Sunday, February 27, 2011

Polys in Court - testimony of Prof Stephen Kent

From transcripts of January 19, 2011.

Stop Polygamy in Canada called Professor Stephen Alan Kent to the stand as an expert witness the sociology of religion including alternative religions, the sociology and history of fundamentalist Mormonism in North America, polygamy as practised in fundamental Mormon communities in North America including the harms caused by polygamy in those communities and qualitative research methodology.
Professor Kent is a professor of sociology at the University of Alberta in Edmonton, Alberta. He holds a BA in Sociology (University of Maryland), two Masters degrees in Sociology (McMaster University) and in History of Religion (American University in Washington) and a PhD in Religion and Western Society (McMaster University).  He teaches courses in comparative religion, qualitive research methodology, sociology of religion, religion and society, deviance and conformity, and religious sects (including material on Fundamental Mormon groups in North America.

Prof Kent identifies and restricts his report to the following fundamental Mormon groups in North America:

- FLDS under Warren Jeffs  estimated at about 10,000 members centered in Hildale, Utah and Colorado City,Arizona with a branch in British Columbia under Winston Blackmore and the split group in that community

- The Apostolic United Brethern ( the Allred group) with a community of 1500 in Pinesdale, Montana and some satellite groups around Salt Lake in Utah. 

-  The Kingston group (Kingston family members being the leadership) based in Salt Lake with membership of 1500 and some scattered all over the US northwest.

- True and Living Church (TLC) under Jim Harmston in Manti with 300-400 members.

- Centennial Park, Arizona - a break off of the Colorado City FLDS about 1500 members and a further split off from this group.

- Smaller groups: A splinter off group from the Allred group. Another group that lives in caves in Utah.
Alex Joseph's group which was active for a long time before his death.  Tom Green's small independent group which received a lot of media attention. And many other small quiet groups that we don't know much about.

Prof Kent's report discusses the following harms associated with polygamy:

1. Incest and Inbreeding - Prof Kent references books by Todd Compton, Fanny Stenhouse, Ann-Eliza Young which are historic discussions of the lives of Joseph Smith and Brigham Young published in the 1870's.  He also references scientific and social science Journal articles from 1915 regarding incest and mormonism, more current newspaper articles from the Salt Lake Tribune and a  book by Janet Bennion on the Allred's published in 2008. His conclusion was that in a number of groups there have been incestuous celestial marriages where the wives of one husband were also mother and daughter or sisters initially or marriages will be dissolved and the leaders will rearrange those marital partners such that people wind up married to close relatives ( cousins, a niece married to her uncle, step-daughters etc).

2. Genetic disorders and unmarked children's graves - Prof Kent reviewed accounts from former members, a book by Flora Jessop, Janet Bennion's book, materials from the Phoenix News Times, and some university medical library follow up with regards to genetic disorders cited in this literature review. 
-  fumarase deficiency - rare outside the FLDS but high incidents in the Jessop and Barlow families which effects the formation of the brain
- Kingston group - birth defects that  appear to be different - multiple uterus & vagina with no vaginal or bowel openings - no outwards sexual organs
- don't register births or deaths and have their own grave yards so extent of the birth defect issue is not clear
- Janet Bennion talks about birth defects effecting mental development and that these situations and the deaths of these children was hush hush amongst the Allreds

3. Arranged marriages -  Prof Kent referred to Altman & Ginat's study of polygamous families, newspapers, Benjamin Bistline's The Polygamist History of Colorado City, a couple of biographies of Warren Jeff's and some accounts by former members.

4. The  "lost boys" - Prof Kent referred to  several media sources from the New York Times to Salon, a couple of books by former members several of which were young men who had left the group, Daphne Brahmin's book, Salt Lake Tribune, Los Angeles Times, and Wall Street Journal,

5. Working conditions for youth-  Prof Kent cited one article which talked about working conditions for the young men and women in the Kingston group which operates several corporations including a trash removal company and there were 235 safety code violations.  Blackmore's companies have also been cited with unsafe working conditions and code violations.  Blackmore has construction and lumber related businesses and the young men who misbehaved were sent there to work as work hands.

Prof Kent agreed that these harms could be found in monogamy but that these abuses are structurally based and necessarily related to the on-going operation of various types of polygamy.

Welfare fraud and dependence on the State -  Prof Kent found references in historic works and more recent newspaper accounts for a term "bleeding the beast" which he said was consistent with Hebrew bible concept called "Spoiling Egypt" used by the Children of God group and similar ideas used in sectarian groups where a  group will be hostile to society but use society resources to maintain its lifestyle and sees the members as justified in doing this because they are unique or special.  This pattern is seen in writings on the Allreds, Kingstons and Tom Green's group.  He found it particularly surprising in the Kingston group as they are over all fairly wealthy but the members live in dire poverty. 

Polygamy as a danger to the state-  Prof Kent relies on accounts of commuities in Utah and Colorado. Communities where welfare and social services benefits for airports and schools. Small communities where political and social power is only granted to the men in good standing with the leadership and these hold all  the major positions in the town from school board, local doctor, judge, and police force.  If a member of the community were having abuse problems there would be no where to go for help.  He quotes in his report a police officer who received some two dozen complaints of sexual abuse and did not pass them along to any social services.

