Fundamentalist Mormons harvest the community garden along with their children at the Rockland Ranch community outside Moab, Utah, November 3, 2012.
Photo by Jim Urquhart/Reuters
The Fundamentalist Church Of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (FLDS), a polygamous breakaway sect of the Mormons, is exploiting a recent ruling by the US Supreme Court to avoid answering questions about its alleged use of child slave labour on a church-owned farm. The allegation is that church leaders ordered the closure of its schools so that the children could work on the farm for up to eight hours a day, without pay, to get the pecan nut harvest in. This matter has been under investigation by the US Department of Labor since 2012.
Now church member Vergel Steed, who had been refusing to answer questions about the matter on the grounds that his religion forbids him from naming church leaders, has won backing from U.S. District Court Judge David Sam in Utah, who has ruled that the Supreme Court ruling in the 'Hobby Lobby' decision applies. This now appears to give exemption to anyone who claims it goes against his or her religious beliefs from giving evidence in court or answering questions by investigators.
The 'Hobby Lobby' decision relates to a claim by Hobby Lobby, under the Restoration of Religious Freedoms Act (RRFA), 1993, that to pay for a contraceptive element in the healthcare of its employees under the Affordable Care Act ('ObamaCare') would violate their religious freedom. Until this ruling, objectors had to demonstrate that an action by a government agency placed a 'substantial' religious burden on an individual. The Supreme Court decision, by a 5-4 majority, now seems to mean that it only need place any religious burden on an individual.
I think it is quite predictable that the court's decision in Hobby Lobby would open the door to such claims of an exemption from laws for religious reasons. I fear it is just the start of cases of people claiming religious exemptions from general laws.In effect, it means a US Government agency can do almost nothing because anyone can claim they have a religious objection to it and so are exempt from complying with it. This amounts to nothing more than putting religion back in the driving seat and circumventing the entire purpose of the First Amendment which was intended to ensure the USA remained a secular society. How long will it be before someone decides that paying taxes is against his or her religion, or taking a driving test, or 'suffering a witch to live', or not being allowed to own slaves, beat his wife or sell his daughters as sex slaves?
Erwin Chemerinsky, Dean of UC-Irvine School of Law
The irony is that the requirement for employers to contribute to the health insurance costs of their employees was in the Republican (i.e. right-wing Christian) alternative to the President's original proposals to bring affordable healthcare to all Americans and so bring America's standard of healthcare up to the standard taken for granted in almost all other economically developed countries, rather than the third-world standard for the 40% of Americans with no health insurance, and the best care strictly price-rationed and so the preserve of the rich and middle classes. For reasons which remain obscure, conservative Christians on the extreme right of American politics had discerned fundamental theological objections to providing good healthcare to poor people, which somehow they had also managed to equate to Communism, and so had fought a protracted campaign against it, which resulted in the compromise to which Hobby Lobby had objected.
The result of this right-wing Christian rearguard action designed to keep poor people (which in America almost always means Black and Hispanic people) in poor health and welfare dependency is that even those using child slavery for gain have now got a measure of protection and immunity from investigation and prosecution.
Astonishingly, substantial numbers of those Black and Hispanic people have been fooled by their churches, which dominate local TV and radio, into believing that their religion requires them to vote for the very same conservative Christians who use their religion as an excuse to keep them in their place as the American underclass and so keep labour costs down and profits high.
Meanwhile, if you have a farm in America and want to employ child slave labour to get the harvest in at almost zero cost, make sure you have a religious reason for doing it. It doesn't matter which religion, apparently. Even a recently made up one like Mormonism will do but it would be better if you also had a few schools you can close as and when necessary, thanks to the Christian right.