Legal Limitations on Church Contact?

October 4, 2007 | 72 comments
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On every ward’s roster are a few zz’s, people who have requested no contact. In different wards, I’ve gotten different messages about these folks. In some wards, clerk/bishop/EQP/etc will say something like, “we can’t talk to Bro. Jones. We’re legally prohibited from talking to him.”

Is that true?

It sounds ominous enough. And of course, there might be any number of good prudential reasons to avoid knocking on the door of the zzJoneses. But are there truly legal constraints?

Start by stipulating that we’re talking about basic contact here. Other acts might, it seems, be actionable. I’ve read cases involving successful claims for public disclosure of private sins — “hey everyone, look at Bro. Jones, he slept with his neighbor, he’s sure a sinner.”

But what about the phone call, can your home teachers come by, the plate of cookies, the bishop stopping by to say hi? Are those acts prohibited?

Really, I’m not sure what U.S. federal or state law(s) those actions would violate. Is there a common-law harassment tort that would apply? (I don’t think there is, but I could be wrong.) Is there a statutory tort, such as stalking? (But would that be limited to specific individuals?) Trespassing might apply, but that would only cover physical trespass — so a phone call from a home teacher probably isn’t covered (is it?).

What about some of the more exotic torts? Intentional infliction of emotional distress? That tends to be strictly limited in most jurisdictions (right?). Invasion of privacy? Again, I’m not sure all of the tort elements would be met by mere contact.

Even in the statutory realm, I wonder. To what extent is the church constrained by the same statutes as other organizations? (For example, charities are exempt from the national Do-Not-Call list.)

I’m drawing a blank. Absent an injunction, I wonder — are we actually legally prohibited from talking to Bro. Jones?

Also, is the ad hoc system itself evidence of a lack of true legal constraint? That is, if there really are legal limitations, then shouldn’t the church have a better system in place than random zz’s, which seem unreliable as they would tend to be read differently by every Bishop or EQP? (Are they a hard-and-fast rule, or just a guideline? Do they expire?)

(Note: This is all U.S.-centric. What kind of limitations exist in other countries? I don’t know, really, but I suspect that some other countries have much more severe limits, for various reasons. The church is still legally treated as a suspect religion in some heavily Catholic countries; also, some other countries have a much less expansive view of free speech than the U.S. But non-U.S. law is outside my area of expertise.)

If (as I suspect), the church isn’t actually legally constrained (at least in the U.S.) from contacting disgruntled inactive members, is there any legal recourse that Bro. zzJones could bring against missionaries/home teachers/etc. knocking on his door and inviting him to the Ward Christmas Party? I realize that he could file a suit, but would it have any chance of succeeding, if the sole allegation is unwanted contact?

Is anyone aware of lawsuits that have been filed over do-not-contact claims? What kinds of tort or statutory claims were asserted in those lawsuits? Have any succeeded?

72 Responses to Legal Limitations on Church Contact?

  1. Lib on October 4, 2007 at 2:20 am

    I’m not a lawyer. A very long time ago I heard a law professor argue that freedom of association likewise connotes freedom of dissociation, that an individual has a constitutional right to leave an organization even if it doesn’t want him to, and leave it with all that goes with that. Might be novel but it would be an interesting claim.

    In any case, lawsuits are so not-fun that prudent organizations work to avoid them.

  2. Blain on October 4, 2007 at 2:28 am

    If somebody gets a court order saying that no one from the church is to contact them, then that’s that. Violating the order could get you some jail time. I know of a case where someone was ready to get such an order if people from the ward didn’t stop coming by.

    If somebody wants to be left alone, leave them alone. The Gospel is for the people who want it.

  3. Kaimi Wenger on October 4, 2007 at 2:42 am

    Sure, Blain. Violating a court order would do it.

    But why would a court issue such an order in the first place? What sort of legal claim would give rise to that kind of court order?

  4. Kaimi Wenger on October 4, 2007 at 2:48 am

    Lib,

    Right of association is a First Amendment right, though. It’s a guarantee against government.

    _Congress_ shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the government for a redress of grievances.

    This has been extended to state government as well. But I’m not aware of private rights of action, absent some other legal hook.

    Your right to association goes against the government. The government cannot tell you, “you can’t be a boy scout.” But the Boy Scouts can legally tell Dale “you can’t associate with us.” The government can’t say, “you can’t comment on Times and Seasons”; but Times and Seasons can legally tell Languatron, “you can’t comment on our blog.”

    (Association rights may be limited in certain ways, such as quasi-public organizations bound to follow anti-discrimination laws.)

    So even if there’s a constitutional right of dissociation, it would lie against the government — that the government may not tell you that you can’t leave the church. It’s not clear that this gives any private right of action, though.

  5. Lib on October 4, 2007 at 3:10 am

    So I didn’t have to tell you I’m not a lawyer.

    As I read about freedom of association it seems it is also applied against private organizations. An employer can’t prevent an employee from joining a union, for example. How does that square with securing the right only against a state infringement?

    Possibly related, were there any legal threats in connection with the objection of Jewish groups to the baptism for the dead of Holocaust victims?

