The massive raid upon a polygamist compound in Texas is one of the major violations of human rights in this country. This atrocity, shocking in its initial sweep, hugely overbroad, of children and their parents, gets worse day by day. Now the pitiful last means of parents to communicate with their children and children with their parents by cell phones has been ended by confiscation of all phones.
I do not favor polygamy. Like most of the polygamous communities I have come to know over several decades, child abuse is prohibited by their own rules. So is torture or physical abuse of any kind.
When a people are driven into the desert, into retreat from a persecuting majority culture, they may remain frozen in time — just as if they were caught in ice and frozen — to appear later in a radically changed culture during some thaw. In the 19th century, and every century before that, ages of marriage were much younger than now. I offer no excuse for the patriarchal distinction between genders though, sadly, it exists in many cultures. This I have long opposed in every dimension of society, polygamous and mainstream. But these deeply held traditions die hard. The only effective and compassionate way for this to happen is over time, with an example set by leaders.
The criminal law is a vicious thing that possesses no subtlety. We need it for protection and as a last resort. But Jesus' admonition against going to the law in all but the last, most desperate alternative is simply the recognition of the law's savagery. It possesses no subtlety and little judgment, too often, in its execution. The perpetrator of any crime of abuse upon any young boy or girl must be punished. But this massive war against polygamy is unconstitutional, savage and utterly self-defeating. This is a tragic example of the misuse of the criminal law, made much worse by the idiotic reporting by CNN, Fox and all the feeding frenzy inclinations of 24/7 news media, with blood — the blood of all the victims of abuse in this tragedy — in the water.
Have we no shame?
Ed Firmage is the Samuel D. Thurman professor of law, emeritus, University of Utah College of Law, and the author, with Collin Mangrum, of "Zion in the Courts: A Legal History of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints."