Thursday, January 22, 2015

FLDS Members Continue To Resist DOL Subpoenas On Religious Grounds

Since 2013, the U.S. Department of Labor has been investigating whether federal child labor and wage and hour laws were violated in the 2012 harvest at the  Southern Utah Pecan Ranch. According to a Salt Lake Tribune report last September, Paragon Contractors was paid to furnish labor for the harvest, and the Labor Department suspects that FLDS Church members-- schoolchildren and their parents-- were deployed to take part in the harvest without pay.  Instead they merely got to keep half of the pecans they harvested. Paragon is owned by Brian Jessop, an FLDS Church leader, and apparently he turned over amounts the company was paid for the harvest to the Church.  In an opinion last September (see prior posting), a Utah federal district court ruled that under RFRA, church member Vergel Steed did not have to respond to a Department of Labor subpoena seeking information about the internal affairs and organization of the Church. Steed claimed that he believes the identity of Church leaders, the Church's organization and its internal affairs are sacred matters and he has vowed not to discuss them.

The Labor Department has also subpoenaed other FLDS Church members.  AP and the Salt Lake Tribune report that yesterday the same Utah federal judge handed down a ruling that may be the first step toward excusing two brothers of former FLDS Church leader Warren Jeffs from responding to subpoenas seeking information about working conditions on the farm as well as FLDS Church structure and leadership.  Judge David Sam ruled that Lyle and Nephi Jeffs have sincere religious beliefs that prevent them from answering questions by outsiders about the FLDS Church's labor practices, but they must answer questions about phone calls allegedly telling children to take off from school to work and telling parents to work without pay. The judge however heard arguments later yesterday on whether the government has a compelling interest in obtaining the Jeffs' testimony beyond this.  All of this came only a day after the ruling by the U.S. Supreme Court in Holt v. Hobbs giving a broad reading to religious liberty protections in federal law. (See prior posting.)