St. George, Utah — A polygamist mother on trial in a fight to keep custody of her children defended her decision to remain a faithful follower of her jailed leader, Warren Jeffs.
Lynda Peine testified Tuesday that she teaches her children to be obedient to Jeffs and to follow the "Laws of God" taught by the Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints on the Utah-Arizona border, the Spectrum of St. George reports (http://bit.ly/1rAai7I ).
During testimony from a woman who told the court about being sexually assaulted by Jeffs when she was 14, Peine put her fingers in her ears.
Peine is one of Lorin Holm's two wives who remain members of the Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints on the Utah-Arizona border. They don't want Holm to be allowed near the children because they consider him to be a bad influence since he was exiled from the sect.
Holm sued to get sole custody of the children in 2011 after he was kicked out of the sect earlier that year for being deemed unfaithful. He had three wives and more than a dozen children. Today, he lives with his first wife, who also left the church.
Holm argues that his children could be sexually abused, forced into child labor or kicked out of the church while being raised by Lynda Peine and Patricia Peine.
Lynda Peine said she tells her children to respect Holm, and she denied knowing why they call him an "apostate." Roger Hoole, Holm's attorney, grilled Peine about her beliefs and the influence Jeffs and others have on her children, the Spectrum reports.
"You've also testified that you understand marrying 12-year-olds or 13-year-olds is against the law," Hoole said. "If there is a conflict between the laws of God given by Warren Jeffs and the laws of the land, which is supreme in your mind? Which would you follow?"
"The laws of God," she said.
Hoole then asked if that meant she subscribes to Jeffs' belief that it's acceptable for adult men to have sex with underage girls, the Spectrum reports.
"He never said that, in my hearing," Peine said. "I don't believe it."
Rodney Parker, Peine's attorney, voiced his opposition to the trial being about his client's religious beliefs.
"The culture is not on trial here," said Parker, the Spectrum reports. "If you step into that world where you start to pass judgment on the culture, where do you draw the line?"
Many of the estimated 7,500 people living in Colorado City, Arizona, and Hildale, Utah, are still followers of Jeffs, who is serving a life sentence in Texas for sexually assaulting two underage girls he considered his brides. His followers believe he is a prophet.
Jeffs' Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints is a radical offshoot of mainstream Mormonism whose members believe polygamy brings exaltation in heaven.
The practice of polygamy is a legacy of the early teachings of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, but the mainstream church and its 15 million members worldwide abandoned polygamy in 1890 and strictly prohibit it today.
The trial is set to resume Thursday in state court in St. George.
Judge James Shumate has already ordered that none of the minor children in the custody dispute can marry before the age of 18 without the court's consent.