This summer’s Supreme Court ruling on Hobby Lobby is having a cascading effect of unintended consequences, this time potentially impacting a radical religious sect facing allegations of breaking child labor laws.
A federal judge in Utah ruled last week that a member of a Mormon offshoot known as the Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints (FLDS) was exempted from testifying in a federal child labor investigation, claiming that sharing information on the inter-workings of the church violated his religious vows.
Citing the Supreme Court’s Burwell v. Hobby Lobby decision, which last June determined that a private company could refuse birth control coverage to its employees based on religious beliefs, Judge David Sam ruled that forcing FLDS member Vergel Steed to divulge details about his sect and its leaders would place a “substantial burden” on his religious beliefs.
The Labor Department opened the investigation in December 2012 after a CNN report claimed that church leaders closed down schools and forced children, as well as adults, to work on a private ranch picking pecans without pay.
FLDS has been under intense public scrutiny for years, not just over the sect’s polygamist practices in forcing young girls to marry grown men, but also due to the actions of its controversial leadership. Former church president Warren Jeffs is currently serving a life sentence in prison, having been convicted of sexually assaulting two young girls, ages 12 and 15.