Feds ask judge to reconsider FLDS ‘Hobby Lobby’ decision

Posted at 3:56 PM, Oct 03, 2014
and last updated 2014-10-03 18:12:01-04

SALT LAKE CITY — The U.S. Department of Labor is asking a federal judge to reconsider his decision to exempt a member of the Fundamentalist LDS Church from answering questions about a child labor case.

U.S. District Court Judge David Sam recently ruled that FLDS member Vergel Steed did not have to answer questions, citing the U.S. Supreme Court’s recent decision on religious freedom in the “Hobby Lobby” case. In a court filing obtained by FOX 13, lawyers for the Labor Department asked him to reconsider.

“A party asserting that a belief or practice is religious has the burden of producing evidence to support that claim. In this case, the record does not support Steed’s allegation that his religious beliefs prohibit him from divulging all aspects of the internal affairs and organization of the FLDS Church and its commercial activities,” lawyers wrote.

Read the filing here:

The U.S. Department of Labor took action against a company called Paragon Contractors for a 2012 incident where hundreds of children were seen working in a field in Hurricane. In court filings, the Labor Department has suggested that FLDS leaders ordered children to be removed from school to work in the fields.

Warren Jeffs is serving life in a Texas prison for child sex assault related to underage “marriages.” As part of the Labor Department’s case, FLDS members have been deposed — including Steed. In a deposition obtained by FOX 13, it appears Steed refused to answer many questions about his ties to the southern Utah-based church, citing his First Amendment religious freedom rights.

A magistrate judge originally ruled that Steed should answer, but Judge Sam overruled her and cited the U.S. Supreme Court’s recent decision in Burwell v. Hobby Lobby, where the company objected to having to provide contraception citing religious freedom grounds.

Judge Sam held a meeting with lawyers in chambers on Thursday to discuss aspects of the case going forward, in the aftermath of his ruling. Labor Department officials are also seeking to question two of imprisoned polygamous leader Warren Jeffs’ brothers, Lyle Jeffs and Nephi Jeffs.

Court records indicate the judge agreed to issue a decision in writing. Lawyers at one of the hearings left declining to comment to FOX 13.

If Judge Sam does not reverse his decision, the Labor Department has the option to appeal to the 10th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in Denver.