On August 23rd, 2009, the Deseret News reports that the Safety Net Committee, an outreach program working with polygamous communities and public and private service agencies in Utah and Arizona, has produced a revamped guidebook called The Primer in order to combat myths and stereotypes about polygamist culture. According to the Salt Lake Tribune, polygamist groups participating in the rewrite included the Apostolic United Brethren or "Allred Group"; Centennial Park; Davis County Cooperative Society (the Kingston family); and the Nielsen/Naylor Group. A section on the FLDS was prepared without the sect's help.
The 65-page booklet is designed to give social workers, police and other service providers a better understanding of the tenets of polygamist's beliefs, unique family structures and even their language. It is an updated version of one produced in 2005 by the Utah Attorney General's office, which many polygamists believed portrayed them as victims trapped in religious groups where abuse permeated the culture. One leading anti-polygamy hate group is Tapestry, which has ceaselessly sought to portray the polygamist community in the most unfavorable light possible. There are documented ties between anti-polygamist activist Flora Jessop and Rozita Swinton, the hysterical head case who called in the bogus child abuse report triggering the Texas CPS' mass kidnapping of over 400 kids from the FLDS Yearning For Zion ranch in Eldorado, Texas, at an estimated cost to taxpayers of $14 million. Jessop is a professional disruptor; in 2006, Attorney General Mark Shurtleff lashed out at her for undermining the Safety Net Committee.
The rewrite sought to find more neutral language and to show that plural families face many of the same challenges as other families. In drafting the new version polygamous groups were asked to clarify or correct information about their specific cultural practices.
The new version of The Primer is available HERE in PDF format.
Among the more contentious terms and practices defined in the Primer:
(1). Reassignment: The practice of giving an excommunicated man's wives and children to another man. Some polgyamists believe wives and children belong to the church, not the husband. Personally, I consider this practice to be absolutely repugnant and unacceptable, and groups practicing this principle need to be hunted down and broken up.
(2). Law of Placement: A type of arranged marriage that sometimes has involved underage girls. Couples are matched by church leaders after consultation with parents. Currently leaders of all the major group have denounced underage marriage. Last year, FLDS spokesman Willie Jessop announced that the FLDS would begin complying with the marriage laws of whatever state where they are present, so this problem seems to be well on its way to being solved.
(3). United Order: A system of communal living that calls for families to share their earning and serve others in the community. This is not a problem, so long as polygamous groups make conditions of entry into and exit from such a community absolutely explicit, and specify how much property and assets a departing member may take.
Terms and practices can also vary depending on which polygamous group a family is from, said Mary Batchelor, a Safety Net committee member who is also a co-founder of the polygamy advocacy group Principle Voices.
The timing of this release does not appear to be totally random. According to Principle Voices, they will be holding a Legal Conference in Snowbird, Utah on Friday September 25th, 2009. The theme of the conference will be "Family or Felony: Polygamy and the Law". And among the featured speakers will be Utah Attorney General Mark Shurtleff. It will be interesting to see if any of Shurtleff's opponents in his U.S. Senate race attempt to make political hay out of his participation in this conference. Most of them probably won't, but incumbent Bob Bennett has brought former Bush hatchet man Karl Rove into his campaign, so anything can happen.
The best approach to polygamist communities is "Don't Ask, Don't Tell". So long as they're obeying other laws and aren't sucking down copious quantities of welfare, leave them alone. Further, as gay marriage spreads, plural marriage for religious purposes becomes more credible and defensible. Plural marriage advocates should consider targeting states which have legalized gay marriage with a campaign to formally legalize plural marriage for religious purposes.