The Tongue of Angels--Elder Jeffrey R. Holland
Update: More on Church Harassment for Free Speech

Free Speech? Sure, As Long As You Agree With the Brethren

You may remember that in June 2006, Brigham Young University decided not to renew the teaching contract of Jeff Nielsen, who had been teaching philosophy there.  Nielsen was apparently let go in retaliation for an opinion piece he had published in the Salt Lake Tribune in which he expressed his opposition to statements made by some church leaders on a political matter--a ballot initiative in California concerning marriage.  I blogged about it at the time, as did John Dehlin at Mormon Stories.  At the time, some faithful members of the church argued that it was a non-story--after all, Nielsen apparently suffered no ecclesiastical discipline for expressing his opinion; he simply lost his job at a private university where he lacked tenure.  (See comments to the blog post at Mormon Stories for examples of these arguments). 

But now there comes news of additional fallout from the Nielsen opinion piece.  It appears that an ordinary member (indeed, a temple-recommend-holding member of the Orchestra at Temple Square)  wrote a letter to the editor of the Salt Lake Tribune expressing displeasure at the way Nielsen was treated.  For daring to speak his mind in public on a political matter in which he disagreed with the Brethren, this faithful man was basically harassed by church leadership right out of the church.  The jaw-dropping story from the wife of the man who wrote the letter (originally posted at and used with permission here) after the jump:

Last week my DH and I resigned and moved from our small Utah town.  I decided to resign largely because I have been living with terrible fear that if I talked about what has happened to my family over the past year and a half I would be disciplined.  (My SP told my DH he would be).

I was BIC, BYU grad, RM, married in the temple, Molly Mormon as they come.  I believed this was Jesus Christ's church and since his example was everything to me I did everything they told me to.  My husband and I are both musicians.  We played in the Orchestra at Temple Square since it began in 1999.  We gave hours of time to OTS.  Some weeks we had rehearsals or performances every day but Monday.  This was not easy with my husband in grad school and very small children, but we loved it and felt we were serving God.

My husband is an LCSW (Licensed Clinical Social Worker) and when Jeffrey Nielsen was fired from BYU for speaking against the marriage ammendment he was furious.  My DH's father lost his employment with the church years ago when he was falsely accused of stealing a journal the church was hiding.  The story is incredible.  He could have sued the church and been a rich man, but he was faithful.  Anyway, my DH has very strong feelings about how people lose their jobs in this church.

My DH wrote a letter to the SL Tribune decrying the firing of Jeffrey Nielsen.  As a result he was suspended from the orchestra.  He was told he was "in direct opposition to the brethren" and on "the road to apostasy" .  He was told the office of the First Presidency asked that he be suspended and that the OTS leadership were to see "if an enemy had infiltrated the orchestra".  My DH tried to work things out, but they wouldn't even answer our e-mails.  This after 7 years of service.

Our SP and BP were involved in a meeting where OTS turned the matter over to them.  I felt like no one could hear anything my DH tried to say.  They all knew he was an apostate and that was that.  The meeting went for 2 hours and I sobbed through most of it.  No one even said a kind word of consolation.  None of the priesthood leaders said they wished us well, hoped the matter could be quickly resolved, or anything.

I never expressed any opinion about my husband's letter, just tried to help them understand his thinking and just for that I was made unwelcome.

From there my BP met with DH and asked what he thought about homosexuality.  DH said it was innate and it was not generally reversible.  BP said he was "picking science over God".  He was told that this opinion made him unworthy of a temple recommend.  When DH had not changed his mind about this by the next week, the BP threatened to turn him over to the SP for church discipline.  This did not end up happening, but we spent several days fearful that it would.

My husband kept trying to work things out.  (Mostly for my sake). He became very depressed.  When I tried to tell the SP this he said "If he would repent he would not feel depressed."

