Religious freedom does not include the right to exemption from prosecution for violating the state’s duly passed and constitutionally adjudicated laws. Let’s be clear: The First Amendment’s religious freedom and free speech guarantees protect a person’s right to advocate polygamy and “spiritual” marriage with girls as young as 13, but the First Amendment does not allow you to act upon such beliefs when they contravene state or federal law. Adults having sex with underage girls is statutory rape and is illegal.
Like most Americans, I agree that the safety of children must always take priority in government’s actions. That does not give government officials a blank check to use children’s “welfare” as a subterfuge to justify governmental intrusion or to disrupt any practice it finds vaguely weird.
There is no more treasured language in America’s collective heart than these 16 words: “Congress shall make no Law respecting an Establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof.” As invaluable to our heritage as these words are, they were never intended to exempt people from obeying generally applicable laws, which meet a compelling government interest, such as the ones prohibiting adult males from having sex with underage girls in or out of “spiritual” marriages.
To misconstrue the First Amendment’s religious freedoms to grant such exemption would be to desecrate those time-honored words and the sacred freedoms they guarantee.