  6. Lib on October 4, 2007 at 3:16 am

    There are a lot of references to legal action and the Holocaust baptisms for the dead here, http://www.jewishgen.org/InfoFiles/ldsagree.html, such as this one:

    December 21, 2003
    By Ian Urbina
    New York Times – nytimes.com [Excerpts]
    Again, Jews Fault Mormons Over Posthumous Baptisms
    A Jewish group says it is considering legal action in an effort to stop the Mormon Church from posthumously baptizing many Jews, especially Holocaust victims.

    “For the last seven years, we’ve had entirely cordial relations with the Mormons,” said Ernest Michel, who negotiated the agreement on behalf of the American Gathering of Jewish Holocaust Survivors, which is based in New York and claims 180,000 members. “But the agreement is clear and they have not held up their end.”

    But Mr. Michel, who said he became involved in the issue after reading about posthumous baptisms in the Jewish newspaper The Forward, contends that the agreement obliges the Mormon Church to monitor the post-1995 lists and remove the names of Jews that appear.

    “They put the names in there, they should have to take them out, and the agreement says as much,” he said. “Why should we have to do their job for them?” He said the group was considering legal action but would not provide details.

    Is the Church acting as though it recognizes a right to dissociation (or non-association) here?

  7. Kaimi Wenger on October 4, 2007 at 3:18 am

    Lib,

    Labor/union rights are governed by statute, the National Labor Relations Act in particular. Absent some statutory hook, your employer is not bound to respect your desire to associate with some particular group.

    (There are other statutory limits, like religious groups — your employer can’t fire you for your religion.)

    As for baptism of Holocaust victims — I don’t know. What exactly would the legal offense be? Possibly, now that the church has entered into agreements, you might have breach of contract. Other than that — what? “You performed a mystical ceremony by proxy for deceased people, who I don’t think would have wanted that.” I really don’t see a legal hook. “You performed a mystical ceremony for deceased people, and I was offended by that.” Again, not seeing a legal hook.

  8. Lib on October 4, 2007 at 3:20 am

    ‘Kay.

  9. Kaimi Wenger on October 4, 2007 at 3:21 am

    Lib (6),

    The legal threat there seems to be based on non-compliance with the agreement.

    Absent an agreement — what sort of right is there? Even if there’s a right of dissociation, against a private actor, who has standing to bring the suit? Are you really arguing for a right of association for deceased persons?

  10. Lib on October 4, 2007 at 3:26 am

    “Are you really arguing for a right of association for deceased persons?”

    No, not at all. I wondered it someone had. I wondered if the Church had implicitely agreed there was such a right.

    Say someone is a member but wants to quit. Some bishop somewhere fails to act. Can the person compel the Church to sever its connection?

  11. Kaimi Wenger on October 4, 2007 at 3:34 am

    Good question, Lib.

    I don’t know the specific answer there. I do know that courts are _very_ reluctant to get into any review of internal ecclesiastical procedures. Understandably so, I think.

    Various plaintiffs have tried to bring “the church didn’t follow its own rules” cases. These are very hard to make. Courts just don’t want to start reviewing church procedures.

    So in that hypothetical, I don’t know for sure, but I doubt the courts would get involved.

  12. Lib on October 4, 2007 at 3:47 am

    “Courts just don’t want to start reviewing church procedures.” I’m glad they don’t.

    I’ve Googled the “right of dissociation” for the first time tonight and I see that it is philosophized about by people interested in universal human rights. Here, for example: http://www.gmu.edu/academic/pcs/galenkam.htm

    US constiutional rights interest me, per se, and I have evolved a dislike for what I think is a legalistic approach, one that looks within the document for rights and hints of rights. I think that’s the work of lawyers. My view is the individual possesses all possible rights, except in those cases where he grants some limited power over himself to government for defined purposes. So the rights secured in the Bill or Rights are simply warnings to the state that it shouldn’t even think of transgressing certain of the most precious of individual rights. Naturally, I think this view is consistent with an appropriate understanding of the Founders’ thinking. Had I lived in 1787 I would have opposed a bill or rights on the grounds it would result in the very situation we have now, that a citizen must sift the Bill to justify a claim and if it isn’t in there it doesn’t exist.

    But all that is a matter for another day.

  13. Kaimi Wenger on October 4, 2007 at 4:05 am

    Sure, Lib.

    But just framing it as a matter of expansive rights doesn’t really solve everything, does it?

    For example, you’ve suggested an expansive right of dissociation. But how exactly does that interact with an expansive right of free speech?

    Contacting someone about church — “hi, I’m your home teacher” — is ultimately a speech act. If you’re giving a right to sue over that speech act, then you’re limiting my free speech right, n’est ce pas?

    So it’s ultimately not just a matter of expansive or restrictive views of rights. It’s also whose rights, and how they get protected, and what to do when one persons rights clash with another’s.

  14. Lib on October 4, 2007 at 4:47 am

    I’ve presented my thoughts poorly, then. I haven’t taken a position vis à vis a right of dissociation, though I suppose I think an individual has one. And I doubt an individual can prevent a church from minimal contact but I will be surprised if there is no limit to it.

    I acknowledge that if we are talking about contacting someone that there is a right to free speech to be respected. This rights stuff is only interesting when there is a “new” right asserted or when there are competing rights to sort out so there is no surprise there is a collision here.

