Another year, another apocalypse in Short Creek.
From his Texas prison cell, Warren Jeffs has punished about 1,500 members of the Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints by forbidding them from attending a main meetinghouse in Colorado City, Ariz.
It's the latest such move from a man who, according to his "revelations," considers himself the voice of Jesus Christ.
This time, those being punished are not necessarily banished from their settlement on the Utah-Arizona border. Some families have been split up, but according to former FLDS members, others have been told to renew their covenants with God and thus enable Jeffs to be released from a Texas prison.
He's in that prison because he was convicted of sexually assaulting two girls he took as polygamous wives. Now his phone privileges have been revoked while prison officials investigate whether he used the phone to broadcast a Christmas sermon telling followers they had until New Year's Day to be chosen to stay or be expelled.
The Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints has existed since the 1920s, when followers who clung to the principle of plural marriage established the redoubt in Hildale, Utah, and Colorado City. Despite Arizona's failed attempt in 1953 to crack down on the sect, and Texas' 2008 raid on the sect's YFZ ranch, its social and religious practices have changed little over the decades.
Except, of course, the downward spiral that married increasingly younger girls to much older men. The crackdown on books, music, entertainment, socializing. The overwhelming authority wielded by Jeffs and his lieutenants, all in the name of achieving perfect obedience, faith and people.
But after all these years of closely watching this sect, I'm unable to understand why so many people have allowed themselves to sink into utter subjugation.
Yes, it's been instilled in them since birth, by strict parents and all-powerful ecclesiastical leaders. Physical and intellectual isolation helps, but many of the men work outside the twin towns. Experts will say that true believers will never renounce a faith that has sustained them all their lives.
But when a man wants to take your 12-year-old child as a bride? When your sons are exiled? When your husband or wife or wives are stripped from you? When all you've believed and worked for is torn away by a man who insists he speaks for Jesus in commanding that his servant Jeffs himself be freed?
The first sentence of the U.S. Constitution's First Amendment says Congress cannot establish a religion or prohibit the free exercise of religion.
But since the raid on the ranch, Texas has been aggressive about prosecuting FLDS men who commit crimes. In Utah, home of the mainstream LDS Church, far less has been done, and what has been attempted is continually bogged down in court.
I'm not suggesting another raid on Short Creek. But I hope our brightest legal minds can find a way to protect the men, women and especially children tethered by men who see themselves as God's servants on Earth.
Peg McEntee is a news columnist. Reach her at firstname.lastname@example.org and facebook.com/pegmcentee.