Magazine article Church & State

Federal Judge Skeptical of Food Stamp Claims by Mormon Splinter Group

Magazine article Church & State

Federal Judge Skeptical of Food Stamp Claims by Mormon Splinter Group

Article excerpt

A federal judge has ruled that there's likely no "religious freedom" right to violate the provisions of a federal program designed to help low-income families avoid hunger.

The ruling came in an ongoing case concerning a group of polygamous Mormons who live on the Utah-Arizona border. Many people who reside in the towns of Hildale, Utah, and Colorado City, Ariz., are members of a sect run by Warren Jeffs, a fundamentalist Mormon who's currently in prison in Texas.

The main Mormon church, based in Salt Lake City and formally known as the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, disavowed polygamy in the late 19th century. But small bands of renegade Mormons, most of whom live in rural areas of Utah and other Western states, continue the practice. Among them is Jeffs' group, the Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (FLDS).

Members of the FLDS tend to have large families they have trouble supporting. They often apply for aid under the Supplemental Nutritional Assistance Program (SNAP), a federal anti-poverty effort known informally as "food stamps."

Members of Jeffs' church were using SNAP aid to buy food they then diverted to a central warehouse. There it was redistributed, often ending up in the hands of people who didn't qualify for SNAP. Church leaders are also accused of selling some of the food and using the proceeds to buy luxury goods; 11 of them are on trial.

Federal officials said the scam has hurt the people who live in the communities and who really need the aid. …

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