He Was Raptured! And Other Tales of Faith-Based Defenses

Can the Rapture get you out of house arrest? Lyle Jeffs, a member of the Utah-based Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints (FLDS), was arrested last year along with ten other church leaders over a food-stamp fraud case. US District Court Judge Ted Stewart made the call in June to release Jeffs to house arrest due to a delayed trial. As federal prosecutors and estranged family members warned would happen, Jeffs fled only two weeks later and is still at large.

Jeffs escaped without raising alarm—authorities believe he used olive oil to slip out of his ankle monitor without causing it damage. It is this action that led his defense attorney, Kathryn Nester, to present a wild speculation in court: Jeffs didn’t escape, he was raptured. Although made in jest, her comment allows us to look back on a few more serious, unbelievable, and sometimes legal, faith-based defenses.

If we don’t have faith, then we seek medical treatment

In 2009, Shannon Hickman gave birth to David, who was two months premature, weighed three pounds, and suffered from a bacterial infection in his lungs. David died nine hours after he was born because his parents substituted faith for medical treatment. Criminal charges were filed against them, and during trial, medical experts testified that David would have had a 99 percent chance for survival if he’d received medical treatment. Dale and Shannon Hickman were convicted of second degree manslaughter in 2011. In their defense, the Hickmans claimed that the state needed to prove that they knew their religious practices would lead to their son’s death. “We do what the Bible tells us, and we put God first and ask for faith,” Shannon Hickman said in court. “If we don’t have the faith, then we seek medical treatment because it is not there, you know.”

Conscience exemption for Catholic hospitals

Last year, the ACLU sent a Catholic hospital, Genesys, a warning letter expressing their anger over the hospital’s refusal to perform a tubal ligation on a pregnant patient. The procedure was vital and necessary to the health of the woman and her unborn child, but Genesys Hospital, the only hospital available to her for miles, denied the procedure based on religious grounds. According to an ACLU press release, “Applying these directives, which refer to sterilization for the purpose of contraception as ‘intrinsically evil,’ the hospital denied Rachel’s doctor’s request to perform this common procedure.” Genesys is one of many hospitals that operate based on a “conscience exemption” protected by federal law. Thankfully, the hospital caved to the ACLU and agreed to perform the procedure.

Kim Davis and her conscience

In 2015, a county clerk in Kentucky abused her authority by disregarding constitutionally established civil rights through her refusal to issue marriage licenses to same-sex couples. Kim Davis cited her “religious conscience” as her excuse to discriminate against same-sex couples. Davis was arrested for her actions but released shortly after. “I never imagined a day like this would come, where I would be asked to violate a central teaching of Scripture and of Jesus himself regarding marriage,” she argued. “To issue a marriage license which conflicts with God’s definition of marriage, with my name affixed to the certificate, would violate my conscience.” After a legal battle, Davis continues to hold her position as county clerk and is allowed to forego signing same-sex marriage licenses.

FLDS Church

And let us not forget about the FLDS Church itself. Lyle Jeffs’ brother and former head of the FLDS, Warren Jeffs, was sentenced to life in prison for sexually assaulting two underage girls. The members of the FLDS have also been accused of profiting from child labor and conducting the aforementioned $12 million food-stamp fraud and money-laundering scheme, among other things. According to Lyle Jeffs’ defense, the FLDS and its members have a right to break federal laws if their religion orders them to, stating that “FLDS members have a religious right to consecrate their property to their church.”