True Crime Blog

CHURCH VS. STATE

The First Amendment to the Constitution protects the free exercise of religion. Some churches believe the amendment allows them to break the laws of the United States.

After hearing the audio-taped rape of a twelve-year-old girl by the prophet of the Fundamentalist Church of Latter Day Saints, Warren Jeffs, a Texas jury convicted him of sexual assault of that child and another girl aged fifteen. He claimed they were his “spiritual brides.” The judge ruled for the law and, in August of 2011, sentenced Jeffs to life in prison.

So, that ended Jeff’s control over his fifteen thousand cloistered followers in compounds from Canada to Texas, right? Not a chance. From his jail cell, Jeffs continues to issue edicts that the faithful obey no matter how irrational because they believe that Warren Jeffs speaks for God.

About Seven Thousand, Five Hundred of his followers reside in the twin towns of Hilldale and Colorado City, Arizona, and practice polygamy. Lest you think these towns are a hotbed of hanky panky, Jeffs has decreed that only certain high-ranking men called “seed bearers” are allowed to have sex with women. The husband must be in the room when the seed bearer has sex with his wife. Other prominent church officials observe as well. The husband may hold his wife’s hand while she has intercourse. But he dare not touch her at any time other than during this ritual. The punishment is banishment. With the husband out of the picture, the bishops assign the man’s wives and children to other men.

FLDS women wear uniform pastel maxi dresses styled after prairie outfits from the 1800s. They appear docile, but they’re probably living in fear. At any moment, Jeffs or the board members might order a woman’s children sent to one of the other FLDS compounds. As a result, some children don’t remember their biological parents. Speaking to the FBI, one female former church member, said, “You don’t get to choose where your children go or who gets to be their caretaker. They just disappear.”

Charlene Jeffs, the ex-wife of Bishop Lyle Jeffs, stated to FBI investigators that Warren Jeffs and the FLDS church leaders instituted this practice to “…exercise power, control and fear over women.”

Likewise, women are encouraged to instill fear in their children. When a baby cries, the mother holds his or her face underwater. If water isn’t handy, no need to be embarrassed by a misbehaving infant. The mother simply places a hand over her child’s nose and mouth. Suffocation drives the protest right out of them, most likely for life.

And if the practice of child abuse and documented violations of child labor laws weren’t enough to keep the population docile, Willie Jessop, a former FLDS member in high standing, testified that the church hierarchy runs the towns of Hilldale and Colorado City like a theocracy. The church decides who will serve in City Hall, and on the water and utility boards. As a consequence, citizens the church has a grievance against are refused power and water hookups.

Since the FLDS also selects and trains young men from the church to join the police force in town, crimes committed by FLDS members against non-FLDS citizens are not investigated. The Board also regularly orders police to evict citizens who displease the membership. An under-aged bride desperately fled the home of the old man she was forced to marry. The police promptly returned her to her husband.

Members of the church do successfully flee. In fact, their numbers have dwindled to about ten thousand since 2011. When they leave, friends and family shun them as apostates. Uneducated, unfamiliar with television, illiterate in the use of technology and impoverished, they have few marketable skills to offer employers.

But loyal members of FLDS face a much greater fear than shunning, unemployment or the temptations in the modern day world. What keeps them in the FLDS is the belief that Warren Jeffs speaks for God. To disobey Warren’s commands is a one-way ticket to an eternity in the unquenchable fires of Hell.