Is the Warren Jeffs Case Religious Prosecution?

Wednesday, September 26th, 2007

David Friedman asks, Is the Warren Jeffs Case Religious Prosecution?

I haven’t followed the case very closely, but it seems a distinctly strange one. Jeffs is charged with being an accessory to rape. The person who, on the prosecution’s theory, committed the rape isn’t being charged with anything. Jeffs’ crime, so far as I can tell, is using his authority as a religious leader to persuade a girl into a marriage that she now says she didn’t want. That might be a good reason not to accept his religion, but treating it as a felony strikes me as a considerable stretch.

What happens if we we apply the same legal theory to a more respectable religion, say the mainline LDS? Mormons are expected to pay a substantial part of their income as tithes. One can easily imagine an ex-Mormon who grew up in a small town where everyone was a member of the church testifying that he paid his tithes because of religious and social pressure, even though he never wanted to. If true, does that make the local bishop an accessory to robbery or extortion?

Suppose Jeffs is convicted. Isn’t the clear implication that preaching certain religious doctrines, such as the authority of fathers over daughters and husbands over wives, is now illegal, at least if people believe the preaching and act on it?

Am I missing something?

The age of consent in Utah is 14.

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