Bishop loses Bountiful school case

The Globe and Mail/April 4, 2003
By Robert Matas

Vancouver -- The Canadian bishop of a polygamist religious group lost control yesterday of the community's school in British Columbia and over $1-million in assets to rivals aligned with the U.S.-based sect.

The shift in power was the most recent incident in a bitter fight that has split families and neighbours in Canada and the United States over who speaks for God and who should be acknowledged as the Prophet in the Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.

A succession battle after the death last fall of Rulon Jeffs, the breakaway Mormon sect's top official, pitted Canadian Winston Blackmore against the official's son, Warren Jeffs, of Colorado City, Ariz.

Mr. Justice Frank Maczko of the B.C. Supreme Court approved an order yesterday that in effect allows followers of Mr. Jeffs to control Bountiful's elementary and secondary school, located in a remote farm community near Creston in southeastern British Columbia.

Mr. Blackmore was head of the community of Bountiful and superintendent of the school. Last year, Mr. Jeffs appointed another member of the community, Jim Oler, as leader.

Before conceding defeat, Mr. Blackmore lashed out at his opponents. In documents submitted to the court, he stated that Mr. Jeffs's group had introduced new religious teachings at the school that were racist.

The new curriculum teaches that black people, whom he referred to as Negroes, came from "a war in heaven," he said.

Elementary-school children were being taught that some people were "Negroes because they were fence-sitters and would not choose sides," Mr. Blackmore stated in an affidavit submitted to the court.

Mr. Blackmore stated that he has two children in Grade 4 who were played tapes in school about what he called the "new religion" from "Uncle Warren."

"The children are being told that if they do not follow the new religion introduced by Warren Jeffs, they will be apostates and will go straight to hell," Mr. Blackmore said.

Mr. Blackmore informed the British Columbia Education Ministry of the white-supremacist curriculum in November, according to minutes of a meeting in December of a group that claimed to be in charge of the school.

The school was set up by the religious community of about 800 people. The provincial government pays 50 per cent of the school's costs.

Ministry official James Beeke advised Mr. Blackmore to obtain legal advice and deal with the accusation in the community before anyone else complained to the government, the minutes state. Mr. Beeke also said that if the complaint was true, the school could be closed.

In September, the school had 238 students in grades from kindergarten to Grade 10. Ninety-five of those, the children of Mr. Blackmore and his supporters, were pulled out at the end of January.

"We had no alternative," Mr. Blackmore said in an affidavit submitted to the court. "The damage that can be done to young impressionable minds through the kinds of teachings as are being implemented . . . is of great concern."

Mr. Oler, a Canadian, confirmed yesterday that the community has been divided over the question of succeeding Rulon Jeffs.

But Bountiful school continues to function with the same curriculum and in the same fashion as it had before the troubles began, he said in an interview.

"We're just maintaining the school, and that's that," he said.

Mr. Oler said Mr. Jeffs had not introduced new religious tenets. "That's his opinion," he said, referring to Mr. Blackmore's statements.

The Fundamentalist Church, which broke away from the Mormon Church in the late 19th century over the issue of polygamy, has been estimated to have about 20,000 members in Canada and the United States.

Neither Mr. Blackmore nor spokesmen for the Fundamentalists in the United States responded to requests for an interview yesterday.

To see more documents/articles regarding this group/organization/subject click here.