PHOENIX (AP) — A judge presiding over a civil rights lawsuit against polygamous towns on the Arizona-Utah line has ruled federal authorities can offer evidence at trial about polygamy, underage marriage and the teachings of the dominant religious sect in both communities.
U.S. District Judge Russel Holland ruled polygamy and underage marriage can be raised as long as they have a connection to the U.S. Justice Department's allegation that Colorado City, Arizona, and Hildale, Utah, served as an arm of the Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints.
Holland also ruled the teachings of the church, which broke away from the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints when it disavowed polygamy more than 100 years ago, can be brought up if they have a connection to city business.
The rulings issued earlier this week marked a setback for both communities, which argued it would be irrelevant or prejudicial to let the Justice Department bring up those subjects.
The trial is set to begin in Phoenix on Jan. 19 and will be decided by jurors from northern Arizona.
The towns are accused of systematically denying housing, water services and police protection to people who weren't part of the church.
The lawsuit says the communities' police officers have confronted people about their disobedience of church rules, failed to investigate crimes against them and returned an underage bride home after she had fled.
The towns also are accused of refusing to provide water services to non-members and preventing them from building homes.
The communities deny the allegations.
Holland is mulling a request from the towns to bar the Justice Department from mentioning the sermons of sect leader Warren Jeffs, who is serving a life sentence in Texas for sexually assaulting underage girls he considered brides.
The Justice Department is seeking a judge's declaration that the towns have violated a fair housing law and court orders requiring steps to prevent future discrimination.