Civil Liberties

First They Came for the Toddlers…


The FLDS raid in Texas looks more ludicrous every day. Writing in the Dallas Morning News, Scott Henson takes aim at Judge Barbara Walther:

Excuse me, Judge? You issued a sweeping, house-to-house search warrant based on a highly questionable anonymous call that turned out to be phony. You refused to allow individual hearings for children, grouping them together like cattle. You accepted the testimony of an expert on "cults" who only learned about FLDS from media accounts, rather than an academic who'd studied them professionally for 18 years.

You've ruled the existence of five girls between 16 and 19 who were pregnant or had children was evidence of systematic abuse, even though in Texas 16-year-olds can marry with parental consent. You've ruled young toddlers are in "immediate" danger because of their parents' beliefs or what might happen 15 years from now, not because anyone abuses them.

From the evidence presented publicly, I do not believe that the children have been sexually abused or physically harmed. Allegations of forcible rape turned out to be bogus, and only five girls 16 to 19 years old were found pregnant or with children—probably about the same ratio you'd find if you rounded up all the kids in my neighborhood….

In Eldorado, no one alleges YFZ parents are themselves abusing children. Instead the allegation (in court, at least) is that they're teaching their kids that a woman's highest calling is giving birth and raising children and that it's acceptable to get married at an early age. Even if it were true, and the allegation was disputed, can this really be enough to seize children from their homes?

Hanson has been covering the case heavily on his excellent blog. Also invaluable: The Polygamy Files, a blog by Brooke Adams of The Salt Lake Tribune, who has been on the fundamentalist Mormon beat for years. One piece of good news: Judge Walther has reversed her decision to separate FLDS mothers from children less than 12 months old.

And yes, it may turn out that there was some genuine sexual abuse in that community. If so, it should be punished. But even then, the approach the government has taken would be deeply harmful overkill, for reasons expressed pithily by Les Jones:

Imagine that some parents in a school district were accused of child abuse. Now imagine that the authorities took every child from the elementary, junior high, and high school away from their parents and put them in foster care. That's a rough analogy of what's happening in Texas.

The difference, I guess, is that the FLDS parents belong to a "cult." And once you've applied that label, it's just a quick step to assuming they do everything en masse.