Religious Liberty and the Line in the Sand
Wednesday, May 14, 2008 12:25 PM
Not too long ago, my wife and I made the most stupid decision of our married career. We leased a vehicle. It was a champagne-colored Honda Accord SE with a sunroof. Now, if you're not Anheuser-Busch with a fleet of delivery trucks, leasing is quite possibly more stupid than catfish grabblin' or voting Democrat. But more painful than knowing I was "ripped off" was seeing advertisements in the newspaper or hearing radio ads about the very same vehicle for considerably less. It was three years of daily disaster and the self-inflicted wounds are very, very deep.
So, along those same lines of seeing the same product for much less coin, I was grieved to see a blog post that I had intended to write already packaged for consumption after I had spent so much time and energy to produce an inferior product. But, more on that in a moment.
While working on the series of Fundamentalist Latter-Day Saints (FLDS) posts, I researched religious liberty and where it ends. I started with the United States Bill of Rights, its "sister" document, the French Revolution's Declaration of the Rights of Man and of the Citizen, and the document that inspired them, the Virginia Declaration of Rights. All are basically in agreement -- and the French document specifically spells it out -- that religious liberty is guaranteed as long as the activities of religion do not violate public order in ways harmful to society.
I had a good idea of where the "line in the sand" was drawn, but I still needed to find where the Mormon church danced near the line or crossed it. First, and I don't have time to dive into it, you need to read the history of the Mormon church. A great resource is Walter Martin's The Kingdom of the Cults [link]. From before its inception, the founders of the false religion have been at odds with the U.S. government. Joseph Smith began life as a crook. He was convicted in 1826 for swindling people by using "magic". And the legal woes grew progressively worse from tar-and-feathering in Kirtland, Ohio, to the Battle of Crooked River with Missouri militiamen to outright military action by the U.S. Army in Utah.
Next, although the Bill of Rights had been written for some time, it actually wasn't until 1879 when the Supreme Court was first called to interpret the free exercise clause of the First Amendment. And, believe it or not, it was the Mormon church and the prosecution of polygamy that sent it to the High Court. From Wikipedia.org:
The Supreme Court has consistently held, however, that even though the First Amendment guarantees the right to free exercise, this right is not absolute. For example, in the 1800s, Some of the members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints traditionally practiced polygamy, yet in Reynolds v. United States (1879), the Supreme Court upheld the criminal conviction of one of these members under a federal law barring polygamy. The Court reasoned that to do otherwise would set precedent for a full range of religious beliefs including those as extreme as human sacrifice. [link]
And, again at Wiki:
The Court said, "Laws are made for the government of actions, and while they cannot interfere with mere religious beliefs and opinions, they may with practices." [link]
As you can see, the precedent for the legal extent of religious liberty has been set for more than 125 years, if not longer. The actions of some members of the FLDS in El Dorado, Texas, were in direct disregard of the established laws against underage marriage and polygamy and the Texas executive acted to stop it and to bring them to justice. This was not a single action without precedent as some have alluded. Check out Short Creek raid in 1953 [link]; the 2003 conviction of Rodney Holm for unlawful sexual conduct with a 16- or 17-year old; the exploits of Fawn Broadbent and Fawn Holm, two girls who escaped parental custody; the 2005 indictment of 8 men for sexual misconduct with minors; and on and on and on.
And not only the legal run-ins, look into the men who were excommunicated by the FLDS church and stripped of their wives and children, who were reassigned to other men. Gross, isn't it? Absolutely disgusting. So now I have to ask, are you going to plead Baal's case [link]? Not me. In fact, I'm going to avoid anything that even resembles that nastiness and that's why I find pioneer dress and insular living creepy.
Finally, during my research I googled "where religious liberty ends," and lo and behold, I found this wonderful article: [link] (It's a cached site because the original has been moved to the Tribune's subscription site). Although it pains me to look at it because I had intended to write a similar post, I recommend it. In fact, just disregard everything above and check it out.
This concludes the series of posts about the FLDS. It is a dead horse and has been beaten. Now, I will take an aside and write about modesty before moving to the Texas government and its dealings with kook religions. This should be interesting....