6 Jan 2011

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

The Vancouver Sun - Canada October 20, 2010

Fundamentalist affidavits steeped in myth of persecution

By Daphne Bramham | Vancouver Sun Columnist

It’s not surprising that fundamentalist Mormons say they love their polygamous lives in the affidavits they’ve sworn to support their position that practising it is their constitutional right.

What is surprising is that the affidavits are steeped in the myth of persecution. Filed in advance of the constitutional reference case which is scheduled to be heard starting Nov. 22 in B.C. Supreme Court, they reveal that almost all of the fundamentalist Mormons say they live in fear of being jailed or having their children taken away from them.

Yet, the first time fundamentalist Mormon men were charged in Canada with polygamy was two years ago, and those charges were stayed.

And even though the federal and provincial governments did take first nations and Sons of Freedom children from their families and put them in residential schools, that has never happened to fundamentalist Mormons. There are other surprises. The affidavits clearly indicate that fundamentalist Mormons believe that if the anti-polygamy section of the Criminal Code is struck down in B.C. Supreme Court, they will get all of the benefits of Canadian society and more.

They believe it would mean an unfettered guarantee of religious freedom. And, unlike polyamorists who also want the section struck down, fundamentalist Mormons want as little as possible to do with secular Canadian society.

In her affidavit, a 24-year-old woman from the fundamentalist Mormon enclave of Bountiful says attending Cranbrook’s College of the Rockies was “going into what I see as a wild and unstable world.”

“Out there people were behaving in ways that are not in accord with my beliefs — fighting, impatient, yelling, dating and breaking up, drinking, using foul language.”

In another affidavit, a woman identified as Witness No. 2 complains that Revenue Canada has cut back child-tax benefits to some plural wives. It says they are living common-law and must claim the father of the child’s income, regardless of whether others are already claiming it.

“This has been a real hardship,” she says.

In fundamentalist Mormon doctrine — unlike in the Koran — there is no requirement that men must be financially able to support all of their wives and children. There is also no limit on the number of wives fundamentalist Mormon men can have.

Witness No. 2 is the first of two wives. Married at 16, she has nine children ranging in age from seven to 26 and is a nurse and midwife.

(In an unusual ruling last month, Chief Justice Robert Bauman agreed that members of the Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints could file anonymous affidavits and testify behind screens. Only Bauman will know who the witnesses are.)

Witness No. 2 complains that the FLDS “have an extremely hard time helping women immigrate when they marry as a plural spouse as it is very hard to get medical insurance.”

She complains that education is too expensive and “the kind of jobs we can get working with our own people are mostly not high-paying jobs as we live in a small rural community.”

But integration is out of the question. “This rural life is precious to us,” she says.

So, if polygamy is legalized, she wants money for education programs for polygamous women “tailored to our needs.”

Bountiful’s bishop Jim Oler was one of the two men charged in 2008 and one of the few to file an affidavit in his own name.

Oler explains that the FLDS belief is that God decides who marries whom. God tells the prophet, who relays the message to the bride and groom.

A woman has “the privilege” of praying for inspiration of whom she should marry, says Oler. If she receives “inspiration,” she can tell the prophet.

“I am not personally aware of any case where the Prophet has refused to honour that inspiration,” Oler says in his affidavit.

The current prophet is Warren Jeffs. He is in jail in Utah awaiting retrial on charges of being an accomplice to the rape after forcing a 14-year-old girl to marry her 19-year-old first cousin. He is also awaiting extradition to Texas where he is charged with bigamy and two counts of sexually assaulting two of his child brides.

Even though Oler says both men and women “have free agency to chose whether to marry or not,” men cannot ask to marry a particular woman. They can only express a desire to be married.

In a separate affidavit, a 25-year-old unmarried Bountiful man argues that is free choice. “I will have a choice on [sic] who I will marry because I want to marry whoever God reveals to the Prophet.”

If the church leaders find out that a man is abusing his wife or children, he says, “His family will be taken from him and given to a man who will love and care for them carefully.”

“I know this seems harsh,” he adds. It’s not clear whether his empathy is for the men or for the women and children.

But what is clear is that FLDS members believe that a win in court would clear the way for them to set up a distinct society — a theocracy within our secular, liberal democracy.

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