Tuesday, April 22, 2008

USA: Religious Freedom- for whom?

The raid of the FLDS compound in Eldorado, Texas two weeks ago brings our country's stance on religious freedom to the forefront of political debate once again. 437 children were removed from the polygamist compound two weeks ago. The children were first placed in the San Angelo Coliseum, where, amidst a spread of chicken pox, mandatory DNA testing has taken place for the past two days. More than a dozen buses filled with children left today, supposedly to bring them to local foster families as the courts decide their fate.

The raid began following a phone call from a 16 year-old girl claiming she had been abused in the compound by her husband, well over 50 years old. The girl, however, has yet to be identified. Legally speaking, a child will be removed by the state only when probable cause dictates that the child faces imminent danger. While America loves to hate the polygamist, it seems as though the state of Texas overstepped its bounds here. There was hardly probable cause that all 437 of these children faced imminent danger. The argument could certainly be made that girls, forced to marry older men, faced imminent danger of sexual assault. But what about the boys? What about girls so young, even 5 or 6, that they certainly would not be married off? What imminent danger did they face?

Several state officials have commented that all the children seem happy, healthy, polite, and eager to work. One state official gave a detailed account to People magazine of the children's rosy cheeks and porcelain skin. They are unaffected by the outside world of television, video games, school shootings, war, and terrorist attacks. Some might argue that these children are so naive, they're pure. Does this sound like imminent danger to you? Given the current state of the economy, it's not as though families are lining up to adopt or serve as foster parents. Should we really be putting more of a drain on social services? Or should we conserve our resources for those who truly need it?

It boils down to this: the US government grants religious freedom to those who conform to the religious norms of our society. If your religion mandates practices the government deems unacceptable, your religious freedom, and in this case your child, is taken away. It brings us to this fundamental question: who has the privilege of deciding what is right and what is wrong? Who draws the objective, seemingly arbitrary, lines and constructs the codes of morality? It seems a bit hypocritical to argue that the US government, will all its flaws, should have the authority to dictate this sort of policy.

Now don't get me wrong, I think polygamy is an abominable practice and I'm almost taken aback that I am advocating for the families of FLDS. I think it demeans the value of women and it demolishes the integrity of the men who engage in this behavior. That being said, my point is that I am able to recognize that the above statements are normative in nature and simply reflect my opinions. I am, myself, a product of a religious upbringing, and the moral codes I was raised with undoubtedly impact my beliefs on the issue. The state of Texas is prescribing a value-based course of action here, based on their own ideas of religious norms, for these children and it explicitly violates our Constitution. "Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof..."

My ultimate fear, with regard to the government's actions, is selfish in nature. What happens if they decide my religion is outside the norm? What happens when non-egalitarian Judaism, where men and women are separated by a wall as they pray, is regarded as discriminatory? Will someone argue that women who dress modestly or cover their hair are being subjugated? Observant Jewish women tend to marry young as well. Luckily for now, the trend is deemed societally acceptable because it is typically at ages above that legally required for consent. But what if the age of consent is raised? Will the current elaborate Jewish weddings be banned to household basements? Based on past performance, it is plausible to fear the raids of synagogues across the country. Point being: I'm lucky my religion is in line with the government's beliefs, because this case has taught me that if they're not, I'm screwed.

Get the latest news on the FLDS raid, here.

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