The head of a secularist pressure group has welcomed a British judge’s decision to throw out a case of alleged fraud against the Mormon Church.
Terry Sanderson, President of the National Secular Society (NSS), said: “It would be invidious and dangerous for secular courts to start ruling on the truth, or otherwise, of various religious claims.”
Tom Phillips, a former member of the Mormon Church, tried to prosecute its world leader Thomas Monson for fraud.
He said Mr Monson persuaded people to give money to the Mormons on the basis of teachings which Mr Phillips claimed were false.
District Judge Elizabeth Roscoe had originally issued a summons for Mr Monson, who lives in Utah, which said if he did not appear in court a warrant for his arrest would be issued.
But Senior District Judge Howard Riddle intervened in March to put a stop to the case. He said: “I am satisfied that the process of the court is being manipulated to provide a high-profile forum to attack the religious beliefs of others.”
“It is an abuse of the process of the court,” his ruling added.
Mr Sanderson, of the NSS, said that the case “would have the potential to create religious inequalities and injustices that would eventually lead to conflict”.
“Courts must stay well away from ruling on theological matters and it is reassuring to see such a robust defence of that principle in this case”, he explained.
But according to a later piece he wrote on the NSS website, Mr Sanderson’s comments received a “fairly strong” reaction from fellow secularists who felt Mr Monson should have been taken to court and forced to pay money back to those who had been “duped”.
But Mr Sanderson warned that if a court ruled a religion to be based on falsehoods, there could be dangerous consequences.
“How long before someone took the Archbishop of Canterbury to court to demand that he prove his claim that the virgin birth actually happened or that the resurrection truly occurred?” he posed.
He also asked how long it would be before Richard Dawkins was arrested and forced to prove that his beliefs were true.
“Controlling what people believe is not the same as controlling what they do. And if someone freely chooses to follow a particular belief system – as Mr Tom Phillips once did – but then become disillusioned with it, they should accept their mistake and move on”, Mr Sanderson explained.