Source: The Economist
The case illustrates the tension between religious freedom and human rights in democracies
Many of today’s hottest arguments about religious freedom involve idiosyncratic micro-communities which impose on themselves (and on their children) norms of life which the rest of society finds bizarre or worse.
That is one reason why a polygamy trial which recently opened in the Canadian province of British Columbia has attracted attention throughout the country and among law-and-religion pundits across the world.
The trial focuses on a fundamentalist religious community called “Bountiful”. The group is home to Canada’s best-known avowed polygamist, Winston Blackmore, as well as his former brother-in-law James Oler. Both have been charged with polygamy under legislation which has existed for more than a century but has proved virtually impossible to apply because of countervailing considerations about religious freedom. “Bountiful”, which was founded in 1946, has its roots in offshoots from the American Mormon church whose mainstream leadership eschewed polygamy in 1890. The Mormons now take a very dim view of small holdout communities across North America who still engage in multiple marriage, and have fought legal battles against them.
The indictment in the current trial lists 24 women who have been ceremonially married to, or had conjugal relations with Mr Blackmore, while four women are listed as wives of Mr Oler. Mr Blackmore has never hidden the fact that he has multiple wives who have borne him at least 145 children.