More Hobby Lobby Fallout

[Content Note: Religious supremacy; child abuse.]

Citing Burwell v. Hobby Lobby, the Supreme Court's decision last June holding that the religious objections of a business' owners could trump federal rules requiring that business to include birth control coverage in its health plan, a federal judge in Utah held last week that a member of a polygamist religious sect could refuse to testify in a federal investigation into alleged violations of child labor laws because he objects to testifying on religious grounds.

The case involves the Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints (FLDS), a religious sect with as many as 10,000 members [led by Warren Jeffs, who is currently in prison after he was convicted of sexually assaulting two underage girls who he claimed have taken as wives].

...The federal child labor investigation arose from a CNN report investigating claims that Jeffs "ordered all schools closed for a week so children could go to work picking pecans off trees at a private ranch" in Utah. The report included video of "hundreds of children, many of them very small" working on the ranch. When the reporters arrived, CNN also caught video of the FLDS children fleeing the cameras.

Yet, according to an order signed by Judge David Sam, a Reagan appointee to a trial court in Utah, the federal officials investigating this alleged violation of child labor laws will not be able to require an FLDS member named Vernon Steed to provide information that could aid the investigation because Steed objects to giving certain testimony on religious grounds. Steed claims that he's made "religious vows 'not to discuss matters related to the internal affairs or organization of the Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.'" According to Judge Sam's opinion, that's enough to exempt him from providing the testimony he does not want to give.

...[Judge Sam ruled] that the federal government's efforts to obtain Steed's testimony is a "substantial" burden on his faith.
Incredible. Not only does this even more deeply entrench religious privilege in this nation, to an absurd degree, conferring an extraordinary amount of latitude to religious people who want their own individual rule of law, but it also creates an environment in which any institution or organization which calls itself religious can break the law with surety no accomplices in the lawbreaking can be compelled to testify, as long as they've taken a "religious vow" not to discuss internal affairs.

Which, you know, might sound like unjustified alarmism except for the fact that one of the largest religious institutions in the world has spent decades orchestrating a vast conspiracy to conceal the widespread sexual abuse of children.

Precisely what we don't need is more opportunity for religious organizations to evade legal accountability for criminal harm.

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