On Friday I saw the news from the first day of the Warren Jeffs trial. Connected to the particular story that I read was audio of Jeffs teaching youth classes in his polygamous community. I was curious to hear the words and voice of a man as twisted as Jeffs has been portrayed in the media. I was surprised to find a man whose voice and tone were so mild an unpretentious. I had expected someone more commanding and authoritative, but I found someone who was earnest and soft-spoken. (This should not be taken as an endorsement for any of the doctrines of his church.)
As I learned more of the details of the case being prosecuted I was surprised to learn that polygamy was not even an issue in this case. The bride was 14 at the time she married her 19 year old cousin as his first wife. One of my brothers is almost that much older than his wife, so the age difference is of little concern. Nor have I seen any indications that the husband took a second wife at any point. I started to wonder if the prosecution is wasting time on a case that they expect to lose.
This realization got me thinking about the slippery slope we get on the moment that we start legislating against belief and not actions. I am convinced that Warren Jeffs honestly believes in the doctrines of his church – after all, he grew up with that belief system. I think of Alma 1: 17-18
. . . now the law could have no power on any man because of his belief. And they durst not steal for fear of the law, for such were punished; neither durst they rob, nor murder, for he that murdered was punished unto death.
We can’t try to stamp out a belief in the practice of polygamy. We can enforce the laws against the practice of polygamy, but this trial is set up as an attempt to dampen the beliefs of those who engage in polygamy – that is not something that the law is equipped to do, nor is it something that the law should attempt to do.