the Church are changing to whiteness and to delightsomeness.” (Spencer W. Kimball, Conference Reports, October 1960, 34)
The Mormon Church’s “Indian Student Placement Program” came to an unofficial end in the year 2000, but it has been in the news this summer because of a current lawsuit alleging sexual abuse perpetrated on children enrolled in the program during the 1960s and 1970s.
As the legal maneuvering in this case unfolds, the attorneys for the alleged victims have issued a deposition subpoena to Mormon Church President Thomas S. Monson, claiming that Mr. Monson has “unique information” concerning relevant jurisdictional facts; but Church attorneys disagree. In an effort to quash the subpoena via a federal court ruling, LDS Church attorney David Jordan wrote,
“The only connection President Monson has to this case is that he happened to be a senior leader of the LDS Church during the time period Defendants allege they were abused. Defendants do not claim that President Monson, in his role as an LDS Church leader, had responsibility for the administration of the ISPP. Nor do Defendants suggest that President Monson has personal knowledge of their participation in the ISPP or of their alleged abuse.”
President Monson’s deposition, which was to take place on August 4th, did not occur. But the fight didn’t end there. Craig Vernon, an attorney for the alleged victims, continues to believe President Monson can provide relevant information that is necessary to their case. In a renewed request to depose LDS Church President Monson, Mr. Vernon has presented an interesting line of reasoning in court papers filed on August 8th.
After making a case for the likelihood of President Monson, as a long-time Church official, having relevant information pertaining to “agreements, policies, or contact the Church Entities, via its agents like George P. Lee or others, made with the Navajo Nation during the lengthy existence of the ISPP,” (“Reply to Motion to Quash,” 6) Mr. Vernon argues,
“Plaintiffs’ argument that President Monson has no relevant information on the jurisdictional issues appears to run counter to their own unique policy relating to knowledge of its Prophet and President. According to Church policy, ‘The prophet [President Monson,] is not required to have any particular earthly training or credentials to speak or act on any matter at any time.’ First Presidency Message, ‘Fourteen Fundamentals in Following the Prophet,’ Ezra Taft Benson, Of the Quorum of the Twelve, Liahona, June 1981. ‘Sometimes there are those who feel their earthly knowledge on a certain subject is superior to the heavenly knowledge which God gives to His prophet …. if there is ever a conflict between earthly knowledge and the words of the prophet, you stand with the prophet.’ Id. … Church policy states that because of his position as President and Prophet, President Monson’s knowledge is unique and superior on ‘any subject, at any time’.” (“Reply to Motion to Quash,” 7-8. Ellipses in the original.)
By quoting past Church official Ezra Taft Benson (an apostle at the time of his above quoted remarks, later elevated to the position of Church Prophet and President), Mr. Vernon has placed the Mormon Church in a difficult position.
If the Church wants to maintain its argument that President Monson should not be deposed due to lack of particular knowledge, it might need to disavow President Benson’s remarks – remarks that were quoted and affirmed as recently as the Church’s 2010 October General Conference. But in that case, the authority and trustworthiness of the Mormon prophet would be undermined, and many Church manuals would need to be rewritten.
The Church might choose to reinterpret President Benson’s teaching in a narrow way, limiting his superior “heavenly knowledge” to heavenly things, but of course, that denies President Benson’s clear emphasis regarding the prophet’s informed ability to address “any matter at any time.”
The Church might choose to just ignore Mr. Vernon’s doctrine/policy-based argument altogether, and focus its efforts elsewhere in order to keep President Monson from being forced to submit to the deposition subpoena. This option seems most likely.
According to Fox 13, while it isn’t uncommon for LDS leaders to be subpoenaed for deposition, “it is rare for them to actually give any testimony.” President Monson was summoned to appear in a British court in 2014, but Church attorneys kept the prophet out of the courtroom and were eventually able to see that the summons was withdrawn.
Right now the motion to quash this current subpoena is on hold. Time will tell whether President Monson will be required to give a deposition in the pending sex abuse case, but the alleged victims’ attorney, Mr. Vernon, is not comfortable to wait too long. According to Fox 13, Mr. Vernon said that
“he believed President Monson had ‘unique information’ he could provide for the case and his testimony under oath was necessary. Vernon said he would like to conduct it soon, pointing to Monson’s age and health.
“‘We feel we have the right to depose him. We want to depose him now,’ Vernon told FOX 13. ‘Everybody has an expiration date on earth and President Monson does as well. Frankly, because of his age, we believe time is of the essence.’”
Thomas Monson is 89 years old and in poor health incident to age.