Saturday, April 12, 2008

Persecuting polygamists

The NY Times has an article taking a critical look at the raid on the ranch of the polygamist dissenting Mormon sect, the Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints (FLDS for short). Apparently, a similar think happened fifty years ago:

In the world of fundamentalist polygamy, the phrase “Short Creek” has resonated since 1953, when the police descended on the twin communities of Hildale, Utah, and Short Creek, Ariz., now Colorado City. More than 30 men were arrested, and hundreds of children were rounded up and taken into custody. Psychological walls went up as the communities retreated and taught the young to believe that the government was the enemy.

Such a huge raid is bound to have an effect on even the girl who called the police (as of yet unaccounted for, though it seems likely that she was among the hundreds of children taken from the compound) – no matter what sort of terrible things are going on, if you are living in this insular community, and everyone you know is there, it's got to feel awful to know that you've unilaterally done something so tremendous. I'm not exactly sure what the immediate tactic should have been – regardless of how I feel about government, the fact is that a girl was being raped and beaten and the state was the only authority that had any chance at stopping it. But I think that generally legalizing polygamous marriage (or, even better, removing any references by the state to marriage!) would go a long way to getting these people to come out into society. They're doing these terrible things already, and there's little chance that there's anything anyone can do to stop such a thing from happening in the future. However, if they're allowed to come into public schools, admit how they live, and live among people without threat of the law coming down on them (at least for plural marriage), there's a higher likelihood that the members (especially the younger ones) will see the allure of not living among those sorts of people, and the church would likely fail without its secrecy. The members might be brainwashed to some extent, but the church elders are not lying to them when they say that the government is out there to ruin their way of life, and it would probably be a good idea to take that weapon away from them.

Anyway, this situation isn't unique to polygamists – the criminalization of the economic engines of American ghettos (drugs and prostitution) has the consequence of insulating those places and allowing much more heinous crimes to be committed.

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