The U.S. Department of Justice is pressing charges against two neighboring towns for discriminating against nonmembers of the polygamist Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints. The municipalities of Colorado City, Arizona, and Hildale, Colorado, have allegedly provided inferior city services, such as housing and police protection, to those who are not members of the church.
This is not the first time the fundamentalist religious group has been at the center of controversy in the area on the border of Utah and Colorado. FLDS President Warren Jeffs is currently imprisoned, along with other church members, for bigamy and sex abuse charges, reports The Salt Lake Tribune.
In 2014, Hildale and Colorado City were ordered to pay $5.2 million for denying utility services to nonmembers of the polygamist church.
The federal government has the legal responsibility and obligation to ensure equal treatment of all citizens by government institutions. The federal government has every right to prosecute the cities suspected of conspiring with the fundamentalist church to deny government services to those who are not church members.
Religious discrimination by government institutions is an insidious practice that should not be tolerated at any level of government. The U.S. Constitution expressly prohibits any law that respects the establishment of a religion.
The practice of religious discrimination is most dangerous and offensive to our rights when committed by our government.
The freedom to practice any religion of our choice is guaranteed in the First Amendment, just as the freedom to abstain from religion is guaranteed. Ensuring equal treatment by government regardless of religious beliefs is a fundamental duty of the state, and the DOJ has every right to investigate and prosecute alleged religious discrimination by these Utah and Colorado municipalities.
Just as the DOJ should ensure that citizens are not discriminated by towns, it also has an obligation to ensure that the municipalities have the right to a fair trial.
Bias among those who don't belong to the FLDS who live in the area around Colorado City, Arizona, and Hildale, Utah, poses a serious problem in the case. The Salt Lake Tribune reports that juries in criminal and civil trials have “consistently delivered guilty or adverse rulings” against the FLDS.
A change in venue will be necessary to make sure that a jury can impartially determine whether the cities did commit religious discrimination.
The federal government is not infringing on the religious rights of the FLDS church in any manner by investigating and pressing charges against the towns’ alleged religious discrimination. The DOJ does not seek to disband the polygamist church, but to protect all citizens’ rights. The entanglement of church and state puts our liberty in a chokehold.