Wednesday, July 29, 2009

An Outsider's Look at the United Effort Plan

This was originally posted at Mormon Matters.

What is happening to the financial affairs of the FLDS right now seems completely inexplicable, but I need to try to understand what is going on. And it seems to me to behoove every citizen of the United States to do the same.

This is going to be a vastly simplified version of events, as I understand them:

The FLDS are a group of people with Mormon restorationist roots who believe in principles espoused early in the history of our movement, such as plural marriage and consecration. They formed a community with its base in Colorado City, on the Utah/Arizona border in the 1930s. Their desire to live the Law of Consecration resulted in what became known as the United Effort Plan (UEP), which started as a subsidiary organization of the FLDS church. Properties and businesses were owned by the UEP and members received trusts to live on and develop.

In 2005, The Attorney General of Utah filed a lawsuit and seized the holdings of the UEP in the FLDS communities of Hildale, Utah; Colorado City, Ariz.; and Bountiful, British Columbia in Canada. It was alleged that Warren Jeffs and other FLDS leaders had mismanaged it, including defaulting on a series of civil lawsuits. An accountant, Bruce Wisan, was appointed to act as special fiduciary of the trust, with its estimated $100 million in assets.

First of all, I don't understand the legal process that could seize control of this arrangement when the majority of its members wish to continue their involvement in the United Order. Judge Denise P. Lindberg has stated in a recent ruling that because the trust is being used illegally, "to promote polygamy," that distributing the land to the FLDS church is invalid and violates basic trust law. Fundamentalist supporters make this argument:

"If a trust is declared invalid, shouldn't it simply be dissolved and the assets revert back to original ownership (or as close to it as possible)? Does the state or any court have the power to absorb private trust assets or give them to other people, based on the fact that the state and/or court do not approve of the beliefs and or practices of the organizers or beneficiaries of said trust?"
Second, Wisan appears very hostile to the aims of the UEP. Why would this Mormon Stake President be given control over how to manage the assets of several entire communities of people? It's been very, very disturbing to read reports of how the trust has been handled since he has become involved. Perhaps I'm missing something, but of their own free will these people have legally signed their property over to their church. Now, measures such as the sale of property set aside for a temple, and reforms designed to violate the rights of the FLDS to live their religion are being enacted. Little notice is being taken of the desires of those who have entered into the trust and whose financial, emotional, and spiritual interests are at stake.

In Lindberg's ruling, FLDS members and church representatives Willie Jessop, Dan Johnson, Merlin Jessop, Lyle Jeffs and James Oler were prevented from any input in the case involving the United Effort Plan (UEP) Trust.

"It is black letter law that potential beneficiaries of charitable trusts have no right to make claims upon such trusts," she wrote. "Because the UEP Trust is a charitable trust, the only individuals with legally cognizable interests are the Utah and Arizona Attorneys General as representatives of the community, and the court-designated special fiduciary."

In this country, we don't take away an individual's legal rights because he has had a consensual sexual relationship with a person other than his wife. If this person prefers to call his relationship a marriage, and connects it with his religious practice, why is there suddenly a concerted effort to deprive him of his rights?

"Principle Voices," a support group for those involved in fundamentalist Mormon lifestyles, has voiced their opposition to
1) any ruling that deprives polygamists of the right to organize or manage a trust with their own assets.

2) any ruling that declares a trust formed by polygamists as "promoting illegal activities", "invalid", un-Constitutional, or "illegal", simply because the organizers embrace plural marriage.

3) any ruling that deprives the FLDS (or any other polygamists) of the right to access their own assets or their right to self-governance. (By extension, substitute the name of any other group such as the Kingstons or the AUB, etc., in place of FLDS; we oppose any ruling or government action that would deprive any of those communities of their rights.)

4) any ruling or government action that establishes an inequity in the law that distinguishes, and diminishes, the rights of polygamists from the rights of other American citizens.
A group of people sympathetic to these points has gathered to stage a peaceful protest today (Wednesday, July 29), outside the Matheson courthouse in support of these concerns. Here the court is considering the sale of the several hundred acres of land known as Berry Knoll which has been prophesied as the future site of their temple. Do you disagree with their points? Do you feel that the rulings being contemplated in the case of the UEP constitute an inequity in the law? Do you believe, as I do, that Mormons and other citizens should have an interest in the outcome of these proceedings?

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