"I am at peace."
These were the only words uttered by child molester and polygamist church leader Warren Jeffs as he stood in front of a Texas jury of his peers. A jury that returned guilty verdicts against him on charges that he sexually assaulted two girls. 12 and 15. Girls he held out as being his "spiritual wives." The 15 year old got pregnant. The 12 year old he had the good taste to violate in the presence of 3 other "wives."
It took the jury 3 and half hours to come back with its verdicts. My buddy Don wondered why it took that long, especially since Jeffs didn't actually put on a defense. Indeed, he fired his lawyers on the eve of the trial. My feeling was that the jury felt that if Jeffs was going to waste their time by standing mute before them for most of the 30 minutes he was allotted for closing argument that they might as well hold out for their free lunch courtesy of the State of Texas. Might as well get 2 things accomplished.
Actually, Jeffs tried to interpose any of a number of defenses, mainly based on the theory that his prosecution was in violation of his religious freedoms. These religious defenses were routinely shot down by the Judge who-pardon the expression-exhibited the patience of Job during Jeffs's ramblings, even when she was advised that God had appeared to him in his cell,and told him that "a whirlwind of Judgment" would be unleashed if he were not set free.
Well, why didn't God just go ahead and bust him out, God being God and all? But I digress.
This is a teachable moment about where our 1st Amendment rights start and the criminal law ends them.
In this great land of ours, even in quasi-theocracies like Texas, Utah and apparently Hot Springs, Arkansas, you are free to believe anything you damn well please. You are free to visit both the Catholic church and the Methodist church as I occasionally do. Or did. Or you can stay home and watch The Sports Reporters on ESPN as I generally do. You can believe that there is no God. Or that there are Gods.
You can even believe that you are God's spokesman on Earth as does Warren Jeffs and his weak-minded acolytes. However, your religious beliefs will not provide you with a defense if you violate the criminal laws. Or many of the civil laws either.
True story. A lady in Mississippi filed a Chapter 13. She was asked by the Trustee at the First Meeting of Creditors why she hadn't filed an income tax return in years. Simple she said. She didn't have to pay taxes because she worked for a church. Wrong. Ask Richard Roberts.
God may tell me to smoke dope. He can be my great comfort in times of woe. But He can't be my defense if I get popped on a drug charge.
Same with Warren Jeffs, he obviously believed his station in the universe to be sufficiently exalted that it entitled him to 78 "wives" and to engage in sex with children. As a footnote, I think the main reason I could never be a religious sex pervert is that I would not like living in a compound with damn near a 100 people. I like to be by myself too much.
What is it about America that produces a Warren Jeffs, a Tony Alamo or a David Koresh? Try as I might I can't really come up with a recent European counterpart. Even at that, I am convinced that Alamo is mainly a criminal. Unlike Warren Jeffs, Alamo had the relatively good judgment to cross State lines to go get his underage concubines. So he is pulling his time in a Federal joint. Jeffs will likely be spending the rest of his days in a Texas State prison where he will be forced to engage with a rougher crowd than what he is accustomed to.
Jeffs may well believe that he is God's spokesman on Earth. But that didn't cut much ice with that jury down in West Texas.
I doubt it'll cut much ice with God either.