Like Kerry Howley (who seems to have pulled her post; maybe it will come back), I’m appalled at the libertarian defenders of the FLDS. Even David Bernstein (and many, many commentators) at the usually sensible Volokh Conspiracy are characterizing the government raids as “child abuse in the name of protecting children.”
Now I understand that this sort of thing is a tough case for libertarians. Government raids on religious compounds are troubling even for me (no Libertarian I, but sort of a libertarian fellow traveler). Creepiness alone is no excuse for government raids; and worse, governments have a spectacular history of botching these things dreadfully.
And I should mention that I have no particular problem in the abstract with polygamy, or rather with polyamory. I couldn’t handle it myself, and there are excellent reasons for The State not to recognize it (actually, I think the state should be out of the marriage business altogether, but that’s a topic for another time), but I have no objection at all to other people living whatever lifestyle they choose.
It’s that “choose” part that’s important here. I admit to having no personal experience whatever with the FLDS—for which I am thankful, and in which I am just like virtually everyone else commenting on this case. But a society like theirs can exist without massive oppression of women, children, and probably all the men except the few in charge. Shouldn’t libertarians dislike oppression, whether or not it’s the government doing the oppressing? This is not to mention that it can’t exist without finding pretexts to exile most of its teenage boys, or the comparatively minor (morally minor, perhaps legally significant) fact that the FLDS supports itself through large-scale welfare fraud—“bleeding the beast,” it’s apparently called.
I don’t know how to draw the line between “acceptably weird religion” and “evil and twisted cult.” But wherever it is, the FLDS is on the wrong side of it. It makes me want to side with those annoying atheists—in fact, the first fifteen pages of Under the Banner of Heaven, John Krakauer’s account of Mormon fundamentalist murderers, are a far more effective argument against religion than everything Richard Dawkins, Christopher Hitchens, and Sam Harris have ever written.