November 2014 Church & State | AU Bulletin

A federal court has ruled that the Supreme Court’s ruling in Burwell v. Hobby Lobby Stores exempts a member of the Fundamentalist Church of Latter-day Saints (FLDS) from testifying in a child labor case.

According to Time magazine, Vergel Steed told the court that he made a religious vow to never publicly discuss the sect’s internal affairs and revealing information about the group, including the identities of its leaders and its governance, would violate his sincerely held religious beliefs. 

That argument held sway with the court, and U.S. District Judge David Sam found in Steed’s favor.

“Petitioner has failed to show that forcing Mr. Steed to answer the questions offensive to his sincerely held religious beliefs is the least restrictive means to advance any compelling interest it may have,” Sam wrote, noting that prosecutors could seek the same information from other members of the FLDS.

The case involves a pecan ranch owned by the FLDS. According to federal prosecutors, the church forced adults and children to work there without pay. The sect’s leader, Warren Jeffs, is serving a life sentence for the sexual abuse of his underage plural wives. Its stronghold in Hildale, Utah, and Colorado City, Ariz., (collectively known as Short Creek) is the subject of ongoing legal action by the U.S. Department of Justice for violating the constitutional rights of non-FLDS residents. (Perez v. Paragon Contractors)