Yesterday, the Senate Judiciary Committee met to hear the testimony of experts and witnesses about the systemic abuses in communities dominated by the Fundamentalist Church of Latter Day Saints (FLDS). Some highlights from the testimony:
Carolyn Jessop, former FLDS member
I am here today to inform this panel about my firsthand experiences of systematic abuse and disregard for the law within the FLDS, which leads to the isolation of the most vulnerable individuals within any community, the women and children who live without protection of laws that most Americans take for granted. The rural, small town lifestyle and the old fashioned looking clothing worn by the group should not lead anyone to overlook the fact that they have vast resources. They are experts at disregarding laws which they do not like and are equally quick to invoke laws which favor them.
When the FLDS enters an area it moves decisively to assume political and legal control of that community. Members vote as they are told by their leadership. Their religious leaders’ goal is to place individuals in public office who will follow the dictates of the FLDS rather than the law.
If a woman who was beaten by her husband called the police, she was typically told by the police officer that she was “married to a good man and if she was obedient, there would not be any problems.” The police would not interfere with the religious teaching that gave a man the right to discipline his household.
Dan Fischer, former FLDS member
The truth is much stranger and problematic than just the “novelty” of polygamy. Indeed, were several women and only one man decide to set up housekeeping in this day and age, one would think that it should hardly be worth comment, when lifestyles previously considered unusual, exotic or even deviant, are finding their place in a more open and tolerant America. However, the polygamy I’m here to talk about is for more than just unusual housekeeping arrangements. Reality: The problems caused by the FLDS leadership are unacceptable whether they were polygamous or monogamous. Too often wrongful actions occur under the smoke screen of polygamy or “religious freedom”. Unfortunately, FDLS [sic] polygamy has degenerated to a cult that is far from benign. Today, it is a society with absolute rule over the lives and thought of individuals and families; a society at odds with the laws that govern outsiders including “apostates” like myself and – “gentiles” such as all of you.
Terry Goddard, Arizona Attorney General
The work being done by my Office in Colorado City is not about religion, culture or lifestyle. Rather, it is about protecting women and children from domestic abuse and sexual violence; combating fraud and public corruption; enforcing civil rights laws; upholding peace officer standards, and ensuring that the rule of law is applied equally and comprehensively throughout our land.
The Senate hearing was entitled, “Crimes Associated With Polygamy: The Need For A Coordinated State And Federal Response”. Association, however, does not necessarily suggest causation.
What’s to blame for the crimes that the hearing focused on? Is it really polygamy itself, or is some other factor more fundamentally responsible for the abuse? Absolutist religious beliefs? Rural isolation? Mixture of church and state? Authoritarian attitudes in conservative families?