The First Amendment does not allow child abuse

By Debra LoGuercio

©Copyright 2008, Debra LoGuercio, all rights reserved

I guess we have to stop picking on the Muslim world for oppressing women under the guise of religion when it’s happening right here in the U.S. The April 7 raid on the Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints (FLDS) compound in Eldorado, Texas, resulting in 400 children and their mothers being taken into protective custody, revealed a nightmarish world of cruelty and repression that rivals anything the Middle East has to offer.

At least the Eldorado women weren’t being shot through the head for exposing an ankle. However, they were denied their civil rights, public education and employment, as well as contact with the outside world (including newspapers and television), and were forced to dress a certain way. They became the property of husbands they didn’t choose, and besides satisfying the pedophilic urges of their husbands, their main role was to produce children. Or as Margaret Atwood so succinctly wrote in “The Handmaid’s Tale,” they were nothing more than “two-legged wombs.”

But this isn’t Atwood’s allegorical world of Gilead, nor is it beautiful downtown Kabul. It’s our own heartland! The main difference between an Afghani woman living under Taliban rule and a woman from the FLDS compound is that one’s wearing a tablecloth and the other is dressed like an extra from “Little House on the Prairie.”

Oh, one more difference: the American woman is protected by the U.S. Constitution, the Bill of Rights and the entire United States legal system. Supposedly.

The Eldorado raid revealed a snake pit of rape, incest, child molestation and abuse. If you or I committed any of these crimes, we’d go to straight to jail. And rightly so. But if we do those things as part of our religion, we get a free pass.

(Note to God: You will not BELIEVE what people are doing in your name down here. Note to Jesus: Ditto.)

The First Amendment protection of freedom of religion doesn’t allow breaking the law. If Jehovah’s Witnesses started poking out kittens’ eyes for Jehovah or if Baptists started robbing banks for Jesus, we’d be all over it. So why aren’t we all over the FLDS for practicing rampant child abuse?

The information coming from the Eldorado raid was shocking. But not unknown. The government has known for at least two years what was going on there. The former leader of that sect, Warren Jeffs, was on the FBI’s Most Wanted list from May 2006 until his arrest in August 2006. Last fall, he was convicted of being an accomplice to the rape of a 14 year old and sentenced to prison in November. Didn’t anybody at the FBI think of putting two and two together and check out what was taking place in Eldorado? They knew what was going on in 2006. How many adolescents were raped and impregnated in the span of two years? And the U.S. government looked the other way? Theoretically, doesn’t that make the government an accomplice to the crimes?

And, statutory rape and pedophilia aren’t even the worst of it. Carolyn Jessup, a former member of that exact sect and author of “Escape,” which details her experience growing up in the FLDS world, appeared on “The Today Show” last week to discuss it. She told how husbands punish unruly wives by hurting their children. Nothing keeps a woman in line like making her watch her child being mercilessly whipped.

It gets worse. Jessup described the practice of “breaking babies.” Infants are spanked – for no reason -- until they’re crying hysterically, then their faces are held under running water until they choke. It continues until they collapse from exhaustion, and resumes until the babies learn not to cry when spanked.

They call this “waterboarding” when it’s being done to prisoners at Gitmo. They also call this “torture.” Does the First Amendment include torture as a religious freedom? Or statutory rape, incest and pedophilia? Beyond the FLDS world, consider the two recent stories of children who were denied medical care for curable conditions because their parents chose prayer over medical care. The children suffered horribly and eventually died, but that’s okay, said the parents -- it was God’s will.

Yeah, right.

Whether it’s serial pedophilia or waterboarding an infant or allowing your child to die from appendicitis, we need to call it what it is: child abuse. Not religion. The First Amendment protects a lot of rights. But not the right to abuse your child or forcibly impregnate a teenager. Not even for Jesus.

OUT OF OFFICE COUNTDOWN: 41 weeks until the torture ends.