Wednesday, November 22, 2006

Trying a Religious Leader

The trial of accused polygamist Warren Jeffs is underway. The actual charge he's facing is being an accessory to the rape of a child. He was said to have forced a 14 year old girl into marriage and sex with her first cousin. What blows my mind is that it took six years for us to get to this point. Now that young woman is 20 years old.

This is going to be an interesting, and difficult, case to try. The young woman in question testified at a hearing that Jeffs, the leader of a Mormon Fundamentalist sect, was considered to be "God on Earth." He was their religious leader, their prophet. In her testimony she said, "I was very scared to say no to them because that was unheard of. You never defied or questioned what they told you to do, or they told you that God told you to do."

What makes it hard for me is my own faith, and my views of our justice system. I'm a card-carrying member of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints. In other words, I'm a Mormon. My own church's history includes a time when polygamy was practiced. Not along the lines of arranged marriages, as the offshoot fundamentalists groups are doing, but polygamy none the less. The fact the leaders of his radical group are offshoots of my own church is just disturbing to me. Not that I'm questioning my own faith, just that these people could dare claim to have anything to do with the modern LDS church and its teachings. They don't, no matter what they may claim.

You see, I don't have a problem with arranged marriage, or polygamy, on principle. As long as all parties are happy, consenting adults, fully aware of what the ramification will be; go for it. But not like this. Not a forced in-bred marriage with child brides. Not a society where men control all and woman are treated as chattel. It's unconscionable. It's wrong. It's evil to the "nth" degree. Heck, it goes against so many of the scriptures this group claims to believe in it's amazing.

And yet I believe there is a prophet on earth. I don't believe he's God. I don't even believe he's perfect. But when he speaks as the prophet and leader of my church, I tend to listen. I understand the social and religious pressure that kind of power can hold. When someone abuses that trust, as I believe Warren Jeffs has done, how do we hold them accountable?

With regards to Jeffs, I want to know how we can prosecute this guy to the full extent of the law, find justice for this poor young woman (and others like her, I'm sure), and still respect the sanctity and rights of a people to practice their religion, even if we think they're weird? The first amendment cannot be ignored.

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