Cross-examination by the BC AG:
Prof Kent was asked to recommend the best reading on polygamy and especially in Canada.
He listed the following books -
The Polygamist - A History of  Colorado City, Arizona  by Benjamin Biastline
A Mormon Presence in Canada by Carmen Hardy
Secret Lives of the Saints by Daphne Brahmin

Cross-examination by the lawyer for the FLDS:
Prof Kent uses the term polygamy in his report but acknowledged that "polygyny" or one man with several wives would be the correct term for what is being discussed in his report.  In his report he said that in hia opinion polygyny as practiced by certain fundamentalist Mormon groups involves certain violations of  human rights.  Prof Kent has an article he's written coming out shortly on polygamy in which he mentions the issues of polyamory and same sex marriage and that a court decision should not impact them as "polygny involves separate sorts of human rights abuses".  He confirmed that he had researched the paper for this reference with a conclusion that fundamental Mormon groups constitute harms to society already in mind and selected material that confirmed that hypothesis.   Of his 96 footnoted references, 25 were newspaper articles, 29 were books, some academic journals and a medical report on fumarase deficiency. 

Prof Kent was questioned at length about his use of newspaper articles to make major point in his paper with regards to welfare fraud. He said that sociological theory was that if the newspaper and reporter were reputable then they were a worthy source.  He was asked if he had looked for any articles contrary to the ones he had quoted. He said no and was provided with an article from the Salt Lake Tribune in 2009 discussing as US Judiciary Committe Hearing in which  claims that there was rampant welfare fraud in Mormon community  was raised and says that welfare data from Texas, Utah and Arizona do not support the claims.  None of the 600 or so residents of the Yearning for Zion ranch received any form of welfare according to state officials.  Cash assistance is almost non-existance in the twin towns of Hildale, Utah and Colorado City, Arizona.  Those who receive food and medical assistance qualify under the program guidelines and there hasn't been a single case prosecuted in the last decade.  The article goes on to relate testimony to the committee from Carolyn Jessop talking about the idea of "bleeding the beast" which is applying for every form of government assistance possible and that the community of Hildale received eight times the assistance of any other town its size and that the state records did not sustain that claim.  Draper, a former FLDS is quoted in the article as saying that the term "bleeding the beast" comes from Anti-FLDS disidents and is not part of their doctrine which infact encourages members to be self-sufficient and provide for themselves with their own resources.  The lawyer asked if this article from the same reputable newspaper as the professor had referenced would be acceptable to him as a source and change his viewpoint on the issue.  Prof Kent said that the issues of irregularity of leadership handling of funding for airports and schools was not addressed in that article and he still felt that there were issues of financial handling.  Asked again if he'd concede that his article about widespread welfare fraud in Hildale was contracticted by the one just presented and thus the theory that Hildale has such a high rate of welfare fraud was incorrect  - the professsor said he'd want to see if there were subsequent articles or confirm with Utah officials first.  The lawyer for the FLDS said that this would highlight the problem with using newspaper articles as reference.

With regards to points in his paper regarding unreported child abuse and disobedient wives being sent to psychiatric facilities in Flagstaff or and widespread use of Prozac, Prof Kent referenced Carolyn Jessop as quoted by Daphne Brahmin, Flora Jessop and articles about Dr. Barlow of Yearning for Zion ranch being charged with failure to report child abuse.  Asked if Prof Kent knew if the allegations against Dr. Barlow were confirmed, he didn't know. He felt that while it wasn't definative, it was suggestive enough with him being charged with the offense to merit mention and leave it for others to do more research.   Regarding use of what the FLDS lawyer referred to as "double heresay" evidence from Carolyn Jessop and Flora Jessop about women being sent to psychiatric facilities in Flagstaff, Arizona, Prof Kent was asked if he had confirmed that there were psychiatric facilities in Flagstaff.  He replied that he had not done so.  The lawyer indicated that there were two and both were licensed by the state of Arizona.  In his report, Prof Kent compares this alleged practice to that of Stalinist Russia and Communist China where dissidents are institutionalized as insane.  Prof Kent was asked if he felt that the state of Arizona was comparative to Russia and China and would they not have regulations in place regarding the incarceration of persons with psychiatric illnesses. Prof Kent admitted that he hadn't researched those regulations. Prof Kent felt that the power of the police or a physician might be able to override those regulations.  He said that the police have already violated their oath to support the laws of the state by supporting and practicing polygamy and that their loyalty is to the FLDS leadership. 

The lawyer for the FLDS  noted that Prof Kent's research methodology has been the subject of some criticism by his peers.  He has been the subject of several articles criticizing his methodology in other contexts.
In the book, "Misunderstanding Cults - Searching for objectivity in a controversial field" there is a chapter entitled "Raising Lazurus - a methodological critique of Stephen Kent's revival of the brainwashing models" which was written by Lorne Dawson (professor of sociology at University of Waterloo).  The article discusses a paper written by Prof Kent on the brainwashing done in the Church of Scientology.  Prof Kent's opinion being that the church is violating the human rights of its members by brainwashing them.  Prof Dawson's comments being that
"Indeed with good reasons sociologists generally treat the evidence of a sect's theological opponents of the agreed relative sectarians and of the diseffective and apostate with some circumspection."  He goes on to say that a process of triangulation is strongly recommended and accepted standard  and practice for sociologists conducting research.  Triangulation is described as utilizing a number of data sources simultaneously by gathering data from members, ex-members, detractors, leaders, members parents and children of the group weighing the claims against each other and the more neutral and exacting observations of the researcher.
Prof Kent felt that he had in fact triangulated data in his report to the court but admitted that he had not sought data from within any of the fundamental Mormon communities. He said that was because interviewing them would put them at risk of punishment which compromised their reliability as well as safety.  When asked if he'd confirmed the reliability of the former FLDS members he'd referenced, Prof Kent was unable to indicate any such work done.

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