Sonia Johnson, president of Mormons for the Equal Rights Amendment, yesterday asked a higher Mormon church court to overturn the excommunication order handed down earlier this month by the bishop of her suburban Virginia church.
The Loudoun Couty woman declined to make public the appeal petition she gave yesterday to Earl Roueche of McLean, who is president of her "stake" (district) and the equivalent of a diocesan bishop in the Mormon church.
Johnson said, however, that her appeal dealth primarily with procedural matters, including the fact that specific charges against her were never presented in writing until she was handed the excommunication verdict. She also pointed out that she was forbidden to make any record of the trial.
Johnson also complained that one of Roueche's official "counselors" who must act on her appeal, sat in on her orginal trial Dec. 1.
Jeffrey Willis, the bishop, or lay leader of her congregation, said Johnson was guilty of spreading false doctrine and of defaming and discrediting the church's teaching and leadership. She maintained that all charges against her stemmed from her lobbying activities on behalf of the Equal Rights Amendment. Mormon Church leaders have opposed the ERA.
Johnson said last week that she has gone to church every Sunday since she was excommunicated Dec. 5, but that it was been "very difficult." The excommunication order does not bar her from attending church services, but does prevent her from speaking or holding office in the church -- or continuing to play the organ and teach there.
The first Sunday, she recalled, "the bishop read (to the congregation) the statement of my excommunication while I was sitting right there."
"When he finished that, he said -- I was just dumbfounded -- he said, 'I want everybody to understand that there is an ultimate judge and that is your bishop . . . and not anybody else,'" Johnson continued.
After that, a member of the congregation gave talk on apostasy, (abandoning the faith) she said. "It was very difficult, I cried all through the songs -- it was the hymns that got to me."