photo credit: Amsterdamned!
The recent events occurring in Texas in relation to the FLDS community have spawned a number of arguments—some sound, some horribly ignorant. Indeed, it seems that the prosecution (or persecution) of this religious community has caused a knee-jerk reaction among some, leading people to support Texas’ actions without considering the constitutionality, legality, or morality of the issue.
One common argument I’ve been hearing lately has to do with what is sometimes referred to as “group justice”. This position claims that since abuse is (allegedly) so widespread among this group, the government should have the power to intervene and remove all children, regardless of age or participation in said abuse. Proponents of this position further argue that the foundational maxim “innocent until proven guilty” is not valid in this circumstance, since children are being abused and action is needed to remove them from this situation. Due process, they claim, takes too long and allows for the abuse to continue. Additionally, these advocates argue that even though no crimes have taken place with regards to every single individual (collectively removed due to the widespread occurrence of abuse), it is likely that the culture in which they will mature will encourage this mentality and lead to continual abuse down the road. Early intervention, they then state, is required.
This argument creates one of the most slippery slopes fathomable in regards to justice and individual rights. Individual rights are cast aside in this scenario, since one child can be punished for the actions of another person. A shared religion, belief system, or neighborhood is deemed sufficient by those in authority to warrant removal, under the assumption that these shared traits will lead the individual child to become a victim or perpetrator in the future.
Not only does this argument run roughshod over individual rights, but it also eliminates accountability. This principle—that each individual is responsible for their own actions—is a fundamental part of LDS theology, mentioned in the second Article of Faith, Ezekiel 18, D&C 134:1, and other scriptures. In essence, God has instructed us that individuals are to be held accountable for their own actions, and nobody else’s.
Eloquently summarizing this principle, Elder Andersen once wrote how group justice is a fallacy that allows for injustice to prevail:
There is no such thing as group justice. There is only individual justice. Rights and duties, punishments and rewards can be dispensed only according to individual merit and not at all according to membership or non-membership in any particular group. The idea of group justice is a mirage or an illusion because justice cannot be administered to groups. It is nothing but a clumsy fraud designed to increase the power of government at the expense of human rights. (H. Verlan Andersen, via Quoty)
Scoffing at such philosophizing, proponents of the previously mentioned argument cite statistics (as reported by the media) showing a high rate of teenage pregnancy as justification for their stance. These individuals apparently feel that lawlessness among the majority of a group is sufficient to punish the group at large and use the force of government to prevent any possibility of the action occurring in the future.
But where does it stop? Am I to fear losing my own children someday based on the actions of my neighbor or fellow worshiper? If a family member becomes abusive, should I worry about being prosecuted myself for the crimes he committed?
As Elder Andersen noted, so-called group justice ultimately serves for nothing more than to enlarge the power and authority of the government at the expense of the individual. While those in charge claim they are doing it “for the children” (or the group to whom justice is supposedly being rendered), their destructive actions show their true colors.
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