To make a long story short I eventually wrote to my area authority asking for help.  (Things had gotten very bad by this point).  I got a form letter back telling me to trust local leaders.   I also asked if someone could contact my father in law and briefly express concern for the pain he carries to this day.  (I was so naive).  This request was ignored.  However, another family member wrote and also asked that this very old wound be healed.  The response to this was my inlaws were called in by their SP and told that Elder Bateman had called and asked the SP to find out why they were causing trouble.  It was extremely humiliating for them.  (They didn't even know this family member had written a letter).

There are lots of details but I won't ramble forever.  It feels good to tell my story.  I went into this experience so naive.  I thought the church was about Christianity.  It is not.  I thought the GA's cared. They do not.  I don't want to spend my life screaming about the church because I have better things to do, but I had to resign so that I could speak when the opportunity arose without fear.  I think the church gets away with this garbage because many people are so afraid to speak.   



That is a very sad story all round. IMHO nobody really benefits from that sort of repressive treatment. Neither the people ostracized as apostates nor the leaders or institution. This same error is made over and over. Can people and bureaucracies learn?


The answer of course is that this is exactly what God Himself wants (since the Church is led directly by Him). Our Prophets, Seers and Revelators are directly inspired by Him, therefore all of this is exactly what He wants for us, His children, to experience at His Hand.

I am so glad that the Church is True and that it's not just a bureaucracy wherein free thinking people are forced out for pointing out the obvious by asking why 1+1 always has to equal 3 but can never, in fact, be equal to 2?

The insanity of it all is simply beyond words or reason...



This church is just plain evil!!

(Although the story kind of reminds me of listening just to the prosecution's opening arguments during a criminal trial...I mean, there obviously isn't another side to all this. Why would there be? The Mormon church is evil, after all.)



Nobody said "evil." Opposed to free speech for its members, clearly. If you think free speech is good, then this story might bother you. if you don't, maybe it doesn't.

The church's side of the story has been told many times: it is that when the Brethren speak, the thinking has been done. Obedience is the first law of heaven. "Public opposition to the church or its leaders" (apparently including writing a letter to the editor on a political issue) is defined as "apostasy." That's the church side. Some people think it's an extreme and indefensible position. Others think the church is simply protecting itself from the "evils" of a "creeping secularism" or liberalism.

Sister Mary Lisa

I think it's too bad that speech is so restricted and controlled within the Mormon culture that it's hard for many people to even begin cultivating their own voice.


This story doesn't really ring true to me, at least as it's told. Do you have any documentation or other evidence to back it up?


Kodos, Thanks for commenting. Clearly, there are details missing from this story, as the person relating the story acknowledges. I am wondering what, specifically, you find suspicious about this story. Can you point to something that makes you think the story is not credible? Obviously, I don't have first-hand knowledge to verify the story. I have communicated with the person who told the story and have no reason to question her credibility. Her story rings true to me for a number of reasons. First, we know that the Church-owned university did, in fact, refuse to renew Jeff Nielsen's contract because he wrote an opinion piece disagreeing with the Brethren. Second, we know that the Church-owned university did the same to Darron Smith when he publicly called on the Brethren to repudiate past racist statements of church leaders, which the Church has refused to do. Third, we know that Lynn Packer was pressured when he was at BYU to not make public the information he had uncovered about Paul H. Dunn's fabrications. There is a pattern of silencing dissent and protecting the Brethren even when the Brethren are lying. Fourth, the story told here is consistent with the stories I have been hearing from many others about some local leaders taking action against members for blogging or speaking out in public forums where they disagree with the Brethren on something. John Dehlin was called in and forced to grovel to his Bishop to avoid disciplinary action. Other bloggers have been excommunicated for expressing displeasure with certain church policies. This story is also reminiscent of what happened to the September Six and to Janice Allred. Allred was exed because she published an article in Dialogue after her SP says he told her not to (she was not exed for teaching false doctrine but because she was not obedient to her priesthood leader). I am not saying that the church is universally cracking down on free speech of its members. But there are enough of these stories out there that I don't find anything about this one that would make me question this person's credibility. I would like to get more details. But I'd also be interested in knowing why you question the truth of this account.


