The FBI has finally gotten with the program and put Warren Jeffs on their 10 Most Wanted list, right alongside fellow polygamist Osama bin Laden. Jeffs was profiled on "America's Most Wanted" on Saturday night, from what I understand, and the mainstream media is finally waking up to the fact that there is a cult right here in the United States that marries off girls as young as 12 years old to much older men and kicks teenage boys out of the community because they constitute "competition" to the older men who want to marry these children.
Don't believe it? You can read about this so-called "prophet of God" on the ABC News website. Jeffs is the prophet of the Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints, known as the FLDS, an offshoot of the Mormons. The two churches have been separate entities for several decades, as the LDS church in Salt Lake City are anxious for everyone to know. The FLDS follow doctrines that the LDS officially quit teaching long ago, such as plural marriage (or polygamy, with one man having many wives). The Salt Lake church still has the scriptures teaching plural marriage as part of their official canon, even though their official position is that they excommunicate anyone found to be practicing polygamy - but that is another topic for another time. The FLDS church never stopped the practice, and in fact it is one of the main tenets of their belief. A man, they believe cannot enter the Celestial Kingdom (their highest degree of glory) and become a god himself without having at least three wives. Many FLDS men have many more wives than that. Jeffs himself is said to have at least 50 wives.
Understandably, the government has a bit of problem with all of this and has indicted Jeffs on several charges having to do with sanctioning - indeed, arranging and officiating at - the marriage of such young girls as well as for molesting a male relative. This has sent Jeffs on the run, and no one outside of his followers, which number as many as 10,000 or more in the US and Canada, have seen him for over two years. I don't know what has taken the FBI so long to make catching this man a priority, unless they are afraid that they could have another situation on their hands like they did in the 1950s when they police raided the FLDS headquarters in northern Arizona in the 1950s but ended up with few or no convictions and much sympathy given to the poor fundamentalist Mormons for having their religious rights stepped on.
By letting this go on for so long, there is a very real possibility that when the Feds to catch up to Jeffs they are going to have another Waco on their hands. People who know much more about the FLDS than I do, people like Jon Krakauer (quoted in the ABC News story linked above), who wrote a book called Under the Banner of Heaven, which touches on the FLDS and their practices, fear that is what will happen.
I think the real point here is that just because someone cites a religious belief for something, that does not mean that it should be tolerated if it otherwise violates laws such as those protecting children from abuse. I'm a big fan of the First Amendment, but I don't think anyone ever intended the free exercise clause to protect people who marry off 12 year old girls to men sometimes in their 40s, 50s, and 60s. And I don't think it was meant protect people who kick teenage boys out of their own homes, ostensibly for things like watching television or talking to girls, because those boys constitute a threat to the older men who want to accumulate a collection of young wives.
If this has piqued your interest in the situation with Jeffs and the FLDS and you'd like to know more about some of the unbelievable things that have been going on right here in the United States for longer than most people realize, I would recommend that you read Jon Krakauer's book, Under the Banner of Heaven, which I mentioned above. I wrote a review of that book (scroll down to the second post; it will have the title of Krakauer's book in the post's title) in January, which will give you some idea of the territory Krakauer covers there.