International Legal Issues Facing The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints

I attended a fascinating class during education week focusing on International Legal Issues Facing The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints by William F. Atkin office of the general counsel

I am posting my notes from the event which are of course not comprehensive. First, I wanted to share some of my impressions and insights.

First of all, I got a glimpse at the complexity of running such a large international organization. The church is absolutely meticulous about doing everything absolutely by the books, and this leads to a need to hire and use lawyers. Of course, countries often will try to make it as difficult as possible for the church. Often, laws will be changed in opposition to the church and much legal diplomacy and craftsmanship is necessary. One example mentioned took place in my mission in Novosibirsk. Young missionaries were in the mission office one day when a tax inspector came to visit. There as of yet were no legal stuff, and the inspector looked through records and grilled the young missionaries. The church eventually received a very large fine. Since then, the church has made sure that in each mission there are trained individuals to help out with legal matters.

The variety of legal issues facing the church also stood out to me. Brother Atkins spoke about tax issues, diplomacy concerns, immigration, data privacy, cyber attacks, terrorism and many other issues that emerge in our complex and increasingly challenging world.

Secondly, the greatest asset the church seems to have is the positive impressions of those that come into contact with members. A story in Slovakia highlighted this: 

A law was passed in Slovakia right after the divide with the Czech Republic. It required 20,000 follwers to register a church. The word follower could mean an adherent, members etc OR just someone that will declare support. They started a petition drive and could not get enough signatures. Had to give social security number and legal address  so only got 300
Sent missionaries in from Czech republic.  In the end of a week they got the 20,000.
Newest missionaries got the most signatures.
 
They had a good relationships with Czechoslovakian government before divide. One of the leaders had attended a symposium in Salt Lake City years prior. Those that we had a good relationship with were the heads of the new government and they accepted the definition of follower we wanted. 

Thirdly, and perhaps most importantly was the message that Brother Atkins expressed very memorably as 

“When the adversary looks at the lord and says check and the lord looks back and says check mate.”

TIme and again, as the church has faced challenges in its spread, it has been clear that the lord has prepared a way for his church to continue to grow. The church’s history in Russia perfectly illustrated this 

” Back in 1997, Conservative leader General Alexander Lebed of Russia called Mormons ‘scum and mold.’ He was the opponent to Boris Yeltsin and widely expected to win election. After his remarks, leaders of the world were calling us to support us.Russia was member of g7 and president Clinton took prime minister aside and he asked why there was this persecution.  The Prime minister ended up going up to Russia and inquiring about the church.  On his staff, he had someone who had been to a  symposium  in Salt Lake City and was friend of church and it dramatically improved relationship with church.

Later, when in Russia they passed a new registration law that required presence for 50 years. The church was worried because they seemed to have no good legal options.  Because of good relationships they were informed that the legal structure in place was perfect because it had local legal entities. They are only loosely affiliated. Drafted a template in 1992 before the law which had language of affiliation which saved the church in Russia! At the time, those that organized the church did not know how critical that decision would be!

I was struck by the great prophecy of Joseph Smith

““The Standard of Truth has been erected; no unhallowed hand can stop the work from progressing; … the truth of God will go forth boldly, nobly, and independent, till it has penetrated every continent, visited every clime, swept every country, and sounded in every ear, till the purposes of God shall be accomplished, and the Great Jehovah shall say the work is done.”

I know that this is true and that the church will roll forth despite all opposition! This class truly strengthened my testimony in this regard!

_______________________________________________________________________________________

International Legal Issues Confronting the Church ( August 14th, 2012)

William F. Atkin office of the general counsel
 
His children jokingly labelled him President Monson’s ‘hit man’
 
Why does the church need lawyers?
Formed in 1996
One of president Hinkley’s first acts. Called a general authority to lead it
D&C 44:4-5
4 And many shall be converted, insomuch that ye shall obtain power to organize yourselves according to the laws of man; 
5 That your enemies may not have power over you; that you may be preserved in all things; that you may be enabled to keep my laws; that every bond may be broken wherewith the enemy seeketh to destroy my people. (Doctrine and Covenants, Doctrine and Covenants, Section 44)
 
Purpose is to advise the first presidency on the legal matters that affect them
 
Do day to day legal work (mostly outsourced)
They focus on strategic matters
 
Lance Wickman, William Atkins, Boyd j. Black
 
1995- president hinckley – two big concerns- 
Abuse of children- Organized hotline and abuse training for ward councils.
International legal structure of the church- dramatic growth but struggles to keep pace
 
Hired area legal attorneys ( started with 6 and now 13)
 
Robert b Lochhead in Moscow
 
Associate area legal council- senior missionaries working in area offices
 
Larry Walker in Moscow
( definetly an option as a senior couple) ( 30 have gone out)
 
Government relations missionaries
Un-Geneva un-NYC eu-Brussels
 
Diplomacy- the art of lying to ones neighbors
Or to communicate and develop a relationship of trust
 
Franklin s Richards was the first general counsel for the church. Son of apostle. Was called by Brigham Young to be a lawyer.
 
