3 May 2008

Polygamous sect seeks help from Utah governor

Associated Press - May 2, 2008

SALT LAKE CITY (AP) - Members of an embattled polygamous church have asked Utah Gov. Jon Huntsman to intervene in its fight with Texas authorities over the custody of more than 400 children from the sect.

In a letter sent this week, the Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints says Texas officials are rejecting Utah-issued birth certificates and other documents as "fake."

The letter, written by FLDS elder Willie Jessop, also accuses Texas authorities of claiming sect members are lying about their ages, legal names and residency.

Huntsman spokeswoman Lisa Roskelly said the governor has been in contact with Jessop and is reviewing his request.

The Utah-based church purchased a 1,700-acre ranch near Eldorado, Texas in 2003, building homes and a religious temple.

On April 3, Texas authorities raided the sect's Yearning for Zion ranch near Eldorado, Texas, after an allegation of child abuse. Some 434 are in state custody.

The raid was triggered by a telephone call to a domestic violence hotline claiming a 16-year-old girl was being physically and sexually abused by her 50-year-old husband. Authorities have not located the girl and are investigating the source of the call.

Child welfare officials told a judge the children were living in an authoritarian environment that left girls at risk of sexual abuse and raised boys to become sexual perpetrators.

The letter asks Huntsman to exercise his executive authority to assist in protecting the civil rights of native Uthans and FLDS members. FLDS parents claim they have been denied their due process by the Texas courts.

"Without your leadership and personal intervention in this matter, the parental rights of every Utah family is at risk," Jessop wrote.

Jessop also invites Huntsman to visit the Texas ranch and meet with church members.

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