Phoenix Federal Court Jury Finds Northern Arizona Polygamist Towns Guilty of Discrimination

After four days of deliberation in a landmark federal trial, a jury today ruled that two polygamous towns on the Arizona-Utah border are guilty of religious discrimination.

The U.S Department of Justice brought the case against the leadership of Colorado City, Arizona and Hildale, Utah, alleging that the towns are controlled by leaders of the Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints — a radical offshoot of Mormonism — and systematically ostracize and harass non-church members.

Over the course of the seven week trial, the DOJ brought a great deal of evidence to support its stance that city leadership discriminated against non-FLDS residents by denying them housing, water services, and police protection, while the defendants frequently argued that the lawsuit itself is evidence of how the feds unfairly target and discriminate against their minority religion.

How the towns will be punished is now in the hands of U.S. District Court Judge H. Russel Holland, but for many, the guilty verdict is a sign that the FLDS’ stronghold over its thousands of followers may be coming  apart at the seams — just last week, as the trial was ending, the FBI raided the two cities and charged 11 church leaders with food-stamp fraud and money laundering.

“Today’s verdict reaffirms that America guarantees all people equal protection and fair treatment, regardless of their religious beliefs,” Principal Deputy Assistant Attorney General Vanita Gupta, head of the Justice Department’s Civil Rights Division said in a statement.

“When communities deny their residents critical services simply because of where they worship, they violate our laws and threaten the defining values of religious freedom and tolerance that are the foundation of our country.”

New Times has covered the ways the FLDS has controlled this community with an iron fist for decades — including the way young children are married off and raped by older men — and for many victims of FLDS, this trial has been a long time coming and offers an unprecedented chance of vindication.

The trial has also offered a window into life under the church's tyrannical prophet, Warren Jeffs, who inherited his title as head of the FLDS from his father, and has attempted to keep his followers from interacting with non-church members. Jeffs is serving a life sentence in Texas for sexually assaulting two minors, but allegedly runs the communities from his jail cell. 
FLDS leadership exercised “a dictatorship from hell,” former church member Richard Holm told New Times recently.

Another former FLDS member and longtime vocal critic of its leadership, Andrew Chatwin, said the church leadership has "violated my civil rights many, many times." He added that his goal in speaking out against the problems are: "Getting the rapes [of women forced into polygamy] stopped, getting homes back, and getting rid of the police department [Town Marshal's Office]."

Court documents about the jury ruling were not immediately available.  

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Miriam is a staff writer at Phoenix New Times.
Contact: Miriam Wasser