A Utah father is fighting an order that bars him from sharing his Fundamentalist Mormon views with his children — or even taking them to this small town he now calls home, where most residents hold a religious belief in polygamy that a judge deemed “harmful.”
Joseph Compton doesn’t like the label “Fundamentalist Mormon.” Instead, he prefers to describe himself as believing in “the gospel like Joseph Smith originally wrote it,” which includes the religious tenet of plural marriage.
But that belief has put him outside the law, 4th District Judge Donald J. Eyre said in a ruling last fall that gave Kathleen Compton temporary custody of the couple’s four minor children, who range in age from 5 to 16. They also have four adult children.
Eyre ordered Joseph Compton, 49, to not “discuss polygamy or plural marriage with the minor children, allow the children to be in close proximity to those [other than himself] who practice polygamy or plural marriage or who aid or abet those who do.”
Eyre also barred Compton, a farmer, from taking the children within the incorporated boundaries of Rocky Ridge, a community located in Juab County. Many residents of the community are fundamentalists who practice plural marriage.
Allowing the children to associate with residents there would entail “unnecessary and harmful conflict” with the children’s nonpolygamous upbringing, the judge said in his findings.
Compton said he is unwilling to deny his beliefs. But that does not give the state leeway to trample his rights under Utah law or the U.S. Constitution, he said.
“I want to be able to speak freely, I want to be able to travel freely, I want to be able to answer my children’s questions freely,” Compton said. “I have sincerely held religious beliefs that others object to. That’s OK. But I can’t have my free choice? That is what I object to.”
Rocky Ridge, founded in 1972 and incorporated in 1996, has about 800 residents. A majority are members of the Apostolic United Brethren, also known as the Allred Group, which adheres to a fundamentalist version of Mormonism that includes plural marriage — which the sect sanctions only between consenting adults. The enclave includes homes, a private school, several businesses, an elk farm, a volunteer fire department and a church.
Aaron Bronson, an AUB representative who serves on the Utah Safety Net Committee, said not all those who live in Rocky Ridge practice polygamy or belong to the group. Compton’s case is the first to identify the community as an unfit place for children, Bronson said.
The constitutional and parental rights issues raised in the Compton divorce case have been the subject of similar legal proceedings in Utah and several other states.
A Chicago judge ruled earlier this month that a Catholic father can take his preschool-age daughter to Mass even though the girl’s mother is raising her in the Jewish faith, undoing a previous decision that barred him from taking her to any “non-Jewish religious activities.” The judge said there was no evidence exposure to other religious practices would harm the child.
In 2006, the Supreme Court of Pennsylvania overturned a lower court decision that prohibited a father from sharing his Fundamentalist Mormon belief in polygamy with his minor daughter, finding that “illegality of the proposed conduct on its own is not sufficient to warrant the restriction.”
Absent a finding that discussing such matters would pose a “grave threat of harm” to a child, there is insufficient basis for the infringing on constitutionally protected right of a parent to “speak to a child about religion as he or she sees fit,” the court wrote.
And the Utah Supreme Court ruled in 1991 that living in a plural family alone was not reason enough to prohibit a couple from adopting children of one plural wife after she died of cancer. Polygamy may be prohibited, but that does not mean the state must deny any or all civil rights to polygamists, wrote Chief Justice Christine Durham.
David O. Leavitt, who is representing Kathleen Compton, said Thursday the Utah case is “very much going to become a battle over [Joseph Compton’s] right to say what he wants and the mother’s right and society’s right to protect children.”
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