30 Apr 2008

Sect's boys may have been abused too, agency says

CNN - April 30, 2008

(CNN) -- At least 41 children taken from a polygamist sect's Texas ranch may have had past broken bones, officials say, and investigators are looking into the possible sexual abuse of some of the sect's young boys.
"The investigation is still in its early phases, but we have gathered additional information that is cause for concern," the Texas Department of Family and Protective Services said in a statement on its Web site.
The statement said the department is looking into the possibility that some of the young boys taken from the Yearning for Zion Ranch near Eldorado, Texas, had been sexually abused based on interviews with the children and journal entries found at the ranch.
The department did not provide additional information.
The statement did not provide details about the 41 children investigators believe may have had broken bones, saying it does "not have X-rays or complete medical information on many children so it is too early to draw any conclusions based on this information."
"But it is cause for concern and something we'll continue to examine," it said.
The department said it presented its findings to the Texas Senate Health and Human Services Committee on Wednesday.
Texas authorities and child welfare officials raided the ranch earlier this month after receiving calls alleging physical and sexual abuse of girls at the compound.

The state currently has custody of the more than 460 children and youths who were removed from the ranch, which is owned by the Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, a Mormon offshoot that practices polygamy.
On Tuesday, a teenage girl from the ranch gave birth to a healthy boy, said Marleigh Meisner, a spokeswoman for the protective services department.
At the time of the raid, state officials said teenage girls were routinely forced into underage marriages and sex with men who were much older.
Texas law puts the general age of consent at 17. Marriage is permitted at 16 with permission from a parent, according to The Associated Press.

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Children removed from Union County cult

KOB TV - New Mexico
April 30, 2008

Wayne Bent, known to his followers as Michael Travesser
The head of a cult based in northeastern New Mexico has gone on a hunger strike and issued a threat to Governor Bill Richardson after four children were removed from the cult's compound by state officials.
Romaine Serna of the Children Youth and Families says two girls and one boy were removed from Strong City, the Union County headquarters of The Lord Our Righteousness Church, following allegations that they may have been subject to inappropriate contact.
Serna says a fourth child, a girl, who had been at the compound but now lives elsewhere agreed to be interviewed by the department. Serna says there are no other children at the compound.
Cult leader Wayne C. Bent, who is known to his membership as Michael Travesser, posted a message to the cult's Web site saying that he hadn't eaten since the children's removal on April 22.
Bent also posted a letter to Richardson noting that because the state has "moved against us because of our faith… He is free to move against you."
The Journal reports that state and federal law enforcement officials visited Strong City in 2002 to investigate allegations that members were planning a mass suicide.
Peter Olson of the New Mexico Department of Public Safety says that "there's been a long history" of state police involvement with the group.
According the Journal, Bent had predicted the end of the world last October 31 and says that he is the second coming of Jesus.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.
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Children removed from doomsday cult

United Press International
April 30, 2008

ALBUQUERQUE, April 30 (UPI) -- Authorities in New Mexico have taken four children from a doomsday cult after being told about alleged inappropriate contact with the cult's leader.

A spokeswoman for the state says authorities are investigating alleged misconduct by cult leader Wayne C. Bent who is known to his followers as Michael Travesser, The Albuquerque Journal reported Wednesday.

Bent and members of The Lord Our Righteousness Church are featured in an episode of the show "Inside" to be broadcast May 7 on the National Geographic Channel. In a clip of the show, two young females tell of lying naked with Bent, who has denied having sex with minors.

Two of the children removed from the cult remain in state custody. A third child volunteered to be placed in foster care and the fourth has been released to her parents.

Romaine Serna, a spokesman for the Department of Children, Youth and Families, tell the Journal the agency is assessing whether parents of the children have neglected or abandoned them.

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Charges reduced against Christian boot camp employees

Houston Chronicle - Associated Press
April 29, 2008

CORPUS CHRISTI, Texas — A judge reduced felony charges against the director of a Christian boot camp and an employee to simple assault in connection with the alleged dragging of a 15-year-old girl behind a van after she fell behind during a morning run.

Charles Eugene Flowers and Stephanie Bassitt of San Antonio-based Love Demonstrated Ministries were on trial for aggravated assault with a deadly weapon. Those charges were reduced Monday by Judge Nelva Gonzales Ramos, who was swayed by arguments by defense lawyers that the van could not be considered a deadly weapon as described in the indictment.

If convicted, Flowers and Bassitt could have faced as many as 20 years in prison and as much as a $10,000 fine. A conviction on the misdemeanor simple assault charge carries as much as a year in county jail and as much as a $4,000 fine.

The Corpus Christi Caller-Times reported the reduced charges Monday on its Web site.

Flowers and Bassitt are on trial for allegedly tying a 15-year-old girl to the van with a rope and then dragging her last June at a Christian boot camp, according to an arrest affidavit. Flowers, the camp's director, allegedly ordered Bassitt to run alongside the girl after she fell behind. When the girl stopped running, Bassitt allegedly yelled at her and pinned her to the ground while Flowers tied the rope to her, according to the affidavit.

The girl suffered scrapes and bruises.

The 32-day boot camp for girls ages 13 to 19 includes 28 days at a facility near San Antonio, then four days at a camp in Banquete, about 10 miles west of Corpus Christi.

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FLDS polygamy sect gets a closer look - and it's chilling

Chicago Tribune - April 28, 2008

by Maureen Ryan

With their long braids and old-fashioned dresses, the women of the Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints compound in Texas project an image of clean-scrubbed, prairie wholesomeness.

Given that these women and their children look like they’ve stepped out of etchings from “Little House on the Prairie," you have to wonder, could what went on at the FLDS’ Yearning for Zion compound really have been that bad?

The answer is yes, if several former FLDS women interviewed for a Tuesday documentary on WE are to be believed.

This week’s episode of the WE documentary series “The Secret Lives of Women,” which airs at 9 p.m. Tuesday on the cable channel, examines the world of the breakaway polygamist cult. And this documentary does make the case that the FLDS group is a cult, complete with a prophet who has made doom-laden pronouncements about the necessity of “blood sacrifice” by his followers.

The chaos created by Texas authorities, who recently stepped in and removed hundreds of children from the Yearning for Zion Ranch after an abuse complaint was called in to the state’s child protective services hotline, is unfortunate, but the documentary also makes the case that the children of this secretive, controlling sect especially the young girls, are and were at risk for many different kinds of abuse.

The hourlong film features in-depth interviews with Flora Jessop, who ran away from an FLDS settlement at age 16 and for decades has been an activist helping women and children leave the group. Her relative, Carolyn Jessop, is also interviewed; Carolyn is the author of the current bestseller “Escape,” which tells the story of how she just barely managed to leave a violent, loveless FLDS marriage with her eight children in tow.

This workmanlike documentary is marred by a terribly tinny, cheesy soundtrack and some sloppy, choppy editing (though what I viewed was an rough cut of the episode, so perhaps that’s been remedied). Still, what the Jessop women have to say is fascinating – and frightening.

Flora, Carolyn and others with knowledge of the group say that backbreaking labor is the norm at FLDS compounds (even for children), and physical violence is apparently routine. Carolyn says that her “sister-wives” frequently punished her for her transgressions by beating her children. Her husband, FLDS leader Merril Jessop, made her his fourth wife when she was 18, and throughout her eight pregnancies, she was denounced by other women when she experienced severe nausea and vomiting (this was a sign of her lack of faith, she was told).

Carolyn was blamed as a “sinful mother” when she gave birth to a baby with disabilities (she was encouraged to let the child die). Flora talks about her sister, who was brutally raped and then spirited away to a FLDS compound in Canada. Seven years later, the activist is still trying to find and save her sister.

Perhaps the saddest revelation is that mothers are encouraged to keep their many children at arms’ length – hugging and kissing and other signs of affection are strongly discouraged. No one can show more love for a family member than they can for the FLDS’ self-styled prophet, Warren Jeffs, who was convicted in 2007 of being an accomplice to rape. As for the many “excess” boys that the compound produces, according to this film and other news reports, they are routinely cast out so that a few male leaders can keep absolute control of the FLDS flock, which is permitted almost no contact with the outside world.

All in all, this is one case in which the facts may be even scarier and more dramatic than what’s been conveyed in the mainstream media coverage of the FLDS affair.

UPDATE: For those who did not get a chance to see this episode on the FLDS sect, additional air times are listed here.

