He claims rites performed on teen sons without permission
The Utah Court of Appeals on Wednesday heard a father’s lawsuit claiming the LDS Church ordained his two sons without permission.
Michael Gulbraa says all he wanted after his two sons were ordained by the LDS Church without his permission was an official, written apology.
When officials of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints declined to compel a general authority to produce one, he sued.
The father said LDS leaders breached a secular agreement by performing religious ordinances without first obtaining his consent, usurping his parental authority. He sought an injunction barring similar actions in the future.
After a 3rd District judge threw out the suit, Gulbraa took his case to the appellate court. On Tuesday, his attorney sought to have the suit reinstated.
His lawyer, Kevin Bond, noted that Gulbraa has been awarded sole custody of his sons.
“Mr. Gulbraa has the legal right to decide his children’s religious upbringing,” Bond argued.
Church attorney Matthew Richards said the dispute is really between Gulbraa and his former wife; it was she who asked ecclesiastical leaders to perform the ordinance.
Because of that, Richards argued, the LDS Church is not liable for the ordinations.
“The church has the right to minister to its members the way it sees fit,” Richards said.
The appeals court judges said they would issue a ruling later.
The legal battle grew out of a bigger fight between Gulbraa and former wife Etsuko Tanizaki Allred. After hearing that authorities were investigating Allred’s second husband for alleged abuse of his own child, Gulbraa obtained a temporary restraining order requiring his sons to stay in Utah.
In November 2001, though, Allred took the boys – Michael, now 17, and Chris, now 16 – to her native Japan. She said that she thought it was permitted.
Gulbraa, a former South Jordan resident who now lives in Columbus, Ind., was awarded custody of his sons in April 2002.
Months later, the Allreds were each charged in Utah with custodial interference. A complaint in U.S. District Court accused them of international parental kidnapping, and international arrest warrants were issued.
Japan has not signed the Hague Convention on the Civil Aspects of International Child Abduction, which would allow Japanese citizens to be charged with violating U.S. custody rulings. So, no arrests were made and the Gulbraa boys remained overseas.
As the custodial parent, Gulbraa says, he told church officials to first get his permission before performing any ecclesiastical ordinances. He contends that he had a “written and implied” contract and produced e-mails from LDS officials in Asia to back up his claim.
In the e-mails, the officials acknowledge that Gulbraa had directed them to get permission for ordinances, and blame a misunderstanding for the ordinations being carried out in Japan.
Gulbraa, a non-practicing member of the LDS Church, said he would forgo litigation if he got a written apology. The church declined, prompting him to sue.
As the suit was working its way through the justice system, his custody battle took a twist: Chris boarded a plane in August and came home to him. The teen earlier had traveled to the U.S. consulate in Osaka to pick up documents allowing him to leave, arranged by his father.
Chris told The Salt Lake Tribune that his mother and stepfather did not consult with him about being ordained.
“They pretty much decided everything,” he said. “It wasn’t my choice.”
Gulbraa’s suit asked for unspecified damages, but he said his motivation wasn’t money.
“I worked with the church as long as I could,” he said. “All I wanted was an apology. How do you put a monetary value on something like that?”