Lawmakers want to curtail activities of breakaway Mormons
Texas lawmakers are hot on their heels with new legislation in the works to make it tough for the breakaway Mormon fundamentalist sect to settle comfortably in its new home outside the tiny West Texas town of Eldorado.
Rep. Harvey Hilderbran filed a bill last week aimed at curtailing the activities of the Fundamentalist Church of Latter Day Saints – or at least the activities that some fear they’ll engage in, such as marrying young girls, draining welfare coffers and taking over political offices.
The legislation would outlaw stepparents marrying stepchildren, raise the age of consent for marriage from 14 to 16 and stiffen the requirements to run for office.
Mr. Hilderbran said he hopes to create so many legal problems for the group that they change their lifestyle or leave Texas.
“We’d prefer that they never came here,” said Mr. Hilderbran, a Kerrville Republican whose district includes the ranch. “But I don’t know how we can stop that, so now we just want to make sure they live by the laws in Texas and that they aren’t carrying on things that [polygamist sects] reportedly carry on.”
Rodney Parker, a Utah attorney who is the group’s unofficial spokesman, said he’s not surprised that legal hassles are following the church members.
“If people took the time to understand better what these communities are all about and what’s really going on, the approach to them would be less draconian,” Mr. Parker said. “Broad, sweeping prohibitions on their entire religious structure in the context of marriage are the result of … not having enough information about what’s really going on among consenting adults.”
A couple of the bill’s provisions are similar to laws in Utah and Arizona, including the age of consent and making it a crime to preside over a marriage in which one of the participants is underage or already married to someone else.
The townspeople of Eldorado, which has a population of about 2,000, were shocked to discover a year ago that the sect was building a retreat on the edge of town. The group came from its headquarters on the Utah-Arizona border.
While mainstream Mormons have shunned polygamy, members of the FLDS believe it’s the only way to get to the “celestial kingdom.”
The church is led by self-proclaimed prophet Warren Jeffs, who has been sued by former members who allege that he has raped a young male family member and unlawfully kicked men and boys out of their homes.
Former members have described child brides and women being forced to have dozens of children, but church members deny the accusations. Supporters say they have a right to peacefully practice their religious beliefs.
Law enforcement officials say they’ve seen no evidence that the 80 to 100 folks living at the YFZ Ranch are breaking any laws.
The hastily put-together legislation still needs a lot of revision, Mr. Hilderbran said, to ensure it doesn’t affect more people than the intended target.
“It’s not an easy issue to deal with,” he said. “It’s easy to know where you stand on it, but it’s very difficult to come up with a solution that meets the muster of people’s constitutional rights.”
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