ST. GEORGE, Utah—A raid at the Texas ranch of a polygamous sect was no surprise given the secrecy surrounding the group, but Utah authorities would never act in a similar way, state Attorney General Mark Shurtleff said.
“I know you are worried about that. We’re not going to do it,” Shurtleff said Thursday during a public meeting on polygamy at the Dixie Center. “We don’t believe that is the answer.”
He said he’s not influenced by “talking heads” on television who want him to “cowboy-up.”
Texas authorities have removed 464 children, saying the ranch culture left them at risk of physical and sexual abuse.
The April 3 raid was in response to a complaint of abuse at the Yearning for Zion ranch near the West Texas town of Eldorado, owned by members of the Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints. The sect’s home base is on the Utah-Arizona border, about 50 miles east of St. George.
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The effects of the raid reverberated at the meeting, which was attended by about 500 people. About 37,000 fundamentalists who believe in or practice polygamy live in the Intermountain West, including Utah and Arizona.
Shurtleff tried to quell any fear that all polygamous groups are at risk. He said Utah will stay focused on crimes that hurt women and children, including incest.
Arizona Attorney General Terry Goddard said the Safety Net Committee, which was formed by Utah and Arizona, should prevent any Texas-style actions.
The committee brings together representatives from polygamous groups, law enforcement and service agencies to address issues and develop a support network for people leaving plural communities.
“I think that action was in part because that fundamentalist discussion was not taking place,” Goddard said. “The feeling was if there were children in distress there was no way they could get their voices heard. That’s not true of Arizona anymore.”
Some in the audience asked Shurtleff and Goddard for help in decriminalizing polygamy to help make the communities open. Shurtleff said the issue should wait until after the November election.
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