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Home / Articles / / /  Mullen | Lone Star Justice: Why isn’t Utah as bold as Texas about polygamy?

Mullen | Lone Star Justice: Why isn’t Utah as bold as Texas about polygamy?

By Holly Mullen
Posted // April 9,2008 -

Don’t mess with Texas.The slogan used to be reserved for bumper stickers. But on April 3, Texas authorities showed the world a whole new meaning of the phrase—spreading out on a sprawling FLDS compound in Eldorado, ultimately taking more than 400 children of polygamists into custody. They did so, apparently, based on a March 31 phone call from a 16-year-old girl, who claimed to have been forced into marrying a 50-year-old man and to have had his child.

Bam. Done. Round up the kids and many of their mothers. Give them safety and shelter. Detain the men on the YFZ Ranch. Bring on the search warrants. Ask questions later. In this landmark case of child protection, that’s how it’s done deep in the heart of Texas.

Utah was never so bold. When we had our chance to clean up a similar mess over decades, our blessed state wimped out. Legal authorities have fussed and fretted for more than a half-century, since the infamous 1953 raid on Arizona’s Short Creek, where 160 children were rounded up and kept in state custody for two years. It’s been Utah’s policy—forged in the past eight years, primarily by Attorney General Mark Shurtleff—to work slowly and practically with FLDS communities and in prosecuting men who groom little girls to be their sex partners and take them as underage wives.

For eight years, Shurtleff has said he finds the behavior of convicted sex criminal Warren S. Jeffs and his followers reprehensible. Shurtleff has said he’ll fully prosecute anyone who forces a young girl into marriage—because that goes far beyond anyone’s right to free practice of religion.

Authorities got their big fish last year—one-time FLDS prophet Jeffs—after he’d been on the run since 2006. A St. George jury found him an accomplice to the rape of Elissa Wall, for arranging her underage marriage some years ago to an adult male.Meanwhile, for years—decades—children on the Utah side of the Fundamentalist Church of Latter-day Saints enclave have been raised in isolation and brainwashed to believe that grown men have the patriarchal right to impregnate girls who still have one foot in puberty.

As Jeffs fought his legal battles unfolding in Utah and Arizona, hundreds of his followers fled to Eldorado, where they scratched out a whole new compound on 1,691 acres in West Texas. They went about their work earnestly, trying to keep a low profile. They built a towering limestone temple and their trademark big, boxy houses and outbuildings.Utah politicians and law enforcement officials have a 160-year history of living with polygamy. For many, “the principle” is a part of their sacred ancestral heritage, which has somehow kept it from serious scrutiny. For so many others, polygamy remains just another element of Utah’s wacky religious back-story—like inexplicable liquor laws and closing off public access to Main Street. And that means that as time passes, polygamy and the outgrowth of child abuse come to be seen as silly cultural icons worthy of only an eye roll.

Fortunately, Texas wasn’t hoisting that baggage. When hundreds of FLDS followers began moving in, authorities took notice. It isn’t that Texans haven’t had their share of odd religious sects and subcultures—the ill-fated followers of David Koresh, whose compound was burned down in a 1993 siege being a recent example. So they watched another bizarre and secretive sect moving in and got busy.

Almost simultaneously with the establishment of the YFZ Ranch, Texas legislators raised the legal age for marriage to 16. It was one effort to head off any problems—they hoped—with underage marriages in Eldorado.

Harassment? Religious persecution? Hardly. It’s about time someone took polygamy as practiced by the FLDS seriously. Taking young girls as wives is wrong. It isn’t a civil right and it isn’t a quaint lifestyle. Texas had the advantage of knowing little about the practice, and when the time came to go out and protect children suspected to have been abused, the state did not hesitate.

As I write this, men who have been detained at the YFZ are crying out against Texas cops and social-service authorities. They have hired lawyers to represent their interests and that is their right. The case Texas is trying to build against the clan in Eldorado is in process. Like most child welfare cases, it is slow going, piecemeal and light on specifics. These problems are increased tenfold when trying to gain information from a society whose trademarks are secrecy, isolation and pathological distrust of government and civil authority.

Authorities have yet to identify the girl who tipped them off. Perhaps she doesn’t exist. But an exhaustive search of the compound is going down and, given the history of the FLDS, it’s likely some stone of criminal evidence will be uncovered.And if not? At least Texas took a stand and turned an ear toward a population that should matter most but seldom does: children. Their fathers can scream all day about their rights; at least they have a voice.

Utah should be such a busybody.

