Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints
A polygamous sect is asking the Utah Supreme Court to overturn a state court decision that stripped the religious purposes from its communal land trust.
In a court filing Tuesday, attorneys for the Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints say making the United Effort Plan Trust secular was a violation of the faith’s constitutionally protected religious rights.
Valued at more than $110 million, the trust holds most of the property in Hildale, Utah; Colorado City, Ariz.; and Bountiful, British Columbia — communities home to FLDS members.
The UEP was formed in 1942 on a religious principle known as the Holy United Order, which calls for the sharing of assets for the benefit of all who follow the tenets of the faith.
The FLDS want Utah’s Supreme Court to declare the changes to the trust unconstitutional, remove court-appointed accountant Bruce Wisan as the trust’s manager and halt any pending sales of property or other management activities under way.
“What we are trying to say is that this whole reformation and putting Bruce Wisan in as the state-ordained bishop is illegitimate,” Rod Parker, an attorney for the FLDS, said in a telephone interview. “It could not be managed by the state or Bruce Wisan, because they are not the priesthood.”
Holy United Order: ‘Communal holy kingdom’
Church members, who compare the situation to that of 19th century Mormon ancestors, argue a district court judge violated their constitutional rights by “unlawfully” eliminating the United Effort Plan Trust’s religious purpose and replacing it with a secular agenda hostile to the faith.
They ask the court to stop the sale of a trust farm, remove the fiduciary now managing the trust and overturn the court’s revisions to the trust.
The 58-page petition was filed Tuesday on behalf of the 10,000 members of the Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints, the majority class of the trust’s beneficiaries.
“The goal is to get control of the trust back and end what we regard as an unlawful occupation of the trust,” said Rod Parker, a Salt Lake City attorney who represents the sect.
Parker said the appeal comes after a failed year-long effort to resolve disputes over the trust, which now risks losing holdings through property sales and delinquent tax forfeitures. It also comes after sect members were denied standing to intervene in the court proceedings, the petition states.
District Judge Denise Lindberg oversees the UEP Trust, which is managed by fiduciary Bruce R. Wisan. The Utah Attorney General’s Office pushed for the court takeover in 2005 to protect its assets alleged mismanagement and lawsuits the FLDS failed to defend.
Once the trust’s religious purpose was gone, the FLDS argue, the trust should have been terminated and its holdings distributed to the remainder beneficiary — the church’s corporate entity.
But Lindberg said the trust could not default to the church because of its illegal practices, specifically polygamy. She also noted in the 2005 decision, however, that the trust “also promotes practices that are not contrary to law or against public policy.”
The FLDS maintain that other practice was the trust’s primary purpose: Creation of a community based on a “Holy United Order.”
The united order is laid out in the Doctrine and Covenants, a scripture used by fundamentalist Mormons as well as the mainstream Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, which eschews the breakaway sects and plural marriage.
The tenet calls for members to consecrate property, services, time and talents to church to build up a communal holy kingdom.