Salt Lake Tribune
public forum
Distorted History
Thursday, April 5, 2001 

It's one thing to distort history, quite another to invent it. Kathy Erickson (Forum, March 11) claims that the federal government threatened The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints with its tax-exempt status in 1978 because of the church's position regarding blacks and the priesthood.    

We state categorically that the federal government made no such threat in 1978 or at any other time. The decision to extend the blessings of the priesthood to all worthy males had nothing to do with federal tax policy or any other secular law. In the absence of proof, we conclude that Ms. Erickson is seriously mistaken.    

BRUCE L. OLSEN
Public Affairs Department
The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints    


After the above was published in the Tribune, numerous comments were made on internet discussion boards. Here are a few samples:

If you ever run across a book, The Tenth Jusitice: The Soclicitor General and the Rule of Law by Lincoln Caplan, 1987, check it out. (Don't confuse it with the recent legal thriller by Brad Meltzer with a similar name).

Caplan discusses with Rex Lee why he recused himself as Solicitor General (the guy who argues for the US gov. before the Sup. Ct.) in the Bob Jones v IRS case. In that matter the Supreme Court decided that a racially discrimintory religious university could not claim federal tax exempt status. Lee said that he had recused because he had previously argued before the IRS for the right of the LDS church to practice racial discrimination and still be tax exempt. Lee felt it would be unethical for him to now argue the the other side for the government.

If the IRS had never threatened the LDS church's tax exempt status, why was Lee arguing over it and race with the IRS on the church's behalf?

Someone else writes:
I loved that [first] line! They obviously speak from experience, being masters at both distorting and inventing history.
Someone else writes:
The only thing he stated is that the Church never was "threatened" by the Government, NOT that the Church wasn't worried that such a thing *could* happen and was watching court rulings [like the one that was occurring in Wisconsin] to see if they could continue discriminating against [black] members.

Yes, it is possible to lose tax-exempt status for discrimination--Bob Jones University lost it once for its interracial dating policy.


Being the curious sort that I am, I got a hold of The Tenth Jusitice: The Soclicitor General and the Rule of Law to verify what the one poster had stated. Here are some of the relevant quotes. Those interested will want to read all of Chapter V, "The Bob Jones Case".

Rex Lee [who later became the BYU President], who had been sworn in as Solicitor General seven months before [the Bob Jones brief was filed in 1982], had once represented the Mormon church when it faced a problem like Bob Jones's and, to avoid the appearance of a conflict of interest, he had taken himself off the case. (p. 50 -- footnoted reference is to an interview the author had with Lee)

In 1970, the Internal Revenue Service ruled that Bob Jones no longer qualified for tax-exempt status because of [its] segregationist policy, so the school changed it. Blacks could be accepted if they were married to other blacks, or if they promised not to date or marry outside their race... By the time of the Supreme Court case, a decade later, the number of blacks attending the school was less than a dozen, making the ratio of whites to blacks about 550 to one.

From the vantage point of the Solicitor General's office, the legal issue in the Bob Jones case was routine. It was a tax question. (p. 53)

In conclusion, there was probably more than one reason why blacks were finally allowed to have the Mormon Priesthood. One of them was likely the possibility of a change in the church's tax-exempt status.


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