Squaring the Culture




"...and I will make justice the plumb line, and righteousness the level;
then hail will sweep away the refuge of lies,
and the waters will overflow the secret place."
Isaiah 28:17

04/06/2008 (7:55 pm)

Religion vs Law, a Precedent

Early this morning, local and state law enforcement officers in Eldorado, TX raided a ranch serving as the temple for an aberrant sect of extremist Mormons accused of violating Texas law regarding marriage of underage women. One hundred eighty three women and children were removed from the ranch over the weekend after a sixteen-year-old girl alleged that she’d been sexually abused and bore a child while underage. The ranch, considered a temple by the Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of the Latter Day Saints, had been converted to a retreat by polygamist leader Warren Jeffs, who is now serving a jail sentence in Utah for being an accomplice to rape.

Aside from evoking images of the massacre in Waco in 1993, this story is important because it highlights the official position of at least one state toward religions that attempt to operate outside state law. With Islam establishing Sharia in clear opposition to local and national laws all over Europe (see also this article), the willingness of states in the US may soon be tested by Muslim enclaves attempting to assert the right of their own religion to enforce behavior as they see fit.

Islam differs from Judaism and Christianity in that it recognizes no division between religion and the state. Jews and Christians generally regard the law of the land as the law of God, so long as the state requires nothing of them that violates their conscience; Christians are perhaps more apt to attempt to change national law through peaceful means. Extreme versions of Islam, however, regard the state and the law as the province of religion, and Muslims have set up enclaves in which Sharia is enforced by the community, sometimes in opposition to local and state ordinances.

There’s a difference between enforcing the law against a few hundred wild-eyed Mormons living together on a large ranch, and attempting to enforce state law in a community where the residents intend to enforce a different law. It remains to be seen whether law enforcement in the US will show the same resolve against extreme Muslims that they’re showing today against extreme Mormons. Let’s hope the law remains the law, regardless of who’s breaking it.

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15 Comments »

April 6, 2008 @ 11:18 pm #

You and I both KNOW that the law will NOT be applied in the same way. This is, of course, being discussed all over the web and it won’t make any difference when it all comes down to whether or not the same law will be applied because Mormon’s look like white Christian’s and those that worship that other cult don’t. The war at home is being fought against white Christians and that’s it! Everyone else gets a pass and the ACLU to back them if they don’t. Oh well. The analogy is a good one.

April 7, 2008 @ 10:25 am #

BT -

I don’t think the case of the FLDS (Fundamentalist Latter Day Saints) case lends itself to the “They only hate Christians” argument. Just a surface knowledge of this particular group (and mine is quite a bit deeper, knowing many of them personally in Salt Lake) justifies law enforcement action against them.

I am quite confident that if a muslim group in the US was giving underaged girls to older group men, and it came to light, that it would be prosecuted fully here. Phil’s post should be an encouragement to us to resolve ourselves to keep it so.

April 7, 2008 @ 10:31 am #

Phil -

There is an interesting discussion here in how you draw your comparisons:

“Jews and Christians generally regard the law of the land as the law of God, so long as the state requires nothing of them that violates their conscience…”

vs.

“Extreme versions of Islam, however, regard the state and the law as the province of religion…”

Extreme versions of Christianity and Judaism have all believed this same thing. Your fight appears to be generally against the extremism du jour, rather than against Islam.

It is also interesting to me how Christianity as a whole was acting when it is about as old as Islam is right now. I think anything that can be done worldwide to push Islam toward maturity, in rejecting the extremists as Christians have learned to do, that should be our goal.

April 7, 2008 @ 10:31 am #

So, some “mysterious” 16 year old calls the police, that no one in law enforcment has ever seen nor talked to in person, and without any evidence whatsoever, they invade and haul off women and children without warrants and demand to search with no proof of any wrong doing. That certainly sounds like tyranny to me! I’m looking for some serious “embarrassment” for myriad law enforcement personnel in Texas. Since everyone knows that these Barney Fife types are never held accountable for their crimes, but simply “apologize” and move on. You can say whatever you want about Waco and OK City, but they were certainly a harbinger of things to come if we don’t start holding cops accountable when they break the law.

April 7, 2008 @ 10:49 am #

Robert -

Certainly, if these law enforcement officers did anything wrong in how they acted, they should be disciplined.

This particular religious group almost by its nature gives them probable cause, however. Nearly every time they appear, they are involved with DESPICABLE acts against young girls.

Choose your battlegrounds very carefully. I agree, if this was overkill and a violation of someone’s civil rights, it should be resisted with all force. Don’t be too quick to demonize law enforcement and grant sainthood to this particular religious group, however.

April 7, 2008 @ 12:58 pm #

Law enforcement doesn’t need my help to demonize themselves. The rash of downright brutality, especially involving tasers, and the history of civil rights violations speaks for itself. Cops mistakes are routinely dismissed even when people die as a result. Very rarely are cops charged and convicted for what would be a clear crime for anyone else.

Robert

April 7, 2008 @ 1:39 pm #

darkhorse,

Thanks for the info on FLDS. I knew the leader had some history, but did not realize they were well-known and notorious.

This comment:

Extreme versions of Christianity and Judaism have all believed this same thing

while not entirely nonsense, is pretty far off the mark. Even the most extreme version of Christian theocratic separatism that I can think of, the original Mormons, made the attempt to find a land of their own rather than attempt to simply enforce their own laws in places where they knew they were out of bounds.

More to the point, however, is that the versions of Christian and Jewish separatism that make this error are recognized by the mainstream as being in error, and get marginalized. Consequently, they never amount to more than a tiny blip. Extreme Islam, in the form of Wahabism or some militant forms of Shia, may constitute as many as 200 million adherents worldwide; that’s a denomination as large as the entire Eastern Orthodox church, including all its subdivisions (Serbian Orthodox, Egyptian Orthodox, etc.) Comparing “extreme” forms of Judaism and Christianity, on the one hand, with the extreme Islam we’re all dealing with these days, on the other, is hardly a one-for-one comparison.

