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TV campaign targeting Mormon church's tax status kicks off in Utah

Published January 26, 2017 6:43 pm

Former members discuss perceived misdeeds in spot slated for cable and broadcast networks.
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Coming soon to a television in Utah: an advertisement encouraging former and current Mormons to divulge information harmful to the LDS Church's tax-exempt status.

Gay-rights activist and Mormon critic Fred Karger on Tuesday showed off the ad that will debut this week. The spot depicts four 20-something former Mormons and Karger describing what they consider misdeeds by The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints — from its treatment of the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender community to its refusal to ordain women and what Karger says is "rampant sexual abuse in its ranks."

The ad, titled "Help Us," then asks people to share any information or documents that can be used in a complaint to the IRS and provides an email address and phone number — tips@mormontips.com and 385-236-3131.



"We are conducting what I am terming the biggest, loudest, most comprehensive challenge to a church's tax-exempt status in our history," Karger said at a news conference Tuesday at the Salt Lake City Hilton.

Anyone in Utah watching commercial television via a cable company should see the spot, he said, including those viewing the broadcast networks — even LDS Church-owned KSL-Channel 5 — over cable.

Karger is a Republican political operative and former presidential candidate. He is gay and became a fierce critic of LDS Church involvement in California's 2008 Proposition 8 campaign.

The impetus for challenging the Utah-based faith's tax status is an LDS Church policy announced in late 2015 preventing children of LGBT Mormon parents from being baptized until they turn 18. Karger and others sympathetic to such youngsters have asserted the policy spurred a spike in teenage suicides.

"We decided to fight back for those kids who can't fight against themselves," Karger said Tuesday.

A Utah Department of Health researcher said in 2016 there were no statistics showing a significant increase in suicides of young people in the wake of the policy.

Asked about assertions of widespread sex abuse within Mormonism, Karger said he has no scholarly reference. He said he has heard "dozens" of stories of sexual abuse by Latter-day Saints, noting that one of the people in the ad was sexually abused and that the matter was referred to a Mormon bishop rather than police.

The LDS Church declined to comment on Karger's ad campaign.

It is rare for an entity to lose its tax-exempt status. Experts on the topic say the IRS has never stripped such status from a church.

Still, Karger remains optimistic, while acknowledging that it will take a lot of evidence showing the LDS Church has engaged in business and politics that are outside what is acceptable for religions and charities.

Besides soliciting assistance, Karger said he has a lawyer who is about to scrutinize a church-owned landholding company to see whether it has been paying all the taxes it should in Salt Lake County.

The effort to gather information and pursue the tax status, Karger added, will continue "for as long as it takes."

The TV ads begin the same week the Mormon Leaks website revealed pay stubs purporting to show what the LDS Church pays its top ecclesiastical leaders. Karger said he is not affiliated with the site, which was founded by Las Vegas resident and former Mormon Ryan McKnight, but added that he and McKnight support each another.

ncarlisle@sltrib.com

Twitter: @natecarlisle

 

 

 

 

 

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