10 Nov 2010

Texas doctor protesting conviction of FLDS polygamist for sexual assault says law should allow sex with minors

San Angelo Standard-Times November 9, 2009

Protesters offer different opinions on FLDS trial

By Matthew Waller

SAN ANGELO, Texas — ELDORADO — Usually a complacent scene surrounds the Memorial Building that has housed Raymond Merril Jessop’s trial for sexually assaulting a minor.

Yellow caution tape surrounds the building, police officers chat with each other while guarding the door, and a few photographers linger on the lawn beneath pecan trees.

On Monday, however, the day of the sentencing, two protesters added to the mix, holding two poster board signs on wooden stakes, demonstrating the mix of strong opinions that the trial has caused throughout West Texas.

One sign carried a piece of a verse from Luke 6:37 of the Bible: “Judge not, lest you be not judged.”

The other said, “I wish Jesus hadn’t said that!”

The holder of the Bible verse sign, Stephen Smith, said he is a doctor from San Angelo who had examined some of the children taken from the Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints community called the Yearning for Zion Ranch in April of 2008.

“They were some of the happiest kids I’ve seen,” Smith said.

Smith said his protest was about freedom of religion for the FLDS members, saying that the laws governing sexual relationships should be subservient to religious and cultural teaching.

“God designed us to have children at that age,” Smith said of the age of certain minors. “Our Congress knows better than God,” he added sarcastically.

With regard to laws prohibiting adults from having sex with minors, Smith said, “Perhaps the law should be changed.”

Smith said the FLDS had been unfairly treated in light of other religious sexual controversies.

“How many Catholic priests do you think they have had in there?” he said, motioning to the nearby county jail.

Smith’s acquaintance Albert Myers, who was holding the other sign, said that passing judgment on Jessop was hypocritical.

“I think until we clean up our own mess, we shouldn’t be telling other cultures what they’re doing wrong,” Myers said. “You think our 16-year-olds aren’t having sex?”

Other West Texas residents, however, believe that Jessop’s crime, of which he was found guilty on Thursday, is appalling.

“I’m glad they’re going to trial, and I hope they get what they deserve,” Aldrane Schuchmann, a woman from a ranch near Sonora, said as she ate lunch in an Eldorado diner.

“Given the fact that a secret organization has moved in, I object to their religion — I object to a religion that exploits women and children — even though there is freedom of religion,” she said.

Her sister Ruth Espy agreed. “I hope justice is served,” Espy said.

Jan Barton, who works at a grocery store in Eldorado, said that religion was being used as an excuse to break the law.

She watched part of the trial from the gallery.

“I’m just a normal, everyday citizen,” Barton said just outside the courthouse. “Those men are nothing but sexual perverts in the guise of religion.”

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