Polygamist Tom Green can hold religious beliefs regarding plural marriage, but cannot put them into practice, the state argued in a brief supporting his bigamy conviction.
The brief was filed with the Utah Supreme Court on Wednesday in response to Green's appeal. Attorneys for both sides expect the case ultimately to go to the U.S. Supreme Court.
''We're saying you can believe whatever you want. We do believe people have an important right to practice their religion,'' Assistant Attorney General Laura Dupaix said. ''But there's a point where religious beliefs do not justify you engaging in socially harmful conduct.
''In this case, the socially harmful conduct was enticing and seducing young girls into becoming polygamist wives.''
Green was convicted in May 2001 of four counts of third-degree felony bigamy and was sentenced to zero to five years in prison, with the sentences running concurrently.
He also was convicted of first-degree felony rape in a separate action involving one of his marriages.
Green's attorney, John Bucher, had not yet seen the state's filing and declined to comment.
Dupaix said it was clear Green had ''concocted this scheme in which he could have sex with 14-year-old girls without being prosecuted for it'' by marrying one, divorcing her and then marrying another. Utah law used to allow marriage at 14.
''The primary argument in this case is whether or not Utah's bigamy statute violates the free exercise clause of the First Amendment of the Constitution that governs freedom of religion,'' Dupaix said.
''The defendant is saying, 'Because I believe as part of my religion I should practice polygamy, I should be exempt from the bigamy statute,' '' she said.
Dupaix said the U.S. Supreme Court ruled against that position in 1878 and the state contends that ''is still good law.''
She said other Supreme Court decisions have reaffirmed that general rule, although in different contexts.
The brief also sets out the argument that the state has a compelling interest in defining what marriage is and how it can and should be structured.
Dupaix said it is in the state's interest to discourage relationships that might increase economic dependency on the state.
The state's filing said ''a disproportionately high percentage of polygamous families in both Utah and Arizona rely on government benefits for support.''
The state contends that in 2002, 66 percent of the residents of the polygamist community of Hildale, Utah, were enrolled in Medicaid, compared to 6.31 percent for all of Utah.
More than half of the population of Hildale's twin community of Colorado City, Ariz., received food stamps in March 2003, the filing states.
''As a practical matter, the ability that polygamy affords to rapidly reproduce so many children will, in most cases, outstrip the ability to support those children without government assistance,'' the filing states.