May 09, 2006

Crackdown on polygamy group

The Christian Science Monitor

By Brad Knickerbocker | Staff writer of The Christian Science Monitor

Small polygamous groups have existed in the southwestern US under the watchful yet fairly benign eye of authorities ever since a sect known as the Fundamentalist Latter Day Saints (FLDS) separated itself from mainstream Mormonism in 1890.

That year, the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints banned "plural marriages," a move declared to be based on a "revelation" from God. The decision was also required for Utah to become a state.

Now, FLDS leader Warren Jeffs has been added to the FBI's list of "Ten Most Wanted Fugitives," a move that caps law enforcement's dramatic change of approach toward the polygamous group in recent years. The group's belief that men need more than one wife to reach heaven, which FLDS defenders argue is a matter of religious freedom and pluralism in the United States, is not the main catalyst for the tougher stance. Rather, it's the impact that the group's practices, law enforcement officials say, are having on the most vulnerable within the sect, particularly children and women.

When the FLDS under Mr. Jeffs (and his father before him) grew to some 10,000 followers in several southwestern communities with estimated assets of $110 million; when it became clear that government officials, school authorities, and police in those communities had become intertwined with the sect; when ex-members increasingly reported child and sexual abuse charges (mainly involving underage girls forced to marry older men); and when the sect began to use secluded compounds, state and federal authorities started to crack down more vigorously.

Posted by kshaw at May 9, 2006 05:01 AM