Religious Discrimination Case Against Polygamous Towns Goes Forward

But are these fundamentalist-LDS towns the perpetrators or the victims of religious discrimination?



A U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ) lawsuit against a pair of polygamous towns on the Utah-Arizona border will go to trial early next year. The agency alleges that police and officials in Hildale, Utah, and Colorado City, Arizona, systematically discriminated against residents who are not members of the Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints (FLDS), a Mormon offshoot known for polygamy, patriarchy, and its cult-like leader Warren Jeffs. But the towns say this is just the latest in a long tradition of targeted harassment by government agents opposed to the separatist, religious lifestyle of residents.

"The lawsuit alleges that the communities' police officers have confronted people about their disobedience of church rules, failed to investigate crimes against them and returned an underage bride home after she had fled," the Associated Press reports. The lawsuit also says that non-fundamentalist residents were discriminated against in terms of housing and water services, and that city officials have continued to take orders from Jeffs, who is currently serving life in federal prison on child sexual-assault charges. The feds claim Hildale and Colorado City—which have a combined population of about 7,500—are in violation of the Fair Housing Act, Title III of the Civil Rights Act, and the Violent Crime Control and Law Enforcement Act.

The towns denied all allegations. In June, U.S. District Judge H. Russel Holland denied motions from both the DOJ and the towns, thereby allowing the case to go forward to a trial.

So who has a better case? The DOJ's claims against these towns certainly seem plausible—Hildale and Colorado City are ground zero for the kind of insular, abusive, and ultra-conservative religious sects that give polygamy such a bad name. And in another lawsuit, settled last year, a federal jury did find the local water-utility guilty of denying a family service on religious grounds. Yet DOJ evidence against Hildale and Colorado City seems pretty scant, and it's also plausible that federal prosecutors simply have it out for these much-maligned communities.

This particular case has been kicking around since 2012, when the lawsuit was originally filed. The feds claim Hildale and Colorado City government officials were uncooperative from the beginning and refused to answer questions about things like church leadership, which town officials were FLDS members, and how many members of town security forces were with the FLDS.

But "the towns countered that the government was fishing, and that its allegations about the security force were similar to 'contending that Boston's predominantly Irish Catholic police force has operated as an arm of the Catholic Church,'" Courthouse News Service reports.

Colorado City's attorney, Jeff Matura, told Courthouse News in 2012 that the lawsuit was the anticipated result of frustration in Utah and Arizona over unsuccessful attempts to control the towns.

Both states have tried to "dismantle" the municipal governments through legislative actions, and both have failed, the Phoenix-based attorney said.

Several previous civil-rights investigations have also been unfruitful. And in 2013, Judge Holland dismissed part of the state's argument in this current case, as it relied on declaring a community park and zoo to be municipally operated merely because town police patrolled there.

"No one has ever taken the time to meet the communities to see if there is a problem," Matura told CNS, adding that "the more the government and the states try to change [these communities], the more they will dig in their heels and refuse to change." That's a shame, because there have been signs the towns have been changing with Jeffs now gone. Hildale recently welcomed its first national-chain restaurant (Subway) and, more significantly, the town's first public school since Jeffs decreed 13 years ago that all FLDS kids be homeschooled. It also held a 4th of July celebration thought to be the first large, public gathering of community members since 2002.

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  1. Polygamy Now! That’s my new mantra. I have too much love for one woman and no one can deny my RIGHT to be happy.

    1. Insanity later.

      1. HOOCHIE MAMA!

    2. Before you take a second wife, you might want to consider what the Bible says on the subject.

      “No man can serve two masters.”

  2. I think the base problem here is that the state will not recognize such FLDS marriages as validly licensed.

    1. Validly licensed? I think Obergefell settled that problem. The polygamists will claim a 14th Amendment right to enjoy the “synergy” of the Due Process/Equal Protection clauses in Justice Kennedy’s ruling. They only have to ask for it.

  3. Well this is the poster child for the expression:
    “A pox on both your houses”.

    I am all for different types of marriage contracts (plural marriages, group marriage) as long as all of the involved parties are consenting adults (just like any other contractual arrangement). So if it can be proved that underage girls are being forced to take part in these arrangements then throw the book at the folks involved (not for polygamy, but for sexual assault of a minor, or kidnapping as may be appropriate). And of course the same goes for any adults who are being forced in some way to stay there.

    On the other hand, the Feds and State govt are going after them not because of any percieved violations of individual liberty, but because they get pressure from leftards and socons that we can’t have polygamy going on. (After all, dancing might break out!)

    1. I think there is more than just kidnapping/child assault happening. There is a real question of whether or not the town is using its force to institute/maintain the religious system in these communities.

