LOCAL NEWS

Emphasizing religious liberty, church asks 9th Circuit to review Huntsman lawsuit decision

Sep 22, 2023, 5:28 PM

The Church Office Building of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints is pictured during th...

The Church Office Building of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints is pictured during the 190th Annual General Conference on April 4, 2020, in Salt Lake City. The church addressed a data breach from March in a press release on Oct. 13. (Spenser Heaps, Deseret News)

(Spenser Heaps, Deseret News)

The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints has appealed a court decision to reinstate part of the case of a California businessman who seeks the return of tithing he paid to the church.

In a petition for a rehearing filed Wednesday in the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals, the church argues that by allowing James Huntsman’s “novel tithing-fraud claim” to proceed, a three-judge panel “ignored clear Supreme Court First Amendment teaching and created a profound threat to religious liberty.”

“Virtually any person who has fallen away from their faith may view their donations to the church during their faithful years as a waste, but that cannot mean each of them has a fraud claim that allows them to try to convince a secular jury that they were swindled. The threat to churches and to the civil courts from such suits is obvious,” church lawyers wrote.

By a 2-1 vote last month, the San Francisco-based court reversed a lower court’s decision to throw out Huntsman’s lawsuit over $5 million in tithing he said he paid the church over a quarter of a century. The church is seeking an en banc review or hearing before the full 9th Circuit.

A U.S. District Court judge granted the church’s motion for summary judgment in September 2021 and dismissed the lawsuit, which alleged the church defrauded its members by using tithing funds for purposes other than charitable purposes. Huntsman’s suit repeated others’ allegations that the church used $1.4 billion in tithing funds to help pay for City Creek Center in downtown Salt Lake City and $594 million in tithing funds to bolster Beneficial Financial Group during the 2008 financial crisis.

Church leaders have maintained that tithing funds are used for religious purposes.

James Huntsman, who lives in California and runs a film distribution company, sued the church in March 2021 in a federal court in Los Angeles, alleging that then-church President Gordon B. Hinckley and other senior Latter-day Saint leaders had misrepresented how tithing donations were spent.

“In fact, tithing was not used on the City Creek project,” a church spokesman said when Huntsman filed the lawsuit. “As President Hinckley said in the April 2003 general conference of the church, the funds came from ‘commercial entities owned by the church’ and the ‘earnings of invested reserve funds.’ A similar statement was made by President Hinckley in the October 2004 general conference.”

James Huntsman resigned his church membership in 2020, a church spokesman said in 2021. Huntsman is the son of the late businessman and church leader Jon Huntsman Sr. and brother of former Utah Gov. and U.S. presidential candidate Jon Huntsman Jr.

In the court filing, church lawyers say virtually every religion depends on contributions from its members and every religion has members who fall away from the faith.

“Under the panel’s decision, any disillusioned former adherent who finds his way to the 9th Circuit can sue for a refund and attempt to get civil authorities to label their former church a liar,” the lawyers wrote. “It is hard to imagine a greater threat to religious liberty or a better reason to grant en banc review.”

Church lawyers argue that if the court allows Huntsman’s claim to move forward, copycat suits by other former believers based on years-old statements will inevitably follow. “And,” they wrote, “the panel’s decision will have a palpable chilling effect on the church’s religious expression.”

KSL 5 TV Live

Local News

A resident of a homeless shelter in Sandy has been jailed on suspicion of murder in the death of a ...

Tim Vandenack, KSL.com

Sandy homeless shelter resident jailed on suspicion of killing roommate

A resident of a homeless shelter in Sandy has been jailed on suspicion of murder in the death of a roommate at the Medically Vulnerable People Program Facility.

5 hours ago

(Karah Brackin, KSL TV)...

Karah Brackin and Josh Ellis, KSL TV

Multiple people in custody after shots fired at South Salt Lake gathering

South Salt Lake police say shots were fired at a large gathering early Monday morning, and multiple people have been taken into custody.

6 hours ago

emergency lights...

Mark Jones

Man taken into custody for alleged assaults at Cathedral of the Madeleine

A 31-year-old man was arrested Sunday after he allegedly began assaulting random people duing Sunday service at the Cathedral of the Madeleine.

20 hours ago

Taylorsville police said Sunday a 35-year-old man drowned in the swimming pool of an apartment comp...

Mark Jones

Man dies after drowning in swimming pool at Taylorsville apartment complex

Taylorsville police said a 35-year-old male drowned Sunday.

21 hours ago

FILE PHOTO...

Collin Leonard, KSL.com

Layton man charged with killing his father now charged with threatening puppy owner

A Layton man charged this month with brutally killing his father now faces an additional criminal charge after police say he threatened to kill a man selling puppies the day before his father was found dead.

21 hours ago

A paraglider was injured and taken to the hospital after crashing in Washington County on Sunday, M...

Mary Culbertson

Paraglider injured after crashing in Washington County

A paraglider was injured after crashing near Blue Springs Reservoir in Washington County.

1 day ago

Sponsored Articles

Electrician repairing ceiling fan with lamps indoors...

Lighting Design

Stay cool this summer with ceiling fans

When used correctly, ceiling fans help circulate cool and warm air. They can also help you save on utilities.

Side view at diverse group of children sitting in row at school classroom and using laptops...

PC Laptops

5 Internet Safety Tips for Kids

Read these tips about internet safety for kids so that your children can use this tool for learning and discovery in positive ways.

Women hold card for scanning key card to access Photocopier Security system concept...

Les Olson

Why Printer Security Should Be Top of Mind for Your Business

Connected printers have vulnerable endpoints that are an easy target for cyber thieves. Protect your business with these tips.

Modern chandelier hanging from a white slanted ceiling with windows in the backgruond...

Lighting Design

Light Up Your Home With These Top Lighting Trends for 2024

Check out the latest lighting design trends for 2024 and tips on how you can incorporate them into your home.

Technician woman fixing hardware of desktop computer. Close up....

PC Laptops

Tips for Hassle-Free Computer Repairs

Experiencing a glitch in your computer can be frustrating, but with these tips you can have your computer repaired without the stress.

Close up of finger on keyboard button with number 11 logo...

PC Laptops

7 Reasons Why You Should Upgrade Your Laptop to Windows 11

Explore the benefits of upgrading to Windows 11 for a smoother, more secure, and feature-packed computing experience.

Emphasizing religious liberty, church asks 9th Circuit to review Huntsman lawsuit decision