Last year I posted a piece on Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints fugitive Lyle Jeffs. The occasion for my venturing into this sect was that Jeffs’ lawyer, after Jeffs had escaped house arrest claimed the Rapture was responsible for his disappearance. Now that an unraptured Jeffs has been recaptured, I begin to wonder about the special immunity of lawyers. Surely Jeffs’ attorney knew that his client hadn’t been spirited to heaven in the fictional escapade we all know as the Rapture. Indeed, all criminal lawyers—or at least most—know the facts behind a case before they step into the courtroom. While their witnesses are guilty of perjury if they lie under oath, lawyers, through careful wording, are permitted to insinuate the opposite of the truth with no hint of wrong-doing. It’s just their job.
Legalism and religion go hand-in-hand. After an interesting preamble, the Bible begins by laying down the Torah. Among its stipulations is not bearing false witness. But then, that was before the modern legal system. Religions tend to serve as moral compasses—and that’s the phrase that’s frequently used. A compass helps to find direction, ensures that we go the right way. What exactly the right way is can be a matter of debate, however. It all depends on where it is we want to go. When religious law, such as polygamy among Fundamentalist Latter-Day Saints, and civil law (generally recognizing one spouse at a time) clash, lawyers debate with the comfort of knowing they need not be accountable for the truth.
I’m no legal expert—in fact, I wouldn’t even have known about this had not a friend sent me the piece by Ruth Graham on Slate—but the question does trouble me. Religion is often all about laws. Specialists in Islam are called jurists, and in Judaism rabbis know the Torah inside out. Religious laws sometimes—often, actually—conflicts with the laws of the land. Believers either accommodate the differences or get into trouble in the secular courts. It’s headline news when religious law becomes civil law in this modern day and age. Isn’t there something cynical, however, when a lawyer pleads the Rapture as probable cause for a disappearance? Knowing the law, they need not reveal the truth they know. And yet, if you personally implicate any wrongdoing in another you can be sued for liable or slander. Lyle Jeffs wasn’t in heaven. He was living out of his car, keeping off the grid. Of course, following religious law can be like that some times.