April 7, 2008 @ 4:10 pm #

Hi Phil,

In a bit of very important history, the original Mormons specifically did NOT seek to start a land of their own. Each community that they gathered, they began to try and set up their authority in that community – first Kirkland, Ohio; then Independence, MO; and finally in Nauvoo, IL, Joseph Smith slowly built his army, began prophesying his ascendancy to the Presidency of the United States, and became a very real military threat.

While he was jailed for burning down a newspaper’s office in Carthage, IL, for printing unflattering things about the Mormons, he was killed by a mob while he was trying to shoot his way out.

It only took the Mormons three separate cities for them to discover that they were not welcome, and they fled to Utah. They were not a very good counterexample to my point, which was: that Extreme forms of Judaism and Christianity have all had times where they have regarded the state and law as provinces of religion.

Good examples supporting this include the Puritans, various iterations of the “Holy” Roman Empire when Christianity was as old as Islam is now, and the current-day Reconstructionists.

However, your point is well taken on how MANY in Islam may be leaning to the extremist side now (though I wonder, knowing human nature, how meaningful the phrase “as many as 200 million” is for the actual people on the ground).

But I note that you are really agreeing that we need to find what we can do to encourage the marginalizing of these extremists.

April 7, 2008 @ 6:41 pm #

Phil, I forgot to give credit where due. When you said:

“This comment…while not entirely nonsense, is pretty far off the mark.”

I forgot to thank you for the fraction of a compliment. Very rarely do I post here and get a “not entirely nonsense” from you.

How does your heart fit in your chest cavity?

Having a little fun there, hope it’s taken in the spirit it’s intended.

April 7, 2008 @ 7:44 pm #

I love having your Mormon history expertise around, Jim. I knew about the Mormon colony in the west fighting the US army, but I hadn’t actually read about the Mormons in the midwest. They were a pretty frightening bunch at first, weren’t they?

My heart, as you might infer from a popular story, is actually two sizes too small. But my head keeps rolling off, ’cause it’s top-heavy.

(Little joke: my wife Shelly, when she’s out doing yard work in the fall, wears these knit gloves with The Grinch on the backs of her hands. They don’t fit very well, though; they’re 2 sizes too small.)

In response to your thanks for a fraction of a compliment, yr welc.

Yes, we agree about marginalization. It’s a bit tougher to marginalize 200 million angry folks than to stick the Baal Shem Tov in a corner, though, eh? (The Baal Shem Tov was a Jewish mystic leader from the 17th century who founded Hasidism, which is those guys with the black robes, black, broad-brimmed hats, and long earlocks.)

Not sure I’m buying your point about the Puritans. That was actually a different sort of thing. In those days, the Church WAS the state, so it never had to set up laws that were separate from the state. When the Puritans rebelled in England, it was mostly because the state outlawed their religion, not because they were trying to enforce a different set of laws. Likewise with the Huguenots in France. It’s actually a very rare thing in history for Christians to try to set up a rogue state in defiance of local law, and when it does happen, it’s usually a heretical fringe group.

April 8, 2008 @ 10:04 pm #

“It’s actually a very rare thing in history for Christians to try to set up a rogue state in defiance of local law, and when it does happen, it’s usually a heretical fringe group.”

If so, may it continue to be so! But my original comparison was how Christianity acted when it was 1200 years old, as compared to how Islam is acting at roughly the same age. The heart of Christianity is the only faith with the real power, but the majority of those in a Christian culture are only acting religious, with the same fleshly stumblings as adherents to other faiths.

But I think you’ll find some interesting things if you back Christianity up 700-800 years, if not toned down a bit due to the obvious centeredness of love in our faith.

GREAT stories about the grinch gloves : P

April 8, 2008 @ 10:08 pm #

Somehow I got my age of Islam off a bit; It’s about 1400 years old. And I really did mean to speak of how Christians were acting 600-700 years ago.

Jim

April 9, 2008 @ 7:49 am #

It’s an interesting tack, to think of a religion as “X years old” rather than “operating in the year 2008.” I think that there are, in fact, growth stages movements pass through that can be measured that way, but I don’t think “willing to act as a rogue state within another state” is necessarily among them. That seems more a matter of the character — perhaps of the spirit — of the movement itself.

I think of the Catholic Church from, say, 900 AD through the middle Reformation as the ruling political monarchy of Europe, not as a religion per se. I mean, yes, it’s a church, but I think the life of Christianity was scattered through individual and local expressions all over Europe, whereas the Papacy, clergy, and surrounding organization may have had very little to do with Christ, but a lot to do with European politics. In that view we can think of Middle Ages Europe as a sort of federal monarchy with an unusually stable, non-hereditary right of succession.

I hadn’t really thought this through before, but with the discussion surrounding Islam, I’m beginning to appreciate how powerful an innovation it was for America to separate the spheres of religion and politics. I think the idea came from 17th century Reformation theologians, but it was America that actually put it into operation; even today in Britain, religion technically operates with the toleration of the state, not as a protected, separate entity with legal rights.

April 20, 2008 @ 7:01 am #

[...] I wrote earlier this month about the fundamentalism Mormon sect whose ranch was raided by Texas authorities on suspicion of child abuse. Libertarians have been up in arms regarding what they regard as “police state tactics” on the part of Texas, holding more than 400 children separate from their parents on the basis of a single, anonymous phone call alleging that an underage girl was forced to bear children and needed the state’s protection. [...]

December 1, 2008 @ 10:47 am #

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