Differing Approaches to Polygamy

LA Times article contrasts the actions of Texas against the Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints, which was in the state for only a short time, with the century of apathy shown by Arizona and Utah.

Utah and Arizona officials have long argued that polygamists are too entrenched in their states to simply stamp them out. In Utah, Atty. Gen. Mark Shurtleff’s office has prosecuted polygamists for child abuse. But it has never contemplated a full-scale raid like the one in Texas, spokesman Paul Murphy said.

“Our approach has been, if there is child abuse in one family, we will deal with that family,” Murphy said.

The office is trying to build trust in polygamist communities to report crimes such as underage marriage, Murphy added, but the Texas raids have sowed panic even in groups that practice polygamy only among consenting adults. …

The only FLDS event that compares to the Texas action is the dramatic 1953 raid by Arizona state police and the U.S. National Guard on the community of Short Creek. Authorities took about 400 residents — the entire FLDS population at the time — into custody and hauled away 236 children.

Emotional accounts of Short Creek children weeping while government agents stripped them from their mothers generated a backlash, and Arizona Gov. John Howard Pyle lost his job the next year, a lesson that influenced future Utah and Arizona politicians.

In Texas, however, the only criticism of the raid so far seems to be that it took too long to happen.

The question nobody is asking: does the fact that there are more Mormons in Arizona and Utah make a difference? Are non-polygamous Mormons in law enforcement going to look more kindly upon their “separated brethren” who practice the original teachings of the faith?

2 thoughts on “Differing Approaches to Polygamy

  1. Actually there are multiple reasons as to why Utah and Arizona have responded differently to the FLDS than Texas.

    I’ve been trying to find the article I read yesterday- I think it was in the Salt Lake Tribune but it might have been an Arizona paper- where an Arizona official said that they had received a similar call around about a week before the Texas call, and explained why their response was so different. He said that Arizona law allowed him to search for the girl, and remove her and possibly her siblings, but would not allow him to raid the entire community. They searched for the girl and couldn’t find her. I can’t find the article this morning though.

    I would guess that the reason for the difference in response are multiple:

    1: Experience.

    Arizona and Utah officials have much more experience with the FLDS and so know that physical/sexual abuse and even underage “marriages” are not the typical situation. Most FLDS girls do not marry before their 17th or 18th birthday, despite what the news reports make it sound like.

    Caveat: When Warren Jeffs became their prophet these incidences of abuse and underage marriages increased significantly- Utah and Arizona officials are hoping that after jailing him that the level of incidences will decrease.

    Utah and Arizona also have experienced attempting a raid like this before and know that it ultimately made things worse. Not just for them politically, but in polygamist resistance to law enforcement.

    2: Baptists and other Protestants in Utah support heavy restrictions on CPS. Consider that Mormons in the area have large extended families and church organizations which greatly reduce the number of Mormon children taken into state custody. Baptists and other Protestants do not have these resources. Also, Mormons tend be the predominate foster family. So when CPS takes a Baptist child into custody they often have no place to put him other than with a Mormon family. Naturally this causes significant displeasure among Baptists. This has led to there being a demand for CPS to be reluctant to remove a child from his parents without immediate danger to the child. The Utah Baptists don’t like the FLDS, but protecting their own rights as a minority religion takes precedence.

    3: Mormons are vary wary of powerful governments and to some extent more willing to give polygamists the benefit of the doubt. Many are descended from polygamists, and all Mormons are quite aware of the ability of the State to abuse its power to attack an unpopular religion. The Extermination Order (of Mormons) in Missouri springs to mind.

    But there was also the experience of the federal persecution of Mormon polygamists. Mormon women were forced to testify against their husbands on pain of imprisonment. The right against self-incrimination was abused. There are several documented instances when the federal marshal literally handpicked the jury. Trial by a jury of peers was regularly denied, as Mormons were often banned from jury service.

    In Idaho Mormons were denied the right to vote simply for membership in the Church- even if they were not polygamists. In Utah women were deprived of the right to vote (the League of Women’s Voters supported this on the grounds that Mormon women voted like Mormons instead of like women).

    This actually highlights one of the big differences between historical mainstream Mormon polygamy and the FLDS version. Historically Mormons support empowered women- including the right to vote, but also in education. BYU (then Brigham Young Academy) was a coed institution from the beginning. If you look at photographs from the time period Mormon women are almost always posing with a book in hand on on the table next to them, while men usually pose with farming implements. Part of the women’s sphere was the repository of the family’s book learning.

    But I digress. Additionally Mormons know that often lies are told about religious groups. Beds in the temple to consummate the marriage is actually an old false tale about mainstream Mormon temples. Now Warren Jeffs is a pretty crazy guy, and I suppose he might have been crazy enough to institute such a policy- but there is no real evidence to support it so most Mormons tend to suspect this is merely a recycling of an old anti-Mormon myth.

    4: A general Western distrust of powerful government. Don’t forget that Utah and Arizona are part of the core Inter-mountain West, and as such are much “Don’t Tread On Me” type of folks. They prefer the government to stay as far away from them as possible. That is why Arizona law for example is much more restrictive on the extent of searches and seizures.

    I think the above together explain the differences in responses.

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