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How to have your name removed from Mormon Church Records

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Joining the Mormon Church is easy. Getting out can be hell.

So says Owen Edwards, a 28-year-old San Francisco masseur and student aesthetician.

Born into the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, Edwards faces a disciplinary hearing and possible excommunication for submitting his resignation, explaining his reasons and asking to have his name removed from the Mormon Church's membership records.

That was 4-1/2 months ago - and some 13 years since he had stopped attending church. Edwards charges he is being kept against his will in a church that doesn't even want him because he is gay.
Leaving Mormon Church difficult, San Francisco Examiner, July 17, 2000

The Mormon Church has backed off its efforts to discipline a gay San Francisco man who sought to resign his membership.

A disciplinary hearing scheduled for Sunday has been canceled, and Owen Edwards' request to have his name stricken from church rolls has been granted, according to the Mormon Church's Bay Area spokesman, Jay Pimentel of Alameda.

The church's decision appears to foil hopes by ex-Mormon activists here and in Utah that Edwards' situation would lead to a lawsuit against the Mormon Church over the tactics they say it employs when members seek to resign.

The Mormon Church makes it difficult for ex-members to get their church records removed. As one web site notes:

Numerous stories have been posted on internet bulletin boards and mailing lists about how the process has been other than pain-free--sometimes taking years and threats of legal action to finally become officially non-Mormon.

Because of this, a number of web sites have posted the pertinent instructions from the LDS Church's official Handbook of Instruction. Among them was Utah Lighthouse Mission, the web site of Jerald and Sandra Tanner - long-time critics of the Mormon Church.

Sandra Tanner explains:

Early in 1999 a member of the LDS Church acquired a copy of the Church Handbook of Instructions. Someone then put the text of the CHI into electronic format. Someone (we don’t know if it was the same person) then posted the entire CHI on the internet. Utah Lighthouse Ministry played no part in any of this.

Sometime prior to July 15th someone anonymously left a computer disc containing the CHI in Utah Lighthouse’s mail box.

On July 15th, 1999, we posted on Utah Lighthouse’s web site [www.utlm.org] a page called ''How to Remove Your Name From the LDS Records.'' Included with this entry was most of chapter 10 from the CHI, along with a few quotes from other chapters.

As a non-profit organization concerned with providing clear and accurate information to people desiring to terminate their LDS membership, we posted this material free on our web site. We believe we were acting in compliance with the copyright laws.

In the meantime, the entire LDS Church Handbook continued to be circulated on the internet. Utah Lighthouse Ministry did not cause these actions nor were we associated with these other postings.

In response, the LDS Church sued the Tanners for alleged copyright infringement.

At 11:00 AM on October 13, without any forewarning, two representatives from the LDS law firm came into the Utah Lighthouse Bookstore and handed me (Sandra Tanner) a packet containing the LDS demands against the Ministry.

These papers demanded that we immediately remove any material from the CHI from our web site and post their statement regarding the matter by 2:00 PM of the same day. By 1:00 PM we had complied with this demand. This did not satisfy the LDS Church. Later the same day they filed their lawsuit against the Ministry. They made NO effort to discuss or negotiate the matter with us or our attorney.

But, as Watchman Fellowship reports

[d]espite IRI's lawsuit against the Tanners, the Handbook has been republished in its entirety on the Internet. Brian Barnard, the Tanner's attorney, has noted that the entire Handbook is online at http://www.xenu.net/izen.com.au/lds/offsite (Sheila R. McCann, "With LDS Book on Net, Lawsuit Might Be Moot," Salt Lake Tribune, October 30, 1999. http://www.sltrib.com/10301999/utah/42791.htmoffsite). Barnard believes that the increasing availability of the Handbook on the Internet decreases IRI's ability to argue that the Tanners have reduced the value of the book (Ibid.).

The news paper article referred to in the above quote is now found in the paper's archive. It elected to include the full URL to one of the sites that - at the time - had posted the entire Handbook:

      The couple had posted about 17 pages, covering church discipline and requests to have members' names removed from membership rolls. But the entire book, of about 160 pages, is posted at www.xenu.netizen.com.au and elsewhere, said their attorney, Brian Barnard.
      The site, apparently based in Australia, appeared to have an accurate version of the church discipline chapter posted this week at www.xenu.netizen.com.au/lds. IRI has submitted a copy of that chapter to Utah's federal court.
With LDS Book on Net, Lawsuit Might Be Mootoffsite, Salt Lake Tribune, Oct. 30, 1999

(Later, bowing to legal threats from LDS lawyers, the site took the Handbook offline. However, it still provides links to sites where the book can be downloaded).

Three days after the Salt Lake Tribune printed that link, the Tanners posted various emails regarding the legal case. Two of these emails also mentioned URLs of web site where all or part of the Handbook was available.

Then Deseret News reported the following:

A federal judge said Wednesday it appears LDS Church critics Jerald and Sandra Tanner are violating copyright laws by using their Web site to direct others to Internet locations where copyrighted church manuals are posted.

"My look at this case now is that they are contributory infringing," U.S. District Judge Tena Campbell said.

But she will not issue a preliminary injunction preventing the Tanners from posting on their Utah Lighthouse Ministry Web site information that might lead others to sites containing the copyrighted material until the Tanners have had a chance to present evidence Nov. 18 on the allegations.

