The concept of polygamy, while not followed by many in the United States, is recognized by a small number of states, allowing its citizens to remain married to multiple people at the same time. In 2008, the Texas Polygamy scandal took many by surprise, when an anonymous 16-year old girl raised in a Mormon sect called in a secret plea for help to a family violence shelter, reporting that her 50-year old husband was sexually abusing her. The United States handles domestic violence as an extremely serious matter, enforcing numerous rules regarding sexual abuse in addition to domestic violence in general, especially in the instances of minors and women. The state acted in a fury, removing 416 children from their homes, separating them from their families, placing them in state custody. As the state began to interview members of the Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints (FLDS), they found that a portion of members of the sect spoke out to the media to justify their lifestyle, deny allegations of underage girls marrying older men as well as those of physical abuse, and further emphasize their “God-given” right to keep their children. However, ex-sect members recall strikingly different memories of their experiences, noting rampant sexual abuse, physical abuse and incest, as well as instances of girls as young as 14 marrying men up to three times their age. Utah Senator Rob Allen is quoted criticizing polygamy, claiming “Thousands of women are being pulled out of school, forced into marriages with older men, and kept isolated from society where they are being impregnated. They have become the forgotten citizens, facing fear and abuse.” How the government handles seemingly difficult situation as such reflects its balance of morality versus legality, and individual freedoms versus the law.
In the constitutional government that the sovereign people of the United States have organized, the Constitution of the United States of America was written as a framework for the rules and legalities that would guide the government’s judicial rule throughout its ages. While the ability to amend the Constitution remains, there are basic rights that have been gifted to the people that have yet to be revoked, so as to maintain the dignity of the principles that the United States was founded on. One key right is the Freedom of Religion, granting people the power to maintain control over their choice of religion. The concept of Freedom of Religion has been interpreted as concrete and central to the values that the United States prides itself on respecting.
Although the government may not agree with the principles guiding the polygamist lifestyle, it is important that it remembers that this is the lifestyle that some have chosen. The problem arises when a child is forced into this lifestyle, rather than being able to choose freely, and is consequently reared against his will. However, there could be some youth in the sect more than willing to continue this lifestyle. Was the government right in forcibly removing 416 children away from their home, away from the only way of life they have ever been exposed to?
The government has to handle situations like this with extreme caution, so as to not allow the strong moral compasses of its opinionated leaders, such as Senator Rob Allen, influence the way they are handled. Removing all 416 children from their homes and into state custody was wrong, as it could very well be true that some of those children did not resent their lifestyle and did not feel that they were being harmed. They were simply following their religion- the one they perceived “God” to lead them with; a right granted to them by Freedom of Religion. For those who felt wronged and harmed, they have a right to be helped by the government under the protection granted to them by various domestic violence laws. The men who are accused of such wrongs should only be punished if it is clear that they were causing harm to a non-consenting individual.
The government has a duty to the people to protect them under whichever laws it has promised. I would not agree if every male were charged with physical abuse, domestic violence, or sexual relations with a minor, because there were some children who wanted to continue living this religion-based lifestyle and did not feel that they were being harmed. If they did not feel abused, then there would be no reason to punish someone for his actions towards the clearly consenting individual, because he would not be disrupting anybody else. If the government grants people the right to follow their own religion, then they cannot punish them for choosing to do so- unless someone reports a personal wrongdoing and/or lack of consent. Individuals do have a right to a natural freedom to live as they choose, so long as others are not hurt, so it is up to the government to decide how to monitor and control the boundaries of this natural law within the realm of maintaining peace and order.
Links about the Texas Polygamist Sect Scandal: