RELIGION

3 men sue church over use of tithing funds, humanitarian donations

Nov 1, 2023, 7:21 PM

The Church Office building of The church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints is pictured in Salt L...

The Church Office building of The church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints is pictured in Salt Lake City on Feb. 19, 2020. Three me allege in a federal lawsuit filed Tuesday that the church misrepresented how it used tens of thousands of dollars in donations they made over the past 10 years. (Steve Griffin, Deseret News)

(Steve Griffin, Deseret News)

SALT LAKE CITY — Three men allege in a federal lawsuit filed Tuesday that The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints misrepresented how it used tens of thousands of dollars in donations they made over the past 10 years.

The suit filed in U.S. District Court in Salt Lake City claims that the church has used “false pretenses” to obtain donations for decades. It names the church’s corporate arm, the Corporation of the President of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, and Ensign Peak Advisors, Inc., which manages certain of the church’s investments, as defendants.

“Rather than use these funds entrusted to it for charitable work, COP secreted donations away in Ensign in order to avoid public scrutiny and accountability to the donors, and instead used them for purposes never contemplated by donors and contrary to representations by COP,” according to the 38-page lawsuit.

The lawsuit is similar to one filed in federal court in California by James Huntsman, son of the late billionaire Jon M. Huntsman and brother of former Utah Gov. Jon Huntsman Jr., seeking $5 million he donated in tithing to the church over a quarter of a century. He resigned his church membership in 2020.

A federal appeals court in August reinstated part of the Huntsman case after a lower court had dismissed it. The church has petitioned for a rehearing.

The church had no comment on the new lawsuit Wednesday. It has called Huntsman’s claims baseless and maintains that tithing funds are used for religious purposes.

Previously, the church has said it annually provides nearly $1 billion in combined humanitarian and welfare aid, as well as supporting a global faith with 335 active or announced temples, as well as more than 30,000 congregations throughout the world. It also funds an extensive education network for hundreds of thousands of students at five colleges and universities, including Brigham Young University and BYU-Pathway Worldwide.

The lawsuit was filed by Daniel Chappell, of Virginia, and Masen Christensen and John Oaks, both of Utah. Chappell donated $108,000 to the church since January 2013; Christensen $166,000; and Oaks $74,000, according to the lawsuit. The suit describes Christensen as an active member of the church who made his most recent “annual” donation Nov. 11, 2022, and plans to continue making annual donations for the foreseeable future.

The new lawsuit contends that in addition to collecting tithing, the church solicits donations for humanitarian relief with promises that all donations are used to help those in need. The suit claims this is untrue.

The lawsuit repeated Huntsman’s allegations that the church used $1.4 billion in tithing funds to help pay for City Creek Center in downtown Salt Lake City and $600 million in tithing funds to bolster Beneficial Financial Group during the 2008 financial crisis.

The church has denied those allegations.

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3 men sue church over use of tithing funds, humanitarian donations