    Clearly, contacting someone about church, or anything else that is a free speech exercise, has its limits. The community can draw the line about manner and place. No bullhorns at 3:00 AM. The individual may claim harrassment or stalking. Ten times in a day sounds like too much to me. Somewhere is a reasonable man or woman, or ten, who can tell when a line has been crossed.

    Say, I recall the Jehova’s Witnesses case that a town couldn’t make missionaries register before contacting people to proselytize. That, in turn, meant that missionaries could present even unpopular teachings, door-to-door, and there wasn’t a whole lot that could prevent them. I’ll bet they couldn’t keep knocking on that door forever, though.

    As for my “expansive” rights thinking, I don’t accept your terms. I would he happy to agree that anything else is a restrictive view of rights, however. (smile) But my comments were an aside, not apropos the topic at hand.

  15. Lib on October 4, 2007 at 4:50 am

    Kaimi, I visited your blog. How did you happen to get a Hawaiian name? (If there is somewhere else on the site, or some other mechanism for a private sidebar, please let me know. I ask here out of ignorance.)

  16. MMorrison on October 4, 2007 at 8:04 am

    Okay, Kaimi,

    I’ve been watching this blog for a long while now, beginning with when I was in law school, and this thread finally draws me into the mix. Admittedly I\’m not the most experienced lawyer, but as one who just recently passed North Carolina\’s July 2007 bar exam, I probably have some of the more recent and relevant knowledge–with the caveat that my studies in law school in Virginia and my limited experience as a North Carolina attorney can’t possibly encompass all 50 states. But the crux of your question concerned a common law issue of whether entry onto another\’s private property constitutes a legally actionable wrong to the property owner.

    The most likely action would probably be trespass to land. That action exists where an individually physically “invades” (or enters) another\’s property with intent to do so and where the trespassing individual\’s action caused the “invasion.” (I use quotation marks to indicate terms of art–there is nothing particularly interesting about an invasion in this context.)

    This action would be most likely because the law does not make distinctions (at common law, at least) between invitees, licensees or trespassers in the context of an intentional tort. The more interesting question, however, would be what remedy the property owner could seek. I suppose that an aggressive attorney representing a particularly vengeful “zzJones” might try to get a record of each unwelcome visit, the request not to return, and seek punitive damages. Selling that to a jury would be another story, but I suppose that exceeds the scope of your question, so I\’ll make like the Supremes and punt that issue until it\’s ripe.

    I hope that makes sense and I invite the others on here with more legal experience or knowledge than I to make the appropriate corrections to my gross generalizations.

    Matt

    P.S. As a side note, I appreciate the insightful threads and comments that consistently appear on T&S. Hopefully I’ll begin to contribute more regularly.

  17. Edje on October 4, 2007 at 9:28 am

    I’m curious about the “zz.” I’ve never seen it. The “DNCs” in the past several wards I have attended had no formal notation on the roster, in MIS/MLS, or on their membership records. Did I miss some clerk training somewhere about how to properly annotate the records?

  18. Ardis Parshall on October 4, 2007 at 9:38 am

    Say zzJones did get an order prohibiting contact. It would probably be against the institution rather than just Bishop Smith, right? It would be a nightmare for the institution to comply with, even with the best of intentions:

    Missionaries go tracting, and it’s done with little to no coordination between missionaries and local ward. Since the order would probably not care about the internal structure of the organization, the church would have to develop some procedure to guarantee (ha! with 19-year-olds?) that no missionary tracts that address, now and in the futurem even after the publicity of the initial order fades.

    What if zzJones moves from Apple Street to Oak Street? He is unlikely to notify the church of his change of address — would the missionaries somehow have to magically know not to knock on *that* door now?

    What about Boy Scouts doing door-to-door canvassing for Jamboree funds — would the church be responsible for a violation by boys who may be members of an LDS-sponsored troop but who were then acting under direction of the non-LDS local BS Council?

    With that set-up, I ask: Do the courts take into consideration the difficulty, even impossibility, of complying with their order? Would that difficulty typically influence whether the court would issue such an order in the first place?

  19. Nick Literski on October 4, 2007 at 9:47 am

    Say someone is a member but wants to quit. Some bishop somewhere fails to act. Can the person compel the Church to sever its connection?

    Yes, a person can compel a church to remove them from church records. This has more often come up in cases where “A” directs that his membership be removed from “Church B,” and the officials of “Church B” try to take ecclesiastical disciplinary action against “A.” In suits against other churches, courts have ruled that once an agent of “Church B” received notice of resignation from “A,” the church no longer had any right to treat “A” as a member, i.e. take ecclesiastical disciplinary action. To do so gives rise to a tort of defamation. I am unaware of any such suits which the LDS church has lost, but the LDS church has settled at least one case.

    It seems that implicit in the main question here, is an intention or desire to contact those who have indicated they do not wish to be contacted. I don’t recall ever hearing anyone stand up in a testimony meeting, to declare that they’d become believing members because some home teacher decided to disregard an explicit “no contact” directive in order to “save” them.

  20. Matt W. on October 4, 2007 at 10:13 am

    Part of my calling as Ward Clerk is to call DNCs and ask if they are aware they are on the rolls and ask if they’ve changed their mind and want contact from HTs or VTs. Failing that, I ask them if they want their name removed and explain how to do it.