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Experts: Sect opens up to retrieve children, hasten heaven

CNN - April 28, 2008

By Eliott C. McLaughlin

(CNN) -- It took an extraordinary event -- the state's seizure of more than 400 children -- for the polygamist Mormon sect to open its gates to outsiders after decades of seclusion.

To parents, it's not a matter of mere custody, an expert explained. Their salvation is on the line.

Members of the Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints have recently held news conferences, launched a Web site and allowed journalists into their formerly off-limits compound in Eldorado, Texas.

Previously, the Mormon offshoot's distrust for outsiders prompted members to close themselves off so their purity wasn't tainted and so their rituals and religion didn't draw scrutiny, experts say.

"Because of their history of persecution, they have what you'd call a paranoia complex," said Dr. W. John Walsh, a Mormon studies expert who testified on behalf of FLDS parents during the custody battle. "They've never really reached out to outsiders."

FLDS attorney Rod Parker could not be reached for comment, but explained to KSTU-TV in Salt Lake City, Utah, that his clients launched a Web site because society is essentially ignorant about the sect. VideoWatch Parker say the state won't fight fair »

"Because no one knows anything about them -- they have no face, they have no voice, nothing -- a big part of it is to give a voice to these people," he said.

Texas authorities raided the Yearning for Zion ranch earlier this month after, they said, they received a report of child abuse. The girl who made the report hasn't been found, but child-welfare officials say they found evidence of child and sexual abuse. A judge concurred April 18, ruling to keep the children in state custody, at least temporarily. VideoWatch how a report says some mothers are minors »

The sect's sudden openness appears an attempt to reunite mothers and children. However, the stakes may be higher, said Walsh, who explained that FLDS members believe polygamy and ably caring for many children are essential to reaching the highest tier of heaven.

According to FLDS beliefs, you must be free from sin -- as with most Christian religions -- to get to heaven. Those deemed "wicked" go to hell until they atone for their sins, said Walsh, a mainstream Mormon doing post-doctorate studies at the University of St. Thomas-Houston in Texas.

Those who aren't deemed wicked go to the "spirit world" to await the final judgment that dictates in which of the three levels of heaven they will reside for eternity. Everyone will eventually go to one level of heaven, Walsh explained, but to ascend to the highest tier, you must first learn certain lessons -- how to be a good parent and spouse among them.

"To really enjoy heaven, you have to be married and you have to have your kids with you," Walsh said. "Everything experienced on Earth will be in its more perfected form in heaven." See a map of FLDS enclaves »

If you haven't learned the lessons you needed to learn on Earth, "you would have to learn these lessons in the spirit world" before entering heaven, he said.

If your children are taken away, you may have to learn how to be a good parent in the spirit world, thereby postponing your passage to heaven, Walsh said.

In short, the parents are willing to sacrifice their secrecy in exchange for the children -- a level of desperation that Walsh believes Texas authorities could tap to reach an "amenable" compromise.

But don't mistake FLDS openness for candor, said Marci Hamilton, a professor at Yeshiva University's Cardozo School of Law who has studied polygamist sects for 10 years.

The FLDS is only as open as it needs to be. Everything church members offer -- the news conferences, the interviews, the tours of the YFZ compound, even the Web site's name -- has been scripted to elicit sympathy, she said. VideoWatch women say, 'We need our children,' after the raid »

The sect's Web site, www.captivefldschildren.org, is rife with photos and videos of crying women and children, one boy looking fearfully into the camera during the raid, declaring, "I don't want to go."

The site also includes a timeline with subject lines such as "officers force their way into homes," "sacred site desecrated," "children's innocence threatened" and "mothers and children torn apart."

Other than a link to a PayPal page where visitors can send donations, there is no way to contact the FLDS. The Web site itself is anonymously registered in Yarmouth, Nova Scotia, and attempts to reach the owner via e-mail were fruitless.

As for the interviews, "the FLDS has been good at getting hand-picked wives on the airwaves," Hamilton said.

The women, she said, are sending the same message: The church and its compound offer followers a "wonderful lifestyle," and the mothers simply want to bring their children back before they are corrupted by outside influences.

"They always put the women up front because this is a very oppressive patriarchy, and the men are not sympathetic characters," said Hamilton, the author of "Justice Denied: What America Must Do to Protect its Children." VideoWatch a mother dodge a question about how many wives her husband has »

"They want to persuade Americans that they don't need to worry about things and that this is a nice, little religious community and they take care of everyone," Hamilton added. "It's intended to sway the public, and if the public gets swayed, it puts pressure on the prosecutors."

The women also repeatedly say the search warrant served at YFZ ranch was based on a bogus report, which leads Hamilton to believe the church's "legal representatives are using the airwaves as much as they can to put up a very weak case on due process."

Walsh said he believes sect members realize, "If you want the best chance to get your kids back, public opinion will matter." VideoWatch a woman say the state 'lied' to FLDS mothers during the raid »

In his interview with KSTU, attorney Parker described his clients as "terrified." Church members are Internet "savvy" and watch television, so they understand what can happen to a religious group that walls itself off, he said.

"They know about Waco. They thought they were going to be victims of the same kind of thing," Parker said, invoking the 1993 federal raid on the Branch Davidian compound in Texas that killed 74 people, many of them children.

Comparisons to the Waco raid -- an event generally ill-received by the American public -- is another tactic to elicit emotion, Hamilton said.

"They are trying to forestall the inevitable argument that there is a conspiracy of abuse that all the women are involved in," she said.

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Texas ups tally of teen moms from FLDS polygamous sect

The Salt Lake Tribune - April 29, 2008

by Brooke Adams

A Texas child welfare spokesman said Monday that more than half the teenage girls taken from a polygamous sect's ranch are pregnant or mothers - a new tally that includes women whose ages were previously disputed.
Child Protective Services spokesman Darrell Azar said 31 of 53 girls ages 14 to 17 have children, are pregnant or both.
"This includes that group of girls that once claimed they were 18 or older," he said. "It was determined they were not adults."
He said some women acknowledged being younger and the age of others was determined by their attorneys or by looking at the women.
"I have seen them myself," he said, "and I don't see any that look like an adult to me."
Azar said he did not know how many girls are pregnant, but said it is a small number. CPS has previously said that three teenagers are pregnant.
Salt Lake attorney Rod Parker, a spokesman for the FLDS, said that of the three, one teenager refused to take a pregnancy test, one is 18 and the other is 17.
He also contends that the state's new count includes 17 adult women who are being classified as minors.
"Beyond that I am unable to verify the information because the Texas Rangers took all the records that might be useful in responding to this," Parker said.
Two attorneys with Texas
RioGrande Legal Aid (TRLA), which represents 48 mothers, challenged the "eyeball" test CPS used to separate minors from adults.
"My clients told us they were put in a line and looked at," said Julie Balovich. "So I know that is how some of the numbers happened."
The tally of women and children has changed almost daily over the past three weeks, following a raid on the YFZ Ranch in Eldorado. The ranch is owned by the Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints, a sect traditionally based in the twin towns of Hildale, Utah, and Colorado City, Ariz.
Texas officials removed the children from the sect because of what they describe as a "pervasive pattern" of requiring underage girls to "spiritually" marry much older men and become mothers.
Amanda Chisholm, who also works for TRLA, said she would be surprised if the actual number of teenage girls who are pregnant or mothers is "anywhere near that high."
"Until we can get numbers of how many of these women dispute the age CPS is attributing to them I wouldn't rely on any of the figures that [the state] gives out," Chisholm said.
TRLA attorney Julie Balovich said one woman now deemed to be a teenager is a 24-year-old woman who is pregnant. FLDS member Willie Jessop contends the state's tally also includes a 28-year-old whom the state has listed as being 17.
"Do we correct it and get out the girls who are overage when the minute they do that, they forfeit their children?" he asked. "CPS has had a very difficult time being accurate with any of the numbers and this number is the most outrageous yet."
Chisholm agreed that some women may be claiming to be minors in order to stay with their children, since CPS is only allowing mothers breast-feeding infants 12 months or younger or who are teenagers to remain in shelters.
"I don't know if people are doing that but would understand why they might," she said.
Azar rebutted the critics, saying CPS has had to counter many erroneous claims.
"The simple truth is there is a steady flow of misinformation, which is often the case when people who may have abused children, and those who never stepped in to protect them, try to discredit those who move to protect [the children]," Azar said.
Azar said the state has custody of 463 children, a group that includes minor mothers and their children. In addition, 17 adult mothers have been allowed to stay with infants 12 months or younger who were nursing.
The state moved the FLDS children to group homes and shelters throughout Texas last week. Azar said that six children remain in area hospitals, where they are being treated for illnesses such as ear infections. Three other children were treated and released.
TRLA praised CPS on Monday for setting up a supervised visiting schedule for parents whose children are being treated at Shannon West Texas Memorial Hospital.
Azar said all children are accounted for and caseworkers each have been assigned 15 children to represent. Arrangements also are being made that will allow mothers to visit their children while in foster care, he said.
Some attorneys representing children said Monday they were having difficulty getting information about their clients or the caseworkers and guardian ad litems assigned to them. Azar said that will improve now.
"The ad litems have been frustrated and that is certainly understandable," he said.
Dallas attorney Polly R. O'Toole said she visited two facilities on Monday: Boysville Inc., which has 17 FLDS children; and Baptist Children's Residential Emergency Shelter, which has 71. Staff at the facilities are "generous, caring and concerned" but also complained about the lack of information and direction from CPS, she said.
She also said that, contrary to a courtroom pledge by CPS, sibling groups have been split up. Eight children from one monogamous family have been sent to five different shelters, she said. Another little girl is in a shelter an hour away from the group home where her sisters are, O'Toole said.
Azar acknowledged the state had broken up sibling groups but said officials were working to reunite at least some of them. He said making placements was difficult given that the "children don't even want to answer you what their name is and where they feel everyone is their brother and sister."
During a court hearing two weeks ago, a CPS investigator said the agency had identified one teenager who was pregnant and four others were mothers. She also spoke of a list of 20 minors and young women who conceived their first child between the ages of 13 and 16.
According to that CPS document, one woman was 13 when she conceived a child who was born in 1997; another was 14 when she conceived a child born in 2000.
But the document also lists a woman who was 23 when she gave birth in 2006.
* LISA ROSETTA contributed to this story.

