For years, leaders in a polygamous sect based in southern Utah have counseled followers to cut ties with wayward children.
Now, a state lawmaker wants to hold parents who do so – and sect leaders who encourage them – responsible for abandoning their children.
For the second year, Rep. Lorie Fowlke, R-Orem, is sponsoring a bill that would make it a third-degree felony for a person or enterprise to commit or encourage child abandonment. If the abandonment led to serious physical injury, the charge could be bumped up to a second-degree offense.
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It also includes provisions of the racketeering or RICO statute, which would allow the government to seize assets of any person or enterprise involved in child abandonment.
While the bill would apply to any parents, it is aimed at members of the Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints, based in Hildale, Utah, and Colorado City, Ariz.
Fowlke said prosecutors in southern Utah and the Utah Attorney General’s Office asked her to draft HB23.
The ”Lost Boys,” as the mostly male youths are known, have said they leave because they didn’t want to stay in the religion or were kicked out for violating the sect’s stringent rules about dress, music, movies, substance abuse and socializing with girls. Most report attending school only through eighth grade.
However, Utah Attorney General Mark Shurtleff said none of the teens has been willing to participate in a neglect case against his or her parents.
Franklin Johnson, 22, who was asked to leave home four years ago, said Friday the legislation is a “bad idea.”
”I don’t want to see my mom go through any more hell than she’s already gone through,” he said.
The real target of the bill, however, appears to be sect leaders and the sect itself.
”Most of the people working with the so-called Lost Boys want to help the kids but truly want the parents to take care of their children in the first place,” said Paul Murphy, spokesman for the Attorney General’s Office. “This will provide that incentive and keep families intact so we won’t hear any more stories about children being left out in the desert or told to leave and not come back.”