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Posted 24 Feb 2001   For week ended November 24, 2000
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Sent on Mormon-News: 24Nov00

By Kent Larsen

Green Trial Leads To Review Of Polygamy Prosecution

NEPHI, UTAH -- The upcoming prosecution of polygamist Tom Green has led to a review of polygamy prosecution in an Arizona Republic article picked up through the Associated Press. At stake in the trial is not just Green's freedom, but also the attitude of prosecutors to the crime and maybe even the legal status of polygamy.

Juab County Attorney David Leavitt, brother of Utah Governor Mike Leavitt, filed charges against Green earlier this year, after Green and his family appeared on national television shows defending the practice. Newsmedia had taken an interest in the practice in the wake of the widely-publicized child abuse trial of two members of the Kingston polygamy clan last year.

Green is charged with four counts of bigamy (believed to be the first brought since the 1950s), one count of criminal non-support and one count of child rape. The criminal non-support charges arise because Green's family has collected $50,000 in welfare from the state, while the child rape case arises because Green allegedly consumated his marriage to his wife Linda when she was 13. But while the other charges are serious, it is the bigamy charges that bring the most contention.

Green claims that he has a right to practice his religion the way he believes he should. And prosecutor Leavitt says he initially agreed. "I just thought, 'Let 'em do what they want. They're practicing their religion.' But I've seen a different side to them now," said Leavitt. "Tom Green at first blush appeared to be someone that no one should bother. But this is a man who has taken 13- and 14-year-old children, deprived them of any education, married them, impregnated them, required the state to pay the bill and has raped a 13-year-old girl. If we can't prosecute for conduct like Tom Green's, we have no business prosecuting crime."

Since the 1950s, prosecutors in Utah have claimed that bigamy could not be prosecuted because they couldn't prove it in court. The only witnesses to the crime were family members, who were simply uncooperative. But Leavitt says that this isn't true, "The reality is it's not vague. It can be proven." And should he win on the bigamy charges, Leavitt may open the door to other prosecutors taking on these cases.

That would please the anti-polygamy group, Tapestry of Polygamy, which was formed to support the victims of the crime. Since it was founded in 1997, the group has helped more than 300 women and children, and has lobbied for tougher laws. It recently saw some success in lobbying the Utah legislature to raise the marriage age from 14 to 16. To prove their point to the legislature, the group brought young girls in bridal gowns to the state Capitol.

But Leavitt's prosecution could also open the door to a US Supreme Court review of its 1879 decision that anti-bigamy laws were constitutional. In that case, Reynolds v. United States, which involved Brigham Young's personal secretary, the court ruled that while religious beliefs couldn't be restricted, the behavior of citizens could be restricted. But more recent decisions have seemed to contradict that finding. In a 1972 case allowing Amish children out of school because of their religious beliefs, a dissenting justice said that the case would eventually lead to Reynolds v. United States being overturned.

The ACLU's Utah chapter claims that anti-polygamy laws violate the right to privacy. They also point to anti-sodomy laws, which have been found unconstitutional in some states. University of Utah constitutional law professor Edwin Firmage asks, "What's the difference between polygamy and gay and lesbian rights to love each other as human beings?"

But Tapestry of Polygamy sees a big difference. "This isn't about consensual sex between adults. This is about children who have no choice," says Tapestry spokeswoman Vicky Prunty. "Someday people will wake up to this issue and realize it's abuse in the guise of religion. When they see the abuses, they will be that much more apt to prosecute."


Trial nears for Utah polygamist
(Phoenix) AZ Republic (AP) 24Nov00 N5
Associated Press
Case shows that practice is crumbling


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