Southern Utah Won't Be out of the Spotlight Anytime Soon
The Spectrum [Utah]
December 17, 2006
It's not too often that Southern Utah steps into the national spotlight. Sure, the St. George area is well known for being a retirement destination, and the Utah Shakespearean Festival has helped gain Cedar City notoriety.
Both of those are things to be proud of.
But our region hit the national stage again this week when the preliminary hearing for polygamist sect leader Warren Jeffs wrapped up with an order for Jeffs to stand trial beginning in April on charges of rape as an accomplice.
That's not so good.
It's important that Jeffs finally gets his day in court. The rumors have been floating around for years about sexual abuse of young girls and welfare fraud running rampant among at least some members of the Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints. At least in this one case - in which a woman has accused Jeffs of forcing her to have sexual relations with her 19-year-old cousin when she was just 14 - Jeffs gets the opportunity to refute the charges and stand up for his faith.
His attorneys already have hinted that they intend to show that the prosecution of Jeffs is really persecution of his religion. That appears to be a stretch. First, Jeffs is innocent until proven guilty. But if he is convicted of the charges, he will be convicted because criminal activity was proven, not because he was legally practicing his religion.
So, while religion isn't really part of this case, religion does surround it.
First, every time the national news media comes to town to cover the Jeffs case, we either have to read or see on television someone making the huge mistake of lumping the FLDS church in with The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. Those of us who live here - either within or from outside the LDS Church - know that there is a major difference between the two.
The LDS Church hasn't supported the practice of polygamy for more than 100 years. The practice is undeniably a part of the church's past, but it isn't part of the present. That fact appears to get blurred from time to time.
Polygamists outside the FLDS Church also get drawn into the discussion. The Utah Constitution forbids polygamy, but proving the practice can be very difficult for prosecutors. Then, there is the debate that few people seem to want to touch: Should the practice of polygamy be illegal so long as no crimes are broken?
Do we really care what consenting adults do in their own homes so long as children aren't harmed, taxes are paid and the system isn't abused?
I don't know many members of the FLDS church. The closed society makes having any kind of meaningful interaction with them difficult. But I have had the honor of meeting and talking with people who practice polygamy who live in Centennial Park, Ariz. Unfortunately, this group gets thrown in with the FLDS church despite not having been affiliated with it for many years.
The Centennial Park group values education for women. The sister-wives that I have met appear to be happy and are honored by their husbands. They are nurses, teachers and many other professions.
The fact that there are different groups with diverse beliefs also appears to get blurred from time to time.
Southern Utah won't be out of the spotlight anytime soon. In fact, the light will only shine brighter when the jury trial gets under way in April.
We can only hope that we can use the opportunity to educate the nation about Utah and its diverse cultures.
Contact Editor Todd Seifert at 674-6235, or via e-mail at email@example.com.
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