Religious Freedom, Illegal Polygamy, and Warren Jeffs
By Ken K. Gourdin
The following was posted at Mormon Dialogue and Discussion in response to a discussion about the treatment of children in Warren Jeffs’ polygamous religious group. The premise of the thread is that the government should disband Jeffs’ group. I attempted to point out some of the potential legal pitfalls, under the First Amendment, of government targeting religion qua religion. In response, the poster to whom I responded engaged in what I consider to be emotional manipulation directed at those who don’t see the situation exactly as she sees it and who do not favor her favored solution:
You’re absolutely right, [Screen name redacted]. There are absolutely no reasons for any of us, besides being calloused, cold, cruel, unfeeling, mean, and heartless, to have not watched the material [Screen named redacted] linked, for us to not see the problem exactly the same way you and those who agree with you see it, and for us to think that other considerations (beyond our callousness, coldness, cruelness, unfeelingness, and heartlessness) might complicate any response to it. It’s bad! That’s enough! And anyone who doesn’t agree with you about precisely how bad it is or about what should be done about it, who allegedly views the problem from a different perspective, who, thus, claims to see nuances about it that you do not, and who, therefore, doesn’t want to do exactly what you want to do about it, also is bad! You’re absolutely right.
It’s simple. In fact, it’s so simple that anyone who cannot see it exactly the way you see it is a stupid, unprincipled, emotionally-stunted dolt! First Amendment? Religious liberty? Rights of the accused? All hogwash! Constitution, Schmonstitution! Evidence, schmevidence! Mere accusations and emotional appeals should be all it takes! Reconstitute the Star Chamber! Call in the black-clad, jack-booted thugs who are armed to the teeth! Have them perform aerial insertions on zip lines through open windows from the black helicopters! (After all, that’s what they do in the movies!) That we think a particular religion, or that things done in the name of it, is bad, is reason enough to shut it down! Forget the fact that someone might, in turn use any weapon we create, or any weapon we might resort to, to try to deal with the “bad religion” problem (such as disregarding the principles I have mentioned) against us or against something we do hold dear, even if we don’t particularly care about religion! The ends justify the means!
Despite your attempts to stake out the rhetorical and emotional “high ground” and to exclude all others from it, [Screen name redacted], it’s not that none of the rest of us see the problem, it’s not that we don’t care about it, and it’s not that we don’t want to do anything about it. All of your howling to the contrary notwithstanding, how we go about trying to solve the problem does matter. And despite the fact that these parents haven’t graduated from [Screen name redacted]’s (Required!) Ph.D. Program in Parenting, and despite the fact that they, therefore, would do and have done things as parents that you have not and would not, many of them love their children just as much as you love yours, [Screen name redacted], and their children love their parents just as much in return. As [Screen name redacted] already has pointed out, we already tried the “Rip-the-Children-Away-From-Their-Parents-and-Away-From-the-Only-Life-They’ve-Ever-Known” approach once, and it didn’t work out so well [referring to the so-called “Short Creek” polygamy raids of the 1950s], contrary to your “We-Have-to-Do-it-For-the-Children” rationale.
I’m reminded of something Pastor Martin Niemoller wrote about the response of Germans who did not speak out about the Nazis:
First they came for the Socialists, and I did not speak out—
Because I was not a Socialist.
Then they came for the Trade Unionists, and I did not speak out—
Because I was not a Trade Unionist.
Then they came for the Jews, and I did not speak out—
Because I was not a Jew.
Then they came for me—and there was no one left to speak for me.
You’ll think that any approach devised for dealing with the problem (regardless whether it pays sufficient attention to the considerations I mention above) is great … until someone decides that you should be a target because of something you’ve done or failed to do, and decides to use it on you.
Then you’ll have second thoughts about it, but by then, since it may well have been used as a weapon against everyone who might’ve spoken in your defense, it’ll be too late.