The Utah Supreme Court has ruled that the state’s law banning polygamy does not violate a practicing polygamist’s First Amendment religious liberty.
Tom Green, 55, was convicted in 2001 of violating the state law against polygamy but appealed the conviction arguing that the bigamy ban is a violation of his right to free exercise of religion.
Utah Assistant Attorney General Laura Dupaix disagreed, telling the court that the state bigamy statute applied to all individuals who engage in polygamy regardless of their religious intentions and that the bigamy law serves legitimate state interests, such as protecting women and children from exploitation and abuse.
On Sept. 3, the Utah Supreme Court turned away Green’s challenge, saying that the government had interests that “are legitimate, if not compelling” in outlawing polygamy and that the state law did not unfairly target religious people.
“It is true that Utah’s bigamy statute has an adverse impact on those wishing to practice polygamy as a tenet of their religion,” Justice Jill Parrish wrote for the court in Utah v. Green. “An adverse impact on religion does not by itself, however, prove impermissible targeting because ‘a social harm may have been a legitimate concern of government for reasons quite apart from [religious] discrimination.’”
The court, said that the law “does not attempt to target only religiously motivated bigamy. Any individual who violates the statute, whether for religious or secular reasons, is subject to prosecution.”