Nearly 500 letters from Utah polygamous children and parents will be part of a care package that will travel to Texas this week. Addressed to the children taken by Texas officials from the Fundamentalist LDS Church compound in Eldorado, the letters express empathy and offer advice.
"When they did this our our family," wrote an 11-year-old named Jennifer, "I prayed to Heavenly Father."
This is the first time that letters from polygamous children have been made public, according to Heidi Mattingly, a member of the Davis County Co-op, also known as Kingston group.
Mattingly and other members of the pro-polygamy coalition Principle Voices held a press conference on the steps of the Salt Lake City-County Building Monday afternoon to urge "cultural sensitivity" on the part of the social workers and others dealing with the 416 Texas children currently being housed at the San Angelo Coliseum in Texas.
The children aren't more important than other children, but their needs are unique, said Mary Batchelor, Principle Voices executive director. "They need to be talked to by adults who dress modestly." Principle Voices is made up of members from three polygamous groups Centennial Park, Apostolic United Brethren and Davis County Co-op as well as "independents."
The care packages, some of them on display at the press conference, include games, TVs, hymnals, diapers and Book of Mormon scriptures on cassette. More than $4,000 has been collected to date, and there has been "an outpouring of phone calls ... both from inside and outside our culture," Batchelor said.
Principle Voices, according to a member who identified herself simply as Valerie, condones the polygamous lifestyle but not underage marriage or abuse of women and children. "I want my daughter to be 25 before she gets married," said a member named Christine. "I want her to go to college."
Several of Monday's speakers drew a parallel to the Short Creek raid on polygamists in 1953. "We cannot explain the depth of grief" of people who lived through those raids, Batchelor said.
Stories of the raid have been passed down from generation to generation, producing an underlying fear that has led some groups to become isolated from the general culture, Valerie said. If polygamy were decriminalized, she said, "people wouldn't have had to go underground."At the end of the press conference, red, white and blue balloons one for each of the Texas children were released. Some got caught on trees, others popped like firecrackers, and the rest sailed into the afternoon sky, floating north.