Legal structure today- the church is distinct from its legal entities. Difference between ecclesiastical and legal structure. Legal structure must be in place to support the ecclesiastical structure
 
What is a church
 
A community of believers sharing common faith and doctrine- a spiritual body
( in America a church requires no legal organization
 
A legal entity
We are an unincorporated legal entity
 
Church us corporate structure
Statute in new york for religious organizations required from 3-9 founders. Signed some kind of incorporation document
 
No incorporation in Ohio Missouri or Illinois
 
In Utah at first state and church were very closely related. Incorporated according to territorial laws. Dissolved by federal government
 
When brigham young died it was hard to sort affairs or young family and church 
 
Franklin S. Richards- corporation sole- each western state encorporated this into its charters
 
Corporation of the presiding bishop (cpb) 1916 – each stake and ward was also a corporation sole
 
Corporation of the president of the church ( cop) 1923- holds properties outside of Utah
 
Now each ward and stake is not organized as a corporate entity because of lack of fear.
 
Now no more of these  in utah law but the church is grandfathered in
 
Now a lot of legal entities like the Deseret management corporation
 
International reserve inc ( copyright laws)
 
FamilySearch international ( Utah genealogical society)
 
Two perspectives
 
Our internal view:
–areas ( area presidencies)
— stakes districts wards and branches
— missions, temples and mtcs
— area offices and service centers ( dtas, controllers and managers)
 
Governmental view
 
–legal entities
— management
 
One of the challenges is integrating the two.
 
Moscow tax attorney- 500,000 tax assessment in Novosibirsk. Tax inspector came and the missionaries didn’t know how to respond. For it negotiated down to 30,000 dollars, but from that began legal training for missions in Russia
 
“respect the box”- 
Legal existence
Tax problems
Piercing the corporate veil- liability issues
Internal and external confusion
Accountability and reporting
 
Church itself does not employ a single person- temporal affairs church does have employees
 
Helsinki temple- vendor in Spain sold chandlers. The Spanish entity bought it for the finnish one. Big problem under articles of encorporation
 
Garments are manufactured in brazil and legal entity in brazil manufactures it. In america production and distribution is part of same entity. In brazil they think there are different entities so they are over paying in taxes
 
Legal and political trends
 
Taxation- in the last decade it has become of greater interest. Where do you find new taxes and tax revenue. By going after entities and looking for lack of compliance
 
Always looking for non-profit tax exempt structure- been able to do so world-wide
Want direct first presidency control but it’s not always possible so we need creative lawyering.
In Ukraine there is a five year old case.- tax audit found a problem. We had purchased property and had a dilapidated building on it.  We demolished a building but failed to get a demolition permit ( had a building that you demolished— need to pay Capitol gains tax on it)
 
We try to do everything in accordance to law of land sometimes at great cost to the church.
When in Russia it was very difficult to be in full compliance (1992). Their laws were to use sovietlaw until replaced with new laws. Soviet law was designed for command economy.
 
We need to comply with laws to the best of our ability 
Southern baptist in Siberia did what all in Russia was doing. Rubble was begged to dollar and so people would use black market. Orthodox priest complained and he was reported. He was deported and black listed. 
 
Tax story in Italy- family search international hire local people to perform digitizing. We Declared it as a product or service that is being exported. Could apply for vat refund.
(laws changed so that vat is not required, but since you did pay it we are not going to give it back to you).
 
Elimination of tax exemptions– getting harder and harder. “Pure religion” is often not covered. Charity is often define differently. Fast offerings often not exempt but humanitarian works are.
 
Russia- If a branch president givens fast offering money to needy it is a taxable payment. Mostly set up on a withholding basis so need to pay taxes on it.
 
Cpb is not a legal entity in Russia so you can have cpb do humanitarian activities- appoint branch president as agents for purpose of aid. Have powers of attorney. Can disperse Welfare funds.
 
Transparency- unclear exactly what the net worth of the church is. We are not very big into disclosure. There is a historical reason why not– careful about disclosure because of history of government
 
Church has to be transparent in certain countries by laws 
 
In us money laundering and terrorism laws require greater disclosure
 
How does the euro crisis affect the church. Great control over export of dollars. Okay for church because we usually import them. But now greater currency limitations implemented
 
Argentina had a distribution center for Latin America but had customs and export taxes. They will take 30% and keep it and give it back but then it devalues.
 
Money flows mostly from America to elsewhere. When we had currency devaluations it cost a lot more to run internationally. Started to equalize.
 
Data privacy- now its an issue that impacts the church enormously. There are lots of privacy concerns. Financial, genealogical, employment information, missionary applications etc…. Eu has directive so throughout Europe makes it very hard to transfer data across borders. Need to give data transfer consent. Now on baptism forms.
 