  21. Matt Evans on October 4, 2007 at 10:27 am

    The only potential legal hooks I can think of are harrassment and stalking, and the court would look at the church’s actions for harrassment on the same basis of any other harrasment charge. It’s hard to imagine that any court would consider a person or organization knocking on your door every few months or years, even when they’ve said they want no contact, to be harrassment or stalking.

  22. Matt W. on October 4, 2007 at 10:41 am

    So long as the church can show that the persons names are still on the records of the church, it’s sort of a moot point. It’s like me saying I want no contact from the power company.

  23. Alan Jackson on October 4, 2007 at 10:43 am

    A more interesting direction for comments might be stories people have about do not contacts. Does anyone know of any precedent about a do not contact threatening or attempting legal recourses?

  24. Phouchg on October 4, 2007 at 11:07 am

    slight hijack: I hate the term “name removal”. I think “resignation” is a more accurate description for someone who chooses to disassociate themselves from an organization.

  25. Nick Literski on October 4, 2007 at 11:15 am

    So Matt W., if a person doesn’t have their name removed from the records, you consider them “fair game” to contact, regardless of their express instructions otherwise?

  26. Nick Literski on October 4, 2007 at 11:20 am

    “Name removal” is the term used by the LDS church.

  27. Bro. Jones on October 4, 2007 at 11:45 am

    Hey, why bring me into this?

  28. Alan Jackson on October 4, 2007 at 11:59 am

    (23) Name removal seems like a distinctly mormon thing I think because of the doctrine concerning keeping names in the book of life and the links between chuch membership records and records in heaven.

    I’m curious though, why would you hate the term?

  29. wilt on October 4, 2007 at 12:15 pm

    In line with #25 – and hopefully not a threadjack – Is there a formal Church position concerning contact of those specifically requesting they be left alone?

    I have a running disagreement with a member of our ward HP Group. He states members have no right nor authority to decline visits/contact unless and until they request their names be removed from the roles of the Church. I have disagreed repeatedly and declined to Home Teach (in the context of a home visit) two people who specifically asked for no Church contact. It strikes me as vaguely coercive to do otherwise.

    wilt

  30. Kaimi Wenger on October 4, 2007 at 12:16 pm

    Nick Literski writes, “It seems that implicit in the main question here, is an intention or desire to contact those who have indicated they do not wish to be contacted.”

    Nope. I personally don’t have any intention of doing that; I think there are pretty good reasons not to do that. (There are potential counter-arguments, but I didn’t address this topic in the post).

    However, I am a law professor, and I do wonder about the legal grounds of statements people make claiming a legal basis. Is there really a _legal_ reason, or are there merely prudential ones?

    Thanks for assuming that I’ve got nefarious motives, though.

  31. Kaimi Wenger on October 4, 2007 at 12:19 pm

    As a practical matter, if one accepts that DNC should be considered a valid status in at least some cases, it probably follows that there _should_ be a way to designate DNC, short of complete name removal.

    After all, if the name is completely removed, no record remains, and suddenly the person is being randomly contacted again by well-meaning members.

    So it seems that the only way to effectively execute a DNC policy would be to keep the person’s name on some kind of record (to avoid inadvertent contact), but also to designate DNC.

  32. Bro. Jones on October 4, 2007 at 12:23 pm

    #29 In a Massachusetts ward I attended, one day in EQ the bishop informed us that if a person stated in the presence of two witnesses (i.e. home teachers) that they wished to remove their names from the rolls of the church and/or to decline further contact, we were to pass that information on to the membership clerk and see that their wishes were carried out. I haven’t heard that in any other ward since.

    For my part, I only once encountered someone in person who told me he wanted his name removed from membership lists, and I provided him with the information on how to do so. I did so on my own volition without instruction either way from leadership.

  33. Steve Evans on October 4, 2007 at 12:34 pm

    “US constiutional rights interest me, per se, and I have evolved a dislike for what I think is a legalistic approach, one that looks within the document for rights and hints of rights. I think that’s the work of lawyers.”

    I am still laughing over this one.

  34. Steve Evans on October 4, 2007 at 12:48 pm

    Nick (#19), that’s the weakest case of defamation I have ever heard. What’s the communication? What’s the injury? This isn’t slander or libel by a long shot.

    No, the closest tort I can think of in this scenario would be intentional infliction of emotional distress. Trespass, as Matt Morrison suggests, would apply for individual acts of entering upon one’s land, but phone calls aren’t trespasses.

    The real reason we don’t contact people is not out of a legal obligation, but out of a sound policy to leave people alone if they want nothing to do with the church. I am sure some more cantankerous former Mormons have filed suits, which I am positive have either settled or been lost by the various plaintiffs, but which may have been enough to adopt current policies.

  35. Tim J. on October 4, 2007 at 12:48 pm

    “Failing that, I ask them if they want their name removed and explain how to do it.”

    I believe there has been instruction given that we are NOT to ask people if they would like they’re names removed. Am I wrong?

