Utahns say fed help OK against polygamy

The Salt Lake Tribune/August 25, 2008

A push for federal help prosecuting crimes within polygamous communities has the support of a majority of Utahns, a new poll shows.

"I don't know whether any of the individual states are doing a very good job of tackling it on their own," said Jared Esplin, 35, of South Jordan.

Esplin was among the 56 percent of Utahns in a recent survey who want the federal government to take a more active role in such prosecutions.

"I think young girls are being forced to marry older men and I think that is rape," Esplin said. "This seems to be crossing state lines and to be more than the states know what to do with."

Barbara Rowland, of Payson, agrees. "People cannot pick and choose which laws they want to abide by," she said. But the states "are not doing a very good job of it. You can go to any town in this state and find polygamists."

The poll was conducted Aug. 13-15 - three weeks after a Senate Judiciary Committee hearing at which Sen. Majority Leader Harry Reid called polygamous communities a "form of organized crime" and asked the federal government to "play a larger role in this fight."

The hearing focused specifically on the Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints, which has been the target of state investigations in Utah, Arizona and Texas.

Majority support for greater federal involvement held steady across several demographic categories: gender, political party affiliation and religious affiliation.

But members of the mainstream Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, which first publicly disavowed polygamy 118 years ago, were more likely to oppose federal prosecution than "non-LDS" respondents.

The poll found 31 percent of LDS respondents oppose federal prosecution, compared with 19 percent of those identified as "non-LDS."

Steve Terry, 54, of Taylorsville, is LDS and joined those who don't want to see more federal involvement but said his view was not related to his faith.

"If [polygamists] are working hard, holding down jobs, as far as I'm concerned we ought to leave them alone," Terry said.

Any abuses that occur should be addressed locally, he said.

"The states and local governments are better able to understand those issues and separate out what really needs to be dealt with and what can be let go," Terry said.

Nearly a fifth of the respondents said they were unsure whether federal involvement was necessary. Jack Strosnider, 69, of Cedar City, fell in that camp.

"I don't agree with the practice of polygamy, but whether the federal government should go in . . ." said Strosnider, mentioning Waco and the Elian Gonzalez sagas. "I just get concerned about how much power the government [has]."

But officials in three states - Utah, Arizona and Texas, which is at the forefront of the largest ongoing investigation involving the FLDS - have asked for federal help.

"A comprehensive federal response should minimize - if not eliminate - the possibility that persons within the FLDS who may be predisposed to commit polygamy, or other crimes, will simply move their operations to another location," said Greg Abbott, attorney general of Texas, in July.

He also asked that federal laws be used to investigate crimes within the sect and more federal aid be provided for crime victims.

Arizona Attorney General Terry Goddard told the committee he requested federal help in 2005 to investigate possible civil rights violations by the Marshal's Office in Colorado City, Ariz. The town and the adjoining community of Hildale, Utah, are the traditional home base of the FLDS.

"I am still waiting for a response to that request," Goddard said, who also asked for federal help analyzing hundreds of boxes of documents and data seized in Texas and at the arrest of sect leader Warren S. Jeffs.

Mason-Dixon Polling and Research Inc. of Washington polled 400 Utah residents for The Salt Lake Tribune. The survey's error margin is plus or minus 5 points.

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