Freedom of religion is the ability to manifest religion in teachings, practice, or worship, whether it is in public or private. The first amendment has always been an issue worth discussing, it stirs up many questions including, should religious practices be allowed in school? Or can rosaries be worn without having to be hidden during school time? Of course, there are more intense questions that follow. Should religious cults, such as Fundamentalist Latter Day Saints, be allowed to arrange marriages between older men and young girls for the sake of their religious beliefs? Most Americans would agree that underage marriages should not be practiced even in a religious practice.
Underage marriages are marriage unions engaged in by individuals under the age of 18. Although there are laws to protect the minor from sexual exploitation, and child trafficking, there are special situations in where underage marriage is allowed without parental consent due to teen pregnancy. Another reason for underage marriage is the practice of religious beliefs.
Warren Jeffs was the leader of a Mormon group called Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints, in Eldorado, Texas on Zion Ranch, where he performed more than 500 polygamist marriages, as well as 67 other sect marriages involving underage girls. He, himself, had 80 wives and 24 were under the age of 17. (Weissert, 2011)
Most people would agree an underage marriage is wrong, but there are some who would claim it is normal due to religious views. To people in the United States underage marriage is completely against our code of ethics but to natives in Africa marrying a child at the age of 13 is normal. They are raised to believe that child brides are all they know, they are raised into thinking women are just created to bare children and respect their husbands, just like on Zion Ranch. The children of Zion Ranch were raised to believe women were rightfully theirs to abuse as long as they are married, and the women are supposed to serve their husbands without question.
Many times the child involved, majority of the time it is a girl, is unaware of anything other than being married off that young. In the paragraph above it explains how the children are brought up to think that child marriages are acceptable. Most of the world’s outside of these religious cults are raised differently; in thinking how marriage should be at an older age and how marrying at the age of 12 is disgusting, repulsive and unacceptable. In America, children are supposed to enjoy their childhood and finish school before they get married. Many parents instill going to college and getting their lives together before getting married.
Not only is the child getting married unaware of the effects of getting married young, but they know no other option. Many times girls are married off at a young age they do not finish school so they then become uneducated. The most a child bride will receive is secondary education thus hindering her personal development, preparation for adulthood, and their ability to contribute to their family and community. Another negative factor in partaking in child marriages is the abuse the child endures not only sexual but physical and emotional abuse.
Child brides are often expected to bear children soon after marriage, which makes them vulnerable to pregnancy and childbirth complications, including obstetric fistula, a condition that causes chronic incontinence and occurs commonly in young girls who give birth before their bodies have matured. Babies born to adolescent or child mothers are more likely to die than those born to mothers over age twenty. They tend to have lower birth weights and weak immune systems, and face higher risks of malnutrition. (Laski, 2015)
Girls, who are less than the age of 15 more likely to die during childbirth than older, more mature women. The infant mortality rate is also very high because the young body of a woman is biologically not capable of maternity. Child brides are more likely to be raped during their marriage because they do not know how to speak out about the abuse they endure. Many times the younger the bride the more they are psychologically affected by the batter and sexual abuse. (Tangri, 2013)
Warren Jeffs had a secret diary in what he called his “priesthood records”, stating how he and his followers were to relocate and create a secret compound on Zion Ranch for his “religious practices”. In this secret compound there was a bed where he would rape underage girls.
The bed had to be made of hardwood, sturdy so it wouldn ‘t rattle, long enough to support Jeffs ‘ tall frame and equipped with padded sides that could be pulled up to hold him in place “as the Lord does His work with me.” “It will be covered with a sheet, but it will have a plastic cover to protect the mattress from what will happen on it,” Jeffs’ instructed.
Marriages on Zion Ranch were “spiritual marriages”, which means young girls from the ages 12 to 15 were married to the elder men of the church; many times the men were over the age of 45. (Frosh, 2008) Seven out of the twelve girls who were “spiritually married” had borne either one or more children. (King, 2012)
Laws have been created to enforce no child marriages but are they stepping on the toes of religious freedom? The Prohibition of Child Marriage Act defines child marriage as marriage in which either the girl or the boy is underage and gets married to someone who is older than the girl is under 18 years of age or the boy is younger than 21 years. (Tangri, 2013) In the case of Zion Ranch, it is clearly shown that the girls married were underage but with parental consent. So how is the jury system supposed to decide whether this is legal or not? When deciding whether the children born from the religious cult are to stay with their parents or to go into foster care what factors are supposed to come into account? Religious freedom is the ability to practice whatever religion you want whenever you want whether it be in the private of your home or in a public place. When the jury was deciding on how to deal with the cases of each and every 439 children who lived on Zion Ranch, they took into account of how the child behave, the living environment, and how they interaction of others. So overall Texas lost the battle of the children of Zion Ranch because the children weren’t in danger, but the men of that ranch were convicted of bigamy, sexual assault, endangerment of children, and failure to report child abuse.
Many cases religious cults do not look out for the children’s best interest. Marrying off young girls to older men is part of many religious practices but the negative effects outweigh the positive effects even with their religious beliefs included. The young girls have no chance to live their lives, or go out and experience the real world. They are also emotionally, physically, and psychologically scarred. After going through all the turmoil of being abused at such a young age, it is hard to turn their whole situation around and live a good life even after they have escaped their terrifying fate of child marriage. Many times there is no hope to prevent the child marriages to be prevented, but there is hope for them if more laws against child marriages is enforced throughout the United States and even in private compounds such as Zion Ranch. Religious cults should not be allowed to have underage marriages.