136 U.S. 1 (1890), Late Corporation of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints v. U.s.

Citation:136 U.S. 1, 10 S.Ct. 792, 34 L.Ed. 478
Case Date:May 19, 1890
Court:United States Supreme Court

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136 U.S. 1 (1890)

10 S.Ct. 792, 34 L.Ed. 478




ROMNEY et al.



United States Supreme Court.

May 19, 1890

Appeals from the supreme court of the territory of Utah.

FULLER, C. J., and FIELD and LAMAR, JJ., dissenting.


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[10 S.Ct. 792] F. S. Richards, J. O. Broadhead,

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J. E. McDonald, and J. M. Butler, for appellants.

Atty. Gen. Garland and Sol. Gen. Jenks, for the United States.



This case originated under and in pursuance of the act of congress, entitled 'An act to amend an act entitled 'An act to amend section 5352 of the Revised Statutes of the United States, in reference to bigamy, and for other purposes, approved March 22, 1882,” which act was passed February 19, 1887, and became a law by not being returned by the president. This act, besides making additional provision with regard to the prosecution of polygamy in the territories, and other matters concerning the territory of Utah, provided,

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in the 13th, 17th, and 26th sections, as follows: 'Sec. 13. That it shall be the duty of the attorney general of the United States to institute and prosecute proceedings to forfeit and escheat to the United States the property of corporations obtained or held in violation of section three of the act of congress approved the first day of July, eighteen hundred and sixty-two, entitled 'And act to punish and prevent the practice of polygamy in the territories of the United States and other places, and disapproving and annulling certain acts of the legislative assembly of the territory of Utah,' or in violation of section eighteen hundred and ninety of the Revised Statutes of the United States; and all such property so forfeited and escheated to the United States shall be disposed of by the secretary of the interior, and the proceeds thereof applied to the use of the use and benefit of the common schools in the territory in which such property may be: provided, that no building, or the grounds appurtenant thereto, which is held and occupied exclusively for purposes of the worship of God, or parsonage connected therewith, or burial-ground, shall be forfeited.' 'Sec. 17. That the acts of the legislative assembly of the territory of Utah incorporating, continuing, or providing for the corporation known as the 'Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints,' and the ordinance of the so-called general assembly of the state of Deseret incorporating the Church of Jeses Christ of Latter-Day Saints, so far as the same may now have legal force and validity, are hereby disapproved and annulled, and the said corporation, in so far as it may now have, or pretend to have, any legal existence, is hereby dissolved; that it shall be the duty of the attorney general of the United States to cause such proceedings to be taken in the supreme court of the territory of Utah as shall be proper to execute the foregoing provisions of this section, and to wind up the affairs of said corporation conformably to law; and in such proceedings the court shall have power, and it shall be

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its duty, to make such decree or decrees as shall be proper to effectuate the transfer of the title to real property now held and used by said corporation for places of worship, and parsonages connected therewith, and burial-grounds, and of the description mentioned in the proviso to section thirteen of this act, and in section twenty-six of this act, to the respective trustees mentioned in section twenty-six of this act; and for the purposes of this section said court shall have all the powers of a court of equity.' 'Sec. 26. That all religious societies, sects, and congregations shall have the right to have and to hold, through trustees appointed by any court exercising probate powers in a territory, only on the nomination of the authorities of such society, sect, or congregation, so much real property, for the erection or use of houses of worship, and for such parsonages and buriai-grounds, as shall be necessary for the convenience and use of the several congregations of such religious society, sect, or congregation.' 24 St. 637, 638, 641.

[10 S.Ct. 793] In pursuance of the thirteenth section, above recited, proceedings were instituted by information on behalf of the United States in the third district court of the territory of Utah, for the purpose of having declared forfeited and escheated to the government the real estate of the corporation called the 'Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints,' except a certain block in Salt Lake City used exclusively for public worship. On the 30th of September, 1887, the bill in the present case was filed in the supreme court of the territory, under the seventeenth section of the act, for the appointment of a receiver to collect the debts due to said corporation, and the rents, issues, and profits of its real estate, and to take possession of and manage the same for the time being; and for a decree of dissolution and annulment of the charter of said corporation, and other incidental relief. The bill is in the name of the United States, and was brought by direction of the attorney general against 'the late corporation known and claiming to exist as the 'Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints,” and John Taylor, 'late trustee in trust,' and 11 other persons, late assistant trustees of said corporation. The bill states the creation of the corporation by an ordinance of the assembly of the socalled 'State of Deseret,' which was afterwards organized as the territory of Utah. The ordinance was approved the 8th day of February, 1851, and was afterwards in October, 1851, and January 19, 1855, re enacted by the legislature of the territory of Utah.

A copy of the original ordinance is appended to the bill, and is as follows: 'An ordinance incorporating the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints. (Approved february 8, 1851.) Section 1. Be it ordained by the general assembly of the state of Deseret, that all that portion of the inhabitants of said state which now are or hereafter may become residents therein, and which are known and distinguished as 'The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints,' are hereby incorporated, constituted, made, and declared a body corporate, with perpetual succession, under the original name and style of 'The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints,' as now organized, with full power and authority to sue and be sued, defend and be defended, in all courts of law or equity in this state; to establish, order, and regulate worship, and hold and occupy real and personal estate, and have and use a seal, which they may alter at pleasure. Sec. 2. And be it further ordained, that said body or church, as a religious society, may, at a general or special conference, elect one 'trustee in trust, and not to exceed twelve assistant trustees, to receive, hold, buy, sell, manage, use, and control the real and personal property of said church, which said property shall be free from taxation, which trustee and assistant trustees, when elected or appointed, shall give bonds, with approved security, in whatever sum the conference may deem sufficient, for the faithful performance of their several duties; which said bonds, when approved, shall be filed in the general church recorder's office, at the seat of general church business, when said bonds are approved by said conference, and said trustee and assistant trustees shall continue in office during the pleasure of said church; and there shall also be made by the clerk of the conference of said church a certificate of such election or appointment of said trustee and assistant trustees, which shall be recorded in the general church recorder's office, at the seat of general church business; and when said bonds are filed, and said certificates recorded, said trustee or assistant trustees may receive property, real or personal, by gift, donation, bequest, or in any manner not incompatible with the principles of right-eousness or the rules of justice, inasmuch as the same shall be used, managed, or disposed of for the benefit, improvement, erection of houses for public worship and instruction, and the well-being of said church. Sec. 3. And be it further ordained, that, as said church holds the constitutional and original right, in common with all civil and religious communities, 'to worship God according to the dictates of conscience,' to reverence communion agreeably to the principles of truth, and to solemnize marriage compatible with the revelations of Jesus Christ, for the security and full enjoyment of all blessings and privileges embodied in the religion of Jesus Christ free to all, it is also declared that such church does and shall possess and enjoy continually the power and authority, in and of itself, to originate, make, pass, and establish rules, regulations, ordinances, laws, customs, and criterions for the good order, safety, government, conveniences, comfort, and control of said church, and for the punishment or forgiveness of all offenses relative to fellowship, according to church covenants; that the pursuit of bliss and the enjoyment of life in every capacity of public association, domestic happiness, temporal expansion, or spiritual increase upon the earth may not legally be questioned: provided, however, that each and every act of practice so established or adopted for law or custom shall relate to solemnities, sacraments, ceremonies, consecrations, endowments, tithings, marriages, fellowship, or the religious duties of man to his Maker, inasmuch as the doctrines, principles, practices, or performances support virtue and increase morality, and are not inconsistent with or repugnant to the constitution of the...

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