‘Amen’ crops up in Warren Jeffs hearing

The significance of saying “amen” at the end of a sermon is now a legal debate in the case of polygamous sect leader Warren S. Jeffs.

Fifth District Judge James L. Shumate asked attorneys to look at whether Jeffs’ use of the word after a 2002 sermon could be held as legally ratifying the speaker’s comments.

During an Aug. 20 hearing, state witness Richard Holm described a church talk given by an FLDS member who criticized government efforts to regulate the faith’s marriage practices. At the end of the talk, Jeffs and others in the audience said, “Amen,” Holm said.

“The amens were loud and ranged through the congregation,” he told the judge.

Shumate then asked the attorneys to research whether saying “amen” could be interpreted as affirming the speaker’s remarks.

According to Webster’s New World Dictionary, amen means “may it be so” and is “usually used after a prayer or to express approval.”

Whatever the word means, it is not relevant to Jeffs’ case, his attorneys argue in documents filed in court Tuesday.

Prosecutors have not yet weighed in on the amen debate.

Jeffs is charged with being an accomplice to rape for conducting a 2001 marriage between a 19-year-old man and a 14-year-old girl, who alleges she objected to the union.

What he said at the end of the sermon has no bearing on those charges, said Walter Bugden, one of Jeffs’ three attorneys, in the court filing.

“The crux of the complaint is that Jeffs allegedly encouraged nonconsensual sex,” the filing states. “Jeffs’ utterance of ‘amen’ to the anti-government statement bears no logical relationship to the crime charged.”

Amen is “at best” an ambiguous response to a speaker that could mean a number of things, Bugden argues.

Saying amen at a church service is “often more of a reflex or a courtesy rather than a conscious adoption of the speaker’s statements,” his filing said. At no point did the talk encourage nonconsensual sex among church members, it states.

The talk and Jeffs’ response to it should be barred from use during his trial, set to begin Sept. 7, because it is prejudicial and likely to confuse the jury about the issue at stake, Budgen said.

“By highlighting FLDS opposition to government policy, the evidence tends to paint FLDS members – including Jeffs – as unlawful,” the filing states. “The focus will become whether Jeffs is the type of person who would commit rape versus the proper focus: whether Jeffs actually committed rape” as an accomplice.

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Religion News Blog posted this on Wednesday August 29, 2007.
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