How the Hobby Lobby ruling is helping a member of Warren Jeffs’ polygamous church

SALT LAKE CITY -- A federal judge has ruled that a member of the Fundamentalist LDS Church does not have to answer questions about child labor violations because of the U.S. Supreme Court's ruling in the Hobby Lobby case.

Vergel Steed refused to answer even the most basic questions in a recent deposition, because he is protected under the Religious Freedom Restoration Act.

"It is clear that Mr. Steed has raised the very defenses available under RFRA," U.S. District Court Judge David Sam wrote in the order.

The U.S. Department of Labor took action against Paragon Contractors for a 2012 incident where hundreds of children were seen working in a field in Hurricane, picking pecans. In court filings, the Labor Department has suggested that FLDS leaders ordered children to be removed from school to work in the fields.

As part of their case, FLDS members have been deposed -- including Steed. In a deposition obtained by FOX 13 on Tuesday, it appears Steed refused to answer many questions.

From the deposition:FLDS deposition

Steed's attorney objected to the questions, saying he "retains a closely held religious belief that requires him not to speak openly about matters regarding the Church organization with anyone outside of his religious affiliation."

Read the filing by Steed's lawyer here:

Labor Department lawyers went to U.S. Magistrate Judge Evelyn Furst, who said Steed should have to answer some questions. But Judge Sam overruled her, citing the U.S. Supreme Court's ruling earlier this year in the Hobby Lobby case.

In the Hobby Lobby case, the company objected to having to provide contraception citing religious freedom grounds.

"It is not for the Court to “inquir[e] into the theological merit of the belief in question," Sam wrote, citing the Hobby Lobby decision.  "The determination of what is a ‘religious’ belief or practice is more often than not a difficult and delicate task .... However, the resolution of that question is not to turn upon a judicial perception of the particular belief or practice in question; religious beliefs need not be acceptable, logical, consistent, or comprehensible to others in order to merit First Amendment protection."

Read the judge's ruling here:

Steed's attorney, Jason Haymore, told FOX 13 that he was pleased with the ruling.

"I feel the judge adequately protected my client's rights," he said.Haymore declined to comment further, citing another lawsuit involving the FLDS Church and the U.S. Justice Department.

In that case, the federal government is suing the town governments of Hildale, Utah, and Colorado City, Ariz., alleging they are de facto arms of the FLDS Church and its leader, Warren Jeffs.

Jeffs is serving a life, plus 20-year sentence in a Texas prison for child sex assault related to underage "marriages."

The U.S. Department of Labor did not return messages seeking comment Tuesday about whether it would appeal the decision.

22 comments

  • Trish Ramirez

    How disgusting. How utterly grotesque and predictable. Hiding behind the veil and lies of religion to abuse and steal and degrade. This world will never be truly free until the last chains of religion have been removed from mankind.

  • PoorUtah

    So. … the surpreme court also stated it was illegal to take over the UEP.
    When will it be honest and return it all instead of trying to say it was illegal but it is ok, not really, now.?

    Does thee FLDS REALLY have freedom of religion with the take over theee lands in the UEP? No . So when will God say it is enough and except the sacrifice of His Prophet and People and come out of His hiding place and vex the nations of those that persecute His people and mock Him annnd His mercy?
    IF Obama or the next president invade another country the USA is finished and God will alllow its enemies to collapse the dollar and destroy aa nation first with anarchy and civil war, then by invading armies upon a divided weakened nation that turned against its God.

  • Michael Perrin (@WestOfI35)

    This is what happens when you allow religious nuttery to trump the law. I’m going to start a new religion, the first tenet of which is “Armed robbery is simply our way of paying homage to our God.”

    Now I should be free to go and rob anyone and not be prosecuted.

    Next, I’m gonna make myself exempt from all taxes.

    • Brian

      Wrong. In this case the law is being applied (42 USC 2000bb et seq.) While You are free to start such a religion as You describe, Your attempt at reductio ad absurdum suggests a certain degree of ignorance about the state of the law or, at least, the ruling: the means used by the government was not the “least restrictive” to the exercise of religion, as required by 42 USC 2000bb et seq. In Your hypothetical religion example, protection of property rights and public safety (a compelling government interest) is not possible without prohibiting armed robbery.

  • bob

    Stalin: 60 million “surplus population units” dead.
    Hitler: 11 million “sub-humans” killed.
    Pol Pot: 1.7 million dead.
    Chinese “Cultural Revolution”: 30 million killed.

    Yes, let’s save mankind form evil “religion” and its pecan-picking ways before its too late, Comrades!

      • bob

        That’s common Evangelical Atheist propaganda, but isn’t true. Besides, Hitler never actually killed anyone. The SS did, and being a professed Atheist was part of their Oath.

      • Kelley Glenn

        @Bob, are you serious? The actual SS oath *explicitly* affirms a belief in god and disavows non-believers. Where in the world do you get your information? I get mine from Himmler himself (see the link). In English, the SS oath reads approximately: ““What is your oath ?” – “I vow to you, Adolf Hitler, as Führer and chancellor of the German Reich loyalty and bravery. I vow to you and to the leaders that you set for me, absolute allegiance until death. So help me God !”
        “So you believe in a God ?” – “Yes, I believe in a Lord God.”
        “What do you think about a man who does not believe in a God ?” – “I think he is overbearing, megalomaniac and foolish; he is not one of us.” http://archive.org/stream/DieSchutzstaffelAlsAntibolschewistischeKampforganisation/HimmlerHeinrich-DieSchutzstaffelAlsAntibolschewistischeKampforganisation193717S.#page/n13/mode/2up

      • bob

        Hitler, Himmler and other Nazi leaders played cynical games with religion. They knew they could not openly “outlaw” religion. But they set about tearing it down systematically.

        The Soviets were far more straightforward about it. No religious believer could be a Party member.

      • Kelley Glenn

        Sorry Bob, but you’ve been caught in an out-and-out fabrication and are unwilling to admit it. I’m not going to play your little game of “Move the Goalpost”. If you can’t answer the questions you have, then you need to learn about this new tool called “Google”. Or “Bing”. Or “Yahoo!” It takes no time at all to learn how Nazis colluded with churches, and to imply that members of the SS were too scared to “openly attend” church is ludicrous. Oh hell, just to show you how easy it is, here’s one quick example I got by Googling “nazi ss members at church”. http://ghdi.ghi-dc.org/sub_image.cfm?image_id=2050

  • Brian

    Okay, so the government has to get the exact same information from a different source. The investigation is not hampered in any way. This is not a problem. This is not news. Next.

  • Flame Cct

    It appears that the questions were directly related to a religious entity (specifically the FLDS) not toward the supposed transgression. This says more about the poor performance of the prosecutor than it does about the individual being questioned. Basically the prosecutor was being lazy instead of doing his/her job.

    Seriously, what does the religious affiliation have to do with the supposed transgression alleged?

    • Kelley Glenn

      Bob, if you simply look at the judge’s ruling (see above under “Read the judge’s ruling here”), you will see several references to the Hobby Lobby case and 0 references to the Fifth Amendment. (Not sure you actually care, though.)

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