Saturday, May 13, 2006

LAT Report On Polygamy Shows Price Of Religious Fanaticism

When Utah was made a state, I believe in 1893, it was on condition that the Mormon Church abandon its doctrine endorsing polygamy. This was entirely proper, since it was recognized that polygamy was not compatible with general American values.

For many years, the federal judge appointed in Salt Lake, usually a non-Mormon, enforced its termination and polygamists were prosecuted. But that hardline policy has lapsed in recent years.

The result was on display in two L.A. Times front page articles Friday and Saturday, and it is shocking indeed.

"I have a corner of my state that is worse than (under) the Taliban," the attorney general of the state of Utah told Times writers David Kelly and Gary Cohn, and that is the bitter truth of the situation.

The articles document beyond any reasonable doubt that older men are allowed to prey on young girls, that hundreds of boys are expelled at young ages to prevent competition with the dirty old men, and that a veritable tyranny has been established in Colorado City, Ariz., just across the line from Utah. Dissidents are prosecuted by this version of Iranian mullahs, and the regular state justice systems have failed to protect basic human rights in a whole community.

There is another unfortunate parallel to the terrible conditions existing among Muslims. Just as millions of Muslims may not approve of the brutal actions taken by the fundamentalists, but, like the proverbial three monkeys have seen no evil, heard no evil or speak no evil, so many conventional Mormons have not taken any steps to reign in or oppose their fundamentalists either. The consequences have been abuses of the worst sort. It also reminds one how few Germans stood up against Hitler.

Any country has a right, within broad parameters, to crack down on such conduct. When, as in Iran, the central government itself is guilty of the depredations, then there should be an uprising or outside intervention. Religious freedom cannot and should not be used as an excuse for inaction, or the whole world may be ultimately taken over by the fanatics. Then we would go back to Calvinism, when people were executed for not going along with crazy religious beliefs.

One thing that is apparently common to many fundamentalist religious groups is mistreatment of women and children by men. We see this in Iran and the Arab countries. Now, it turns out, it also exists on our own soil.

Also, a main line of the Times report is the complicity of elected officials, who have failed in their responsibilities to crack down on these excesses. It is all reminiscent of the situation at Jonestown, where the head of the community, Jim Jones, orchestrated a mass suicide of fearsome proportions after outsiders began to interfere. Jones had built relationships with many California politicians who were not smart enough or courageous enough to take him and his goofy religion on earlier.

There is a lesson here. The whole world is under siege by these nuts, and we cannot stand aside safely.

Lest you fear otherwise, I should emphasize I have nothing against the regular Mormon Church. Indeed I have a high regard for its building of Utah, and, it happens, one of my father's roommates at the Naval Academy was a Mormon. But the Mormon Church as a whole has an obligation to fight against extremist offshoots.

This was a distinguished week for L.A. Times investigative reporting. Today, also, we learn in a headline article that Kaiser Permanente will abandon its inept and even deadly kidney transplant program in Northern California, and transfer patients to University of California hospitals, thanks to the articles by Charles Ornstein and Tracy Weber. It's another demonstration of the value of newspapers.

But it's too late for Kaiser. It will not be able to avoid many costly lawsuits.

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