Law suits from ex members in england– they want to see their disciplinary records. We do not keep records of disciplinary accounts. They are confidential and sent to salt lake. Require first presidency approval. 
 
Immigration restrictions-
Visas- go to country through the front door. No underground churches. We are patient until we can do things legally.
 
New law allows to only get visa renewals so can do it in one day.
 
Western European country will no longer give westerners visas- Switzerland. Exceptions if there is a strong need ( granted for cabaret dancers)
 
Business travel visas- we will only go in on business visas rather than just go in without it.
 
Anti- discrimination legislation- gender age ethnicity nationality etc
Gender discrimination is a big issue here. Us state department is pushing that agenda.
 
Employment/ temple worthiness is the major concern. If you don’t have a recommend you will lose your employment! Have to discriminate based on standards. Work really hard to find exemptions for churches based on religious belief
 
Uk passed an omnibus anti-discrimination law and they narrowed it significantly so that only exemption was clergy. They worked in a religious coalition except for Catholics and anglican church because they are large enough. They ultimately joined. The church is small in the Uk but when the priesthood is involved they become leaders. Legislation passed house of commons but in the house of the lords there was a proposed amendment that passed 97-92 .
 
Church autonomy cases in Europe where the church has prevailed. In Germany church won a case they expected to lose by an ex- member. Amicus was written by church in lawsuit against germany by that ex- member.
 
Secularism
Churches no longer have favored status.
 
Zoning laws are large concern 
Temples usually have concerns over stepples.
 
Terrorism and security issues-
 
Technology crimes/ cyber attacks- church is attacked many times a day.
 
Experiences in representing the church.
 
Registration in Slovakia-
 
Required 20,000 follwers to register a church.
For word follower could be adherent, members etc OR just someone that will declare support.
 
Could not get enough signatures. Had to give social security number and legal address  only got 300
Sent missionaries in from Czech republic.  In the end of a week they got the 20,000.
Newest missionaries got the most signatures.
 
Had good relationships with Czechoslovakian government before divide. Those that we had a good relationship with were the heads of the government and they accepted the definition of follower we wanted.
 
Monterrey mexico temple- could not get building permit from city.
Found another site and were actually then supported by government
 
Church rarely sues because you don’t win very much through it.
 
Adversary looks at the lord and says check and the lord looks back and says check mate.
 
General Alexander Lebed of Russia called Mormons in 1997 as ‘scum and mold.’ was opponent to Boris Yeltsin
 
Leaders of the world were calling us to support us.
Russia was member of g7 and president Clinton took prime minister aside and he asked why there was this persecution. Prime minister ended up going up to Russia and inquiring about the church. Had someone who had been to symposium and was friend of church and it dramatically improved relationship with church. They passed a new registration law that required presence for 50 years.  Because of good relationships they were informed that the legal structure in place was perfect because it had local legal entities. They are only loosely affiliated. Drafted a template in 1992 before the law which had language of affiliation which saved the church in Russia!
 
President hinckley- ‘Brethren, be peacemakers.’
 
Law is there to maintain peace.
 
Questions
 
Supreme court case on boy scouts- not directly involved
 
Recognition in Italy- what does it mean. Catholic model has been to have treaties. Modern legislation in Spain and Italy continues. Give special treatment to churches that can enter into these treaties . Had association for years, but we’re second class and now developed a treaty. Now allowed to get tax deduction, ministers can do civil marriages etc. largest benefit is public image.
 
Israel- deal very carefully.
 
Byu has its own legal structure that owns center. 
‘what are we going to do about the look in their eyes.’
 
China progress- strict separation between foreigners and chinese. Two or three ex pat districts.  Two Area 70’s. 
 
In France many of the investigators are Chinese mandarin speaking.
 
Growth in Latin America came in second generation once the youth served missions. In china it’s different the best and brightest end up joining. Chinese lets locals share the gospel with friends and family.
 
Kennedy center English teaching in china.
 
Humanitarian aid is a strategic tool. We have built good relationships through them. Lds charities registered through UN.
 
Elder brown in Japan when they first opened Russia the far east of Russia was part of Asian area. Gov brown had no success meeting in vladivostok. The last morning there he followed an impression to get in touch with catholic charities. He had been a leader in Somalia when the church gave money there. Opened the door to them.
 
Churches relationship in muslim world- do not proselyte to Muslims. There is a stake in Bahrain. Little toe hold. 
 
Legal entity in turkey but the missionaries were denied work permits.
 
Samoa- village chiefs have great authority. Mormons have largest percentage of population but many villages prohibit villagers from leaving to go to other churches. Working with government to stop restrictive law.
 
France- commission on dangerous sects. Cole derm- working on an article on dangerous sects. Very inocuous seeming but use it to make groups illegal.
 
Gana- kicked out in 1992. Half brother of leader was member so the church was able to regain status.
 
Prop 8- probably will be up to supreme court.
 
General authority was once in a building that was shot up but they just missed them.

 

 

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