Religious crimes

Is there such a thing as a religious crime? I thought we had a first amendment right to freedom of religion. How can there be religious crime?

The answer depends on the act of the accused.

Peaceful Protests

Societally we do allow religious protests, rallies, sit-ins, etc. However, we do not allow religious killings and rapes. Each case is a case by case scenario. In criminal law there is a term called mens rea, which means criminal intent in english. In almost every crime, we look to the standard of mens rea required by law and apply it to the act of the defendant to ascertain what if any intent the person had to conduct the act. A great example is a sit-in. Most sit-ins violate  some type of trespass law in Pennsylvania, however most of the time people are found not guilty of any crime because they are not intending to trespass, they are intending to peacefully protest some type of social and/or religious issue.

Sexual Assault

However, in the case where Warren Jeffs would arrange marriages of underaged girls with grown men, and claim that he had a religious basis to arrange for the marriage because his religious group believed in polygamy and his religion believed that younger women were ready to marry younger then the law said, the law trumped Mr. Jeffs’ religious beliefs. The reason is because he could have arranged for marriages of women that were over 18 at the time and it would not have violated his religious beliefs and would not have been a crime. The government did not prosecute Jeff’s because of the religious reasons or because he believed in polygamy, he was prosecuted because he was acting like a pimp for pedophiles and using relion as justification for his criminal conduct.

Aggravated Assault

More recently, here in Philadelphia, at a local mosque, a member was accused of stealing from the donation jar. One of the members and the imam allegedly took the accused to the basement and attempted to cut off the thief’s hand. They severed a portion of the hand, but didn’t make it all the way through. They will most likely claim it was a religious crime and therefore they were justified by the teachings of the Koran. However, this example is more like the example of Warren Jeffs then that of the sit-in. You cannot use physical force to punish a member of your religion that violates the laws of Pennsylvania. They could have simply thrown the thief out of the mosque and filed a report with the police. Obviously this is an aggravated assault under Pennsylvania law, and therefore a religious crime. Obviously in this example, some muslims would says the laws of Pennsylvania and United States are in direct conflict with the teachings of the Koran. This is often the case. However, in this instance, the law of Pennsylvania should trump the Koran.

Brian J. Zeiger, Esquire, is an experienced and successful criminal defense and civil rights attorney. He is a seasoned trial lawyer with significant experience before juries and judges. Brian understands civil rights cases, including Taser, Wrongful Death, Excessive Force, Police Brutality, Police Misconduct, Malicious Prosecution, Monell Claims, Sexual Assault, Prisoner’s Rights, Time Credit, Medical Malpractice, and Medical Indifference.