Mormon Church seems to suppress study of its own history

April 2002
By Rick Ross

A fight between Utah State University and the LDS Church during 2001 focused on serious issues regarding Mormon history.

The dispute concerned a 658-box collection, 12 full and 52 partial boxes, of papers donated by Mormon historian Leonard Arrington to Utah State before he died.

However, LDS lawyers made the claim that as much as 60% of the collection should be given to the church, said Stan Albrecht, USU provost.

Utah State brought together its own team to investigate ownership claims. "We are taking a cautious, deliberate approach, analyzing each individual document that the LDS Church has asked us to sequester," said Ross Peterson, an American history teacher at USU.

The university especially wanted three types of documents, which included LDS Church business documents, such as minutes regarding the LDS Quorum of the Twelve (its highest governing body), temple related papers and original documents given to Arrington by individuals or families when he was church historian.

LDS claims that documents given to Arrington as church historian belong to the church. And the church produced one document Arrington signed promising to return typescripts or photocopies he made of church archives.

The dispute raised serious legal issues and also drew the concern of academics nationally who supported the university. Others saw even deeper issues. Lavina Fielding Anderson, a former employee and friend of Arrington's said, "Who owns a people's history? What happens to a history-based faith if the primary message about its history is that it's scary and dangerous and has to be so carefully controlled? Where's the line between preserving documents and suppressing the information they contain?" Anderson, a Mormon history expert herself concluded there is a "right of the larger Mormon community to explore its own history."

Brigham Madsen, a retired University of Utah professor said, "The very fact the church would give [Arrington] these documents meant they were allowing him to make copies. If a historian makes copies, they are his property." Madsen also said that for church officials to insinuate otherwise was an "injustice."

Notes: This article is based upon "Documents Debate May Go to Court," Salt Lake City Tribune November 2, 2001 By Kirsten Stewart

Copyright © 2002 Rick Ross.

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