Another Scientology-like Web war? Mormon Church documents put online

Wikileaks has posted a confidential document from the Church of Latter-day Saints called the Church Handbook of Instructions, which is a guide for the church’s lay leadership and is not available either to parishioners or to the public.

The LDS, following in the questionable steps of the Church of Scientology, has now issued multiple copyright infringement notices in an effort to get the information taken down. As we know, this strategy is unlikely to do anything but win the Mormons a share of the online community’s unsympathetic attention, a quantity that until now Scientology has been enjoying alone.

It’s well-known by now that Scientology‘s secret documents contain many indecipherable dictates and fantastical histories, like the following passage from the L. Run Hubbard-authored document describing the “Gorilla Goals”:

This same pattern, but given in an amusement park with a single tunnel, a roller coaster and a Ferris wheel, was used between about 319 trillion years ago to about 256 trillion trillion years ago, a long span.

So in comparison, the information in the LDS Handbook, now available for all to see, can feel rather bland and grown-up.

The document covers disciplinary actions like “disfellowshipment” and its more serious consequent, excommunication. It also details the repercussions members face for apostasy (“clear, open, and deliberate public opposition to the Church or its leaders”), abortion, and transsexual operations. But the majority of the text is humdrum procedural information, surely nothing you would classify as embarrassing, rife with “trade secrets,” or necessary to keep under wraps for the good of the parishioners. So then why is LDS making an attention-drawing stink about its publication?

Organizations have long had control over which part of their inner workings they want public and which they don’t. But now that the Internet is getting better at sniffing out documents that people don’t want public, we’re getting a nice picture of how much of this secret information was secret for its own sake. In other words, you have to wonder if there’s any reason for LDS to want to keep its boring bylaws in a vault other than, simply, because it has always done so.

The same holds true for Scientology and no doubt for every other organization, religious or secular, that has arrogated to itself the default right to keep its membership in the dark. This is certainly a privacy issue, but if you’re like me, you don’t think large organizations should have the same right to privacy that an individual does–especially those that claim to be devoted to the best interests of their membership. Actually, scratch that–the ones that don’t care about anyone’s well-being should have an even tougher time keeping secrets.

Los Angeles Times — religion news

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Religion News Blog posted this on Thursday May 15, 2008.
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