Church, State and the Legal Interpretation of Polygamy in Canada


From the Author's Introduction, Page 21-22:

"Drawing from case law, parliamentary debates, and legislation, I will detail the shifting terrain and multiplicity of voices that have emerged in relation to Latter-day Saints and polygamy. I begin the article with a brief overview of the history of polygamy in the Saints’ belief system and its social control through law. I then situate the legal treatment of Latterday Saints in Canada in the broader context of the legal boundaries around religious minorities generally. Because the legal objections to polygamy focus on “harm” as the central principle, I explore the parameters of that concept as a limiting tool in the context of the intersection of religious and legal discourses.

I argue that religious minorities deemed harmful to society are controlled through law, either directly by legislation, through judicial application of legislation, or, more insidiously, through the discursive practices of government agents such as immigration officials. Both the imposition of legal controls, such as Criminal Code provisions and policy practices, and the types of resistance or compliance offered by religious minorities shift and change over time. The nineteenth-century Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (LDS Church) suffered a fracture over the issue of polygamy, with the main body of the church reaching a compromise position with the state, while polygamist Saints continued to resist state demands to change their practices. Throughout this process, definitions of religious freedom also changed in part because of perceptions of what constitutes harmful behavior, a calculation based on shifting boundaries of the social construction of harm. While the primary focus of this article is a case study of the Latter-day Saints and polygamy, it is prescient of a contemporary example of social control of religious minorities. In these post-September 11 times there has been a shift in rhetoric from nation-building to nation preserving. Polygamy still plays a role in the construction of citizenship through the filtering of immigrants, but in social, political, and economic circumstances that differ from those the Latter-day Saints faced in the 1800s." (21-22).

Publication Information

Beaman, Lori G. "Church, State and the Legal Interpretation of Polygamy in Canada." Nova Religio: The Journal of Alternative and Emergent Religions 8, no. 1 (2004): 20-38.

Beaman, Lori G.
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