Tax dollars support school teaching polygamy

Vancouver Sun/June 18, 2004
By Daphne Bramham

There's a publicly funded school in B.C. that turns out students who believe that polygamy is a sacred commandment from God, that women can only enter heaven at the invitation of their polygamous husbands, and that brown-skinned people are descendants of Satan.

It's called Bountiful Elementary-Secondary. It's run by the Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints and for nearly two decades, B.C. taxpayers have supported it with grants. Last year, the grant was $460,826. The previous year -- before a factional split resulted in 89 kids being taken out of that school and put into a new school called Mormon Hills -- it was $623,686.

The new school is controlled by Winston Blackmore, the former bishop of Bountiful ex-communicated two years ago by the church's prophet, Warren Jeffs. Jeffs now controls Bountiful school and is its spiritual adviser.

Mormon Hills has 131 students and now it too is eligible under the B.C. Independent School Act for per-pupil grants equal to half the amount the government pays for children attending public schools.

The underlying philosophy taught at both schools is obedience to the church's leaders, belief that men must have three or more wives and as many children as possible to enter heaven, that the role of women and girls is only to serve men. The fundamentalist Mormons are also taught to accept that the leaders will determine not only who will marry, but also what level of education each child may complete and what job each person may hold.

"In Bountiful, most girls are only educated to become young brides," says Audrey Vance, the co-chairwoman of a Creston-based group called Altering Destiny Through Education. "It's very, very sad for children. It's child abuse."

The group wants the government to stop funding FLDS schools.

Vance -- a former school trustee -- admits initially having doubts about whether cutting funding would help the children. But she says ex-concubines have convinced her that even home-schooling would be better, because the brainwashing may not be so complete away from the peer pressure of school.

"The girls have no access to education," says Debbie Palmer, who left the colony in 1988 with her eight children. "They were graduating people [from Creston high school] in 1988, but by 1998 girls usually were not getting past Grade 7 and rarely past Grade 9."

Even the boys rarely get to go beyond Grade 9, says Palmer, who still has many relatives living there. They're ordered to go to work for one of Winston Blackmore's companies or a company owned by the church's United Effort Plan trust.

Both Palmer and Vance's group believe that ending polygamy, abuse and exploitation can only happen through education. As Palmer says, "The children have to be able to make choices."

They got support this week from trustees in the Bulkley Valley, who demanded that the government stop funding the school immediately and take steps to ensure that the "exploitation and manipulation of these children is stopped immediately."

Trustee Bob Haslett pointed out that the ministry's own enrolment figures indicate a steep drop-off in students between elementary and secondary school. Of the 136 children registered this year, 105 are in kindergarten to Grade 7. Only 31 are in Grades 8 to 10.

"If any public school in B.C. had a comparable drop-out rate between elementary and secondary, the ministry would replace the board in a heartbeat," Haslett says.

The trustees sent letters to Education Minister Tom Christensen, Premier Gordon Campbell, Attorney-General Geoff Plant, and Christy Clark, the minister for children and families, expressing deep concern "that these children are not receiving a proper education, are being taught material not consistent with the B.C. curriculum and are being sexually exploited and abused under the guise of religious instruction."

The education ministry says the most recent inspection, done within the last few months, turned up nothing to indicate grants should not be given next year.

But perhaps there's something wrong with the biennial, by-appointment-only inspections, which last about two hours. The inspectors' checklist includes a section on "school philosophy," but it includes financial audits, reviewing school policies on student safety and student records. Inspectors don't ask what values or ideas are taught beyond the provincial curriculum.

And they aren't required to go into the classrooms, only to review sample course outlines.

Many of the 356 children currently attending Bountiful and Mormon Hills will become fifth- and sixth-generation polygamists, with all the baggage that carries -- child brides married to middle-aged husbands, boys being excommunicated to create the demographic imbalance, a whole community brainwashed to believe they have no individual rights and no free will.

FLDS leaders often quote the Constitution's guarantee of religious freedom as their protection to practise polygamy. But what they and successive B.C. governments have neglected is the fact that children have rights too.

Children have a constitutional guarantee of equality, including equal access to a decent education, regardless of where they live and what their parents believe.

For nearly two decades, the B.C. government has supported Bountiful school and shirked its responsibility to protect the rights of Bountiful's children. It's time to set that right.

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