29 Jan 2011

Expert in polygamy case says society should assume all members of sects have free choice, but what about children?

The Vancouver Sun - BC, Canada December 13, 2010

Not enough research done to determine if polygamy is harmful, professor says

by Daphne Bramham

There hasn't been enough research done on Canadian polygamous communities to draw any conclusions about whether the practise is harmful, according to professor Lori Beaman.

Beaman teaches classics and religious studies at the University of Ottawa and holds the Canada Research Chair in contextualization of religion in a diverse Canada.

She testified Monday in B.C. Supreme Court in the constitutional reference case to determine whether Canada's polygamy law is valid.

While she noted that there have been several autobiographical accounts of former members of fundamentalist Mormon communities, Beaman says in her affidavit that assessing harm from that would be akin to extrapolating harms of monogamy by taking the accounts of people who have had abusive marriages.

Among the problems she cites in assessing harm is that much of the research has been done in “social, political, religious, economic, legal and cultural contexts distinct from those of North America.”

Her affidavits goes on to say, “Cultural context, rather than marriage type, may be more important for understanding harm.”

Based in research done by Angela Campbell, a McGill law professor who testified earlier in the trial, and others, Beaman suggests that women in the fundamentalist Mormon communities have been wrongly stereotyped as having no choice or being brainwashed.

Brainwashing, she says, has “been largely discredited as a valid way to see those who belong to minority religious groups.”

Beaman, who also has a law degree, suggests that rather than stereotyping, society ought to assume that all members of minority religious groups “choose to be or remain involved in religious groups.”

“Such a position does not negate taking seriously allegations of abuse or underage marriage, for example, but assumes that the religiously committed have capacity as agents to make decisions.”

Not doing that, she says, means taking “a patriarchal position which treats religious minorities as being without the ability to make decisions. It assumes that we have the right to impose a particular worldview 'for their own good' on an assessment of their religious practices that is not based on empirical fact.”

The trial continues this week before adjourning for a Christmas break.

Read Lori Beaman's affadavit here.

Read a second affadavit by Beaman here.

This article was found at:



The Globe and Mail - Canadian Press December 13, 2010

Don't look to stereotypes when deciding fate of polygamy law, professor tells court

by James Keller

The B.C. Supreme Court is being cautioned not to rely on stereotypes and prejudice to decide the fate of Canada's polygamy law.

Lori Beaman, who teaches religious studies at the University of Ottawa, testified on Monday that the law against multiple marriages shouldn't hinge on whether the religious beliefs of an obscure polygamous community fall outside what mainstream society considers normal.

“Sometimes, when we're looking at religious minority groups, we'll identify particular religious practices as harmful,” Ms. Beaman testified. “Very often, it's religious minority practices that are especially flagged as being harmful. Religious majorities don't tend to come under the same scrutiny.”

The constitutional reference case was prompted by Bountiful, a small commune in southeastern B.C. that follows a fundamentalist interpretation of Mormonism that has long been rejected by the mainstream Mormon church. Members of the Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints, or FLDS, believe polygamy will benefit them in the afterlife.

The B.C. and federal governments are arguing polygamy is inherently harmful, suggesting multiple marriage leads to child brides, teenage pregnancy, human trafficking and other problems.

The hearings have already featured testimony from former wives of polygamous communities, who have said they were subjugated and abused.

The case will also hear from women living in polygamous marriages who are expected to say they are happy with their lives and don't feel abused.

Ms. Beaman said the court should resist the urge to allow the “horrific” tales of abuse to drown out the voices of women who believe their experiences have been positive.

“We can't extrapolate from horror stories to generalizations about how relationships might look in general,” she said.

“Not to deny that there are abusive relationships and not to deny that there are horrible experiences, but we need to be careful when reading accounts not to generalize to the group as a whole.”

That would be akin to interviewing abused women at a shelter and then concluding monogamy is inherently harmful, she said.

In fact, Ms. Beaman pointed to research already presented at the hearings based on interviews with women in Bountiful.

McGill University law professor Angela Campbell, whose controversial testimony was opposed by government lawyers, said the women of Bountiful feel oppressed by the anti-polygamy law, rather than their marriages, and they don't feel they are unequal or treated poorly.

Ms. Beaman said it would be wrong to discount those women's experiences simply because their marriages are different than what's accepted by mainstream society.

“Whether I would choose to say my partner is the head of my household – I wouldn't – is irrelevant; they do,” said Ms. Beaman.

“In some of the research in polygamous relationships, we see a surprising ordinariness in some ways, we see women engaging in making financial decisions, women making decisions around raising children, simply engaged in the day-to-day business of life.”

