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An equal rights group and a nontheistic group have called for a federal investigation of the Mormon church in light of allegations that it procured "favors" from foreign governments through a former senator.
A letter sent last week by Rights Equal Rights and the Secular Coalition for America alleges that The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints secured foreign visas for missionaries illegally and unethically, and asks Secretary of State Rex Tillerson and Attorney General Jeff Sessions to investigate.
The allegations are based on a video leaked last year showing former U.S. Sen. Gordon Smith, R-Ore., and Ralph Hardy Jr. a former area authority for the church, who is referred to by the two groups as a church lobbyist making a presentation to LDS apostles in 2009. During the address Smith explains how he worked with an Indian ambassador to get approval for 200 missionary visas without going through the normal process.
The information presented during Smith's address, the groups say, shows that the LDS Church violated the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act (FCPA) by securing an "improper advantage" by convincing then-Indian Ambassador Ronen Sen to grant the visas. The groups also say the Mormon church violated the Logan Act by sending Hardy to Sen's residence to secure the visas and "influence the measures or conduct of [a] foreign government."
In the same leaked video, Smith noted it is important to have active LDS Church members serve in the Senate, "knowing that their temple recommend is more important than their election certificate."
The letter sent to Tillerson and Sessions says it is "abundantly clear" that Smith used his position "to benefit the Mormon church in direct violation of the United States Constitution's Establishment Clause," adding that any form of remuneration provided by Smith to a foreign office would be a "strict violation" of the FCPA as well.
Fred Karger, president of Rights Equal Rights, and Larry Decker, executive director of the Secular Coalition for America, signed the letter. Karger said Wednesday they hadn't yet heard from either Tillerson or Sessions, but he hopes they will look into the matter.
LDS Church spokesman Eric Hawkins declined to comment on the issue Wednesday. A State Department spokeswoman said she was unaware of the request and therefore could not comment on the matter Wednesday evening.
Phone calls and emails requesting comment from the Attorney General's Office were not returned Wednesday evening.