FLDS children: By the numbers

There are a total of 463 FLDS children - 250 females, 213 males - in state custody in Texas. Here is a breakdown of that count:
* 0-2: 101, 49 females, 52 males
* 3-5: 99, 46 females, 53 males
* 6-9: 131, 68 females, 63 males
* 10-13: 62, 34 females, 28 males
* 14-17: 42, 27 females, 15 males
* Disputed age: 26 females, now classified as 17 or younger.
* Two boys who turned 18 while in state custody also have voluntarily chosen to stay with younger boys.
Source: Texas Child Protective Services

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More Clarity About Abuse, Intermarriage, Child Breeders, and the Fundamentalist Church of Later Day Saints

AlterNet - April 25, 2008

by Sara Robinson

So far, the wall-to-wall news coverage of the state of Texas's raid on the Fundamentalist Church of Latter-Day Saints compound in Eldorado, TX has been focused on just a couple of narratives. The first, of course, is the state's dogged and thorough -- and long overdue -- attempt to prove that the church's young women have been systemically sexually abused by the men of the group; and that this abuse is not just rare, but rather an inherent and accepted feature of the group's social order.

The other is the cultural curiosity of the sect's women in general. We see them, looking like they just walked out of the 1890s in their bizarre high hairdos, pastel prairie dresses, and sturdy shoes, and wonder how such a group of fossils (let alone tens of thousands of them) could still exist in modern America. It makes for great TV; but I often look at these women (most of whom have never watched TV in their lives), and feel like they're lambs being dragged out in front of media wolves they've never learned to recognize or fear. In a world when all of us seem to be in permanent rehearsal for our own 15 minutes of fame, these women are so unprepared for all this that they're downright fascinating.

These are the two current storylines the media is focused on -- at least, so far. In time, though, if the reporters and investigators stick around, they might find other things to talk about. A careful reading of Daphne Bramham's excellent The Secret Lives of Saints reveals that there are plenty of other questions we should be asking about the FLDS -- and months worth of stories we're not hearing about right now, but which need to be discussed and generally understood if the country is going to deal with the group appropriately and effectively.

And the country will be dealing with it -- probably for quite some time to come. Throughout its 60-year history, the FLDS has dealt with prosecution (or persecution) by seeding itself into new states, laying down roots for new communities that it can migrate to. (Eldorado itself started out as one of these.) New compounds are coming together now in Idaho and South Dakota; and there are rumors of others being staked out in Colorado and Nevada as well. Hildale/Colorado City may have been effectively taken over by the state of Utah, and Eldorado is in crisis; but with somewhere between 40,000 and 100,000 adherents, this is a group that's not going to pass from the American scene any time soon.

One of the things we need to understand is just how the FLDS managed to stay so far under the radar for so long -- and what twisted consequences were allowed to follow from that lack of oversight. Bramham shows that they did a stunningly effective job of building their own self-sufficient infrastructure of community institutions -- hospitals, police forces, courts, financial trusts, schools, and employers -- that allowed the church to function without interacting with the outside world any more than necessary. Most of the group's institutions were designed to mimic and supplant outside authority well enough to keep the group (and especially its treatment of women and children) hidden from the prying eyes of outsiders. And, for 60 years, those who were responsible for providing higher-level oversight for all these institutions have almost always been somehow induced to look the other way.

In the existing FLDS communities in Utah and Arizona, state authorities have already begun investigations on many of these fronts -- not least because they are the stuff on which further legal battles, and the future of the sect, may turn. However, keeping the FLDS at bay in the years ahead will require county, state, and professional authorities everywhere in North America to stop averting their eyes, stay on their toes, and show a strong willingness to challenge these attempts to build this kind of sheltering infrastructure.

And there are other, less obvious reasons we need to be keeping an eye on them, too. Here's the first half of my motley list -- a few assorted areas of interest I'd be poking at more deeply, along with questions I'd be asking, were I a New York Times front-pager, a TV talking head, or a public official in any county or state where the FLDS has set up camp. The list is long, so I'll discuss a few today, and then follow up with the rest by Wednesday.

For-Prophet Health Care
FLDS communities put a priority on providing as much health care inside the community as possible, so they're not dependent on outside medical professionals. (To this end, pregnant mothers have often been sent to Hildale or Bountiful in their last months, so they can be attended by the FLDS midwives there.) Hildale/Colorado City has its own hospital -- built partly with public funds -- that has employed only doctors and nurses who have pledged their first loyalty to the Prophet.

As a result, the group's women and children get much of their primary care from people who feel no accountability to established medical standards of practice, state record-keeping requirements, or any of the existing mandated reporter laws. (Most people in these communities have no idea these laws even exist.) The spotty record-keeping that results is why the state of Texas has made the wise decision to do DNA testing on all the kids: it cannot be taken for granted that their birth certificates are accurate (or, in some places, exist at all).

The FLDs has also co-opted mental health services into another form of wife abuse. In Hildale/Colorado City, FLDS doctors have proven quite willing to declare unhappy women crazy. Daphne Bramham found that up to a third of FLDS women are on anti-depressants; and that women who are express acute dissatisfaction with the life have often been committed to mental hospitals in Arizona by the community's doctors. According to Bramham, the fear of being labeled insane and shut away in an institution is one of the most potent threats the community has used to keep women in their place.

Of course, this misuse of mental health care has turned into one non-obvious but critically important cultural land mine for the Texas authorities who are trying to figure out how to deal with their FLDS wards. Along with everything else, they're trying to work with women who've learned to see mental health evaluations as tantamount to an incarceration threat -- are thus predisposed to regard gentile doctors or social workers as a mortal enemy. It's not making things easier.

Based on this long history, counties and states that find themselves hosting FLDS compounds need to be keeping a close eye on how these communities manage health care. Who provides it? Are they keeping good records? Are they following the law? Do they adhere to accepted standards of care? Are they holding the line as our first line of defense against child abuse -- or are they helping the community hide its abusive secrets? If the state officials in charge of supervising hospitals and doctors had stepped up and asked these questions decades ago, thousands of women and children might have been spared generations of abuse.

Cops and Courts: No Law But God's Law
Much of the power of the prophets has been drawn from the fact that they historically controlled both the cops and the courts that served the Hildale/Colorado City area. Though these were officially chartered law enforcement agencies and nominally public courts, they weren't concerned with civil law. Instead, their task was to enforce the law according to the FLDS and its Prophet. The people in these communities had no effective recourse to the laws the rest of us live under. They could be arrested, fined, jailed, and have their property seized by nominally "official" cops and courts, acting under full authority of civil government, for violating church laws.

Like African-Americans in the slavery era, women who tried to run were captured by these police and returned to their husbands for punishment -- or taken to the hospital for the dreaded mental health evaluation. The police force's main job is to be the muscle that enforces the Prophet's control of the entire community. When the Prophet decides that a man no longer deserves his home, these are the cops who enforce the eviction. Appealing to the FLDS judges has been useless: due process as we understand it doesn't even enter into the conversation.

