Utah Prosecutors Are Soft On Polygamy
Utah Prosecutors Are Soft On Polygamy
by John R. Llewellyn
In spite of the abuse and corruption attributed to Mormon fundamentalism, the substance of which is published almost daily in Utah's newspapers, there is in Utah a well organized, impressive movement to decriminalize polygamy. This movement is encouraged by the political reluctance of Utah's Attorney General and many County Attorneys to prosecute polygamist adults. This policy, it seems, is based on the erroneous presumption that all polygamist marriages between adults are consensual.
In Utah religious freedom is a very sensitive subject. Utah's Attorney General, Mark Shurtleff, has stated publically many times that he will not prosecute a religious belief. This decision is seen by many anti-polygamists as being tantamount to validating polygamist marriages. Since 1852, polygamy in Utah has been purported to be a religious belief, a belief Mormons claim came from God and should be protected by the First Amendment.
The question of whether or not Mormon polygamy should be protected by the First Amendment was established under Reynolds v. United States, 98 U.S. 145, in 1878. At the time, the crime of bigamy was punishable under a Federal Statute by a fine of $500 and imprisonment of not more than five years. The current crime of bigamy in Utah is a third degree felony.
The United States Supreme Court ruled that Reynolds, while still married to a living wife, took a plural wife, knowing he was committing a crime, an act that implied criminal intent. The Court further acknowledged that the doctrine of plural marriage was introduced by Joseph Smith, the first prophet and founder of the LDS Church, and that according to Smith, the male members of the church were "enjoined" thereof by "Almighty God" to practice polygamy, and failure would result in their "damnation in the life to come."
The Court reviewed the history of "religious freedom" and found that although our Founding Fathers enacted the provision that legislatures shall "make no law respecting an establishment of religion or prohibiting the free exercise thereof," our Founding Fathers, apparently recognizing that men have a tendency to take religion to the extreme, included a caveat: "it is declared 'that it is time enough for the rightful purposes of civil government for its officers to interfere when principles break out into overt acts against peace and good order.'" The Court's ruling went on to say: "Congress was deprived of all legislative power over mere opinion, but was left free to reach actions which were in violation of social duties or subversive of good order." (I have underlined the key points.)
If it is correct that the presumption that polygamy between adults is always consensual then the argument that there is no "overt acts against peace and good order" may have merit, but lets quickly examine a few verses from the driving force behind Joseph Smith and Reynold's religion, Section 132 of the Doctrine & Covenants.
Section 132 is the revelation allegedly received by Joseph Smith that establishes the law of plural marriage. Verse 6 ends by saying: "and he that receiveth a fulness thereof must and shall abide the law, or he shall be damned, saith the Lord God." This is apparently the phrase that the Court took to mean, "damnation in the life to come." In this instance the Court was not fully informed. A comprehensive reading of Section 132 reveals that Joseph Smith's God not only meant "damnation in the life to come" but here and now.
The obvious intent of Section 132 was to give Mormon men free reign to pursue plural wives and to coerce their first, or living wives into not only not interfering but accepting the plural wives.
Verse 54 is directed at Emma Smith, Joseph's recalcitrant living wife. "But if she will not abide this commandment she shall be destroyed," [I the Lord God] "will destroy her if she abide not in my law."
Verse 64 states "...if any man have a wife, who holds the keys of this power, and he teaches unto her the law of my priesthood, as pertaining to these things, then shall she believe and administer unto him, or she shall be destroyed,..."
Verse 65 states that if the living wife will not believe and administer to her husband in his wants, "... she then becomes the transgressor;..." and he is free to pursue plural wives.
The Verses sited above are clearly coercive and are overtly against peace and good order. As an example, please consider the following actual case which I recently brought to the attention of the Attorney General's investigative staff.
The husband of 39 year-old Kelli, pregnant with her seventh child, went behind her back and took a plural wife. When he tried to convert her into accepting the plural wife, he became so frustrated with her refusal that he socked her on the jaw. On another occasion he knocked her flat on the pavement with an open car door as he sped away from the curb.
Kelli met with her husband's polygamist mentors, one of which is a key member of the pro-polygamy movement to decriminalize bigamy. At that meeting, Kelli was told that if she did not accept plural marriage her husband was "justified in sacrificing her" - a direct reference to Verses 64 and 65.
Kelli and her children have been abandoned without any source of income. She has taken her husband to divorce court but the wheels of justice are slow. It has only been through the charitable donations of church members and neighbors that has kept Kelli from thus far, losing her home. Kelli wanted her husband held accountable and charged with the crime of bigamy, but her complaint was denied because there was not a juvenile involved.
Here is another example of how Verses 64 and 65 has influenced Mormon extremism. On July 24, 1984, Ron and Dan Lafferty cut the throats of their sister-in-law and her 19 month old baby girl. The sister-in-law would not accept the Lafferty's polygamist agenda and needed to be destroyed.
Among many other things, I am an adviser to Tapestry Against Polygamy, an anti-polygamy organization composed of former plural wives. Tapestry brought to the attention of the Attorney General a complaint made by a 20 year-old women who had been sexually exploited by the leader of a small polygamist cult in central Utah. The investigator for the Attorney General and myself interviewed the victim, Rachael, at the same time, he for a possible criminal complaint, and me for a possible civil suit.
