"Established Agreeable to the Laws of Our Country": Mormonism, Church Corporations, and the Long Legacy of America's First Disestablishment

Journal of Law & Religion (forthcoming)

42 Pages Posted: 28 Apr 2021

Date Written: April 27, 2021

Abstract

This article provides the first history of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints as a legal entity. It makes two contributions. First, this history recasts the story of the so-called “first disestablishment,” revealing that it was longer and more contentious than is often assumed. Disestablishment produced a body of corporate law encoded with strong theological assumptions. Because corporate law was the primary mechanism for regulating churches, this created problems for groups like Roman Catholics and Latter-day Saints who did not share the law’s theological commitments. Far from being settled in the early 1830s, the first disestablishment continued to spawn bitter legal battles into the late-nineteenth and early-twentieth centuries. Second, this article reveals legal personality as one of the key points of conflict between the Latter-day Saints and American society. This is a useful corrective to accounts that emphasize polygamy and theocracy as the points of legal contention. An understanding of the history of the Church as a legal entity supplements these stories by revealing how the hard-fought legal battles of the late-nineteenth century can be seen as an extension of the process of legal disestablishment that began during the American Revolution.

Keywords: religion, corporations, Latter-day Saints, churches, Mormonism, establishment, disestablishment

Suggested Citation

Oman, Nathan B., "Established Agreeable to the Laws of Our Country": Mormonism, Church Corporations, and the Long Legacy of America's First Disestablishment (April 27, 2021). Journal of Law & Religion (forthcoming), Available at SSRN: https://ssrn.com/abstract=3835265

Nathan B. Oman (Contact Author)

William & Mary Law School ( email )

South Henry Street
P.O. Box 8795
Williamsburg, VA 23187-8795
United States

HOME PAGE: http://www.nathanoman.com

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