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DOJ sues city governments for religious discrimination

The US Department of Justice (DOJ) [official website] on Thursday filed a lawsuit [press release] against the town of Colorado City, Arizona, the city of Hildale, Utah, as well as local utility companies, alleging that the authorities have engaged in systematic discrimination against nonmembers of the dominant local church, the Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (FLDS). The government's complaint alleges that police, lawmakers and utility companies violated the First, Fourth and Fourteenth Amendments to the US Constitution and the Fair Housing Act [texts] through a denial of utility services, housing access and equal treatment for nonmembers of the FLDS. In a statement, an Assistant Attorney General for the DOJ said the conduct violated religious freedom:

Religious freedom is a cherished principle of our democracy. City governments and their police departments may not favor one religious group over another and may not discriminate against individuals because of their religious affiliation. No individual in the United States should be targeted for discriminatory treatment by a city, its officials or the police because of his or her religion.
The government's lawsuit seeks an injunction banning further discrimination as well as monetary damages for victims of the conduct.

The FLDS has also faced criticism in the past. In November the Supreme Court of British Columbia ruled [JURIST report] that a law banning polygamy was constitutional. The law was under challenge by two bishops of the FLDS who claimed that the law infringed on their religious freedom and was not consistent with the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms. The court found, however, that there was "a consistent set of harms associated with polygamy," including a higher rate of sexual and physical abuse of women and higher rates of abuse, neglect and emotional problems for children. These harms, the court said, outweighed the "minimal" impact on religious freedom.The FLDS is best known for a 2006 scandal that led to a sentence of in life in prison for former leader Warren Jeffs. Jeffs was accused of arranging marriages between underage girls and adult men. He was sentenced to 10 years to life [CNN report] in prison in November 2007 for charges of being an accomplice to rape. Jeffs was arrested in Las Vegas [AP report] in 2006 after being placed on the FBI's Most Wanted list.

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