Rachael had been part of the cult since age 12 when her mother became the third plural wife of the cult leader. She was programed to believe that the leader, then a father image, was in direct communication with God and had control over her exaltation. She was educated, if you can call it education, in the cult school, but the instruction was mostly inculcating the authority of the leader and preparing young girls to become plural wives. The children were not allowed to associate with people outside the cult.
When Rachael was 16 this unscrupulous leader married her to a boy her own age. When she was 20 he divorced her and convinced her that she was emotionally and psychologically impaired and that he was the only man in the world that could "fix" her, and that was by her becoming his 19th wife.
The leader was in his 60s. First he was her father figure and religious leader, now he wanted to be her lover and repeatedly told her with what she deemed to filthy language, how they would make love when they married. She did not want to marry him and the mental anguish she experienced was exquisite, but because of the brainwashing she felt she had no choice.
He put her in a house with three other young wives, the ones he selected to have sex with. He insisted they all take birth control pills. The ordeal was so disgusting and dehumanizing that Rachael fled in spite of threats that she would spend a thousand years in hell.
The leader of this group used his position of authority, power and trust to coerce this girl into a bigamous marriage for sexual purposes. In reality she was raped, the religious coercion being as traumatic as if a gun were aimed at her head. However, the Attorney General's Office not only turned down the rape assertion but a bigamy complaint because Rachael was 20 years old and not a juvenile.
Rachael and I then submitted a bigamy complaint to Ross Blackham, San Pete County Attorney. I handed Mr. Blackham the bigamy case on a silver platter - Rachael's 16 page affidavit, a 30 page psychological evaluation clearly showing Rachael was coerced, an Offense Report which outlines the elements proving the crime. And although Mr. Blackham was well aware of the suspect's destructive and salacious reputation I furnished him with additional background information and the testimony of another victim. I asked Mr. Blackham if he would consider the complaint on it merits. Although he appeared to be irritated with the complaint, he promised he would consider it on its merits and asked that we give him a week.
I gave him 10 days. When I telephone him he said he would not prosecute. I asked him why? He said because he had the same policy as the Attorney General. Then he added, besides she is an adult and consented to the marriage, neither of which is relevant to the crime of bigamy.
I said, "but her consent was clearly coerced."
He replied rudely, "I'm not going to argue with you." I retorted, "Nor I with you. You have obviously made up your mind. We will go the civil route and try and get some justice.
When Mr. Blackham read the file, he was obviously looking for reasons not to prosecute, rather than reasons to prosecute. Listening to him, I thought, this man sounds like a defense lawyer, not a prosecutor. Mr. Blackham's reasons for not prosecuting were both lame and irrational and in total dereliction of his elected office, but thus is the brand of judicial justice in Utah when it comes to religious polygamy.
In defense of Mark Shurtleff, he has done more to combat abuse among polygamists than any other politician in the last fifty years, and for that, we are grateful. Had he read the Offense Report, Rachael's affidavit and the psychological evaluation he might have been willing to prosecute. But unfortunately, those documents did not make it through his bureaucracy.
No one expects the Attorney General or County Attorneys to prosecute every polygamist. It is economically unfeasible and irrational considering how many there are - over 30,000. Due to intimidation and embarrassment it is rare that a victim of polygamy comes forward with the courage to testify against her abuser. The evidence against the man who abused Rachael clearly labels him sexual predator. He also has a history of manipulating a 16 year-old girl into a bigamous marriage. The man clearly needs to be prosecuted.
Utah's four prominent organized polygamist groups are authoritative, model environments for sexual predators and religious fanatics. Their business, called religion, is exploiting the Y-chromosome by merchandising plural wives, a multimillion dollar Utah enterprise. How do I know?
I am a retired sheriff's lieutenant who specialized in sex crime investigation. When I retired I was a practicing polygamist with three wives. Twenty years later I renounced my polygamist misadventure because of the crime and corruption that seems to be endemic to the polygamist subculture. I then became the lead investigator for plaintiffs in major law suits against the leaders of two of Utah's notorious cults. I am now a muckraker and author of three books about Utah polygamy, the latest being: Polygamy Under Attack, From Tom Green to Brian David Mitchell. And as I said previously, I am an advisor to Tapestry Against Polygamy.
I used to think decriminalization was a good idea. It is true that there are many benign Mormon polygamists who are no threat to society and would not think of doing to a woman what happened to Rachael. But now I have changed my mind.
It is the authoritative nature and subjection of women that is so repulsive. Kelli's monogamous marriage is only one of hundreds that have been broken up by the lure of men desiring to cohabit with more than one woman. To keep the wives in line, the wives are continually reminded of the authority and power of the priesthood and coerced with all sorts of ridiculous doctrines. The pro-polygamy proponents contend that if polygamy were decriminalized abuse would diminish. Not so - it would increase. The unscrupulous leaders would see it as a victory and polygamist marriages, enhanced by the delusion of religion, would once more take precedence over monogamist marriages. Right now, because of an apparent inflexible policy of selective prosecution among prosecutors, polygamy is treated like smoking and drinking, forbidden to the youth but okay for adults.
Polygamy is not a progressive institution, it is a step backwards into antiquity. Nor is it an efficient way to multiply and replenish the species. Mormon polygamy is nothing more than an ingenious way of accommodating the Y- chromosome. (See Adam's Curse, by Brian Sykes)