There is progress on this front. The state of Utah began to move against the Hildale police force in 2005, revoking the certification of its polygamous chief. Sam Roundy admitted that he'd investigated over 25 sexual abuse cases in the past decade -- including one that involved the rape of an eight-year-old -- and never reported it to child protection authorities. (He pleaded ignorance of all mandated reporter laws.) However, Roundy was replaced with another polygamous officer who immediately sent Warren Jeffs a letter pledging his loyalty, and I found no word that he's left office since. Later that year, the Utah Supreme Court also disbarred the local polygamous judge, which paved the way for reform of the local courts.

But the Saints are now in many places besides Utah; and officials in these other states shouldn't be surprised if they try to hijack cops and courts and replicate this system wherever they go. In Utah, decades of failure to attend to this effectively deprived tens of thousands of people of their civil rights. It can't be allowed to happen again.

Death Among the FLDS
These communities also bury their own dead (and at least one has its own crematorium), which opens the way to record-keeping anomalies with death certificates -- and ensures that no questions will ever be asked, and no autopsies will ever be performed. Given the genetic instability and volatile control issues within this group, it may not be wise for them to have the means to dispose of dead bodies without official oversight. We need to be asking questions about who's in their cemeteries and crematoria, how they got there, and what kinds of records are being kept.

The Fatal Flaw: Inbreeding Takes Its Toll
One of the most striking things about the FLDS is that certain surnames -- Jeffs, Blackmore, Fischer, Jessop, Barlow, Steed -- occur over and over again. In a community of over 40,000 people -- many of whom share fathers, grandfathers, or uncles -- the degree of blood relationship between any two people is likely to be very close indeed. In fact, over half the people in Hildale/Colorado City are blood relatives. So it's not surprising that, starting in 1980, the tragic results of three generations of tight inbreeding began to appear.

That was the year the first Colorado City child was diagnosed with fumarase deficiency -- a genetic disease so rare that only a handful of cases had ever been diagnosed worldwide. The disease causes severe mental retardation, seizures, hydroencephaly, growth failure, and physical deformities. Two of the FLDS's old-line families, the Barlows and the Jessops, both carry the recessive gene -- which is now present in several thousand FLDS members who trace their descent to those two founding fathers. By the 1990, Bramham writes, the twin FLDS cities had the highest concentration of children with fumarase deficiency in the world.

There are also signs of widespread hereditary eye problems among the current crop of children, along with evidence that that the community has a higher-than-average infant mortality rate. Arizona coroners recently -- and finally -- got involved in investigating these. But there's plenty more here for public health officials to look at; and it's becoming clear that the custom of close intermarriage needs to end on genetic grounds alone.

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29 Apr 2008

Homicide Charges for Parents Who Prayed as Daughter Died

ABC News - April 28, 2008

Parents who prayed as their 11-year-old daughter died of untreated diabetes will be charged with second-degree reckless homicide, the Marathon County district attorney said Monday.
Madeline Kara Neumann, who went by the name Kara, died of "diabetic ketoacidosis" on Easter Day,... Expand

"The failure to seek medical intervention created an unreasonable and substantial risk of death or great bodily harm," District Attorney Jill Falstad said.

She announced the charges Monday during a news conference at the Everest Metro Police Department with Police Chief Dan Vergin. Vergin has said Dale and Leilani Neumann told investigators their daughter Madeline last saw a doctor when she was 3 to get some shots.

The couple face up to 25 years in prison if convicted. Madeline - called Kara by her parents - died Easter Sunday at the family's rural Weston home. An autopsy determined she died from undiagnosed diabetic ketoacidosis, an ailment that left her with too little insulin in her body.

The couple's lawyer did not immediately return a message left by The Associated Press.

Leilani Neumann, 40, told AP previously she never expected her daughter to die. The family believes in the Bible, which says healing comes from God, but they are not crazy, religious people and have nothing against doctors, she said.

Dale Neumann, a former police officer, has said he has friends who are doctors. He started CPR "as soon as the breath of life left" his daughter's body, he said.

Madeline, a straight-A student who was being home-schooled, was in good health until she started getting tired about two weeks before she died, her mother has said. When the situation got worse over Easter weekend, "we stayed fast in prayer then," Leilani Neumann said. "We believed that she would recover."

According to a search warrant request, the girl's grandmother told investigators she had been ill for several days, was "very tired," and wanted to be held by her mother. By March 22, Madeline couldn't walk or talk, her grandmother said.

The grandmother said she told Leilani Neumann to take the girl to the doctor but the mother said her daughter "would be fine and God would heal her," the court record said.

The grandmother eventually contacted a daughter-in-law in California, who called police on a non-emergency line to report the girl was in a coma and needed medical help. An ambulance was dispatched to the home shortly before some friends in the home called 911 to report the girl had stopped breathing, authorities said.

The Neumanns said they moved to Weston, a suburb of Wausau in central Wisconsin, from California about two years ago to open a coffee shop and be closer to other relatives. The couple has three other children, ages 13 to 16.

The family does not belong to an organized religion or faith, Leilani Neumann has said.

In March, an Oregon couple who belong to a church that preaches against medical care and believes in treating illness with prayer were charged with manslaughter and criminal mistreatment in the death of their 15-month-old daughter. The toddler died March 2 of bronchial pneumonia and a blood infection that could have been treated with antibiotics, the state medical examiner's office said.

In Oregon, laws passed in the 1990s struck down legal shields for faith-healing parents after the deaths of several children whose parents were members of a fundamentalist church.

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28 Apr 2008

Texas Will Attempt to Show That Polygamist Culture Itself Harms Children

The Washington Post - April 27, 2008

An Unusual Prosecution of a Way of Life

By David A. Fahrenthold
Washington Post Staff Writer

ELDORADO, Tex. -- The ironic thing is that before the big sheriff's department armored personnel carrier appeared outside the Yearning for Zion Ranch, it was starting to seem as though America had finally figured out how to live with its polygamists.

For more than a century, authorities had alternately persecuted and ignored the groups practicing plural marriage around the West -- splinters from mainstream Mormonism, splinters of splinters. Mostly, they ignored them.

But, in the past few years, officials in some states have begun trying to bring these groups out of the shadows. They offered a deal: Marry however often you want, but don't marry children. A Supreme Court case on gay sex also provided unlikely help.

Then came Eldorado.

On April 3, Texas authorities raided the Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints' compound here, then removed more than 450 children. Now, Texas seems headed for exactly the kind of wrenching, head-on fight that other states have tried to avoid.

Their case will ask: Does this polygamous group deserve a place -- and the right to raise children -- in modern society?

"The people in Utah and Arizona simply aren't doing it" this way, said James W. Paulsen, a professor and expert on polygamy at South Texas College of Law in Houston. "The idea of walking in and shutting down the entire group hasn't been tried in more than 50 years. And the last time it was, then it was an abject failure."

Things have quieted down now in West Texas, more than three weeks after law enforcement officers raided the Yearning for Zion Ranch. The sect's children have been scattered to foster care around the state while officials use DNA tests to trace family relationships.

Now comes a legal fight with a twist. The state will argue that the sect's children are at risk at the compound, but not because every one of them has been physically or sexually abused.

Instead, they will say that the culture of the church, which encouraged girls to marry and bear children in their early teens, was a danger to any child immersed in it.

"There was a pervasive belief that children having children was what they were supposed to do," said Patrick Crimmins, a spokesman for the Texas Department of Family and Protective Services.

To those who study polygamist cultures, the crackdown seems like something out of the distant past. Something that, in the past, had reliably backfired.

In 1953, for instance, a raid on a polygamist settlement on the Utah-Arizona border ended with wailing mothers, a public outcry and the return of dozens of seized children.

After that, observers say, the two states often tried their best to pretend that these groups didn't exist. The polygamists usually returned the favor. "It was sort of a mutual-consent abandonment," said Terry Goddard, the attorney general of Arizona.

But, in the past five years or so, Utah has made an unprecedented outreach to the groups, sending out bureaucrats to their settlements and making an implicit bargain with them about the law.

"We're not going to prosecute people solely for adult bigamy," said Paul Murphy of the Utah Attorney General's Office. But, he said, the state will look aggressively for other crimes, such as welfare fraud and sex with children. Arizona has made similar efforts, trying to target individual violations of the law, not entire communities.

