Trial begins against polygamous towns in discrimination case
By JACQUES BILLEAUD
PHOENIX (AP) - Opening arguments are scheduled Wednesday at a trial over allegations that two isolated towns on the Arizona-Utah line serve as the enforcement arm of a polygamous religious sect and discriminate against nonbelievers.
The trial is expected to reveal the inner workings of Colorado City, Arizona, and Hildale, Utah, and examine allegations that the towns systematically denied housing, water services and police protection on the basis of religion.
The case marks one of the boldest efforts by the government to confront what critics have said was a corrupt regime in both towns, where the dominant religion is the Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints. The sect broke away from mainstream Mormonism when the religion disavowed polygamy more than 100 years ago.
The U.S. Justice Department alleges in its lawsuit that town officials seized property from nonmembers, denied them water services and prevented them from building homes.
Police officers are accused of assisting sect leader Warren Jeffs while he was a fugitive on charges of arranging marriages between girls and older men.
The government also says police failed to investigate crimes against nonbelievers. For example, the lawsuit said officers refused to act on nonbelievers’ trespassing complaints against sect members.