      Polygamy is all well and good in larger society where the overall impact on male:female ratio is lessened. But go to any largely polygamous culture, and you will find government force turning women not into second class citizens, but into chattel that is bought and sold. You will find male youths forced out of the community because they compete with the richer, most established males. Humans by and large need a mate, and given the nearly even split between men and women, the natural equilibrium is pair bonding. That doesn’t mean exceptions won’t occur, but it does mean you need to restrict the choices of women and heavily disenfranchise a portion of the men to make it the rule rather than the exception.

      The charges alleged by the state seem to support that notion. The evidence will play out in court I’m sure, but I strongly doubt the idea that this entire community has continued to exist without police and other town officials using their power to keep it that way.

      1. Oh there is abuse going on…

        I researched it a few years back:

        Help Reduce Child Abuse: Legalize Polygamy Now!

        because of the persecution, devout church members faced a difficulty in finding business partners and naturally banded together and did business largely with other church members. This lack of trade allowed church leaders to gradually take over the community’s wealth. In effect the fear of persecution recreated feudalism. The church leaders became the noblemen, and the common church members became the peasants.

        As the church gained a totalitarian control of their members’ economic activities, the church was able to isolate their members from being able to function in outside society. The church could exert a totalitarian control of how the young are educated. It could make or ruin men.

        Furthermore, the members of the church are denied access to the court system; after all if a man is vulnerable to prison-time for bigamy he is hardly likely to sue the church for ripping him off.

        By criminalizing their deepest religious beliefs, the state in effect empowers church leaders to abuse the members of the church at will. If the malignant power or the church elders were an arch, the laws banning polygamy would be its keystone. Legalizing polygamy would doom the feudal system.

        1. While I am certain that criminalizing polygamy has caused this black market activity, I do not see any reason to think that this will end communities banding together to encode polygamy in their laws. Polygamy as a culture cannot survive without removing women’s choices. While a select set of women are ok with being a sister wife, the vast majority very quickly find it unacceptable and want to be the sole mate of their family.

          These little towns in the middle of nowhere will still crop up that do this activity. I don’t think we need to ban polygamy, we instead need to be extremely concerned about the traditional separation of religion and town- especially in the middle of nowhere.

          1. I agree with you except in one detail. I agree about the implicit tyranny of a small town where most people are homogeneous. But where did you get the data about “the vast majority very quickly find it unacceptable and want to be the sole mate of their family.”
            (“Data” is not the plural of anecdote.)

            I think Muslim and Chinese examples of multiple wives and concubines developed rules we find unthinkable as Western libertarians, but little girls can be brainwashed from infancy just as little jihadists are – scared deeply about “hell” and consequences of disobeying authority.

      2. You will find male youths forced out of the community because they compete with the richer, most established males.

        Let’s move into the 21st century. What about women competing with the dude that has 12 husbands?

      3. You will find male youths forced out of the community because they compete with the richer, most established males.

        Sounds like a nature show I was watching the other day.

        1. Hey, if it works for lions…

      4. I think you’re presuming that “polygamy” always equals one man with multiple females. There are at least two other possibilities, women with more than one male and groups of multiple males and females.

        1. Good luck with that.

          On paper polygamy might be okay, but in practice, it ends up with rich older guys with lots of women and a lot of pissed off, angry young dudes.

    2. I noticed during the Warren Jeffs outrage that none of the mothers of the minors was prosecuted for aiding and abetting (or conspiracy or complicity).

      Why should they have been exempted? It is this selective enforcement that leads me to be mostly dismissive of this as an actual problem.

  4. The feds claim Hildale and Colorado City government officials were uncooperative from the beginning and refused to answer questions about things like church leadership, which town officials were FLDS members, and how many members of town security forces were with the FLDS.

    So the feds are complaining about town officials invoking their Fifth Amendment rights against self-incrimination from people who in short order prosecuted them? Seems like a wise move on the townies’ part.

  5. the town’s first public school since Jeffs decreed 13 years ago that all FLDS kids be homeschooled

    Local pharmacies ordered their first shipments of pediatric-dose Ritalin and Haldol the same week.

  6. Like everything else wrong with the world, I blame this on the gays.

    1. I’m still going with global warming.

      Can’t help it – I’m old school.

  7. “Ultra-conservative sect”???

    These people are promoting polygamy. That means they are on the front lines of the marriage equality movement, how can anyone call them conservative?

    Must be a reflex.

    1. Yes, this is a radical sect. They aren’t ultra-conservative in any kind of normal sense.

    2. Do you have some love affair with the adjective “conservative”? Their views of polygamy come directly from the Old Testament, and they have a radically fundamentalist faith. BUT they are rebels and radicals in modern America – they are non-conformists and worship in a FLDS cult. Maybe they are the Maccabees of their people.

