Wednesday, April 23, 2008

Oh, What To Do

Hopefully my last post explains why I'm paying particular attention to FLDS abuse case in Eldorado, Texas. Although current LDS prophets comply with the anti-polygamy laws and excommunicate members who don't, they still believe in polygamy as a righteous doctrine and I always understood that as a member. Although I was raised LDS where polygamy isn't practiced in this life, polygamy was always part of my religious culture, heritage, and belief system.

I also understand what it is like to be raised as a member of a "peculiar people." The Mormons take a special pride in their peculiarities and believe that they are the mark of a distinct and righteous people that are inherently different and separate from non-believing Gentiles. This explains the strong emphasis on otherwise minor doctrines such as the Word of Wisdom which prohibits coffee, tea, tobacco, and alcohol. It's not that using such things are really that bad in the grand scheme of things, but they are somewhat unique and serve to separate the believers and the faithful from the non-believers and unfaithful. It is an easy to distinguish mark of belief. The same goes for other Mormon practices such as wearing garments and regularly attending all church meetings. Such things don't really serve to make the members better people, but it does mark them as different and belonging.

The other aspect of being "peculiar" is having a strong persecution complex. Mormons believe that the history of church persecution is strong evidence that Satan has mustered his forces to try to oppose the grand work of God. It's easy to see how any actions against the church are interpreted through the lens of persecution. This creates a blind spot among the faithful toward their own culpability in perhaps inviting the persecution on themselves. This is similar to how the U.S. wants to ignore actions it has taken that may have provoked attacks such as 9/11 and instead accept the simplistic explanation that it was extremist Muslims who hate our way of life.

So, what is the real problem among the FLDS and what should be done?

I see two issues:
  • They are raping girls who are too young to consent to marriage or sex.
  • They are neglecting minor children by expelling them from their families for minor religious infractions.
Both of these are crimes. Note that wearing pioneer dresses, having long hair in funky braids, having strange religious beliefs, living in isolation, not wearing makeup, and other cultural things are not. In my mind, neither is polygamy. The Mormon doctrine of polygamy seems much less harmful to families than adultery or other forms of marital infidelity. As long as it is a real marriage entered into by consenting adults, then I don't see why it should be a crime. But, again, that's not the issue. The Texas attorney general has hinted that bigamy laws may have been violated and that charges may be filed on that ground. But I'd rather see such laws be stricken from the books or left unenforced unless he also plans to crack down on similar laws such as adultery and sodomy laws.

I'm a strong believer in the rule of law, and one of the fundamental aspects of the rule of law in the principle of impartiality. Laws should apply to everyone and should be applied uniformly. We shouldn't have separate rules for rich and poor or based on race or based on gender or any other arbitrary distinctions. The state of Texas shouldn't get leeway to enforce laws against one small religious minority just because they are different.

In case you can't tell, I'm a little bit peeved at the media focus on superficial differences. It's the same mentality that led to (my considered opinion here) the mass murder of the Branch Davidians in Waco and the cold blooded murder at Ruby Ridge. The media coverage focused on the strangeness of the victims as if that is a justification for the government to selectively tyrannize those people.

Based on what I see, the wholesale removal of every child from the compound is excessive and unjustified and will deepen the feelings of persecution among the FLDS. No one has accused them of pedophilia. There is no reason to be removing girls that have not reached puberty, which is the age the FLDS appear to believe is marriageable age. There is no reason to remove boys, since the problem appears to be with the boys that have been cast out. Those that are still there are still being cared for.

I'm sympathetic of the difficulties in investigating the crimes. Investigating close societies like the FLDS has to be like investigating organized crime families. But, we still live in a free country where people deserve due process under the law.

So, what seems justified?

The DNA testing seems reasonable in order to prove paternity and establish that sex has occurred illegally between minor children and adults.

If anyone should be separated and removed and put into protective custody it should be adolescent girls.

Paternity and maternity should be established so that rape charges can be filed against the appropriate men.

The state should establish a consent decree from the FLDS getting them to agree to cease underage marriage and sex. I personally think that they should revoke the anti bigamy laws and require that all marriages be open to the public and that they be licensed by the state with both parties swearing consent. I think that this should apply to all religions including the LDS who exclude non-members from their temple marriages.

I think that the should investigate whether the FLDS in Texas are casting out minor boys and prosecute the church and families for neglect if they find such cases.