"They definitely were trying to open lines of communication," said Sarah Barringer Gordon, a professor of history and law at the University of Pennsylvania. "And they would very much like to have these people become integrated into the society." Still, Gordon said, in many cases the groups have been wary.

The atmosphere of openness was reinforced by a 2003 Supreme Court decision invalidating laws against sodomy. At a distant point on the American social spectrum, polygamists saw another implication: The police would stay out of their bedrooms, as well.

But then, on April 3, there they were.

In the immediate sense, the raid may have happened because of a hoax. Telephone calls reporting abuse at the ranch have been linked to a woman in Colorado with an alleged history of false abuse complaints.

But both Texas and the polygamists had been courting a confrontation. Under "prophet" Warren Jeffs -- now in jail in Arizona -- the fundamentalist sect seemed to be ordering more underage marriages. And a West Texas representative sponsored a bill in 2005 that set new laws seemingly targeted at polygamists.

Here in Eldorado, the small town closest to the compound, residents still say they're glad the raid happened.

"It's not legal, and it's wrong, the way they were living," said Rosa Martinez, behind the counter at her Rosita's Casita restaurant.

But legal experts say the case could easily become a quagmire. They say Texas has an unusual burden: It has to prove not spankings or sexual abuse, but the dangers of an entire belief system.

"Can they say with a straight face that's in the best interest of these children, to be taken away from their parents?" asked Ken Driggs, a public defender in Georgia who has done extensive research on polygamy and the law. "Does government want to get in there and say, 'This is a good religion,' or 'This is not a good religion?' "

Kenneth Lanning, a retired FBI agent who worked on crimes against children, said courts are likely to order that at least some of the children be returned to their parents. But how should the state handle that, if it has said the parents are part of a poisonous culture?

"You don't want to put it back the way it was," Lanning said. "But how are you going to leave it?"

In Utah and Arizona, nonprofit groups and government officials say they've already heard from other polygamous groups, worried that the Texas case may signal an end to their own detente.

Here in West Texas, the remaining members of the Eldorado sect have a more immediate demand.

"We want our children to come home," said Dan, 24, after a hearing this past week at the courthouse in San Angelo, Tex. He declined to give his last name.

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26 Apr 2008

Why I’d let my daughter die before allowing her to have a blood transfusion

The Independent - Ireland
April 26, 2008

by Gemma O'Doherty

Rebecca Whelan adores her 13-month-old baby daughter Reese -- but she would let her die before giving permission for her to have a blood transfusion.

"One day when she's older she might look at me and ask 'would you have done that to me?' I would have to tell her yes.

"If she chooses not to take up my beliefs and is upset with me for that, it would be very sad -- but I have to stand by my faith."

Rebecca was born and raised a Jehovah's Witness, the branch of Christianity which has been at the centre of controversy this week when two landmark cases came before the High Court involving pregnant women with the same conviction.

She was deeply upset by the Court's decision to force one of the women to breach her religious beliefs and allow a potentially life-saving transfusion on her severely anaemic unborn twins.

Put in her shoes, Rebecca says that she too would prioritise her faith over the life of her child. The moment she learned she was expecting, she made an appointment with her maternity hospital, the Rotunda in Dublin, and told them categorically that she did she want her life, or that of her baby, to be saved by a blood transfusion, in the event of a medical difficulty.

Fortunately, she gave birth to a healthy baby girl just over a year ago and did not need medical intervention in the form of blood.

"When I was expecting Reese, it was the first time I was confronted with a situation where I might be asked to take blood," she says.

"In our religion, we have very clear standards about blood, which God asks us to abstain from using. In Scripture, blood is described as a very sacred thing that should not be shared.

"Even if I was told by doctors that my refusal to take it would result in death, it would still not be an option for me. I would stick to that belief even if they told me Reese's life was in jeopardy. I think the decision by the High Court took this week is a shame. It will be very hard for the woman involved."

Rebecca, 33, lives with her husband Geoff in Dublin's inner city district of Smithfield. They met in the Rathgar Kingdom Hall, the generic term given to the Jehovah's Witness churches around the world, which today claim a congregation of almost seven million followers. The pair's relationship developed within the confines of a chaperoned courtship, a condition of their religion's strict rules, and last year,they had their baby girl.

"We are not martyrs or monsters," says Rebecca. "We don't want to let our children die. We want the very best for them like any parent. But if the crunch came and my child ended up dying because she needed a blood transfusion, I would feel I had done everything according to my faith. When we come face to face with death, is turning your back on God by violating one of his laws a good decision?

'There are non-religious reasons for not taking blood too. Even if I wasn't a Witness, I'd be nervous about it. In Ireland, we had a horrific situation where people caught hepatitis from contaminated blood. We hear all over Europe how there are a lot of problems with people contracting all sorts of things from blood that is not screened properly. I've been in hospital myself and seen bags of blood hanging in the air and it turns my stomach."

But her belief in the immorality of blood transfusions often generates anger in those she is trying to proselytize on the streets of Dublin.

"When I go from door-to-door, I always find that blood is the thing that upsets people most. It's the one thing they always bring up. We try to explain that modern medicine has advanced so much that there are many alternatives to blood out there.

"There are definitely ways around this but Ireland is very backward when it comes to looking at alternative treatments. In other countries, like the US and Britain, it is never an issue. My Granny who lives in England had two huge cancerous tumours removed from her bowel recently. The doctor was told there must be no blood used so he said "of course, no blood". It just wasn't an issue at all. They are able to use plasma expanders which refills the fluid and works just as well.

"I know a lot of non-Witnesses who don't take blood. In the States, there are some hospitals which actually operate without blood."

Within the Irish Jehovah's Witness community, a number of Hospital Liaison Committees offer advice and information about doctors who are willing to consider alternatives to blood transfusion.

"That was a great help to me when I was pregnant," says Rebecca. "I was informed as to what the alternatives were. When I was having Reese, I met with the head anaesthetist of the Rotunda Hospital and I went through the drugs and machinery that I would accept to make sure they could provide them. I would also have access to a cell-salvage machine, which takes your blood, cleans it and puts it back in your body. I always made sure my iron levels were very high and did everything I could to make the pregnancy as healthy as possible.

"If we were badly hurt in a car crash tomorrow, I carry a card that says we will not accept blood. It's called an Advance Directive. My GP has a copy and my friends so there is no risk that we would have to accept it."

Religious devotion led to the death of a young English Jehovah's Witness last year. Emma Gough, 22, died after giving birth in Shrewsbury in October.

When asked twice by medical staff if she would consent to a blood transfusion in a life or death situation, she said no. A fortnight ago, an inquest heard that she had told a midwife that she was "happy to die" than have a blood transfusion, leaving her newborn twins without a mother.

"Personally, I know that is how I would feel as well," says Rebecca. "There are men who risk their lives for their country when they go to war. To us, there is no greater thing on Earth than Jehovah and I am willing to risk my life for him.

"To us, it is about nothing more than being loyal to God. It is not an emotional decision. If the crunch came and my child ended up dying because she needed a blood transfusion, at least I would feel I had done everything according to my faith. I am also reassured that Iwould see her again."

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Jehovah twins to get transfusion

BBC News - April 24, 2008

The High Court in Dublin has ruled that doctors can give a blood transfusion to severely anaemic twin babies after they are born later this week.

The parents are Jehovah's Witnesses and refused to give their consent.

Doctors believe the babies are at risk of death or serious life-long disability and need to be delivered early.

They say the babies will need a blood transfusion in the minutes and weeks after their birth.

In a letter to Ms Justice Mary Laffoy, the mother, who is 32 weeks pregnant, said she and her husband loved their children with all their hearts and did not want to cause them harm.

However, she said they could not consent to the transfusion because of their long-held scriptural beliefs.

Jehovah's Witnesses' religious objection to blood transfusions stems from their interpretation of Bible verses that forbid Christians from ingesting blood.

She said she understood the seriousness of the situation and the fact that doctors feared there may be no other choice.

The mother said they would not interfere with the decision of the court, but asked for bloodless alternatives to be tried first.

Ms Justice Laffoy ruled that the doctors could give the transfusion if medically necessary and where no other alternative methods were available.

The court heard the situation arose because the mother refused an injection of a blood product, Anti-D, after the birth of her first child a number of years ago.

Anti-D is given where a mother with the Rhesus D negative blood group gives birth to a Rhesus D positive child.

If Anti-D is not given, the mother will develop antibodies against Rhesus D positive blood, which could affect future pregnancies.

In this case the twins are both Rhesus D positive and the mother's antibodies attacked their red blood cells.