      That does not diminish their 1st, 9th, and 14th Amendment rights. But it would be a good volunteer project to send libertarian “missionaries” in there to distribute “how-to-escape” literature.

  8. Religious Discrimination Case Against Polygamous Towns Goes Forward

    I fully support a towns right to have it’s marriage recognized by the State

    1. I heard it had to get married…

      1. You seen its Township? FUGLY, but no one will tell the parents….

  9. So much for marriage equality!

  10. What’s the free contraceptive situation there?

  11. I guess sometimes #LoveLoses

  12. I was arguing with a prog once about the way the Amish teach their children, who usually learn in home school only to the 8th grade. He felt that the state should force them to go through all 12 grades like everyone else. He said he this was because he cared so much about their future and wanted them to get good jobs. He had no interest in the desire of the Amish to raise their children as they saw fit.

    So much for tolerance. “My way is better, so you’d better do it, or else!”

    1. wanted them to get good jobs

      Wow, because, you know, kids who are home-schooled are so much less educated than those in the state system.

      I’ve read about public school advocates who argue that kids who are home-schooled should not be allowed to take any classes at a public school because they have opted out.

      1. He got really mad when I pointed out that this was the same argument the US govt used when it forced Indian children to go to boarding schools.

        1. Heh, heh. You could also have pointed out that some (not all) Indian boarding schools were created by the enlightened Progressive movement.

  13. What are Amy Schumer’s, Donald Trump’s and Rush Limbaugh’s takes on this? Has anyone found out?

    1. something something “off-color” something something “ugly and incendiary”

  14. Regarding that crazy woman who claimed Amy Schumer is a horrible racist, her twitter feed is gold right now. Example:

    “Stacey Patton ?@DrStaceyPatton 2h2 hours ago
    @AV8PIX Black people can’t be racist.”

    “@CollegeFix @ScottGreenfield I don’t care! You people are of no consequence to me. Come into my space and I will show you your nasty asses!”

    “Stacey Patton ?@DrStaceyPatton 3h3 hours ago
    @CollegeFix @drdavidjleonard Didn’t I tell you boys a few months ago about wagging your fiber-optic micropenises in my Twitter feed?”

    “Stacey Patton ?@DrStaceyPatton 2h2 hours ago
    @ScottGreenfield You will NEVER tell this Black woman how to speak or when and where she shall enter. You don’t like it, then move along.”

    1. The funny thing is, statements like “all white people are racist” or “black people can’t be racist” are themselves racist statements.


        1. You had me at ALL CAPS…

        2. One time in Tanzania, a Tanzanian teacher I was friends with asked me, half jokingly why white people are so racist. I said “do you see what you’re doing now? Talking about a group of people being all the same?” He laughed.

          Later, he invited me to spend the weekend at his house and meet his family. His grandfather had been a clan elder, and had passed down a spear to him. It was really cool looking. I asked him if he could throw it. He said “oh yeah, but I’m tired today.”

          I’m sure some people would say it was racist for me to ask a black guy to throw a spear. To that I say, fuck off, it was Africa, they really do have spears and they really do throw them.

          1. Was it really any worse than visiting friends that live on a working ranch and asking a real life cowboy to show you some lasso tricks?

  15. Why would any outsider want to live in one of these places in the first place?

    1. It’s a good question. Just like the people who are profoundly anti-Walmart would never actually shop there. It’s about forcing other people to live according to the forcer’s personal preferences. No one can be left alone to be weird in their own way.

  16. But are these fundamentalist-LDS towns the perpetrators or the victims of religious discrimination?

    Why not both?

  17. Hildale recently welcomed its first national-chain restaurant (Subway) and, more significantly, the town’s first public school

    Lol. You know you’re reading a great piece of libertarian analysis when a relatively closed off society newly engaging in open commerce takes a backseat to its embrace of gubmint schools.

  18. Justice Kennedy and the Supreme Court have laid the basis in Obergefell to relax the old anti-polygamy taboo. The “synergy” between the Due Process clause and the Equal Protection clause is rarely invoked by the Court, but it is closest to a libertarian reading of the 9th Amendment.

    It will surprise me if the government will be stupid enough to bring that into the “fair housing” case, but the decisions we have seen about free exercise of religion offer some interesting material. Mostly the cultural war against the FLDS is what animates all of this. It is true, however, such a lifestyle is authoritarian and women are way down on the dignity scale. I believe the local cops are like caricatures of “southern sherifs” in Jim Crow days. But the “brother’s keeper” instinct among some people in urban Arizona is strong too, so they have been focused on these FLDS communities for many years.

    1. “… and women are way down on the dignity scale …”

      And it takes the benevolent government (white men) to step in and educate and extract said women from their predicament? Why?

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