The Mormon Church has been hit with another lawsuit saying that it did nothing to protect children in a church-run foster program from sexual abuse.
Two Navajo siblings sued The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints in Navajo Nation court earlier this year. A second lawsuit made public May 31 outlines similar allegations.
A Navajo woman identified as B.N. says she was sexually molested and raped multiple times while in foster care and by health care providers in Utah, from 1965 to 1972. She was among thousands of American Indians who participated in the church’s Indian Student Placement Program.
Attorneys representing the three plaintiffs say church leaders did not report the abuse to law enforcement and failed to protect the children who, as adults, suffer from emotional and physical distress.
They had scheduled a news conference for Junie 1 in Gallup, New Mexico, to discuss the cases that seek changes to church policy, written apologies and unspecified damages.
“Religious organizations and programs should be places where children are safe from harm, not places that protect sexual predators,” said one of the attorneys, Patrick Noaker.
A spokeswoman for the Mormon Church, Kristen Howey, did not immediately respond to messages left Tuesday evening. The church has said it doesn’t tolerate abuse of any kind and now tracks church members who have harmed children to keep them away from other kids.
Attorneys for the plaintiffs say the Navajo Nation is the proper jurisdiction for the lawsuits because decisions about where to place children were made on the reservation. Participation in the placement program that lasted from the late 1940s to around 2000 was voluntary.
The Mormon Church says the tribal court is not the proper venue because none of the alleged conduct took place on the reservation. Attorneys for the church asked a federal court judge May 31 not to allow the tribal court to hear the siblings’ case, saying it is an unfair burden to require the church to litigate in a venue that doesn’t have criminal jurisdiction over non-tribal members.
“They can file their suit in Utah courts, the proper forum, and seek relief there,” attorney David Williams wrote.