On Dec. 6, 1999, the judge issued a preliminary restraining order:

U.S. District Court Judge Tena Campbell has issued an order barring LDS Church critics Jerald and Sandra Tanner from posting pages from The Church Handbook of Instructions on their Utah Lighthouse Ministry Web site until a trial can be held on the copyright dispute. The Tanners were sued in October by Intellectual Reserve Inc. (IRI) for posting the 17 pages on their Web site without the church's permission. IRI is the corporation that holds The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints' intellectual-property assets. The preliminary injunction issued Monday reinforces conditions the judge placed on the Tanners in earlier temporary restraining orders. Utah Lighthouse Ministry cannot post copies or portions of the book, which describes LDS Church disciplinary procedures, on its Internet site. Also, it is forbidden from posting outside Web address where the book is available online. The restrictions will remain in effect until a trial is held or a settlement is reached.
Web Offerings Curbed,offsite Salt Lake Tribune, Dec. 7, 1999

Meanwhile, the LDS Church has stated it would not sue the "Salt Lake Tribune" for its posting of a link to a site that carried a full, electronic copy of the Church Handbook of Instructions.

Ironically, the relevant portion of the handbook has long been available elsewhere as well:

The LDS church does not allow their Church Handbook of Instructions to be distributed to the general membership of the church. When it was recently put on the internet a representative from the Church Office Building quickly called the person who had it online and asked them to take it down so that people couldn't see its contents. In other words, the church does not want some of the members to see the policies by which they are governed.

This makes it difficult for those leaving the church to find out how to have their records purged. Numerous stories have been posted on internet bulletin boards and mailing lists about how the process has been other than pain-free--sometimes taking years and threats of legal action to finally become officially non-Mormon.

The information below is straight from the 1999 version of the Church Handbook of Instructions. It should be helpful to those trying to quickly get their names removed. This portion is published below under the fair use provisions of the copyright law. [...more...]

The portion referred to, from the official Church Handbook, is as follows:

Request for Name Removal

If a member requests that his name be removed from the records of the Church, a disciplinary council may still be necessary if he has committed a serious transgression. Name removal should not be used as a substitute for or alternative to Church discipline.

Removing Names from Church Membership Records

An adult member who wishes to have his or her name removed from the membership records of the Church must send the bishop a written, signed request (not a form letter). A request that Church representatives not visit a member is not sufficient to initiate this action.

The bishop makes sure that a member who requests name removal understands the consequences: it cancels the effects of baptism and confirmation, withdraws the priesthood held by a male member, and revokes temple blessings. The bishop also explains that a person can be readmitted to the Church by baptism only after a thorough interview...

If the bishop is satisfied that the member understands these consequences and is not likely to be dissuaded, he completes a Report of Administrative Action form and forwards it to the stake president. The bishop forwards the member's written request and membership record with the form.

If members of the stake presidency concur after reviewing the matter, they ask the bishop to send the member a letter stating that his or her name is being removed from the records of the Church as requested. The letter should state the consequences of name removal. It also should state that the request for name removal can be rescinded only if the member sends the stake president a written request for recision within 30 days (the stake president's name and address should be included). If the stake president does not receive such a request, he submits the completed Report of Administrative Action form and other documents requested on the form. Instructions for submittal are on the form. The person's name is then removed from the membership records of the Church.

A minor who wishes to have his or her name removed from the records of the Church must follow the same procedure as an adult with one exception: the written request must be signed by the minor (if over the age of eight) and by the parent, parents, or guardians who have legal custody of the minor.

If two or more family members want their names removed from the records of the Church, they need to prepare only one written request.

If a member requesting name removal threatens legal action against the Church or Church leaders, the stake president should follow the instructions on page 151.

Name Removal and Church Discipline

If a member requests name removal and a bishop or stake president has evidence of transgression that warrants convening a disciplinary council, he should not act on the request until Church discipline has been imposed or he has concluded that no disciplinary council will be held. Name removal should not be used as a substitute for or alternative to Church discipline.

If a member requests name removal and a bishop or stake president suspects transgression but lacks sufficient evidence to convene a disciplinary council, the request for name removal may be approved. Any evidence of unresolved transgressions should be noted on the Report of Administrative Action form so priesthood leaders may resolve such matters if the individual applies for readmission into the Church.

It is not clear why the Mormon Church makes the process of having one's name removed from their records so difficult, and why it often taken legal threats to finally get them to do so. For one thing, claiming (like so many others) to be the fastest growing religion, while failing to exclude ex-members from the count is, at the very least, dishonest.

Also not clear is why this information should not be publicly available.

- News Database -

» News articles about the Copyright lawsuit
(Includes items added between Oct. 25, 1999 and Jan. 31, 2002. See about this database)

- See Also -
Secular Leaving the Mormon Church: How to get outoffsite

Secular http://xenu.tygger.net/lds/ [No longer online] Church Handbook of Instructions. Brief overview of the LDS actions against the Tanners, mention of LDS legal challenges to those who make the Handbook available online, and links to site where the Handbook can be viewed or downloaded.
Secular http://www.xmission.com/~mirele/chi_name_removal.html [No longer online] The Church Handbook of Instructions on Name Removal. Excellent example of the ''fair use'' copyright principle in action.
Secular How to have your name taken off the Mormon church records offsite
Christian How to Remove Your Name from the LDS Recordsoffsite
Profess to be Christian but are outside orthodox Christianity LDS Official Siteoffsite Links to search results for ''Handbook of Instructions.''
Christian Leaving Mormonismoffsite Article by Eric Johnson, of the Mormomonism Research Ministry.
Christian Under The Cover Of Light: LDS Church vs. Utah Lighthouse Ministryoffsite Utah Lighthouse Ministry's overview of the LDS legal action over the online posting of information from the Church Handbook of Instructions.

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