In what is certainly a novel approach, the Department of Justice has sued two polygamist towns for religious discrimination against non-members and expelled members of the Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints (FLDS). This includes “denying non-FLDS individuals housing, police protection, and access to public space and services”. The joint lawsuit is against neighboring Hildale, Arizona and Colorado City, Arizona, which are controlled entirely by FLDS members.
The current head of FLDS, Warren Jeffs, is serving a life sentence in Texas on child sex and bigamy charges, including sexual assault on a 12 year old girl. The issues and facts about polygamists are confused and murky. I recently lived for two years in Cedar City, Utah not too far from Hildale. Perhaps I can shed some light here.
FLDS completely control the two towns. They are the mayor, the judge, and the police. In fact, FLDS owns or controls almost everything. They are secretive and unfriendly. They are quite happy to have you stop eat at the Merry Wives Café, run by polygamist wives and decorated with placards on the walls making it obvious they are polygamists however venturing into Hildale itself can be dicey. A friend who likes to look at old graveyards drove into Hildale once. People yelled at him to leave. When he parked, a police car came inches from his bumper. He waved at the cop and left town.
I once mentioned to someone raised in Utah that I thought hiking near polyg (“polyg” is Utah slang for polygamist) areas could be dangerous. He smiled and said, “They’d never find the body.” A garbage truck driver told me he drove to remote polygamist encampments once a week. The men drag the trash bins out to the public road and stand with rifles to insure he doesn’t enter their land. This stands in bizarre contrast to Cedar City itself, which is overwhelmingly friendly and relaxed.
The Mormon Church, or the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints (LDS), rightfully points out that polygamists are not Mormons. They are members of breakaway sects. LDS currently has zero tolerance for polygamy. Members who are found to be secret polygamists are excommunicated.
Third, I will go as far to say that many of us might not care if an adult male has more than one adult wife, which occurs in some cases in Utah. But that’s not what happens in sects like FLDS. The dominant men lay claim to the women, or should we say, girls. “Marriages” are arranged between middle-age men and girls in sixth grade. The girl obviously has no choice. Teenage boys who might be competition for the middle-aged males can be loaded into cars, and abandoned on a street corner somewhere to fend for themselves. They have no job skills, no concept of the outside world, and are known as lost boys.
As you can imagine, anyone who isn’t FLDS would have a difficult time indeed living in Hildale or Colorado City. The Department of Justice is using a new approach to break the power of FLDS, something which is quite justified.