In a recent interview on CBS’s “Early Show,” three middle-aged male members of the Texas sect of the Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints claimed they didn’t know either polygamy or sleeping with underage women was illegal. Although the men may reconsider changing the way they approach future relationships, they do not consider an adult male engaging in sexual acts with underage females to be a form of abuse.
The polygamists, whose compound was raided earlier this month, claimed they would never force anything on anyone, and that their religion is one of peace.
While it’s clear that these men are just hiding behind their religion in an attempt to get out of any legal trouble they may face, the notion that they had no idea what they were doing was wrong is ludicrous.
Throughout various cultures and societies, there are many similarties in what actions are considered immoral. Murder, for instance, is a crime in almost every society. Lying, although not as severe as murder, breaks a sacred trust people have with one another, thus the liar is ostracized from a social group, just as the murderer is sent to prison.
And then there’s the coercion of young women to marry, many of whom are not old or mature enough to comprehend exactly what they are expected to do-birth and take care of numerous children-something many adults have a difficult time doing.
During the interview, one of the men said it is part of their religious beliefs to have an older man marry a younger woman. At the same time, he insisted the reason people believe that he and the other members of his sect abuse these young women is due to the fact that the sect is so secretive about what it does.
My question: If they truly believed what they were doing wasn’t wrong, and it was part of their religion, why keep it such a secret from the public eye? You don’t see Catholics hiding the fact that they attend mass every Sunday. And why is that? Because there is nothing inherently unethical about attending mass, therefore Catholics are perfectly all right with everyone knowing that, every Sunday, they come together to worship and pray.
But, as we have learned from the many women who have fled the clutches of these manipulating men, the young women in those compounds inherently know that what is being done to them is wrong.
They know, just as well as they know murder and lying are wrong, that being forced into a marriage with a much older man, having as many children as he wants and sharing him with countless other women, is not a healthy, moral living environment. And each time they try to escape and are caught, they are told that, if they try to leave again, there will be consequences.
Forcing these women to remain in the compound is not the type of behavior I would expect from people who supposedly believe what they are doing is right. Add to this the level of secrecy and the men are practically admitting that what they are doing is immoral.
They claim they are allowing the women to make these choices for themselves, but the fact is they force the women to make these difficult choices at an early age, when humans are more susceptible to manipulation.
It’s mind-boggling to believe that our society looks at what these polygamists are doing and says, “Well, it’s part of their religion. We may not agree with it, but it’s their beliefs.” While I believe freedom of religion is one of the most important freedoms we have, that freedom should not extend to people who blatantly use it to harm others.
And the fact that many of these men are not behind bars, when it’s so apparent that they knew what they were doing was immoral, is unjustifiable.
If we truly wish to advance socially as a society, we need to let them know we do not tolerate their actions. Simply put, we need to hold all of these men accountable.