Fathers from polygamous sect fight for access to children

Wives and 40 offspring of six men excommunicated from Bountiful-based church have been reassigned to new husbands, fathers

Vancouver Sun/September 8, 2012

Six men from Bountiful went to Provincial Court in Creston this week pleading for access to their 40 children after having been excommunicated by Warren Jeffs, the jailed leader of North America's largest polygamous sect.

Earlier this year, the fathers were deemed to be "unworthy" by Jeffs, the prophet of the Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.

There are about 500 FLDS members living in southeastern British Columbia who remain loyal to Jeffs, even though he is in a Texas prison serving a sentence of life plus 20 years for sexually abusing girls.

In interim orders signed Thursday, Judge William Sheard granted specific days and times for the fathers to have access to their children, starting on Friday evening.

The oldest of the 40 children is 15; the youngest will be two in October.

The judge has also forbidden the mothers to remove the children from the East Kootenay Regional District. The men's lawyer, Georgialee Lang, has taken the precaution of having copies of the court orders delivered to the Canada Border Services Agency.

Lang's clients are concerned some of the mothers or church leaders may try to hide the children in other FLDS communities in Texas, Idaho, South Dakota, Colorado, Arizona or Utah.

All of the men's wives and children have been moved to different homes. They have been "reassigned," or given as chattel, by Jeffs to other "more worthy" men. They are to obey the men and the children have been instructed to call them father.

Because of a publication ban, fathers, mothers and children can be identified only by their initials.

Although Judge Sheard was told in court Wednesday of the increasingly bizarre edicts coming from Jeffs' cell, the judge denied several other orders requested by Lang.

He refused to allow the fathers to have input into the education of their children, even though Lang told the court Jeffs recently ordered the closure of the government-funded Bountiful Elementary-Secondary School. She said textbooks have been discarded and the home-schooling of children consists of watching hours of Jeffs' rambling speeches on YouTube.

The judge also denied an interim custody order for one father to retrieve his four children, who he believes are living in a logging camp in Elkford, B.C.

The man was forced out of Bountiful in February 2012. Both his wives stayed behind, but four of his children, aged six to nine, have been banished.

Lang said the father believes his children are living in the logging camp in the care of an FLDS woman who is not their mother.

"These men are as much victims as the women are," Lang said in an interview.

She describes her clients as "hard-working, nice men."

All have found jobs outside the community in logging-related work. One is working in Alberta, another is in California.

Two of the men have two wives. Lang said they are concerned they could be targeted for polygamy prosecutions because of the custody battle. But it's a risk they were willing to take to see their children.

One told Lang he loves his first wife and had never wanted a second wife.

He told her how he'd been taken from his home one night and driven by church leaders on a circuitous route that ended in Nevada, where he married a woman he'd never met before.

Among the key concerns the men expressed in their affidavits is their teenage daughters would be forced into marriages. One father said he was "ran off" by FLDS leaders after refusing to consent to his 12-year-old daughter's marriage. But the next day, his wife agreed and the girl was married.

Another father was kicked out after an FLDS leader claimed the man's daughter was no longer a virgin and the father had allowed it to happen. The father asked how the man knew. The response was: "God told me."

Another father was declared apostate after refusing to follow Jeffs' order that all "rebellious" teens be banished from the community.

In Jeffs' world, rebels are kids who spend time with their friends, boys who wear short-sleeved shirts or girls who don't wear their hair in the prescribed manner (swooped off the forehead with a long braid or a bun) or don't wear plain-coloured, pioneer-style dresses.

Rebels also include children who play. Lang's clients told her toys, books, games, sports and all recreational activities have been banned.

But that's far from the end of Jeffs' edicts.

Late last year, he banned all physical contact - except handshakes - between husbands and wives.

Jeffs also forbade fathers from having any physical con-tact with their children and warned any man who touched a child anywhere from head to toe would be deemed to be an adulterer and would be excommunicated.

He's also told all FLDS members there are only 12 to 15 men worthy of impregnating FLDS women and girls.

The first of these edicts came at the end of 2011, when Jeffs widely disseminated his prophecy to government leaders and media across North America that the world would end soon.

Surprisingly - given all the media coverage of Jeffs' trial, allegations about child brides in Bountiful, a failed attempt to prosecute two of Bountiful's leaders and a constitutional reference case that resulted in Canada's anti-polygamy law being upheld - one of Lang's clients claims not to have known until recently that the FLDS condoned the marriages of under-aged girls.

The man, who is in his 30s, has a teaching certificate and is father to nine children, said in his affidavit he was "angry and shocked" to learn that.

According to his affidavit, seven of 10 families in the FLDS towns of Colorado City, Ariz. and Hildale, Utah, have been broken up and redistributed since 2005, when Jeffs became prophet. Since then, he said, some of the excommunicated men have ended up unemployed and homeless.

One committed suicide recently. He walked into the path of a fully loaded semi-trailer truck.

Because FLDS leaders were not given notice of the fathers' applications, there was no one in court to object to the orders being issued or rebut any of the allegations in the men's affidavits.

Still, something good may have already resulted from the case.

One of the men spoke to his wife Thursday for the first time in months and told Lang his wife is now considering leaving the group so the family can be reunited.

"If this case provides the impetus for some of the women to leave," Lang said, "that would be wonderful."

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