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Posted: 2:07 PM- A Senate hearing set to take place Thursday perpetuates a long history of persecution of a religious minority, according to a spokesman for a polygamous sect.
In a three-page letter to the Senate Judiciary Committee, Salt Lake City attorney Rod Parker said it is "unfortunate" that the panel will meet to discuss polygamy without allowing the subjects of the hearing to respond.
"History is replete with examples of misinformation becoming the foundation of persecution and hysteria, leading in turn to real harm to real people," his letter said.
Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid of Nevada requested the hearing in his effort to get federal assistance to investigate the polygamous Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints on racketeering and other alleged crimes.
Parker notes the hearing takes place on the 161st anniversary of Salt Lake City's founding by Mormon pioneers and recounts the persecution that drove them West. That antagonism was fueled by the practice of polygamy among early followers of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.
Today, the mainstream church abhors plural marriage. But it is still a tenet of breakaway sects like the FLDS, who are the focus of the hearing.
The FLDS have drawn attention of law enforcement in three states because of marriages its leaders have sanctioned between underage girls and adult men.
On Tuesday, a Texas grand jury indicted five FLDS men, including sect leader Warren S. Jeffs, on sexual assault charges and one man on failure to report child abuse. The state's criminal investigation is ongoing and more indictments may be issued when the grand jury meets again in August.
The committee is expected to hear from Reid; U.S. attorneys from Utah and Nevada; attorneys general from Arizona and Texas; and several former FLDS members. Reid also is seeking federal money to assist women and children who want to leave polygamous relationships.
In his letter objecting to the exclusion of current members, Parker asserts that, as in the past, the idea that ranks of women want to leave polygamy is grossly overstated.
In the 1870s, Congress passed anti-polygamy legislation and spent money to built a "safe house" for women expected to flee plural marriages. The home went largely unused and "those who came were more often leaving an incompatible relationship than escaping polygamy," Parker said.
The women instead "lied in court, they hid from authorities, they held rallies in favor of polygamy, and they even conducted public relations tours to Washington in defense of their faith," the letter states.
He said that as the committee listens to testimony of "the enemies of the FLDS" it should ask for evidence to back their claims. Parker concluded by calling the hearing "unfair and undemocratic."
"Rather than breaking the vicious cycle of prejudice and persecution, your one-sided hearing is likely to perpetuate it," the letter states.