The court also heard the normal management of foetal anaemia is to perform a blood transfusion in the womb, but the parents did not consent to this treatment.

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Former Mormon Church Leaders Accused Of Molestation Cover-Up

KIRO TV - Seattle
April 24, 2008

A local attorney said former leaders at Kent’s Second Ward, which is part of the Mormon Church, knew that a Boy Scout leader and church member was raping boys in the mid-1970s but did not report it to authorities.In King County court this week, a civil lawsuit was filed against the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints on behalf of a victim identified only by the initials R.D.B.R.D.B. is now 46. He said he when he was a teenager he was sexually abused by Mormon Church member and scout leader Jack Loholt.According to the lawsuit, Loholt is a twice-convicted compulsive sexual predator of children who has since fled to a remote area of Canada.Attorney Timothy Kosnoff specializes in child abuse cases.Kosnoff said for six years Mormon Church leaders knew of complaints of Loholt's inappropriate contact with boys but did not report it to authorities and did not remove Loholt from the scouting program.“It wasn’t that they hid him. In this case it appears as if they served up victims readily to him (Loholt),” said Kosnoff.

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More teenage mothers emerge in Texas polygamy probe

Reuters - April 25, 2008

By Jessica Rinaldi and Ed Stoddard

SAN ANGELO, Texas, April 24 (Reuters) -

Texas authorities said on Thursday they identified 25 more mothers below age 18 among those removed from a polygamist compound, raising to about 460 the number of minors at the heart of a huge abuse probe.

An apparent phone tip earlier this month led to a raid on the ranch in a remote part of west Texas and the removal of the children. The compound is linked to a breakaway Mormon sect and is run by followers of jailed polygamist leader Warren Jeffs.

Texas welfare and law enforcement officials say they have uncovered evidence of widespread child abuse on the grounds, with adolescent girls being forced into unions with much older men.

The 25 additional teenage mothers who have been sorted from the adults and who initially claimed to be adults may provide prosecutors with more ammunition if it was found for example that some had become pregnant when they were in their early teens.

Officials would not say how old the mothers were beyond the fact all are believed to be under 18.

Authorities this week have been moving the children into foster homes as well as taking DNA samples in a bid to find out who is related to whom. About 260 remain in temporary shelter in a heavily guarded rodeo stadium in the west Texas town of San Angelo.

Over 60 women left the stadium on Thursday as the wrenching process of separating the women and children continued.


Darrell Azar, a spokesman for the Department of Child Protective Services, told a news briefing outside the stadium on Thursday that pulling the families apart as the probe widens was a "difficult thing.... But these children must be protected."

On Thursday, one of the women who left the stadium held a sign outside the window of a bus that read: "SOS. MOTHERS SEPARATED. HELP."

The compound is about 45 miles (72 km) south of San Angelo in an isolated part of Texas. The investigation is the largest child welfare case in the history of the state and shrouded in confusion.

Local media reports have suggested the calls that sparked the raid may have been a hoax by a woman in Colorado Springs, Colorado, who has a history of such acts.

Azar said it did not matter if it was a hoax or not because evidence of abuse was being unearthed.

The Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints regards plural marriage as ordained by God and the sect's followers have tended to keep to themselves in isolated corners of Arizona, Utah and elsewhere.

The mainstream Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, as the Mormon faith is officially called, renounced polygamy over a century ago and is at pains to distance itself from its few thousand kin who still practice plural marriage.

Polygamy is outlawed in the United States but the men of such sects typically have one legal wife and take others as "spiritual wives."

(Editing by Dan Whitcomb and Peter Cooney)

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Men of the Cloth: The Vatican Isn't So Far From Fundamentalist Mormonism

The Nation - April 24, 2008

by Katha Pollitt

Child abuse. Sexual abuse. Women raised to be baby machines controlled by powerful older men in the name of God. These shockers--and many more--are flagrantly on offer in the spectacle unfolding around the 139 women and 437 children removed by Texas authorities from the Yearning for Zion Ranch in Eldorado. The YFZ is an outpost of the Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints (FLDS), a breakaway Mormon cult presided over by Warren Jeffs, convicted in Utah as an accomplice to rape and awaiting trial in Arizona for incest and conspiracy. The visuals are riveting: women in pastel prairie dresses and identical pompadour-cum-french-braid hairstyles weeping for their children in state custody; skinny-necked middle-aged men insisting they had no idea it was illegal to marry and impregnate multiple 15-year-olds. There's a feminist angle, a child-protection angle and a civil liberties angle--it isn't clear that the children were in immediate danger, and this drastic and clumsy sweep might well cause cultists to isolate themselves even more. The original impetus for the raid--a desperate phone call from someone claiming to be a 16-year-old girl raped and abused by her 50-year-old "spiritual husband"--is looking more and more like a hoax.

I've written before about the evils of fundamentalist Mormon polygyny, which is thought to have some 10,000 followers in closed communities in Utah, Arizona, Nevada, South Dakota and Texas. I will never understand why the people who attack Islam as oppressive to women have nothing to say about the FLDS. The cultural relativist arguments they reject when applied to foreign countries are even less applicable here: everyone in the story is American, supposedly living under American law. Yet for decades state and local authorities have looked the other way when girls are pulled out of school to be "home-schooled," i.e., prepared for marriage to their uncles, and teenage boys are kicked out of the community so as not to compete with the elder men. Indeed, in areas near FLDS communities, public services have been infiltrated by their members: the public schools teach their religious doctrines; the police are on the lookout for girls and women who try to escape.

Still, appalling as is FLDS's extreme male dominance, there was another news story unfolding at the same time that had certain affinities but got a very different slant: Pope Benedict XVI's visit to the United States. What a lovefest! We heard endlessly about Benedict's intellect, charm and elegant red shoes. "Cat Lovers Appreciate Soul Mate in Vatican" made the New York Times most e-mailed list. How little the Pope had to do to win applause as a wise conciliator: having begun his reign trying to suppress the priestly pedophilia scandal, he met with the Survivors Network of Those Abused by Priests (SNAP) and reminded Catholics that homosexuals and pedophiles, while both bad, are not the same. Having kept in the liturgy a prayer "for the Jews" so that God might "enlighten their hearts," he visited New York's Park East synagogue, where the rabbi did not similarly call on Catholics to give up their worship of Christ.

But what about women? Oh, them and their messy bodies! As blogger Dana Goldstein pointed out, only Barbara Boxer said boo when Republican Senator Sam Brownback, who supports a constitutional amendment banning abortion, proposed a resolution welcoming the Pope in coded antichoice language and asserting that religion, not the Constitution, was the foundation of our government. (Boxer led a movement that held up the vote for three days until the wording was changed.)

Where were the tough questions about the church's absolute ban on contraception, condoms, divorce and abortion--even to save a woman's life? If it was up to Benedict, we might be more stylish than the plural wives of the FLDS, but we'd be trapped in marriage and have fifteen children just like them. In the United States the Catholic church has lost some of its moral authority--thank you, pedophile priests--but it has more temporal power than you might think. Around 12 percent of US hospitals are church-affiliated, which entitles them to refuse modern reproductive healthcare to women. The church is the major opponent of the drive to make health insurance plans cover birth control, forcing women to pay up to $600 out of pocket every year for contraceptives. Along with evangelical Protestants, it is the main force behind every attempt to restrict abortion, defeat prochoice politicians, make contraception and the morning-after pill harder to get, promote false and sexist abstinence-only education and discourage the use of condoms to prevent HIV by spreading unfounded doubts about their effectiveness.

Catholic charities do a lot of good, but the Vatican is a major obstacle to the advancement of women's human rights. In Nicaragua and El Salvador it recently won a total ban on abortion that has already led to dozens of deaths. In Chile it defeated President Michelle Bachelet's plan to give out emergency contraception gratis. In Italy, Poland and elsewhere in Europe it works night and day to make abortion illegal or hard to obtain. In AIDS-plagued Africa its opposition to condoms, contraception and abortion rights has cost millions of lives. None of this is as titillating as pastel-swathed "sister wives" and their vast log-cabin dormitories, but it affects almost everyone on the globe. FLDS men have many wives and the Pope has none, which goes to show there's more than one way to keep women pregnant and in their place.

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24 Apr 2008

Birth defect is plaguing children in FLDS towns

Deseret News - February 9, 2006

Fumarase Deficiency afflicts 20, is linked to marriages of close kin

By John Hollenhorst

It's one of the darkest secrets of the Warren Jeffs polygamist community.

An especially severe form of birth defect is on the rise and may mushroom in coming generations.

