A half-dozen "lost boys" who say they were cast out of their homes on the Utah-Arizona border to reduce competition for wives filed suit Friday against the polygamous church that controls the community.
The six allege the Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints (FLDS) and its leaders systematically - and unlawfully - ousts adolescents and young men for trivial matters or no reason from the sister cities of Hildale, Utah, and Colorado City, Ariz.
"The [boys] have been excommunicated pursuant to that policy and practice and have been cut off from family, friends, benefits, business and employment relationships, and purportedly condemned to eternal damnation," their suit says. "They have become 'lost boys' in the world outside the FLDS community."
The suit - filed in 3rd District Court and the third legal action to hit the church in the past month - seeks unspecified damages for alleged economic and psychological injuries and names as defendants the FLDS Church; its president, Warren Jeffs; Sam Barlow, former town marshal and a church leader; and the United Effort Plan Trust, which controls most of the community's property.
Rodney Parker, a lawyer for the FLDS Church, said the suit is "completely without merit" and that courts have no oversight over excommunications.
"If that were the case, the church would be unable to define its own moral standards," he said. "If a church makes a decision that it no longer wishes to be associated with an individual, that's the end of it."
Parker also accused South Jordan dentist and former polygamist Dan Fischer of bribing the plaintiffs. Fischer, founder of Ultradent Inc., which makes dental products, has long provided jobs for other FLDS members who leave the fold and recently formed the nonprofit Diversity Foundation to help the boys get an education.
In this case, the dentist also offered alcohol, free dental care and amusement park tickets to lure youths to a news conference launching the foundation and to persuade them to sign on to the suit, Parker contends.
Fischer acknowledged that boys got into the beer during a barbecue at his home but he stopped them from taking more. He said he took them to the amusement park, but nothing was expected in return.
"There was no coercion, expressed or implied," he said in a written statement.
The majority of residents in Hildale and Colorado City belong to the FLDS Church, which embraces the practice of polygamy. The suit says members are required to pay a portion of their earnings into the church trust and are taught to obey the head of the church, who is called the prophet.
In the two years he has been at the helm, Jeffs has ordered a steady stream of expulsions, including those of 21 men in January. The wives and children of the outcasts generally are reassigned to other men.
Supporters of the church say the oustings are reserved for members who break FLDS tenets and some of the teenage boys were drinking, smoking and carousing.
But the lawsuit blames the church's support of polygamy for creating a shortage of suitable brides and prompting the oustings. The greater number of wives taken by older FLDS leaders also has increased the need to get rid of the male surplus, the suit says.
It says that while previous leaders had 10 to 12 wives, Jeffs' predecessor and father, Rulon Jeffs, reportedly had 70 wives when he died. The son is rumored to have at least 50 wives, some of them his father's widows.
The suit contends that hundreds of boys and young men have been kicked out, most of them poorly educated and with no support from their families. Many end up homeless or suicidal, according to the suit.
On July 29, Brent Jeffs filed suit accusing three of his uncles, including Warren Jeffs, of sexually assaulting him when he was a child. The suit also named the FLDS Church as a defendant. His lawyers are representing the six plaintiffs in Friday's suit.
On Aug. 10, former FLDS member Shem Fischer, Dan Fischer's brother, added the church and Warren Jeffs as defendants to a 2002 lawsuit claiming he was illegally fired because he no longer adhered to the faith. Fischer, who was a salesman for a wooden cabinetry business in Hildale, claims church officials interfered with his relationship with his employer and blacklisted him.
Attorneys for the church have denied all allegations.