A judge has granted a permanent restraining order barring polygamous sect leaders loyal to Warren Jeffs from a large school building used as a church by followers of a rival prophet.
In a hearing Monday, 3rd District Judge Denise Lindberg ordered the Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints not to “interfere” or “harass” people using the Holm School Building. FLDS attorneys did not appear at the hearing.
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The ruling comes after a high-tension December standoff over growing divisions in the community and control of the sect’s property trust, which was taken over by the state of Utah in 2005.
“This was one step in making it clear that the [FLDS] community and law enforcement needs to comply with the rule of law and respect the court decisions and ruling and enforcement,” saidattorneyRoger Hoole. He represents Tom Holm, who ran an FLDS private school until he was excommunicated on Dec. 15.
The day after Holm was tossed out, his former brethren changed the locks on the building, which is one of the largest in the sect’s home base of Colorado City, Ariz. and Hildale, Utah. Over the next five days, they stayed in the building overnight and constructed new fencing to keep Holm and his supporters out, according to court documents.
But Holm has a legal right to use the building through a court-approved occupancy agreement held by his brother, former member Richard Holm. On Dec. 20, the Washington County Sheriff intervened in the standoff along with the county attorney and several deputies, and the FLDS men left.
Since then, followers of William E. Jessop have been using the building for Sunday services. Their numbers have grown to some 1,000 people, according to Willie R. Jessop, a former spokesman for the FLDS who now opposes Jeffs.
A former FLDS church elder, William E. Jessop emerged last March to say that he, not Jeffs, was the true prophet of the sect. Despite condemnation from FLDS leaders, he’s been gathering followers.
“That’s a major thorn in Warren’s side, to have them growing that fast,” said community resident Isaac Wyler, who testified at the Monday hearing.
William E. Jessop
William E. Jessop was a high-ranking bishop of the FLDS towns of Colorado City, Arizona, and Hildale, Utah. He was handpicked for the position by Jeffs. But in February 2011 Jessop was ousted, along with several other FLDS leaders.
While in jail in January of 2007 — awaiting trial on charges of being an accomplish to rape of a minor — cult leader Warren Jeffs told family and key sect members he had never been a prophet. He instead named William E. Jessop as the faith’s rightful leader.
The jailhouse conversation was video-taped:
Jeffs made his pronouncement just before a suicide attempt.
In February, 2007, Jeffs retracted his statements, claiming that he had “experienced a great spiritual test.”
Then, in April that same year, it was reported that Jeffs attempted to pass a handwritten note to a judge. The note reportedly again stated that he is not the prophet of the Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints.
In March last year William E. Jessop filed paperwork to take legal control of the sect’s corporate entity. The filing came one month after Jeffs reassumed control of the FLDS presidency — a position from which he resigned in December 2007.
Jessop’s take-over attempt failed, but his meetings attract about 1,000 of Jeffs’ former followers.
As early as March 2011 its was rumored that ousted followers and dissatisfied former members were either planning a coup against Jeffs, or starting a rival group.
In August last year a Texas jury convicted polygamist Warren Jeffs of child sexual assault Thursday in a case stemming from two young followers he took as brides in what his church calls “spiritual marriages.” He was subsequently sentenced to life in prison plus twenty years.
Observers believe that Lyle Jeffs, one of Warren Jeff’s brothers, is currently in control of the FLDS.
As we reported last August, it is not be inconceivable that the FLDS community could split, but it is far more likely that a number of people ousted from the group would start their own, rival sect.