I’m starting to see some parallels between the recent raid on the polygamist compound in Texas and the raid on the Branch Davidian compound in the same state a decade ago. In both cases, these communities (funny how that word sounds less menacing than “compound”) were assaulted by heavily-armed law enforcement in response to allegations of child molestation. In the case of the Davidians we discovered –after authorities went in guns blazing– that local authorities had already investigated those accusations and found them groundless. In the current situation with the polygamists, it turns out that the justification for the raid, an anonymous call for help from a sixteen year old girl forced to marry against her will, turns out to be fraudulent. In the meantime another community of nonconformists has been liquidated. Oops again.
This raises some troubling questions. Since when do we liquidate communities on the pretext that individuals within them are alleged criminals? How far are we going to pursue this “logic”? Arrest all residents of Las Vegas? Nuke L.A.? In the nornal course of events, arrests are made of specific individuals on specific charges based on specific evidence. But apparently accusations of child molestation are sufficiently emotionally-laden that we don’t question it if the authorities summarily violate the civil rights of hundreds of weirdos citizens.
The issue becomes thorny when we consider the alleged practice of teenage girls marrying older men. Given that many states allow girls under eighteen to marry under specific circumstances, though this varies from one state to another, it seems that the essence of the problem is that these people are doing things that are considered aberrant by the standards of mainstream culture. We don’t blink if thirteen year old girls are told how to have sex and provided condoms and/or abotions without parental consent –again, your state may vary– but allowing them to marry is beyond the pale. We’re all for cultural relativism and diversity up to a point; then we reach for some firepower.
Another thorny question is how we separate freewill from environment in such cases.The alleged teen brides say they enter into these marriages consentually, but is it consent when they are taught from birth that this is what God expects from them or that God’s “prophet” tells specific girls to marry a specific man? And this group’s “prophet” is seen as just that: his words are the voice of God and to question his orders is to court your eternal doom.
On the other hand, how different is this from our own kids being trained daily through TV, movies, radio, games and (for those who read) books that what is truly important in life is to seek material pleasure and base decisions on feelings: an attitude that is incredibly profitable to mega-corporations who are ready to sell our kids anything from hot new fall fashions to Britney Spears albums to political ideologies?
Is it really unacceptable to teach kids what choices to make, or is it only unacceptable when they are taught to make choices that conflict with our own views or biases? This is relevant not just for some cousin-marrying nut jobs living among the Texas sagebrush. There are some who want to make it illegal for any parent to teach their religion to their own children. They even invoke the same language as the CPS workers in Texas: they say it’s child abuse. No, not forcing your kid to marry some middle-aged polygamist dude. Teaching religion to your child is itself abusive under any and all circumstances. Do we really want social workers, backed up by State Troopers, to have the authority to decide which ideas parents may teach their children and which ideas they may not?
See, the dirty little secret is that our society is not tolerant and diverse.
People who are truly nonconformists have their families separated or killed based on accusations that nobody bothers to pursue under due process of law because they turn out to be bogus. Tolerance and diversity often as not are merely pretexts for telling people –religious nut jobs primarily– to shut up. Sometimes it’s “Shut up… or else.”
Currently, given that the original justification for the raid was false, the children of this cult are to remain separated from their parents on the basis that
the teachings of the Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints jeopardized children.
Jeopardized means “places in potential danger”. See, if you’re some wacko nonconformist, the state doesn’t have to prove that your kids actually have come to harm. They only have to speculate that they might. But if you’re a good conformist –if you look, act, talk and think the same as everyone else– then that’s normal and you have little need to fear the inquisitors rounding you up in the middle of the night and charging you with heresy.