  36. Ardis Parshall on October 4, 2007 at 12:54 pm

    There are at least three cases of sisters in our ward whose records had some notation about no contact, but whose visiting teachers contacted them anyway, who have participated in church activities within the past couple of months. One of them is the woman I sat next to in stake conference last month — I’m one of her visiting teachers.

    “Do not contact” is not as terminal as “Do not resuscitate.” Lives change.

  37. Nick Literski on October 4, 2007 at 1:19 pm

    #30 Kaimi:
    My apologies. I obviously communicated badly, as I’m aware that you were raising this question as an intellectual exercise, not a “can we get away with pestering people who don’t want us, in order to rescue them” question. I didn’t mean to accuse you of anything untoward. When it comes down to it, I guess I was somewhat off-topic, as I was pointing out where “practical application” of that reasoning could go, if somebody was over-zealous.

  38. Costanza on October 4, 2007 at 1:25 pm

    And when their lives change, they have the responsibility of making the change known to their ward leaders. Agency has consequences. Choosing to be listed as “do not contact” should have the consequence of *gasp* not being contacted.

  39. Nick Literski on October 4, 2007 at 1:28 pm

    Steve #34:
    In the cases I’m familiar with, the other churches generally announced the excommunication (like LDS used to do).

    It is my understanding that the present LDS procedure, which is explicitly described as “clerical,” rather than “ecclesiastical,” is in response to lawsuits which ensued after the former practice of holding a disciplinary council for those who wanted their name removed, and then excommunicating them for “apostacy,” since the act of requesting name removal “proved” the charge. As with your observation on DNC, the newer name removal procedure is simply good policy, regardless of whether lawsuits have influenced it.

  40. Nick Literski on October 4, 2007 at 1:30 pm

    Ardis, just to be clear, are you advocating that DNC directions be ignored, for the possible spiritual benefit of the person giving that direction? I suspect you’re not, but that’s how your comment seems to read.

  41. Dan S. on October 4, 2007 at 1:36 pm

    Could there possibly be a contract claim? All parties agreed that the Church would not contact the person. This implies an offer by the person that he/she would not remove his/her names from the Church’s membership if the Church stopped contacting the person. Acceptance can be implied if church agrees to the terms, hence a meeting of the minds. Consideration is that the person agrees not to remove their names from the church membership which the Church finds beneficial, and the church stops contacting the individual, which the person finds beneficial. Each side obtains a benefit. I don’t think the person could obtain more than nominal damages. I suppose the person could sue for specific performance and obtain a court order.

  42. JM on October 4, 2007 at 1:37 pm

    The whole DNC classification is just stupid.

    It would be like me contacting all those e-mail spammers, asking them to not contact me, but don’t remove me from your list!

    The whole purpose of belonging to any organization is to receive contact from them.

    If you don’t want contact, remove yourself. It’s not like they can’t ever join again if they change their mind.

    And I don’t care if the instruction to “not tell them how to have their name removed” came from GBH himself, if someone wants to know how to do it, I’ll let them know. If they don’t want contact, I’ll freely offer how to get their name removed.

    We preach on and on about agency and choice. It just seems contrary that we want to keep it a big fat secret how you get out of the church. Agency swings both ways. Why is this church so afraid of that?

  43. JM on October 4, 2007 at 1:42 pm

    re:#40,

    I’m not sure what Ardis is advocating, but add me to that list! If they are on the records, they have agreed to take part in the whole “watch over, BE WITH, and strengthen” thing. That is the whole point of being a member of the church.

    If you dont want contact, have your name removed. Otherwise, expect some contact!

    Is there anybody out there reading this who has been in the unique position of not wanting contact, yet haven’t wanted their name removed? I’d love to hear your reasons why.

  44. Michelle M. on October 4, 2007 at 1:49 pm

    I don’t know the answer to Kaimi’s question. But if there is one, can we apply it to telemarketers?

  45. RE on October 4, 2007 at 1:54 pm

    One of the primary reasons to not want contact, but to stay on record as a member, is for family reasons – not to hurt one\’s spouse, mother, father, ggggrandfather Young, etc.

  46. Matt W. on October 4, 2007 at 1:54 pm

    Nick #25-
    According to the DNC laws in the USA, yes. They are still affiliated with the organization, and thus fair game for contacting, in the legal sense. Just like if you have a sprint phone, sprint can contact you even if you are on the DNC list…

  47. Lib on October 4, 2007 at 2:15 pm

    “I am still laughing over this one.”

    Oh, okay, where can we talk about it?

  48. Bro Jones (2) on October 4, 2007 at 2:21 pm

    Re: comment #20
    tihs is the way it ought to run. And i have been told that by branch/district leadership.
    If thye say \”Do not contact\”, the response is, \”As long as your name is on the records of the church, you will be periodically contcted\” (maybe once or twice a year). If they ask (and only then?) you can tell them how to remove their name fromthe rolls of the church. (I beleive this requires a formal letter t tthe church, a church court, which would be a mere formality. then a letter is sent back the the member saying that as of your name will be officially removed. If you change your mind, then contect before .

    Obviously there should be a way ot denote them on the ward list, and they wil likely be on the official hometeaching list fo rthe Bishop, or something.

    This way they would know that they would be contacted, an they would be agreeing to it implicitly. …and in the original case their name got onto the rolls of the church voluntarily…??

  49. Ian R. on October 4, 2007 at 2:33 pm

    How about the intrusion upon seclusion version of an invasion of privacy action?

    I am not sure phone calls and door visits could ever be sufficiently offensive and intrusive, but then again, we can be pretty darn pestersome. Consider those fact patters where the person has requested numerous time to have their names removed, to not be contacted, wrote letters to SLC and local authorities, but some how in our massive bureaucracy it never got done.

    If it were me, I would plead IIED and invasion of privacy. I can imagine facts where it would at least be colorable.

    I think a criminal complaint under a modern stalking statute could also stick.

  50. Ardis Parshall on October 4, 2007 at 2:42 pm

    Costanza (38), by that logic, we should not send out missionaries. It should be the responsibility of non-members, should it not, to notify us when their lives change to the point of making them receptive to the gospel? I think I’ll tell the IRS that I will contact them when my life changes to the point where I earnestly desire to pay taxes, too. /grin/

    The discussion has drifted far from Kaimi’s original — and interesting — legal question and is approaching the same old repetitive internet rehash of the claimed rights of those who turn their back on the gospel versus the divine responsibilities of shepherds for the flock. Our stake has been given an apostolic directive, with associated promises, reviewed at every stake and ward conference for the past three years, to find ways to bring back members who have lost touch with us. You can’t do that without contacting them, one way or another. Some get only one contact, because they make it clear that they aren’t interested — that won’t prevent another contact in a few years, when circumstances may have changed. Others have proven very receptive — they have wanted to come back but have been too timid/embarrassed to make the approach themselves, and have greeted us with open arms when we knocked or wrote. One woman came to church entirely on her own, and asked someone in the chapel to point out Sister X — “She’s my visiting teaching. We have never met, but she writes to me every month.”

  51. Kaimi Wenger on October 4, 2007 at 2:50 pm

    On the practical front, there are some interesting wrinkles. For example, does DNC come with an expiration date or renewal requirement? These are common in other areas; for example, the federal no-call list has a five-year renewal requirement. Would there be something similar here? Perhaps some of the disagreement stems from different views on renewal.

  52. Bro Jones (2) on October 4, 2007 at 2:51 pm

    Here is a thought I have had about how ot contact the DNC about once a year.
    In our stake we do an Emergency Communications drill twice a year. One of those times we would send out people from the quorums to physically got to the address and deliver a flyer explaining that in an emergency (major fire, earthquake, tornado, etc) the church wil be coming around to check on them and see if we can provide any help to them. If they are not home, leave it in the mailbox.

    This sort of thing is non-threatening, potentially beneficial to the member, and only comes once a year. Just inlcude a note at the bottom of the flyer saying “Questions: call the Bishop at (123)456-7890″ and if they need to vent they will get the right guy to address it.

  53. Steve Jones on October 4, 2007 at 2:57 pm

    I enjoyed Matt Morrison’s analysis of trespass as a possible action. However, in California the trespass laws are statutory included in 602 et seq of the penal code. 602 alone has 24 subsections. The closest violations would be in 602 (l) (1) refusing to leave lands after being asked to leave but the definition of lands would probably not inclue a domicile and 602.5 unauthorized intry of property which requires actual entry into the house or aprtment. As far as telephone calls 653m of the penal code would cover such but requires an intent to annoy.
    being the chief deputy district attorney in my county and supervising the attorney staff with 10,000 filings per year I cannot envision ever filing a criminal complaint based upon sporadic contacts from the church to persons who are listed on its records.

  54. Costanza on October 4, 2007 at 3:09 pm

    Ardis, that would only be true if the persons contacted by the missionaries had a “no solicitation sign” on their door.

  55. Costanza on October 4, 2007 at 3:11 pm

    Which signs, by the way, lots of people in my mission displayed on their doors. And guess what–we didn’t knock until they took the sign down.

  56. Phouchg on October 4, 2007 at 3:54 pm

    Simply because I have a phone and a front door does not give a person the right to breach my privacy by using those.

  57. Phouchg on October 4, 2007 at 4:00 pm

    #52: “If they are not home, leave it in the mailbox.”

    Bzzzt! Wrong. 18 USC 1725:

    ” Whoever knowingly and willfully deposits any mailable matter such as statements of accounts, circulars, sale bills, or other like matter, on which no postage has been paid, in any letter box established, approved, or accepted by the Postal Service for the receipt or delivery of mail matter on any mail route with intent to avoid payment of lawful postage thereon, shall for each such offense be fined under this title.”

    just a friendly warning

  58. Sarah on October 4, 2007 at 4:01 pm

    I’ve been in a position where I heartily wished the “reactivation squad” from my singles’ ward would leave me alone for a few months. I didn’t want to undo my baptism or even not come to church but my goodness I was sick of dodging them on Tuesday nights — if you didn’t come to FHE or church in the last two days they’d visit you, and I was working at Disneyland, which meant there were plenty (almost 30 weeks in a row at one point) of Sunday/Monday combos where I was either working or so tired from working that I had no interest in doing anything other than sleeping/watching TV. Somewhat ironically, I was doing all of my VT, even though I wasn’t going to church (my VT’er and I were assigned to VT each other because we both worked for the park: I did at least one “visit” in the dance studios directly behind the Toontown wall.)

