on my radar: warren jeffs and sharia bans

The Warren Jeffs trial is a good example of news coverage of fundamentalist religious groups. That is the sentence I wrote before I typed “warren jeffs” into Google on Monday night and saw this:

Seriously. I’m not clever enough to make that up. I feel for the San Angelo Standard Times. I’m sure they, too, are overworked and understaffed. Props to them for being the top result even with a dummy hed (aka placeholder headline), I say. In the third result, I don’t think the word “allegedly” is necessary at all. It would have been easier to write “DNA expert says” or “doctor testifies,” and it wouldn’t carry the undertone of “allegedly.” (As AP says: “This word must be used with great care.”) Interesting that it came from the Salt Lake Tribune. Oh, and the second result? Yes, Jeffs most clearly was turning his trial into a sermon on polygamy. (He also threatened the jurors and the judge with God’s wrath.)

Jeffs’ case reminded me of some lawmakers’ efforts to ban Sharia law from U.S. courts. Legislation has popped up in a few states this year to prohibit state judges from considering foreign laws or rulings that violate constitutional rights.

One argument typically used in favor of a ban on Sharia in U.S. courts, The New York Times writes:

Critics most typically cite a New Jersey case last year in which a Moroccan woman sought a restraining order against her husband after he repeatedly assaulted and raped her. The judge denied the request, finding that the defendant lacked criminal intent because he believed that his wife must comply, under Islamic law, with his demand for sex.

The decision was reversed on appeal.

If the judge and jury in Warren Jeffs’ case were to take his religious beliefs into consideration, could he be pardoned? Jeffs — who is charged with sexually assaulting two girls, 12 and 15 years old — has been defending himself for a little while, and he has more than once quoted “the word of the Lord” in court or in legal documents. Under the New Jersey judge’s logic, Warren Jeffs’ religious beliefs (which are fundamentalist and not in line with the Church of Latter Day Saints) most certainly would mean he lacks criminal intent. He believes that he is the voice of God on Earth, and so do his followers, meaning the girls’ parents would be innocent, too. The most recent issue of Bitch has a fascinating article about Mormonism. It doesn’t seem to be on their website, but here’s a sample:

A primary way you’ll progress is by becoming a god or goddess, and by procreating your own spirit children. … God becomes a literal father of all human souls in the way men on this planet typically become parents of embodied children: He has sex.

The belief that a man can be married for eternity to every woman he marries on earth—and that in fact it’s righteous to marry multiple women so he can produce spirit children more efficiently —is a justification for the doctrine of polygamy …

So, if New Jersey court decision stood, you could see where a good attorney could argue that Jeffs lacked criminal intent — whether he committed the crimes or not. (Although DNA evidence shows that Jeffs is the father of the 15-year-old victim’s baby.)

And if religious beliefs could prove a lack of criminal intent, Anders Behring Breivik could be pardoned for the attacks in Norway, because of his fundamentalist Christian beliefs. But he might be going with an insanity defense. Fine line.

So why a call to arms over Sharia? It’s hard to argue that only fundamentalist Muslims commit crimes, even horrific attacks. Furthermore, it’s hard to argue that only fundamentalist Muslims use their religious beliefs to justify said crimes. The legislative campaign against Sharia, to me, is reminiscent of France’s ban on face veils. Leading a campaign against a particular set of beliefs — instead of addressing separation of church and state — perpetuates fear and hate instead of promoting empathy and respect. In fact, that kind of behavior was something the founding fathers clearly sought to prohibit.

Pop quiz: What’s the first protection in the First Amendment?

Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise therof …

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