Looking ahead to Thursday's hearing before the U.S. Senate Judiciary Committee on crimes associated with polygamy, Utah Sen. Orrin Hatch said it will show that polygamy is not just a "Utah problem."
In a statement to the Deseret News on Tuesday, Hatch said the hearing will give state and federal law enforcement a chance to talk about their efforts. Hatch is a member of the powerful committee.
"As we have seen just this year, polygamy is not merely a 'Utah problem.' Recent enforcement efforts have shown that polygamists have set up shop in states around the country such as Arizona, Nevada, Texas and others," Hatch said. "I look forward to hearing the witnesses' testimonies concerning the tools and means they are using to effectively crack down on those who practice polygamy."
Contrary to Hatch's public statement, the hearing's focus is not on polygamy itself but crimes associated with it. Prosecutors and ex-Fundamentalist LDS Church members will be among those who will testify.
The congressional hearing appears to be aimed primarily at the FLDS Church. No FLDS members have been invited to testify, although some may show up for the hearing anyway.
"These people have been spreading these kinds of statements for years, and there's no evidence to back up any of their statements. At some point, you'd think someone would call them on that," said Rod Parker, a Salt Lake attorney acting as a spokesman for the FLDS. "Instead, we have these people fomenting the kind of prejudice that ultimately leads to the raid in Texas."
Parker was drafting a letter to the Senate Judiciary Committee, taking them to task for not including FLDS members in testimony.
"It's appropriate, in my point of view, that the federal government be involved," Dan Fischer told the Deseret News on Monday night.
Fischer said he plans to testify about families who were separated in the FLDS Church and children who have been "cast out" of the group. He disagreed with the idea of excluding the FLDS.
"I always feel all sides should be represented," Fischer said. "That said, they should be represented by leadership and not spokesmen."
Even U.S. Attorney for Utah Brett Tolman said FLDS members ought to be able to testify.
"I think they do have something to say and they have, I think, a right to be heard," he said Tuesday, shortly before leaving for Washington D.C. "I think we need to listen to what those in the FLDS community have to say."
Upset that FLDS members have been excluded, the pro-polygamy group Principle Voices has urged its members to lodge protests with committee members.
"If they won't hear from an FLDS member in the hearing, they'll certainly get an earful from everyone we can encourage to speak up," Principle Voices director Mary Batchelor said in an e-mail to the Deseret News.
In response to calls, Hatch's office pointed out that the hearing is being conducted at Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid's request, and Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse, D-Rhode Island, is chairing the hearing.Meanwhile, Reid. D-Nev., plans to introduce legislation aimed at polygamy-related crimes, while offering federal money to help people who wish to leave polygamous groups. "The Victims of Polygamy Assistance Act of 2008" is expected to urge a federal task force to investigate crimes in polygamous sects. It also offers grants to social service agencies and government offices that assist those who seek to leave.