    Incidentally: my non-member dad and stepmom got to talk to a LOT more Mormons than they would have (they always answered the door when the “reactivation squad” came by,) and my brother and sister got a lot of free brownies — they probably like the church a lot more than they would have otherwise. I still probably would have stuck a Do-Not-Contact note on myself around June, 2003, though, if I’d been up to hunting down the person that you go to for things like that.

  59. Steve Evans on October 4, 2007 at 5:06 pm

    Pouchg, I’d love to see a mail fraud suit based on a home teacher letter. Hilarious!

  60. Tanya Sue on October 4, 2007 at 5:37 pm

    JM (#42)- While I am not a DNC, I do want some distance while I figure things out. Having the missionaries sent over and a bunch of randoms that continually ask me why I don’t go to church just aggravates the situation. I have to deal with the frustration of not being listened to in addition to the issues I am trying to work out. In my case the effect of the missionaries being sent over was me almost requesting my name be removed. Not because that is what I want yet, but because I need some time to work things out spirtually and feeling the pressure of people stopping by is pretty overwhelming.

  61. Sasha on October 4, 2007 at 10:32 pm

    I cannot imagine a circumstance when a church officer (ward clerk, bishop, missionary) would be justified to ask a member if he/she would like to remove their name from the records, let alone provide them with instructions on how to do it. That is insane! The church is here to help all people (even less active members, imagine that!) to come to Christ, not to purge the ranks.
    No offence but sometimes our arrogance is unbelievable! If this brother only realized what it really means for a member of the church to be removed from the records – to be cut off from the church.

    First of all, I want to respond to the issue of name removal. I agree that if a member requests their records removed, the church must comply. Even so, they must make an attempt to explain the consequences of such request, and to get it in writing. I would think that a visit or call from the bishop is warranted. At that point, if they still insist, yes the records should be removed.

    I served as a stake missionary, ward mission leader, and ward executive secretary for a total of 7 years. I have visited and talked to hundreds of less active members, many of whom were very disinterested in coming back to church, even prohibited people from coming over. But only once did someone asked to be removed from the records. In fact, most people wanted their records to remain, even if they weren’t going to go back to church any time soon.

    Now, about contacting people. I always made it a point to contact the “do not contact” people on a regular basis. People’s circumstances change, and while we honored their request to be left alone, we went back once every 6 months or so, just to see if they needed us. Many times there had been significant softening of attitude toward the church. In fact, when someone asked me to stop visiting them, I would tell them that I would honor that. However, as long as they were members of the church, there was nothing I could do to stop people from caring, be it bishops, missionaries, home/visiting teachers; we could not try or presume to stop the Lord from reaching out to them through these people.

    The bottom line: We cannot write people off. We cannot prejudge. We cannot afford to turn people away, each is a child of God and we are responsible for them.

    Next time, instead of jumping on the “would you like your name removed” wagon, let’s ask if we can serve them, pray with them and for them; let’s tell them we love them and are glad that they are members.

  62. Kevin Barney on October 4, 2007 at 10:53 pm

    When I was an EQP, I talked to a number of DNCs. I encouraged them to the effect that, if they truly wanted zero contact, they should resign. (If there was a policy not to do so, that must have come later. I was a slash and burn kind of guy; I wanted to clear out the deadwood on the list.) Surprisingly, almost to a person they refused to do so. I could never understand that–if I wanted no contact, I would resign–seems like a no brainer to me.

    One guy did write the letter. I gave it to the bishop, who gave it to the SP. The SP knew the guy, and he refused to process it; “Let’s give him another chance,” he said. AAARRGGH!

    In other words, I agree that the Church is wise to have a resignation procedure in place, but I’ve *never* seen it work effectively, from any angle whatsoever.

  63. Nick Literski on October 5, 2007 at 12:49 am

    I’m not sure what you consider “effectively,” Kevin, but mine went very smoothly. Admittedly, I had a bit of an edge, as the stake president knew me well, and knew that I had not made the decision lightly. Obviously he was sad to see my decision, but he was completely respectful about it. He saw to it that the matter was handled promptly and appropriately, per the handbook. Oddly enough, he turned a difficult situation into one of the best interactions I ever had with an LDS leader, and we still keep in touch from time to time.

  64. Klutz on October 5, 2007 at 3:42 pm

    When I was serving as a Bishop, I would visit every member of the Ward during December (either through Tithing Settlement appointments or through home visits). This gave me the opportunity to discuss a DNC with those members and either get them to accept minimal contact from Home and Visiting Teachers or fully explain Name Removal and the consequenses of that decision. I had only a couple of cases in 7 years that the people opted for Name Removal (which we faithfully carried out in a prompt and timely manner). Otherwise these people understood that by choosing to continue to have their names on the roles of the church meant that there would be minimal contact and—another visit from me next the December to discuss their membership and testimony.

    I would hesitate to make Name Removal any easier that it already is–meaning, the Bishop should be the one having this conversation with members of his Ward.

  65. Hellmut on October 5, 2007 at 7:32 pm

    To the best of my knowledge, the LDS Church does not have a DNC policy. Insofar as DNC lists exist, they seem to be tools of local leaders and clerks.

