Joseph Smith event expands access for students

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Dramatic presentation and roundtable on legal rights offers free tickets to high school students

CHICAGO, IL – A drama about the courtroom battles of Mormon leader Joseph Smith, followed by a discussion of legal protections for minority groups, will be more accessible to high school students thanks to 50 free tickets that have been set aside for the Oct. 14 event.

The Abraham Lincoln Presidential Library and Museum and the Illinois Supreme Court Historic Preservation Commission are providing the tickets for students taking advanced history courses. Use of the tickets is being arranged by the Illinois State Board of Education.

During the 1840s, Joseph Smith waged a series of courtroom battles to avoid extradition to Missouri, where he was accused of treason and conspiracy. Smith, leader of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, successfully used the writ of habeas corpus – that is, having a judge determine whether someone is being held legally – to stay in Illinois.

The Oct. 14 event at the University of Chicago’s Logan Center for the Arts includes a dramatization of Smith’s legal battles. Then a panel of experts will discuss the use of habeas corpus from Smith to Abraham Lincoln to holding prisoners at Guantanamo Bay.

The moderator for “The Habeas Corpus Hearings of Joseph Smith” will be David A. Strauss, the Gerald Ratner Distinguished Service Professor of Law at the University of Chicago. Strauss, a former assistant to the solicitor general of the United States, has argued 18 cases before the U.S. Supreme Court. He is one of the editors of the Supreme Court Review and a board member for the American Constitution Society.

Panel members include U.S. District Court Judge Sue Myerscough of the Central District of Illinois; Michael Scodro, Solicitor General for the State of Illinois; Jeffrey Colman, partner at Jenner & Block in Chicago, who has worked on behalf of prisoners at Guantanamo Bay; and Jeffrey N. Walker of the Joseph Smith Papers , Salt Lake City, Utah.

Tickets for the event are $15 and are now available at

Salt Lake City’s Deseret News calls this exploration of legal rights through Smith’s story a “remarkable” project. It was first staged to a sold-out house at the Lincoln Presidential Library.

The ALPLM and the Commission have assembled a statewide group of lawyers and judges, led by Illinois Supreme Court Justices Rita Garman and Anne Burke, to bring greater awareness of historic legal events in Illinois and the lessons that can be learned from them. Last year this group explored involuntary commitment through a reenactment of the case of Mary Lincoln, wife of Abraham Lincoln, who was involuntarily committed by her son in 1875. Previously, the group explored the trial of Mary Surratt who was convicted of conspiring in the Lincoln assassination and who became the first woman executed by the federal government.

For more information, please contact John Lupton, Executive Director of the Illinois Supreme Court Historic Preservation Commission. 217-670-0890, ext. 1.

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