SALT LAKE CITY -- The U.S. Justice Department on Thursday sued two polygamous towns along the Utah-Arizona border, claiming religious discrimination against non-sect members.
The federal civil rights lawsuit was filed against the towns of Hildale, Utah, and Colorado City, Ariz., where most residents are members of the Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints, run by the group's jailed leader Warren Jeffs.
Jeffs is serving a life sentence in Texas after convictions on child sex and bigamy charges, but he is said to still maintain control of the communities.
The lawsuit claims the two towns, the Colorado City/Hildale Marshal's Office and utility entities have and continue to violate the federal Fair Housing Act, depriving non-sect members of their constitutional rights.
The suit states that includes residents who were never FLDS members, those who left on their own and those who have been excommunicated from the sect.
It claims the defendants "have acted in concert with FLDS leadership to deny non-FLDS individuals housing, police protection, and access to public space and services."
"The Marshal's Office has inappropriately used its state-granted law enforcement authority to enforce the edicts of the FLDS, to the detriment of non-FLDS members," according to the lawsuit filed in federal court in Arizona.
"There's nothing to support the allegation that non-FLDS members are treated differently," attorney Blake Hamilton told The Associated on Thursday. Hamilton represents Hildale and the Marshal's Office.
He said Justice Department lawyers threatened a lawsuit in December when they met with Hamilton and another attorney representing Colorado City.
"DOJ asked us to dismantle a community," Hamilton said.
The lawsuit comes after Legislatures in Utah and Arizona failed this year to pass bills aimed at abolishing the Marshal's Office that monitors both communities.
The Arizona bill was being pushed by state Attorney General Tom Horne, who said Colorado City officers who are FLDS members flout the law and instead pay allegiance first to Jeffs.
A similar bill failed in the Utah Legislature.
The FLDS practices polygamy, a legacy of early Mormon church teachings that held plural marriage brought exaltation in heaven.
However, the mainstream Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints abandoned the practice in 1890 as a condition of Utah's statehood and ex-communicates members who engage in the practice.
AP reporter Felicia Fonseca contributed to this report from Flagstaff, Ariz.; Paul Weber contributed from San Antonio, Texas.