Other than that, I think they should leave them alone to live their culture according to their own conscience as long as they comply with the law no matter how strange it may seem to us. Heaven knows our ways probably seem more strange and objectionable to them than theirs do to us.


MattMan said...

Well said Bull. This is the jist of comments I've made elsewhere on this top.

The issue, to me, boils down to one of consent. Like you, I see nothing moral nor immoral about polyamorous relationships of practically any kind -- so long as *all* involved parties are consenting participants. This would apply to relationships between persons of vast age differences.

So, on the age, the issue with consent comes in determining when a child/adolescent possesses sufficient mental & emotional faculties to truly give informed consent.

Is it when puberty hits? No, I don't think so.

There are many many studies out there about mental & emotional development. Some show that until a person reaches an age of about 25, not all of the mental faculties are fully developed. This is one of the reasons why auto insurance rates drop significantly at age 25.

I'm not suggesting real sexual consent can't happen until age 25, just throwing out an example.

The decision to purchase & drink alcohol has been ruled to be possible at age 21 (though this is much younger or non-existent in other countries).

The ability to be responsible enough to enter into and sign a contract (and vote for a public representative) is 18.

Most statutory rape clauses hinge around age 18. Some states are 16, I think. I'm not up-to-date on all of the states on that.

Most child labor laws allow officially hiring at age 16, at least that was the case back in my day.

So, for these adolescent marriages -- it would seem that the minimum age for signing a contract (18) would apply. But there is a loophole on that where if the parents agree to it, that can be circumvented. But the statutory rape clause would seem to still apply.

I'm not really sure what an appropriate age of consent would be. But I seriously, seriously doubt it would be immediately upon entering puberty. 14? Nuh uh, no way. 16? Maybe. 18? Probably, but still could be questionable for someone who has lived a sheltered life and thus their emotional growth has been stunted such that true consent is questionable and subject to manipulation/coercion.

I don't have many answers at this point, just lots more questions.

erlybird said...

Man, oh, I ever agree with you on this, Bull...almost.

"But I'd rather see such laws be stricken from the books or left unenforced unless he also plans to crack down on similar laws such as adultery and sodomy laws."

I only disagree with the word "unless" because (in my opinion) who anyone has sex with in whatever way as long as consent and privacy are considered these things should never be "cracked down on".

The idea of the "compound" gives me the shivers...and the blatant suspicion of outsiders who don't "mind their own business" is taking the precious freedoms we enjoy as Americans to level with which I am not comfortable...but how many cases of pedophilia and incest are going unpunished in the U.S. simply because it is happening behind "closed doors" which our Constitution protects first and foremost?

Hell, I don't even want our government to be able to "crack down" on harmless hydroponic pot growers, yet they get "raided" all the damn time. Who are they hurting?

If it is about bigamy...then yes, it is strange that we aren't prosecuting adulterers too...because I agree, I also ask, "Which is worse?" and "Who are we to say how people should be married?" And we would think it mighty strange if police hauled in someone for having sex with someone else's wife they met at the gym. If it is about the weirdness...or as you remind us, the "peculiarity" then we need to back the F off. It is just a fact of life that kids don't GET a choice in how they are raised...I sure didn't...and I wouldn't change a thing, really, even though it was a bit weird looking back. These kids will have similar experiences. No one is taking children away from emotionally abusive, overbearing, pushy pageant moms. No one is taking children away from welfare-dependent, illiterate, TV-watching trailer dwellers in Mississippi. No one is removing children from the homes of whacked out Jehovah's Witnesses who make their children distribute tracts on Saturday afternoons.

Just get in there...stop the old perverted men from pulling 14-17 year old girls into sexual relationships...stop any physical abuse upon any minors...make sure everyone knows that these things are wrong no matter what...then get the F out.

Bull said...

Matt, the Texas legislature has passed laws that decide such issues and that is what should be enforced. Religious freedom doesn't extend to violating the law.

EB, I wasn't really suggesting that he should crack down on the other equally ridiculous laws. The "unless" was really there to illustrate that the law should be applied impartially and you shouldn't just selectively enforce the law against people you don't like. If they tried to enforce those laws impartially then he'd never win re-election. Right now he's just piling on the weird people to win votes from the self righteous idiots who don't realize their own hypocrisy.