"I don't want to describe it in too much detail," said Isaac Wyler, who was related by marriage to some of the victims. "It's not a real pretty sight."

According to experts and former Jeffs followers, the cause of the birth defect is clear: Intermarriage among close relatives is producing children who have two copies of a recessive gene for a debilitating condition called Fumarase Deficiency.

They predict the scale of the problem will increase dramatically in the future. Wyler, who has lived in the polygamist community most of his life, said he expects residents to continue marrying close relatives.

"Around here," Wyler said, "you're pretty much related to everybody."

Fumarase Deficiency is an enzyme irregularity that causes severe mental retardation, epileptic seizures and other cruel effects that leave children nearly helpless and unable to take care of themselves.

Dr. Theodore Tarby has treated many of the children at clinics in Arizona under contracts with the state. All are retarded. "In the severe category of mental retardation," the neurologist said, "which means an IQ down there around 25 or so."

Until a few years ago, scientists knew of only 13 cases of Fumarase Deficiency in the entire world. Tarby said he's now aware of 20 more victims, all within a few blocks of each other on the Utah-Arizona border.

The children live in the polygamist community once known as Short Creek that is now incorporated as the twin towns of Hildale, Utah, and Colorado City, Ariz. Tarby believes the recessive gene for Fumarase Deficiency was introduced to the community by one of its early polygamist founders.

According to community historian Ben Bistline, most of the community's 8,000 residents are in two major families descended from a handful of founders who settled there in the 1930s to live a polygamist lifestyle.

"Ninety percent of the community is related to one side or the other," Bistline said.

For many years, Bistline was a member of the Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints (FLDS), which today reveres fugitive polygamist Warren Jeffs as a prophet.

"They claim to be the chosen people, the chosen few," Bistline said. "And their claim is they marry closely to preserve the royal bloodline, so to speak."

Wyler, who says Jeffs kicked him out of the FLDS group two years ago, has observed some of the "Fumarase children" in their home environment.

"I've seen some children that can talk and communicate a little," Wyler said. "And I've seen others that are totally laid out. They have no movement. They can't do anything by themselves. Literally, if they're 8 years old, it's like taking care of a baby."

Tarby saw the first "Fumarase child" in the community 15 years ago. He said the oldest victim is now about 20 years old. In March 2000, Tarby co-authored an article in the medical journal "Annals of Neurology" describing eight new cases of Fumarase Deficiency in the Southwest. It has now grown to 20 known cases in the polygamist community on the Utah-Arizona border.

Tarby said children suffering from Fumarase Deficiency have unusual facial features and frequent "grand mal" epileptic seizures. The children require constant care from parents and close relatives. "In some ways, they are really kind of remarkable people," Tarby said. "They do treat these kids pretty well."

Wyler agreed that the parents and close relatives are loving caregivers. He said it's partly because they believe it's a calling from God. "They would just assume they've been given a test and they need to pass this test," Wyler said. "And it's their lot in life to take care of a child like this. And they'll give it everything they've got. And they'll do a good job. Very good job."

Tarby said the early founder who brought the recessive gene into the community had numerous children, so copies of the gene were passed on to children and grandchildren. When cousins or other close relatives marry, two copies of the gene can be passed on to a single child, triggering the disease.

In the FLDS community, marriages with cousins and even closer relatives are common, according to Bistline. "There are people that have married their nieces," Bistline said. "People who have married their aunts."

It's all part of the community's religious system, according to Wyler. "Well, around here, of course, when you get married, you're told who to marry and when to get married and things like that. So, that's really not going to change, I don't believe."

"As long as they've got the leadership they've got," Bistline said, "they'll never change."

It's believed that more than half the residents carry the recessive gene. That means the number of cases will likely grow. Tarby said there could be hundreds of victims in coming generations. "No, it wouldn't surprise me," Tarby said. "Wouldn't surprise me."

Wyler hopes FLDS leaders will change their marriage practices. "Now that they know there's a problem," Wyler said, "they need to quit sweeping it under the rug and pretend there's not a problem. And (they should) say, 'OK, now you know when you cross these certain lines together, then this happens.' And they need fresh blood."

Tarby has suggested to community residents that they undergo genetic screening before marriage. They've ignored the suggestion, Tarby said. "I really doubt that if we could tell them, you know, 'This male has the condition and this female has the condition; you shouldn't mate,' that wouldn't stop them."

On one occasion at an Arizona clinic, Tarby explained to one of the fathers the reason he had a Fumarase child. "You and your wife are related," Tarby said he told the man.

The father replied, "Up there we're all related." Tarby said he was not sure if the man meant "up there in Colorado City or up there in heaven."

Tarby said the children are a financial burden on taxpayers, although he's not sure how much. In Arizona, the children frequently receive medical services at state expense, Tarby said. He believes some Fumarase children live on the north side of the border and receive some of their medical care in Utah, presumably at taxpayer expense. Officials in both states say they can't reveal data because of privacy laws.

When asked if he considered the situation wrong, Tarby said, "Wrong? I've given up trying to sort those things out. I don't think they're going to change much."

In the course of investigating the problem, KSL-TV learned the names of some victims and their parents but chose not to reveal them. Through intermediaries, KSL offered parents a chance to speak, but they did not respond.

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Tough Transitions for Polygamy Sect Children

ABC News - April 24, 2008

As 437 Kids Enter Temporary Foster Care, They Face Difficult Adjustment


The mothers of some of the 400 children taken into custody from a polygamous religious sect earlier this month made a dramatic public plea as well as a legal appeal in court today to stop their kids from being sent into state foster homes.

"SOS Mothers separated Help," read a sign hung from a bus that took some of the mothers from the San Angelo Coliseum, where they have been staying with the children, back to the sect's ranch.

More than 100 of the children were moved into temporary foster homes earlier this week after a judge ruled at a massive group custody hearing that all the children should remain in temporary state custody. The rest of the children are expected to be placed in group homes by the end of the week.

The women who were removed today were mothers to some of the youngest children in state custody. The court previously had removed all the mothers except those who had children under the age of 5.

After today, the only mothers allowed to remain with their kids were those whose children were under one year old and nursing, or mothers who were minors themselves.

A state appeals court has agreed to hear arguments next week about whether the state can place the children into temporary foster care without giving each family an individual hearing.

"These families have the right to have their voices heard in the legal process," said Robert Doggett, an attorney with Texas RioGrande Legal Aid, which filed the appeal. "The idea that these children can be taken away without giving their families the opportunity to address allegations and fight to stay together is absurd."

But, despite the court's decision to hold a hearing, the state appeared to be proceeding with its plan to place the children in temporary homes by the end of the week.

As the children settle into their new foster homes, their temporary caregivers are careful how they introduce them to a whole new world.

First rule: no TV yet.

Foster homes and shelters across the state are scrambling to accommodate 437 children who have until now lived a largely isolated life on the Yearning for Zion Ranch, a sprawling 1,700-acre compound in West Texas.

"These kids don't know who the president is. Don't know that we're at war. Don't know who Elvis was, don't know who the Beatles were," said Bobby Gilliam, director of the Methodist Children's home in Waco, Texas, where some of the children will be staying.

Many of the children have lived a radically different life from the other kids in the state's foster homes. The state Child Protective Services program has said it chose foster homes where the youngsters can be kept apart from other children for now.

The 50 girls who will be coming to the Methodist home in Waco will be woken up at the crack of dawn and given chores similar to what they did on the ranch. It will take time before they are ready to mix with other children and watch TV, Gilliam said.

Social workers are also being given a list of dos and don'ts for how to deal with children who may never have seen television and who were raised in a culture that the state says encourages underage girls to marry older men. Sect members deny the allegation.

Among the rules: Don't ask about their religion, don't press if the children avoid eye contact, and don't allow them to use cell phones.

Judge Barbara Walther, who ordered the children kept in temporary state custody, said that siblings should be kept together, that babies younger than one year old should stay with their mothers and that breast-feeding mothers with children between the ages of one and two should be allowed to live near their toddlers.

But the logistics of placing more than 400 children into foster homes are proving to be a nightmare.

Mary Golder, an attorney for five sisters from the Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints, said one was left behind.

"It would be devastating for this 4-year-old to be separated from her sisters and sent to live in Houston with strangers," she said.

State officials admit this will be difficult but insist it is necessary.

"No matter how badly a child is abused they always want to be with their parent. Unfortunately that is not always in their best interest," said Darrell Azar, a Child Protective Services spokesman.

The children were taken into state custody by Texas authorities, who raided the FLDS ranch after they said a person claiming to be a 16-year-old girl called a hotline to report that she was being abused by her 49-year-old husband.

