Modern American Mistrials: The Salem Witch Trials

Modern American Mistrials: The Salem Witch Trials

Today I read the play by Arthur Miller titled, “the Crucible.” It retells the story of the Salem witch trials in which many people were prosecuted for witchcraft based on the accusations of a group of young girls. 50 people confessed to witchcraft to escape capital punishment while 19 were hanged refusing to confess to witchcraft before the trials were finally discontinued. The historical event took place in 1692, but the play was written in 1952. The 1950’s were also was a critical time in American history because it was amidst the McCarthy hearings in which countless Americans’ careers and reputations were on the line in fear of being labelled Communists.

It is generally thought that the author was commenting on the injustices of his times by writing such a play and it is for the injustices of my time that I sought out to find and read this American classic. But in drawing an allusion to this historical atrocity of justice I think it important to note that while Miller’s narrative was mostly based on historical fact, the sexual relationship between the two important figures, Abigail and John Proctor was in fact fictionalized as the original boy from history was only 11 years old unlike the Protagonist, who most of us remember to be in his early 30s from both the play and the subsequent film.

The founder of my church, Joshua Jung Myung Seok, found himself on trial in Korea under similar circumstances. Providence, the international religious organization that he founded was rumored to be a cult, and it was even imagined by some that there were some kind of sexual misconduct or strange sex rituals which even when investigated in court could neither be proven nor disproven. The poor mix of religion and justice proved every bit as volatile as the Salem witch trials and will with time prove to be as much an injustice.

The parallels between Jung Myung Seok’s case and the Salem witch trial are astounding. His accusers were also entirely young women. Many of Jung Myung Seok’s initial accusers refused to appear in court and much like the girls in Salem they would often become hysterical when pressed with more questions. The few who did testify told stories that did not match, and then one girl confessed to having made it all up and accused the other girls of all lying. The evidence presented was proven to be concocted by accusers. Rape, like witchcraft, could not therefore in this case be proven or disproven and relied entirely on their testimonies.

Another similarity between these two trials was that in both cases, coercion from others close to the girls had much to gain if the accused were convicted. In the case of the Salem witch trials, there were many land disputes, long held grudges, and divisions among the citizens of Salem that encouraged the girls’ initial accusations. In the case of Jung Myung Seok, the girls were prompted to come forward by an individual who was later found to have written threat letters and extortion letters directly to Jung Myung Seok with promises to drop the case for large sums of money. In both cases the girls themselves had nothing to gain directly, but everything to lose with their reputations now on the line after their initial accusations. The more wildly they made accusations, the more sympathy they received from the audience who of course looked suspiciously only at the accused. One may wonder why the cases were continued if so much misconduct continued to unfold, but the judges said it was the unique religious character of the case that overruled any notions of mistrial. And this unique aspect of religion, more than anything else, is also what makes this trial so uniquely similar to our own Salem witch trials.

Jung Myung Seok continues to serve time for crimes of which he was accused, but as his popularity grows it is likely his case could be tried again due to the extensive evidence of mistrial. For more details about the case you can visit http://www.ProvidenceTrial.com.

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