Navajo Nation members suing LDS Church over alleged childhood sexual abuse

ST. GEORGE — Members of the Navajo Nation have filed suit against The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. The suit alleges church leaders did not take adequate steps to protect Native American children from sexual abuse they claim to have endured after being placed in Mormon foster homes.

In the lawsuit filed Tuesday in Navajo Nation Tribal Court, a fourth Navajo accused the LDS Church of making him remain in a Mormon foster home in northern Utah after he reported abuse – which occurred in the late 1970s – to workers in the Mormon program.

The man said in the complaint that he continued to be sexually abused by his foster father after being told to remain in the foster home until the school year ended.

The man is the fourth alleged victim suing the church – including The Corporation of the President of the LDS Church, The Corporation of the Presiding Bishop of the LDS Church, LDS Family Services and the LDS Church itself – alleging sexual abuse in the program and accusing the church of not reporting the abuse to the proper authorities.

The allegations stem from a church program called the “Indian Placement Program” or the “Lamanite Placement Program” involving thousands of American Indian children from the late 1940s until it ended around 2000.

Plaintiffs in the suit say they were taken from their Navajo Nation homes as children, baptized into the Mormon religion and placed with host families under the program.

According to the lawsuit, it was “the LDS Church’s desire to convert Native American or ‘Lamanite’ children and assimilate them into their culture reflects teachings in the Book of Mormon, a book of canonized scripture unique to the Mormon religion.”

Two Navajo siblings filed the first lawsuit March 22 making similar allegations. The brother and sister plaintiffs state they and another sibling experienced abuse while in the program in Utah from 1976-1983.

The brother claims in the lawsuit that he was fondled, sexually molested and raped during his years in the program.

According to the suit, at the age of 10, the boy was removed from the first foster home he had been placed in after he disclosed he had been sexually molested on several occasions by an older stepbrother. The next year, he was placed with another foster family in Utah, where he alleges he was molested by an older foster-brother.

The suit continues to allege that the boy again reported the abuse to Church leaders and was placed with a third family, where he was again allegedly abused and also witnessed the alleged abuse of a younger sister. After reporting the abuse a fourth time, the boy was allegedly sent back to live in the same home where his reported abuse occurred.

The sister, who was placed with a Mormon family in 1976, said she was raped by a 40-year-old friend of her stepbrother, according to the lawsuit. After being placed in a different foster home in 1983, the girl said she was sexually abused by her foster-father.

The lawsuit contends that the LDS Church did not take reasonable steps to protect the children and failed to implement reasonable safeguards, even after the sexual abuse was reported.

In a court filing Friday morning, lawyers for the LDS Church asked a federal judge for a restraining order to prevent the cases from being litigated in the Navajo Nation Tribal Court.

The church contends in court documents that since the alleged abuse took place in Utah, the proper forum for the case to be heard is in Utah’s federal court.

LDS Church attorney David Jordan wrote in the motion for an injunction:

Defendants have filed claims against these Plaintiffs in the Navajo Nation District Court (the ‘Tribal Court’) seeking damages for alleged acts of child abuse occurring while they were living with nonmember host families in Utah cities and towns outside the Navajo reservation. These claims far exceed the well-established jurisdictional limits of tribal courts. Simply put, because the claims involve nonmember activity outside the reservation, the Tribal Court has no jurisdiction.

Lawyers for the alleged victims are trying to keep the cases in tribal court, acknowledging that it would be difficult to maintain a case in Utah under the existing statute of limitations.

While the LDS Church has yet to release an official statement on the specifics of the lawsuit, the church states on its website that it condemns harming or abusing children and that it has become stricter on its reporting requirements and how it tracks people accused of abuse.

“Child abuse is a societal plague that we have learned more about in the last several decades,” the church states on its site. “When the Church has faced claims of child abuse at the courthouse, the great majority of these claims occurred decades ago, when society and the Church understood far less about abuse.”

The church said it has a zero-tolerance policy when it comes to abuse, and when child abuse occurs, the church deals with it immediately and directly. The church said it cooperates with law enforcement to report and investigate abuse.

Church members convicted of child abuse risk losing their church membership, even if the individual has not been convicted in a court of law, according to the church.

“Child abuse is despicable and heinous. It is not just a social malady and a criminal act; it is absolutely forbidden by the commandments of God,” according to the Mormon newsroom. “Protecting and nurturing children was a priority for Jesus Christ in His life, and it is a priority in His Church today. No child should have to endure abuse. Even one case is one too many.”

Email: kscott@stgnews.com

Twitter: @STGnews

Copyright St. George News, SaintGeorgeUtah.com LLC, 2016, all rights reserved.

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6 Comments

  • ladybugavenger June 8, 2016 at 3:41 pm

    Good for the Navajo nation. My husband was placed in a foster home in salt lake. They were Mormon and into bondage. The foster sister raped my husband when he was 9. My husband is Native American from the Choctaw and Chickasaw tribe. the government forced her to put 3 kids into bording school and 3 kids in foster care for a year while she went to school. The foster families were in salt lake. Somewhere in there she joined the Mormon church. This was in the 70’s. So yes, I do believe that Mormon foster care families sexually abused Native American foster children. And they should pay for their crimes!

    • radioviking June 8, 2016 at 10:53 pm

      That is terrible. Sorry to hear of such traumatic things. Has your husband filed any charges? Or can he (and others who were abused) contribute to this case now moving forward?

  • Bob June 8, 2016 at 10:32 pm

    LDS church has so much cash on hand they could pay out a few billion for this type of thing and not even feel it…

  • Anita June 9, 2016 at 11:22 am

    Guess what? I was 3 when my Navajo foster brother came to live with us. He molested me! Yes, the Indian molested the white girl! The students were’t “taken” from their homes, the Native parents wanted a better life for their children. My foster brother had no running water, electricity, or indoor plumbing in his home on the rez. Students had to be “de-loused” before going home with foster families. He didn’t have a decent education. His parents had a choice. My family “hosted” students in our home for my whole life. Our summer vacations weren’t to Disneyland like my friends. It was to the rez to help my Navajo siblings because their drunken parents couldn’t. My family sacrificed so much. When I was 7 we lived for a whole summer with the Apaches in New Mexico. The families of my foster brothers and sisters were treated like royalty when they came to our white Mormon home to visit. There are always two sides. There are many stories of sexual abuse on the younger family members of foster families by the Native students. Be fair, people. Maybe I should sue the Navajo Nation. The are loaded with money too.

    • .... June 9, 2016 at 6:26 pm

      Amen to that Anita. ….the India nation always cries foul and discrimination . .LOL its not like they have to pay property taxes. …oops that supposed to be secret

    • ladybugavenger June 10, 2016 at 1:52 pm

      Maybe you should.

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