The State and the Cults
It is true that the FLDS cult is – or should be considered – a problem for the state on several levels. Polygamy is a problem for numerous reasons, many of which have been addressed by my commenters. Other beliefs and practices of this cult are destructive and disordered (although they don’t seem so bad when compared with mainstream American culture). The state has a legitimate interest in suppressing the FLDS and discouraging its growth.
The problem is that we have a secular state that claims (falsely and deceitfully) to be neutral in matters of religion. The state has abandoned, for example, all religious justifications for the institution of marriage, and therefore cannot easily make an argument against polygamy or any other oddball marriage practices. The doctrine of religious liberty forbids the state from openly suppressing any religious cult unless a “non-religious” justification can be found.
But a secular and religiously indifferent state is not only impossible, it is foreign to Catholic social thought. The state is obliged to favor truth in religion and morality. Because of fallen human nature and the fact of religious pluralism in many places, the state is also obliged to tolerate a degree of error in order to prevent greater evils. But it is not obliged to tolerate every error, and it is sometimes obliged to legislate against error – that is, against specifically religious error, openly stating the truth of the matter without having to search for a dishonest pretext.
As is the case with Islam, the FLDS is exposing religious neutrality for the fraud that it really is. At some point the state has to discriminate. And there’s nothing inherently wrong with that. The danger, for us, is that it will end up persecuting any group that does not conform to the American Secular Religion with its gods of Materialism, Hedonism, Individualism and Egalitarianism. I believe that is exactly what we are witnessing in Texas.
I would like to see our state and local governments openly acknowledge a bias for creedal Christianity: that is, for the Catholic and Orthodox Churches and those ecclesial communions that have their origins with the Reformation. This would give the state a legal framework for dealing with cults like the FLDS (not to mention Islam). The cults could therefore be legally restrained and prevented from flourishing before reaching the level of human tragedy we are witnessing in Texas.
But let’s face it: that isn’t going to happen anytime soon. The next best thing is to try and maintain the fiction of religious neutrality in order to prevent the wrong kind of persecution. That pretty much means letting the cults do their own thing. That also means – when the time is ripe – permitting the growth of Christian enclaves throughout the land, places where Catholic values are not marginalized, where faith is not banished from the public square, and where families can preserve their children’s innocence without becoming virtual hermits.