Senator: Polygamous sects are ‘form of organized crime’
WASHINGTON (CNN) — Polygamous sects that have spread throughout the United States and beyond are “a form of organized crime,” largely unchecked by law enforcement, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid said Thursday.
Sen. Harry Reid says polygamous sects have “wrongly cloaked themselves in the trappings of religion.”
He is proposing a federal-state partnership aimed at policing such communities.
“The lawless conduct of polygamous communities in the United States deserves national attention and federal action,” Reid said before the Senate Judiciary Committee.
Senate Hearing On FLDS Church, CBS News
Sects such as the Fundamental Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints have “wrongfully cloaked themselves in the trappings of religion” to conceal crimes such as bigamy, child abuse and statutory rape, the Nevada Democrat said. In such communities, teenage or preteen girls are forced to marry older men and bear their children, he said.
While those offenses are the most obvious, Reid said, other criminal conduct occurs — “welfare fraud, tax evasion, massive corruption and strong-arm tactics to maintain what they think is the status quo.”
Although witnesses acknowledged other polygamous sects exist, the testimony focused on the FLDS, which practices polygamy in two towns straddling the Utah-Arizona border — Hildale, Utah, and Colorado City, Arizona — and maintains the Yearning For Zion (YFZ) Ranch near Eldorado, Texas. The FLDS also has a smaller presence in other states, as well as in Canada and Mexico.
Witnesses’ testimony painted a picture of FLDS life, which they said is ruled by church leaders and punctuated by oppression and emotional abuse. Unpaid child labor is common, they alleged, and children are subjected to a woefully inadequate education while adults disregard state and federal laws.
“The problems caused by the FLDS are unacceptable, whether they are a polygamous or a monogamous society,” said Dr. Daniel Fischer, who told senators he left the sect 12 years ago. His father had three wives, he said, and he was the oldest of 36 children.
He co-founded the Diversity Foundation, which he said has assisted more than 230 young people expelled from the group, most of them male. Young men can be excommunicated merely for showing interest in a girl, he said, and a young woman who resists an arranged marriage to an older man comes under “extreme pressure,” while one who chooses her own husband is ostracized.
“Without question, FLDS members will sacrifice self, family and children if directed by their leader,” Fischer said.
Reid said he is sponsoring legislation that would create a federal task force aimed at polygamous sects and provide grants for law enforcement agencies investigating and prosecuting crimes committed in the communities, as well as grants to provide assistance to those who testify against them — paying for witness protection, child care and counseling, for instance.
No FLDS supporters were called to testify Thursday before the committee. The FLDS, an offshoot of the mainstream Mormon church, maintains it is innocent of any crimes and that the sect is being persecuted because of its religious beliefs.
However, Sen. Arlen Specter, R-Pennsylvania, said, “First Amendment rights do not extend to domestic violence, child abuse [and] statutory rape.”
FLDS leader and “prophet” Warren Jeffs is facing a sentence in Utah of up to life in prison after being convicted on charges of being an accomplice to rape. In addition, Jeffs is awaiting trial in Arizona. Earlier this week, he and other FLDS members were indicted by a Texas grand jury; Jeffs is charged with sexually assaulting a child, a first-degree felony.
The FLDS is not affiliated with the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, or Mormons, which renounced polygamy a century ago. Both Reid and Sen. Orrin Hatch, R-Utah, another member of the committee, are Mormon.
In the sect, families are destroyed when married men are expelled from the community and their wives and children assigned to another man. Fischer recounted his own excommunication for committee members.
Most of the polygamous sects of the Mormon Church separated from the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints over the church’s rejection of the doctrine of Polygamy. After all:
Polygamy was, in fact, one of the most sacred credos of [Joseph Smith’s] church – a tenet important enough to be canonized for the ages as Section 132 of The Doctrine and Convenants, on of Mormonism’s primary scriptural texts.
The revered prophet described plural marriage as part of “the most holy and important doctrine ever revealed to man on earth” and taught that a man needed at least three wives to attain the “fullness of exaltation” in the afterlife. He warned that God had explicitly commanded that “all those who have this law revealed unto them must obey the same … and if ye abide not that covenenant, then are ye damned; for no one can reject this covenant and be permitted to enter into my glory.”
When the Mormon Church rejected that “most holy and important doctrine ever revealed to man on earth” — along with, through the years, other doctrines once considered essential — many Mormons who wanted to hold on to the ‘fundamental teachings’ of their faith separated from the LDS Church. Thus formed a number of sects (in the sense of ‘divisions’) whose followers are, collectively, referred to as Mormon Fundamentalists.
The official Mormon Church is desperately trying to distance itself from Mormon Fundamentalists (at one point even claiming the latter did not exist). However, as a matter of cact, the doctrines and practices of Mormon Fundamentalists are closer to those of the original Mormon Church than are the doctrines and practices of today’s Mormon Church.