MormonLeaks, a website that invites people to anonymously leak Mormon Church documents, clashed with officials of the Salt Lake City-based church this week when it reposted a document that had been previously removed by a third-party vendor after church lawyers said it violated copyright laws.
It was the first time the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints has threatened legal action or directly responded to the MormonLeaks site, which has posted more than 60 leaked documents or videos since it launched in December, according to founder Ryan McKnight, a former Mormon who lives in Las Vegas.
The church sent McKnight a takedown notice on March 1, after MormonLeaks published an internal PowerPoint presentation prepared for senior-level church officials that includes a graphic titled “Issues and Ideas Leading People Away from the Gospel” and lists things on a scale from “Far Left” to “Far Right.” Third-party document-sharing site DocDroid did remove the document.
Two weeks later, on Tuesday, MormonLeaks reposted it on its own website, along with a letter from its lawyer, Marc J. Randazza, who said the site obtained the “document lawfully and had a right to distribute it in its capacity as a journalistic resource devoted to discussing facts about the LDS Church.”
Randazza, a Las Vegas-based First Amendment lawyer who has represented many clients in the adult-entertainment industry, wrote an unconventional letter that lauded the church’s handling of criticism in the “The Book of Mormon” musical as an “inspiring” example of religious tolerance of free speech. “There is no better way to demonstrate the strength of your beliefs than to tolerate criticism and mockery of them,” the letter said.
Officials from the Mormon Church on Thursday said they did not have a response to the latest legal action.
The document in question, which has now been dubbed an “enemies list” by some former church members, includes Ordain Women, a group organized to support gender equality in the church, and “Incredulity over Church History” on the “Far Left” end of the spectrum and “False Prophets” and “Last days/ end of world predictions” on the “Far Right.” In the center it includes such issues as “Pornography” and “Lack of commitment.”
Many have speculated as to why the church responded to this internal presentation.
John Dehlin, the host of a podcast that is popular with former Mormons and those questioning their faith, said he thinks the document shows weakness. Dehlin, who was excommunicated from the church, was named on the document as someone leading people away from the church.
“What the church is careful to do in public is to not acknowledge threats,” he said. “This in some ways legitimizes those threats.”
MormonLeaks has posted more than 60 documents or videos since it was formed. It has posted what appeared to be pay stubs for some senior leaders in the church and a policy document showing that local church leaders should not take legal status into consideration when providing social services or aid.
Some documents showed historical figures who have been baptized posthumously in a Mormon temple, including a number of Native American chiefs, Albert Einstein and Adolf Hitler.
McKnight said his goal is to increase transparency in the church. There was little reaction to the PowerPoint presentation on the day he posted it, he said. But the church’s takedown notice garnered a lot of attention. He also saw a boost in the number of documents submitted to the site in the aftermath, which is contributing to a backlog.
“I am probably sitting on between 100 and 150 unpublished documents,” he said. “Some I have not even looked at yet.”