    Here is the case study of Norman Hancock who compelled the LDS Church to recognize his resignation: http://mormonalliance.org/casereports/volume3/part1/v3p1c05.htm

    In my opinion, Kaimi is right that there is no legal reason that would buttress a DNC request. There might be exceptions such as a sister living in a woman’s shelter where other considerations come into play.

    Generally, it is a bad idea to leave cookies with people who do not want to be contacted. It’s not like they are primary children who could be swayed with bribes.

    If people do not want to interact with you and you are not at peace with their choice, be an adult and ask them. If they don’t want to tell then you are out of luck. Accept their choice and respect them as adults.

  66. Hellmut on October 5, 2007 at 7:43 pm

    Steve Evans, Phouchg has a point. Didn’t you learn on your mission that you are not supposed to use the US mailbox? My staff has that problem regularly on the campaign trail.

    On campaigns, of course, there is always somebody who has an incentive to get you. An opponent’s supporter with too much money and time can wreak quite a bit of havoc harassing you for relatively innocent mistakes such as leaving messages or campaign materials in the mail box.

    There are a lot of angry people out there. Why would you give them leverage? I would not leave a message in the mailbox of a DNC. But you are the lawyer . . .

  67. Hellmut on October 5, 2007 at 8:02 pm

    Sasha, have you ever listened to John Dehlin’s Mormon Stories podcast number one? The quality of many baptisms is so poor that those people should indeed not be on the membership roles.

    Most bishops in Germany groan under the weight of their “membership” lists, which requires home and visiting teaching resources. The fact of the matter is that in every overseas ward there are a substantial number of people who joined because they liked the missionaries (or worse) but have never been converted. And some of those people should never have been baptized. They were merely bodies available to satisfy the ambitions of foreigners under pressure to produce.

    Needless to say, these dynamics are not helpful to the local members who have to deal with the mess of misguided salesmanship. As mission president Elder Enzio Busche did a great job rectifying the situation in the Nuremberg district. Salt Lake, of course, had a fit when they found out that he systematically purged the files. But the local members are still talking about it as a good thing.

    It was quite common to see good members in Germany, and for that matter in Maryland, wondering how long it would take until the current baptismal candidate leaves to be never seen again. That is a state of affairs that trivializes the sacred much more than purging membership records of people who were never committed to the Church in the first place.

    The whole problem could be easily avoided if Bishops rather than missionaries were responsible for quality control before baptism and conducted the baptismal interview. That would reduce cutting corners big time.

  68. shannon on October 5, 2007 at 8:21 pm

    Amen to Sasha #61. I remember in ward council meetings hearing the EQ pres. complain about all these inactive members whom they had trouble contacting. He seemed totally annoyed to be burdened by all these people who didn’t really care about the church anymore. We should never get so bogged down by our responsibilities as stewards that we forget that people are more important than numbers. When our efforts to fellowship are sincere and prayerful, the results, I think, are not as important.
    INterestinly, a few months ago a made a “cold” call to a woman who had just showed up on my new VT list. I made the mistake of assuming that she was “new” in our ward. She quickly corrected me and told me she had not interest in the church and really would prefer to have her name taken off the records. I told her I’d write her a note to explain the process. It took me two months to figure out what to write. I didn’t want to just say – write a note to the bishop and it’s done. I wanted her to understand WHY we try to keep in contact with everyone. I told her that my main purpose in contacting her was not to persuade her to come back to church – REALLY! Before we even know someone, our purpose should simply be to get to know them and offer service in any way we can. Too often, I think we (and those we are “assigned” to) misunderstand our roles as visiting/ home teachers.

  69. Jonathan Green on October 6, 2007 at 4:32 am

    Hellmut, from where I sit–a couple dozen kilometers away from the Nuremberg stake center–things look entirely different than how you describe them. You’re generalizing from your personal, former experiences, to the current situation of all German and non-American Mormons, and there’s no way to do that without saying things that are nonsensical.

  70. queuno on October 7, 2007 at 12:32 am

    IANAL, or even a law professor, but I have been a ward membership clerk…

    There is no Church-wide systematic way to create a DNC.

    If you have signed up for an account on lds.org, you know that you can print off a copy of your ward’s membership list. In fact, most wards are now encouraging people to do this themselves instead of waiting for the ward to do it quarterly or whatever. The problem is that you have NO way of knowing who are the DNCs. The Church’s MLS software has no way to distinguish a DNC. It is purely a local implementation and a local decision on how to administer. The bishop and the leadership may prune their own list, but unless they give that to the membership and instruct them NOT to use lds.org, the membership has no real way to know who is a DNC.

    Officially, though, the Church does not recognize such a list nor has a method of creating one.

  71. queuno on October 7, 2007 at 12:33 am

    The whole problem could be easily avoided if Bishops rather than missionaries were responsible for quality control before baptism and conducted the baptismal interview. That would reduce cutting corners big time.

    Agreed. So is requiring more than one Sunday’s attendance.

  72. Brian on October 12, 2007 at 9:55 pm

    I am a ward clerk and lawyer. For Do not contacts, I put “do not contact family” in the telephone number field in MLS. The actual telephone remains on file with the ward clerk.