There is now a fuller account of this at Here is a link.


Oh my god. Someone was exed because they didn't do exactly as their local leader told them to do?

Oh my god. Want to talk about a recipe for disaster and abusive power.

I don't know why I get all surprised by these things. After all, it's not right to criticize the brethern, even when the criticisms are true.


SillyNut, you crack me up.


Sillynut said:

"Oh my god. Someone was exed because they didn't do exactly as their local leader told them to do?"

That's a fair stretch of what happened, considering that the woman indicated that she and her husband resigned their church membership


From Equality's comment above mine:

>>>Other bloggers have been excommunicated for expressing displeasure with certain church policies. This story is also reminiscent of what happened to the September Six and to Janice Allred. Allred was exed because she published an article in Dialogue after her SP says he told her not to (she was not exed for teaching false doctrine but because she was not obedient to her priesthood leader). <<<

Faithful LDS

I agree with Kodos, this account does not ring true. Anyone who has been involved with LDS church discipline knows it is not as one-sided as this ridulous personal account. In it Peter Danzig paints himself constantly as long-suffering, patient, confused, distressed, humble,(add in the rest of the scout law). He never loses his temper, he is never at fault--he is in complete denial. We have seen it many times.

Doesn't it make you wonder that the supposed trigger of this event, Jeffrey Nielsen, is still a member?

Makes it obvious who the hot-head really is.

The SLC Tribune (a notoriously anti-LDS paper) really pushes this LDS hit piece. They even title it "LDS Church discliplines Musician". They left off "poor-innocent" before Musician. The guy is a social worker for cryin' out loud.

Capt Jack

Can we stop with the "SL Tribune is a notorious anti-LDS paper" crap already? Seriously, just because something isn't published by the Mormon church doesn't mean it's some yellow anti-Mormon rag.

As far as church discipline goes, I've been involved with it--on the administering end--and I've found it to be as one-sided as this personal account describes. The entire process is stacked against the "defendant" from start to finish. Hell, the rules for administering church courts aren't even publically available.


"Anyone who has been involved with LDS church discipline knows it is not as one-sided as this ridulous personal account."

ANYONE, FaithfulLDS? That's a mighty big group. Have YOU been involved in anyway with church discipline from either side of the divide? I haven't myself but I intimately know several who have, from both the administering and receiving ends. Their accounts--BOTH sides--certainly tend more to validate this story. And if ANYONE does have a more-than-one-sided experience, it certainly isn't because they've set it up that way.

Come on, the high council draws lots who gets to be the prosecuting side and who gets to be the defending side. Judge, jury, executioner, AND defense are all the same group of people. And it's just completely random if the ones "defending" you actually want to defend you or have any sense of what might be your defense, if you even need a defense, or any understanding of what nuances there might be in your situation.

It's just completely random that Jeffrey Nielson didn't get ex-ed. If he'd been in this guy's ward, I have little doubt that he would have been.


"Faithful"LDS - What does being a social worker have to do with Peter Danzing's position? Or is he just one "those liberals" you are painting with your very broad brush. Funny you didn't mention his beard you know not shaving is a sure clue that somebody is heading down the road to apostasy!

You are either a DAMU troll making sport, or just another run-of-the-mill idiot TBM I have dealt with far too often on the internet.

Dara Smythe

Am a 34 year member--joined church on own in mission field (IN)--have since brought DH and 3 generations of family into church--temple sealings, missions, temple workers, BYUH grads, Eagle Scouts, etc., etc., etc., ad nauseam--been inactive for several years--have tried to return several times but nothing left to give--totally worn out and disgusted. I ask 2 questions> What about what happened to Steve Jones and the brother in Australia, I believe, who dared to write about the Book of Abraham? More--ever so much more--importantly,how does one resolve the conflict between her sincere and deep belief in much of the tenets (and those of this whole family that she loves so dearly) with being told never to criticize the brethren esp., when it is so very evident that the church is an almost evilly false fascist dictatorship? Years of searching for an alternative has led nowhere. Dara

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