Tax dollars support school teaching polygamy

Vancouver Sun

Friday, June 18, 2004
 

A1 / FRONT

Daphne Bramham

There's a publicly funded school in B.C. that turns out
students who believe that polygamy is a sacred commandment from God,
that women can only enter heaven at the invitation of their
polygamous husbands, and that brown-skinned people are descendants
of Satan.

It's called Bountiful Elementary-Secondary. It's run by the
Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints and for
nearly two decades, B.C. taxpayers have supported it with grants.
Last year, the grant was $460,826. The previous year -- before a
factional split resulted in 89 kids being taken out of that school
and put into a new school called Mormon Hills -- it was $623,686.

The new school is controlled by Winston Blackmore, the former
bishop of Bountiful ex-communicated two years ago by the church's
prophet, Warren Jeffs. Jeffs now controls Bountiful school and is
its spiritual adviser.

Mormon Hills has 131 students and now it too is eligible under the
B.C. Independent School Act for per-pupil grants equal to half the
amount the government pays for children attending public schools.

The underlying philosophy taught at both schools is obedience to
the church's leaders, belief that men must have three or more wives
and as many children as possible to enter heaven, that the role of
women and girls is only to serve men. The fundamentalist Mormons are
also taught to accept that the leaders will determine not only who
will marry, but also what level of education each child may complete
and what job each person may hold.

"In Bountiful, most girls are only educated to become young
brides," says Audrey Vance, the co-chairwoman of a Creston-based
group called Altering Destiny Through Education. "It's very, very
sad for children. It's child abuse."

The group wants the government to stop funding FLDS schools.

Vance -- a former school trustee -- admits initially having doubts
about whether cutting funding would help the children. But she says
ex-concubines have convinced her that even home-schooling would be
better, because the brainwashing may not be so complete away from
the peer pressure of school.

"The girls have no access to education," says Debbie Palmer, who
left the colony in 1988 with her eight children. "They were
graduating people [from Creston high school] in 1988, but by 1998
girls usually were not getting past Grade 7 and rarely past Grade
9."

Even the boys rarely get to go beyond Grade 9, says Palmer, who
still has many relatives living there. They're ordered to go to work
for one of Winston Blackmore's companies or a company owned by the
church's United Effort Plan trust.

Both Palmer and Vance's group believe that ending polygamy, abuse
and exploitation can only happen through education. As Palmer says,
"The children have to be able to make choices."

They got support this week from trustees in the Bulkley Valley, who
demanded that the government stop funding the school immediately and
take steps to ensure that the "exploitation and manipulation of
these children is stopped immediately."

Trustee Bob Haslett pointed out that the ministry's own enrolment
figures indicate a steep drop-off in students between elementary and
secondary school. Of the 136 children registered this year, 105 are
in kindergarten to Grade 7. Only 31 are in Grades 8 to 10.

"If any public school in B.C. had a comparable drop-out rate
between elementary and secondary, the ministry would replace the
board in a heartbeat," Haslett says.

The trustees sent letters to Education Minister Tom Christensen,
Premier Gordon Campbell, Attorney-General Geoff Plant, and Christy
Clark, the minister for children and families, expressing deep
concern "that these children are not receiving a proper education,
are being taught material not consistent with the B.C. curriculum
and are being sexually exploited and abused under the guise of
religious instruction."

The education ministry says the most recent inspection, done within
the last few months, turned up nothing to indicate grants should not
be given next year.

But perhaps there's something wrong with the biennial,
by-appointment-only inspections, which last about two hours.

The inspectors' checklist includes a section on "school
philosophy," but it includes financial audits, reviewing school
policies on student safety and student records. Inspectors don't ask
what values or ideas are taught beyond the provincial curriculum.
And they aren't required to go into the classrooms, only to review
sample course outlines.

Many of the 356 children currently attending Bountiful and Mormon
Hills will become fifth- and sixth-generation polygamists, with all
the baggage that carries -- child brides married to middle-aged
husbands, boys being excommunicated to create the demographic
imbalance, a whole community brainwashed to believe they have no
individual rights and no free will.

FLDS leaders often quote the Constitution's guarantee of religious
freedom as their protection to practise polygamy. But what they and
successive B.C. governments have neglected is the fact that children
have rights too.

Children have a constitutional guarantee of equality, including
equal access to a decent education, regardless of where they live
and what their parents believe.

For nearly two decades, the B.C. government has supported Bountiful
school and shirked its responsibility to protect the rights of
Bountiful's children. It's time to set that right.

dbramham@png.canwest.com

 The Vancouver Sun 2004