Separation of Church and State

April 21, 2008

Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances. — First Amendement to the Constitution of the United States of America

The recent mess in Texas should make people with minority religious beliefs nervous.

Based on an anonymous phone tip that now appears to have been a hoax, 416 children have been taken into state custody from a polygamous sect known as the Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints (FLDS). While investigating the tip, the law enforcement officers observed pregnant minors in the LDS facility. Based on the apparently pervasive marital practices of this religous group, a decision was made to remove all these children from their homes. At issue are the practice of polygamy, arranged marriages of minor girls, and pregnancy of minors. And yet…

Dr. Bruce Perry, a psychiatrist who has studied children in cults….acknowledged that many adults at the ranch are loving parents and that the boys seemed emotionally healthy. When asked whether the belief system really endangered the older boys or young children, Perry said, “I have lost sleep over that question.”

You wont’ find me defending the practices that are under government scrutiny in this group. But the indiscriminant removal of such a large number of children from their homes (both boys and girls,) without specific evidence of danger in each child’s case, raises serious questions. Just how far can government go to eradicate unpopular religious practices? Did they really think the boys were in danger? If so, on what evidence, and on what legal grounds?

How many of us could go back two or three generations in our own ancestry, and not find that we are descended from a 15 year old mother? Or that we are descended from an arranged marriage? Is that somehow unethical, or un-American?

Of broader concern to me is the ethical issue of government interfering with the practice of religion. Where will this kind of government action take us? Will a church continue to have the right to exclude homosexuals from the ordained ministry? Or, to exclude women from the ministry? Will parents have the right to teach their religion to their children? Or to home school their children? Will the American people consent to their government regulating religious beliefs and practices?

The polygamy issue is complex. Utah has quite a bit more experience in this area than does Texas. These Texas officials are in uncharted territory. They’ve opened Pandora’s box, and they have no idea what is inside. They may find that their cure is worse than the disease.

Today, the issues are religious practices that many (including myself) find bizzarre and repugnant. I wonder whether that will still be true about the issues tomorrow.

I’ll close with a quote I’ve lifted from my daughter’s blog:

In Germany, they came first for the Communists, And I didn’t speak up because I wasn’t a Communist;
And then they came for the trade unionists, And I didn’t speak up because I wasn’t a trade unionist;
And then they came for the Jews, And I didn’t speak up because I wasn’t a Jew;
And then . . . they came for me . . . And by that time there was no one left to speak up.
(Pastor Martin Niemöller)

One comment

  1. Alan-Thanks for writing about this. I, too, have been extremely nervous while watching the images out of Eldorado. Do I agree with that religion? Nope. Do I believe that they brainwash the people there? Probably, yeah. But when government interferes with religion I get nervous because what comes next? I understand that they didn’t want to have another Waco on their hands and that child abuse allegations have to be taken seriously but they still haven’t located the girl who made the only phone call. Does anyone not think that this call couldn’t have come from someone who left the compound and is angry with the people there? This is a case that is far from over and I fear that my home state of Texas is going to be left looking very badly before it’s all said and done. Kent

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