Polygamy and child rape under the guise of religion

Coconino County Sheriffs Office

Another horror show of a story arrived this week, this one coming to us from northern Arizona. The FBI has arrested Samuel Bateman, 46, on multiple charges related to child trafficking and related activities. Bateman had previously been a member of the FLDS (Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints) before moving to Arizona and setting up his own “church” and identifying himself as a prophet. He wound up accumulating some followers, along with at least twenty wives and an unknown number of children. The majority of the wives were reportedly underage. Federal agents had been investigating this case and making arrests since August, but the damage done to so many of Bateman’s followers will probably take a lifetime to unravel. (Associated Press)

The leader of small polygamous group near the Arizona-Utah border had taken at least 20 wives, most of them minors, and punished followers who did not treat him as a prophet, newly filed federal court documents show.

Samuel Bateman was a former member of the Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints, or FLDS, until he left to start his own small offshoot group. He was supported financially by male followers who also gave up their own wives and children to be Bateman’s wives, according to an FBI affidavit.

The document filed Friday provides new insight about what investigators have found in a case that first became public in August. It accompanied charges of kidnapping and impeding a foreseeable prosecution against three of Bateman’s wives — Naomi Bistline, Donnae Barlow and Moretta Rose Johnson.

As noted, most of the people who joined Bateman’s cult (and let’s face it… this was a cult) seem to have been completely under his thrall. Male followers gave up their own wives and children to be the “prophet’s” wives. Three of the wives have been arrested for taking a number of the children and fleeing the state. Even after the law was closing in, they still seemed to be trying to defend the cult leader.

Most of the wives were underage, including some who are 15 or possibly even younger. Even the children refused to accuse Bateman of any sexual abuse when interviewed by authorities. The grip he must have had on his “flock” seems astounding. But the feds eventually caught up with Warren Jeffs for similar activities (he’s currently in prison) and now they seem to have brought down Bateman.

So how are we to view a case like this in terms of marriage, families, and faith? Bateman is technically part of a recognized religion (though I’m not sure how the faith feels about people suddenly declaring themselves to be prophets) so does he have any sort of First Amendment rights to lean on here?

He’s being charged with child trafficking for the purpose of sexual activity, which seems like sort of a no-brainer. He’s claiming all of the girls as his wives, but polygamy is illegal in Arizona and it seems doubtful that the law would recognize most of those marriages, particularly the ones involving underage girls. And yet, if no one from his compound is filing any complaints against him with the authorities, coming up with a stack of convictions will likely be challenging.

I realize that my libertarian views on marriage and the limited role the government should play in such questions are a bit outside of mainstream conservatism. I will confess that I have sometimes wondered if plural marriages like “throuples” should be allowed. (Not that I would have any interest in attempting it.) But this situation with Samuel Bateman is several bridges too far even for me. The simple fact that he was rounding up a herd of underage girls for orgies should be enough to put him behind bars for a very long time.

As far as his religious freedom goes, everyone is free to practice their own faith or none at all as far as I’m concerned. But declaring something to be a part of your faith does not exempt you from the law. It doesn’t sound as if Bateman was “saving” anyone’s souls in his compound and the mental and emotional damage he will almost certainly leave in his wake cry out for some sort of punishment.

I leave the conclusions up to each of you to decide for yourselves. Was the collection of people living in this man’s compound a “family?” Should they have simply been left to themselves to follow their own version of worship? We would have to flex the definition of “family” a very long way to do so, at least in my opinion. And as I already said, this wasn’t a church. It was a cult. But we’ll keep an eye on how this plays out in the courts. The government had a very difficult time building a case against Warren Jeffs and it took several attempts to finally put him behind bars. And Samuel Bateman is using one of the same attorneys that Jeffs did. This could be a long and messy legal trail.


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