Polygamy Summit a "Historic Turning Point"

Polygamy Summit a "Historic Turning Point"

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John Hollenhorst ReportingMany of those involved in last week's suprisingly overcrowded polygamy summit are calling it a "historic turning point". In spite of sharp divisions, various factions seem to agree on a general blueprint for government action. However, a parallel effort long ago in Salt Lake City didn't turn out so well.

The polygamists who jammed last week's summit demanded freedom to live their religion. Anti-polygamy crusaders demanded a legal crackdown. But Attorney General Mark Shurtleff says there was a surprising amount of agreement.

Mark Shurtleff, Utah Attorney General: “We have the same goal, at least, in this. And that is to protect children and women who are being victimized."

The result is a suggested action plan for the polygamist border town of Colorado City, Arizona and Hildale, Utah. Law enforcement will not target bigamy but it will target welfare abuse and sex abuse, particularly of child brides.

The state no longer recognizes the legal authority of the local police force controlled by polygamists. The Washington County Sheriff will likely establish a sheriff substation right in town.

Mark Shurtleff, Utah Attorney General: “The county sheriff has a duty to be there and be present and protect those people.”

And there's a proposed safety net for women and children trying to flee the polygamy cult. A hotline for victims, a legal protocol for handling runaways, a shelter for refugees.

Mark Shurtleff, Utah Attorney General: "Those who have come out without any type of safety net, they're telling us that, yes, there are large numbers that will come out. "

Rod Parker, Attorney for F.L.D.S. Church: “I think the need for that is vastly overstated.”

Attorney Rod Parker represents the polygamist church that controls much of the town.

Rod Parker, Attorney fro F.L.D.S. Church: "There's nothing about the culture that's preventing people from making a decision to leave if they want to. People do that all the time."

That disagreement is an interesting echo of a fascinating piece of Utah history. In the 1880's anti-polygamy crusaders picked a spot on 5th east in Salt Lake City and created a refuge for people fleeing the evils of polygamy. With federal funds, they built the massive Industrial Christian Home. But so few refugees showed up, the home was shut down less than five years later.

Rod Parker, Attorney fro F.L.D.S. Church: “That was the message at the summit; the women don’t want to be rescued!”

State officials believe the need IS there, and it may be the key to putting abusers in jail as refugees are potential witnesses.

State officials have also begun looking into the legality of the home education program that involves most of the town's children.

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