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Letter: Prosecute assault, not polygamy

Published December 19, 2013 1:01 am

This is an archived article that was published on sltrib.com in 2013, and information in the article may be outdated. It is provided only for personal research purposes and may not be reprinted.

Polygamy opponent Kristyn Decker has a point. Polygamy through coercion, as practiced by some religious groups, does foster abuse of women and children ("Ex-polygamous women critical of new ruling," Dec. 16).

Coercion (compliance through fear) is strongest when members cannot deviate from a religion's practices and beliefs without the risk of being rejected by family and community. When indoctrination begins at an early age and when the consequences of not conforming are exclusion or expulsion, the exercise of free will is limited.

In an ideal world, the legality of polygamy could be judged against a measure of the coercion exerted by the group upon the individual, but coercion is an elusive concept, made all the more so when embedded in religion which enjoys certain constitutional protections.

Parsing the nuances of religious coercion may be too much to ask of our legal system. However, we should insist that our state prosecutors vigorously pursue cases of sexual assault of underage women. We have dragged our feet in this regard. Texas, in its prosecution of Warren Jeffs and cohort, did it better. Utah can and should do better.

Allan W. Smart

Salt Lake City