The children are being housed until they have individual status hearings. Some children could be placed in permanent foster care. Some parents who have left the sect may win custody, while some kids may be allowed to return to the ranch in Eldorado.

In a related development, court documents unsealed Wednesday revealed that a phone number used to allege abuse at the ranch is associated with a woman in Colorado who has been accused of making several unrelated false abuse claims in calls to authorities.

An arrest warrant affidavit said 33-year-old Rozita Swinton had previously used a phone number to call the crisis hotline in Texas that received the calls prompting the raid.

The calls came before authorities raided the Yearning for Zion Ranch on April 3, but it was not clear whether authorities believe Swinton made the calls that triggered the raid.

Swinton has not been arrested for allegedly making calls to the Texas shelter. She was arrested last week on charges of making a false report in an unrelated case.

The affidavit details dozens of calls from late 2006 through April 2008 to abuse centers and police departments in Washington, Colorado and Texas. The callers always identified themselves as a young girl, at various times calling herself Dana, April, V, Jennifer and Sarah Barlow. Sarah Barlow is the name of the 16-year-old who called the Texas crisis center.

The Colorado court documents say that a phone number associated with Swinton, who has been named by Texas Rangers as a "person of interest" in their investigation, was "possibly related to the reporting party for the YFZ ranch incident."

The affidavit says that in one call to a safe house in Colorado a person calling herself Dana said she had been sexually abused. Dana told the safe house counselor in February 2008 that she and Rozita were different personalities who lived in the same body, according to the affidavit.

Dana then told the counselor to call back on Rozita's number and gave Swinton's home phone number, the affidavit says.

Another number that was used to call the Texas abuse hot line has been linked to a man named Courtney Swinton, who lives in the same apartment building with Rozita Swinton, according to the affidavit.

During some of the 28 calls made to a Washington shelter using the Courtney Swinton phone number, the caller claimed to be 16-year-old Sarah Barlow and said she was being held at the YFZ ranch.

The caller said she had gotten married at age 14 to Dale Barlow, the same man identified by the Sarah Barlow who called the Texas shelter, as her husband.

She also said she feared her "sister wives" at the ranch would take her baby away if she revealed her real identity, the affidavit says.

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Polygamy laws may end up in B.C. appeals court

CTV - Canada - April 23, 2008

by CTV.ca News Staff

B.C.'s Attorney General says he will speak to a special prosecutor next week about the possibility of taking polygamy laws to the province's appeals court.

If Wally Oppal follows through with court action, the case could ultimately be decided by the Supreme Court of Canada.

Politicians in B.C. say they are concerned about a polygamous community in Bountiful, B.C., tucked in the southeast corner of the province. Premier Gordon Campbell told The Canadian Press Wednesday that the community "poses a vexing problem.'"

"I'm as upset by what I understand is happening in Bountiful as I think most British Columbians are," he said.

The community has come under focus recently because of a high profile raid of a polygamous compound in Texas. There were allegations that children in the compound, which was run by a fundamentalist offshoot of the Mormon faith, had been abused. Hundreds of the children remain in state custody, while authorities try to figure out if the children will be safe if they're returned to their parents.

The fundamentalist Mormon Bishop of Bountiful, Winston Blackmore, says he was troubled by the Texas raid and claims of abuse. He says nothing like that would happen in his community.

But Blackmore wouldn't say how many children he has or how many wives. One of the children on his property said there are 116 Blackmore children.

Blackmore told CTV News that he has "plenty enough" children. When it comes to the number of wives, he said he has "just enough, so I don't chase anybody else's."

"I have married several very young wives in my life," he said.

The 51-year-old Bishop also told CTV News he has never been married to anyone underage.

Police have investigated the Bountiful community and have conducted interviews with dozens of men and women. But there has not been a single complaint of abuse or single charge recommended.

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Children taken to polygamous enclave without parents, former member suspects

The Vancouver Sun - April 23, 2008

by Daphne Bramham

Members of the Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints leave the Tom Green County Courthouse following an informational session with lawyers in San Angelo, Texas April 23, 2008.

Members of the Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints leave the Tom Green County Courthouse following an informational session with lawyers in San Angelo, Texas April 23, 2008. Reuters

VANCOUVER - It is likely that some of the Canadian children seized by authorities recently at a polygamous Mormon enclave in Texas were there without their parents, a former member of the sect said Wednesday.

"I suspect that they (the Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints) had a whole lot of kids there without their parents," Carolyn Jessop said in an interview.

When she was 18, she became the fifth wife of Merril Jessop, who is in charge of Yearning for Zion ranch. It was raided earlier this month by Texas officials who seized 437 children and put them into protective care.

Jessop fled the compound in 2003 with eight of her children.

She said that for several years now, children have been reassigned from one father to another and even one family to another as Warren Jeffs, the prophet of the FLDS, grew increasingly tyrannical. That, she said, helps explain why so many of the children are unable or unwilling to tell authorities who their parents are.

This confusion over identities is why a Texas judge has ordered DNA tests for all of the children and asked that parents voluntarily provide DNA samples. Testing began Monday and is expected to continue through the week. Processing the samples will take several more weeks.

Jessop doubts if men in the compound will comply with the request as any voluntary DNA samples could be used later in a criminal trial if the mothers were minors when they were impregnated.

And while some of the mothers have said that they will do anything to get their children back including leaving the reclusive, breakaway Mormon sect, Jessop said Texas ought to require psychiatric evaluations of them.

"I don't think there is one of them who is stable enough to get their children back. Mind control is classed as a mental illness and a child's right to safety far exceeds a mother's rights," she said.

"The women in this society will never protect their children . . . they turn them over to the perpetrators."

Jessop said her own children are still in therapy because of what her so-called "sister wives" did to them.

Not all of the women are perpetrators of abuse, she said. Some are victims of it and they are "pretty good, decent moms within their reality," she added.

The FLDS launched an Internet offensive Tuesday. Although the media have been careful to obscure the faces of the children taken from the compound, the FLDS has posted dozens of photos and video of them on its website along with a plea for donations to a legal defence fund.

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Minister's marriage to 10-year-old Que. girl hidden from mother, court hears

The Canadian Press - April 23, 2008

MONTREAL — The leader of a fringe evangelical movement kept his so-called marriage to a 10-year-old girl hidden from her mother despite using it to lay claim to her body, a Quebec court heard Wednesday.

Daniel Cormier, who headed the now-defunct Church of Downtown Montreal, says the marriage gave him the right to have sexual relations with the girl. But as she was cross-examined by Cormier, the girl's mother denied ever being aware of a marriage.

"My first knowledge of this so-called marriage was when court proceedings started," said the woman, who like her daughter cannot be identified.

"I spoke to (my daughter) and (she) doesn't remember any kind of marriage," she added. "She doesn't remember marrying you."

Cormier, 57, stands accused of a variety of sex-related crimes, including sexual exploitation and sexual assault. He is also charged with sexually exploiting a different 16-year-old girl.

He completely denies the allegations regarding the 16-year-old and says he did nothing illegal with the 10-year-old, who is now 18.

As justification he has cited their 1999 marriage in the church which he founded.

The mother has said she thought the ceremony was a birthday party for her daughter and even baked a cake for the occasion.

Cormier's church, however, was described by another witness who took the stand Wednesday as a "sect" with a distinct misogynist bent.

"There were rules of the church...the women were underneath and the men were higher," said Josiane Beaudoin, who frequented the church for several months in 1998.

"They worked by the methods of the Old Testament, everything that came after didn't count."

Beaudoin recalled she was initially drawn to the church by a newspaper story about how Cormier presided over the marriage of two former drug addicts.

The bride in the story was the 10-year-old's mother, who admitted working as a prostitute soon after arriving in Montreal with her two children in 1993.

She said in earlier testimony that Cormier emerged as a "guardian angel" who took the family under his wing.

"(My daughter) was comfortable with you because you were part of the family, a father figure," the mother told Quebec court Judge Sylvie Durand on Wednesday.

Other church members eventually grew suspicious of Cormier's relationship with the girl.

Beaudoin said she became concerned during a church camping trip which the girl's mother did not attend.

"He was looking at her amorously and fatherly, but more so amorously," she said.

"At one point I saw him watching (the girl) get out of the water... and he touched her to check if her bathing suit was wet."

Cormier, who is defending himself, opted not to cross-examine Beaudoin.

He was arrested in 2003 after a social worker alerted police about the situation.

The trial continues on Thursday.

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