Rare public declaration gives a peek into what items the defense is trying to keep out of court
For the first time, a faithful follower of polygamous sect leader Warren S. Jeffs has stepped forward publicly in his defense, explaining why communication with him is considered sacred and should be kept private.
In a sworn statement, Alvin S. Barlow calls it a “sinful breach of God’s confidence” for Jeffs’ teachings, revelations or communications to be shared with people outside the Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints.
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Barlow’s statement was filed Monday in a federal court case that involves items seized when Jeffs was arrested last August.
Jeffs’ attorneys want religious documents and other items found in the Cadillac Escalade in which he was traveling kept private, and barred from use in upcoming criminal prosecutions or civil proceedings.
Jeffs, 51, faces two state felony charges of being an accomplice to rape for allegedly conducting a 2001 marriage to which the 14-year-old bride protested. He also faces a federal charge of fleeing to avoid prosecution.
In the federal case, Jeffs’ attorneys argue it is improper and unconstitutional for the government to use or release religious records they believe are unrelated to the charge against him. They also want to bar the records from being shared with a fiduciary overseeing a property trust once run by the sect.
Doing so would infringe on Jeffs’ religious rights and could jeopardize his right to a fair trial in the state criminal case, they claim.
The attorneys are asking U.S. District Judge Dee Benson to seal the seized records until deciding which items, if any, are unrelated to the federal prosecution and should be returned to Jeffs.
Neither Richard Wright nor Margaret Stanish, Las Vegas attorneys representing Jeffs, returned a telephone call from The Salt Lake Tribune.
About 16 of Jeffs’ followers have attended hearings in St. George, where the state case is under way, but all have declined to speak to media.
Barlow has not been at the hearings; his role in the FLDS hierarchy is unknown.
He served 31 years as superintendent of the Colorado City Unified School District, which Arizona authorities placed in receivership in 2005 after alleging financial mismanagement.
In his statement, Barlow outlines the origins of the FLDS church, its leadership structure and its scriptural canon. That canon, he notes, consists primarily of writings common to the “non-fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints.”
The LDS Church publicly disavowed polygamy twice – once in 1890 and again in 1904 – and excommunicates those who practice or support plural marriage. It also disavows breakaway sects like the FLDS church, saying they have nothing to do with Mormonism.
But the FLDS and other fundamentalist Mormon groups claim a shared historical heritage, theology and similar “priesthood order,” with a president/prophet, general authorities, Quorum of the Twelve, Presiding Bishops and First and Second Quorums of the Seventy, Barlow notes.
Barlow, 69, states the FLDS believe that only “one man,” the president and prophet, has God-given power and authority to act in his name. Today that man is Jeffs, he said.
That statement comes weeks after a court hearing during which Jeffs attempted to share a handwritten note with a state judge. According to a law enforcement source, Jeffs’ note stated he was not a prophet of the FLDS church.
Barlow’s statement, dated Monday, makes clear that Jeffs continues to be regarded as the spiritual leader of the FLDS church.
And his declaration gives much clearer insight into the nature of items Jeffs’ attorneys are attempting to have sealed and suppressed.
According to Barlow, the types of communications FLDS consider sacrosanct and “strictly confidential” include: marriage records, priesthood blessings; confessions; testimonies of faith; teachings; revelations; the prophet’s spiritual guidance; and membership, family and tithing records.
Disclosing such records to “non-members significantly interferes with a FLDS member’s spiritual path towards God’s Kingdom,” Barlow states.
“In other words, this unauthorized disclosure is a violation of confidence and destructive to the faith of those seeking to qualify for an exultation in the Celestial Kingdom of God,” he said.
Moreover, “The un- authorized disclosure of a teaching or revelation to a person outside the FLDS is deemed a sinful breach of God’s confidence and may be grounds for excommunica- tion.”
Among items found with Warren S. Jeffs in August, according to an FBI search warrant filed in federal court in Nevada, were:
- Two file folders full of religious documents.
- Three letter-size envelopes of religious documents.
- A black duffel bag stuffed with letters and documents addressed to Jeffs.
- Four laptop computers and various memory drives.
- To read Alvin S. Barlow’s statement, go to http://blogs.sltrib.com/ plurallife/