The child welfare operation that saw more than 400 children taken from a polygamist sect in Texas very recently will likely see challenges to its legality. This is because the Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints is not some small group operating in just one area. The church operates not only nationally, but internationally. It even has a church in the Philippines, right smack in the middle of the Makati business community.
At the root of the pending legal problem is the separation of church and state, as guaranteed by the Constitution. In this day and age, it seems almost shocking to learn that the practice of having more than one wife – defined as bigamy for having two wives and polygamy for having three or more – is still acceptable. It places women in an inferior position to men. But because some religions still allow this seemingly archaic practice, the state is caught in the middle.
There may have been some justification in the past. Muslims accepted it due to the number of their warriors killed in battle, leaving behind poor widows to otherwise fend for themselves. Christianity, on the other hand, does not follow the practice. Yet here is a church that calls itself a Christian denomination allowing its followers to have more than one life partner.
Moreover, the Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints allows minors to wed men much older than themselves. This was one reason why the state authorities of Texas undertook the operation to save the young girls. One had complained that she was being turned into a virtual slave.
It is difficult to judge the members of this church for a practice that they consider perfectly acceptable and normal. Still, there is something inherently wrong in forcing minors to be forced into marriages against their free will. This church has other practices that seem quaint in the modern world. They believe that the end is near and they should therefore prepare for this eventuality. The coming of the apocalypse means, for them, the need to take extreme measures is an absolute must. They exist in a world of their own making, as if time had stopped at the onset of the Industrial Revolution.
They are not alone, either. At the extreme, we have other religions that reject the comforts and amenities of modern life. There are the Amish and the Mennonites, who forbid the use of motorized vehicles, prefer a farming existence for all, and reject any form of financial assistance from the government. Who are we to say they are wrong?
In truth, every adult must be free to choose his or her religion, for so long as that religion does not harm others of different faiths and beliefs, or non-beliefs in the case of atheists. This holds true for every society that calls itself civilized. What happened in Texas, however, challenges one of the core beliefs and practices of the church – allowing children under 16 to marry. Texas law forbids this, yet the church had been practicing it since inception. When the rescue operations began, there were fears that it could degenerate into the tragedy that was the siege of the Branch Davidian sect in 1993. We all know what happened back then. What happens next is not a religious or a political problem. It is a social problem. More than 400 children were rescued from the only life they have ever known. They may end up being forced to live in a modern world they are ill equipped to face. We can only hope that none of them suffers any permanent psychological problem as a result.