Bountiful has been under scrutiny for more than two decades, but for years, prosecutors shied away from laying charges over concerns the polygamy law wouldn't withstand a challenge under the Charter of Rights and Freedoms.

That changed last year when a special prosecutor recommended two leaders in Bountiful be charged with practising polygamy. Winston Blackmore and James Oler were arrested in January 2009, but the charges against them were later thrown out on technical legal grounds.

Rather than appealing, the B.C. government asked the province's Supreme Court to decide whether the law is constitutional.

Mr. Blackmore is also suing the province for wrongful prosecution.

This article was found at:



Stop Polygamy in Canada website has notes taken by observers in the courtroom as well as links to most of the affidavits and research the court is considering in this case

B.C. government expert in polygamy case sets out long list of social harms, societies that abandon polygamy do better

 Court views video affidavits from Mormon fundamentalist survivors detailing pedophilia, incest, child trafficking and forced marriage

Polygamy expert tells court in constitutional case that it reduces women's freedom and equality and leads to forced marriage

Affidavits from survivors and psychologist's testimony in constitutional case show abusive nature of polygamous lifestyle

Expert witness in constitutional case on polygamy claims Bountiful women freely choose their own religious oppression

Judge allows controversial expert witness to testify in Canadian polygamy case, no decision yet on publication of video affidavits

Pro-polygamy intervenor groups make opening statements as first week of Canadian constitutional case ends

FLDS lawyer in Canadian constitutional case on polygamy claims members freely consent to plural marriage, abuse survivors disagree

Lawyer appointed to argue for striking down Canada's anti-polygamy law in constitutional case makes opening arguments

Canadian constitutional case on polygamy begins with BC government's opening statement

Unique Canadian constitutional case on polygamy set to begin November 22, 2010

Timeline of events leading up to Canadian constitutional case on polygamy which is set to begin

Survivor of abuse by Mormon polygamists documents accounts of sex crimes in the FLDS and other fundamentalist groups

Mormon fundamentalist leader asks court to exclude evidence against him in Canadian constitutional case on polygamy

Fundamentalist Mormon spokeswoman says polygamy doesn't hurt anyone

Mormon fundamentalist claims of religious persecution in Canadian constitutional case on polygamy not supported by the facts

Polygamist leader says BC attorney general guilty of religious persecution

Polygamist leader calls charges religious persecution

More persecution than prosecution

Second Mormon polygamist found guilty of child sex assault, jury doesn't buy defense claim of religious persecution

Claims of persecution ridiculous in societies where Christians have special privileges to indoctrinate children

More pro-polygamy affidavits by Mormon fundamentalists filed in Canadian constitutional case set to begin in November

Judge will allow anonymous testimony from Mormon polygamists in Canadian constitutional case on polygamy

Mormon polygamists seek immunity from future prosecution before giving evidence in Canadian constitutional case

Canadian constitutional case on polygamy triggered by Mormon fundamentalists, but will also examine Muslim communities

Utah law professor uses Mormon polygamists as example of how religious extremism leads to deliberate child abuse

Polygyny and Canada’s Obligations under International Human Rights Law (pdf)

Research paper submitted to B.C. court in constitutional case documents harms associated with polygamy

Man from Bountiful says girls in Mormon polygamist communities "treated like poison snakes", taught to obey men and have many children

Bountiful evidence that polygamy harms women and children - constitutional case likely to reach Canadian Supreme Court

Review of the positions 12 intervener groups are expected to take in upcoming Canadian constitutional case on polygamy

Some religious practices, such as polygamy, are inherently harmful and should not be tolerated in modern society

Women's adovcates: polygamy is an “oppressive institution” that abuses and enslaves women and children

Prosecuting Polygamy in El Dorado by Marci Hamilton

Senate Judiciary Committee Holds Hearings on Polygamy Crimes: What Needs to Be Done at the Federal Level to Protect Children from Abuse and Neglect

Senate hearing: "Crimes Associated with Polygamy: The Need for a Coordinated State and Federal Response."

Texas Will Attempt to Show That Polygamist Culture Itself Harms Children

FLDS defendants complain their religious freedom violated, while denying religious freedom to their children

Children in Bountiful have religious rights too, but are denied them by parents claiming religious freedom

Some Canadian children are protected from religion-related abuse, while others are not

Polygamy is not freedom

Israeli politicians and women's advocates call for immediate change to polygamy law to protect rights of women and children

New study on polygamy in Malaysia finds evidence of harm to everyone involved

Indonesian Women's Association divided on whether polygamy, which is legal in Indonesia, is harmful to women and children

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