Derail Polygamy's Money Train

A bill before the Legislature would allow the state to begin reforming a society that steals public money and abuses underage girls

Commentary

The Arizona Legislature has the rare opportunity this session to strike a powerful blow to the heart of the fundamentalist Mormon polygamist cult that has dominated life in the isolated communities north of the Grand Canyon for more than 70 years.

Lawmakers are debating legislation that would allow the state to finally seize control of the corrupt Colorado City Unified School District from the nation's largest band of polygamists who claim to be following the teachings of Mormon Church founder Joseph Smith.

It's essential that the Republican-controlled Legislature and Democratic Governor Janet Napolitano reach agreement on such legislation during this session. There is too much at stake to let this opportunity slip away.

Colorado City, Arizona, and Hildale, Utah, are almost entirely populated by members of the Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.
Colorado City, Arizona, and Hildale, Utah, are almost entirely populated by members of the Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.
Postcard from the edge: A tightly controlled theocracy lies nestled in the landscape of the Arizona-Utah border.
Postcard from the edge: A tightly controlled theocracy lies nestled in the landscape of the Arizona-Utah border.

Napolitano needs to get off her throne and get down and dirty with legislators to make sure this bill passes. Her cowardly and aloof practice of not commenting on bills until they pass the Legislature is an abdication of the power that voters have given her -- which is to lead, not follow.

The governor is intimately familiar with the crisis gripping the Colorado City schools. As state attorney general, she initiated a grand jury investigation into abuses by the polygamists that went nowhere. In the last two years as governor, Napolitano has failed time and again to take direct action to help end the sexual slavery and taxpayer rip-offs that are Colorado City's hallmark.

Legislation that can begin the tedious process of reform is in danger of dying because of political infighting. Napolitano should use her bully pulpit to make sure this doesn't happen.

The tiny, one-school district has been systematically plundered by a cadre of religious fanatics to the point that teachers' paychecks are routinely bouncing and students and teachers fear the area's new $7 million K-12 public school will close.

The fate of the Colorado City school district has profound implications for all of us.

What's at stake is a fundamental question of governance.

Will lawmakers and the governor uphold the state's constitutional ban against polygamy and pass a law that will allow removal of the polygamists who control the school board and school administration?

Or will the Legislature continue to ignore the fact that Arizona taxpayers are shelling out more than $20 million a year to underwrite the expansion of a powerful theocracy that is based on coercing underage girls into polygamous cohabitations?

In other words, will the state uphold the law of the land, or will it succumb to what the polygamists believe is God's law?

Seizing control of the Colorado City school district provides the state with its single best opportunity to begin to dismantle the unconstitutional theocracy that now controls all social, political, economic and spiritual life in the twin towns of Colorado City, Arizona, and Hildale, Utah.

To understand the importance of the school district issue, it is first necessary to understand the basic principles of the religion that dominates life in these communities.

Nearly all of the approximately 10,000 inhabitants of these two dusty towns nestled beneath the starkly beautiful Vermillion Cliffs are members of the Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.

The FLDS believes it is following the mandates first set down 175 years ago by Mormon patriarch Joseph Smith. In fact, the FLDS believes it is the true Mormon Church, and that the Salt Lake City-based Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (LDS), with more than 10 million members, is a fraud.

A central tenet of FLDS theology is polygamy, a practice first promoted and strongly encouraged by Joseph Smith and his successor, Brigham Young. (The LDS church officially abandoned polygamy in 1890.)

As incredible as this may seem to the uninitiated, the FLDS faithful believe a man must have at least three wives to ascend to the highest levels of the "celestial kingdom" in the afterlife, where he and his harem will rule for eternity over a multitude of planets that will be populated by their progeny.

FLDS women go along with this arrangement because they believe their eternal salvation depends on being married to a man worthy of reaching the celestial kingdom. (They also have little schooling, which I will discuss below, and almost no contact with the outside world.)

But a man can't simply find three willing females to agree to such an arrangement. The polygamous unions can only be performed by the FLDS prophet. Over the last 70 years, thousands of young women and underage girls have been sealed into polygamous unions by various FLDS prophets.

The FLDS prophet is considered by adherents to be God's only true spokesman on Earth. Strict obedience to the prophet is essential to remaining in good standing in the church. Thus, if a man wants to obtain the coveted three wives, he'd better do exactly what the prophet wants.

The prophet's power extends to the economic realm as well.

Nearly all the land in Colorado City and Hildale is owned by a trust called the United Effort Plan, which is under the complete control of the prophet.

The prophet doles out parcels of land to men considered worthy of the "priesthood." These men then pay for and construct homes for their rapidly expanding families. But the men never take title to the homes. The men can be evicted from their houses and forced to leave the community at the whim of the prophet.

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