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Posted // April 14,2008 at 10:40 Ms. Mullen: Have you gone completely loopy? Have you given up on the whole idea of reasonable cause to believe a crime was committed to justify police action? You really think that taking a stand (whatever that means) against what you believe is going on the FLDS compund justifies ripping 400 children from thier families - - families many of which have violated no law other than the one the defines marriage as between one man and one woman? If the Texas authorities cannot identify a victim, and now apparently can’t correctly identify a perpertrator, then this seems like a policie action (even if well intentioned) gone seriously awry. It would be akin to taking children away from all same-sex couples because of a few anonymous and unproven allegations that gays or lesbians abuse children.nnDon’t get me wrong: I am not supporting child sex abuse or underage marriage. But your conclusion that, if that cannot be shown, well, so what? is terrifying to me. And should be to civil libertarians around the county.


Posted // April 13,2008 at 09:48 You kick so much ass. Being born into Mormonism I can relate to this brainwash. At the tender young age of 11 I asked my mom (who wasn’t “practicing” then) if I could stop going to church. I told her I bought into the whole Jesus thing, but Joseph Smith was a charlatan. She said it was ok, and it’ one decision she wishes she could take back... even though she’ an absolute moon unit right now, I thank God that she let me choose.nn These FLDS kids don’t have that choice. I found this article based on the Mormon curtain link, and you guys have nailed it... the Mormons want so badly to believe Joseph Smith was a good guy that they think they can contain the flow of KoolAid. The polygamists mirror the lifestyle taught to Joseph Smith... supposedly by God himself. This is where the paradox is found, and you can’t have your cake and eat it to. Much like the salamander letters... could this be the key to exposing Joseph Smith for anything other than the truth, which is...he was a pedophile... wake up.nn Did God change his mind in 1978 when he allowed blacks to hold the priesthood? Why was “whitesom” removed from later versions of the book of Mormon? Did God slip up there? Wake up and understand that to be Mormon is to believe Joseph was in fact a prophet of God, and to pass the God test the word must always be true (always being the operative word). If so, then polygamy is ok and will continue to flourish in Utah as we spend our precious welfare dollars to allow old men to use young women (young girls) as baby machines to repopulate the horror. Thank you for the article... I’m a Christian an not a Mormon... there’ a difference. To be a Christian is to denounce Joseph Smith... which I openly do... make a choice. Mormons are not Christians and Christians are not Mormons.


Posted // April 11,2008 at 12:54 Why isn’t Utah as bold as Texas about polygamy? nnThe concise answer is Short Creek.nnJust before dawn on 26 July 1953, Arizona state police and National Guard troops raided the polygamous community of Short Creek, Arizona. The authorities arresting several hundred persons, including some 230 children. About 150 of the children were held in state custody for two years or longer, and some were never returned to their parents.nnThe Short Creek raid was a public-relations disaster for the state of Arizona. Editorial reaction from around the country was almost uniformly negative. The bad publicity is widely thought to have destroyed the political career of Arizona Governor John Howard Pyle, who lost his bid for re-election in 1954. Other politicians in Arizona and Utah learned their lesson: taking children away from their mothers is likely to be bad for one’s political future.nnOne of the few newspapers to editorialize in favor of the Short Creek raid was the Salt Lake City Deseret News, which is owned by the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (the Mormons). However, following negative public reaction against the church’s position (including criticism from some prominent Mormons), Mormon church leaders have muted their support for further action against polygamists. The LDS church’s announced position is that polygamy is a problem for the civil authorities to handle.


Posted // April 10,2008 at 12:27 Interesting. Also, it’s interesting to note that only men in the LDS Church are permitted to be sealed in the temple to more than one woman. It doesn’t work the other way for women, who can only marry once in the temple. So if she remarries, as these former general authorities did, it’s a civil deal. Guess the message to women in the LDS Church is choose wisely sisters--you only get one chance.


Posted // April 10,2008 at 08:06 Forget about Utah finding its courage. It ain’t there. Utah won’t pull a similar invasion because the publicity would show the world that the Mormon church’s legacy to the state is alive and doing quite well, thank you. nnThe LDS church is responsible for all things polygamy as it relates to religion. Joey Smith and Brigham brought the illegal practice to Utah when the pioneers invaded Indian country. Because the church obliterated the practice does not absolve it from responsibility. For Mormons to say we ended it 100 years ago is utter nonsense.nnWhy don’t the prophets denounce with authority polygamy and those who practice it? Why don’t the Mormon church authorities work with the wayward polygamists to get them back to the true church?nnAfter all, all it would take is a revelation. Or revolution.nnOddity begets oddity; weirdness, etc. The Mormon church is NOT the true church, despite the authorities continuing shouting that ad naseum.nnMormonism is a huge and very successful fraud. Anyone for a peep stone? How anyone can believe and practice the nonsense is way beyond my comprehension.