Civil Liberties

No Child Left Behind

Texas abuses children to prevent abuse.

|

The week before a state appeals court condemned the wholesale removal of children from the Yearning for Zion Ranch in Eldorado, a spokesman for Texas Child Protective Services (CPS) insisted the case "is not about religion." If you believe that, you may also believe that a community of hundreds is a single household, or that a 27-year-old is younger than 18, to cite just a couple of the whoppers CPS has told in the last two months.

To justify seizing more than 450 children from the ranch, which is owned by the Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints (FLDS), CPS argued that the church's teachings are inherently abusive. CPS did not bother to present evidence that particular children were in immediate physical danger, as required by state law, because it thought membership in the polygamous sect was enough to make parents unfit.

CPS asserted that a "pervasive belief system" at the ranch, which it raided on April 3 in response to what seems to have been a fictitious abuse report, encouraged underage marriage. "They're living under an umbrella of belief that having children at a young age is a blessing," the lead investigator testified. "Therefore any child in that environment would not be safe."

But as the appeals court noted, "The existence of the FLDS belief system as described by the [state's] witnesses, by itself, does not put children of FLDS parents in physical danger. It is the imposition of certain alleged tenets of that system on specific individuals that may put them in physical danger."

CPS claimed 31 underage girls at the ranch were pregnant or mothers. It recently conceded that at least 15 of them are in fact adults, ranging in age from 18 to 27, while a 14-year-old on the list is not pregnant and has no children. A.P. reports "more mothers listed as underage are likely to be reclassified as adults."

In any case, as the appeals court noted, "teenage pregnancy, by itself, is not a reason to remove children from their home and parents." In Texas the minimum age for marriage with parental consent is 16 (raised from 14 in 2005 with the FLDS in mind), and "there was no evidence regarding the marital status of these girls when they became pregnant or the circumstances under which they became pregnant."

By the state's current count, underage mothers represent no more than 3 percent of the children it seized. Even if the other girls who had reached puberty were likely to be married off soon (a matter of dispute), there was no evidence that the boys or the prepubescent girls were in danger of abuse.

CPS glossed over the lack of evidence by treating the entire 1,700-acre ranch as a single household. If there had been even one instance of abuse in the community, it argued, no child should be left there. This assumption of collective guilt was not only contrary to law; it was contradicted by the state's own witnesses, who conceded that FLDS members, only some of whom practice polygamy, disagree about the appropriate age for marriage.

The first parents to be reunited with their children after the appeals court's ruling, which CPS has asked the Texas Supreme Court to reverse, were Joseph and Lori Jessop, both EMTs in their 20s. The monogamous couple's children—two boys and a girl, ages 1, 2, and 4—became ill during their state-imposed separation and had to be hospitalized.

When they were released, CPS caseworkers forcibly pulled the two older children from their mother. Until a judge intervened, CPS threatened to take the youngest child as well, saying nursing babies older than 12 months were not allowed to remain with their mothers.

Not surprisingly, the Jessops' older children are anxious these days, waking up repeatedly during the night and displaying regressive behavior. There was never any evidence that their parents abused them, but there's plenty that the state did.

© Copyright 2008 by Creators Syndicate Inc.

Advertisement

NEXT: About as Funny as a Fart in a Spacesuit

Editor's Note: We invite comments and request that they be civil and on-topic. We do not moderate or assume any responsibility for comments, which are owned by the readers who post them. Comments do not represent the views of Reason.com or Reason Foundation. We reserve the right to delete any comment for any reason at any time. Report abuses.

  1. Compare and contrast this case with that of David Koresh.

  2. You’d think that after the spanking that the Texas CPS received from the appeals court that someone would rush in to rescue them from abuse. Can anyone save the CPS?

  3. That is just horrifying.

    This part “Until a judge intervened, CPS threatened to take the youngest child as well, saying nursing babies older than 12 months were not allowed to remain with their mothers,” is one of the most awful and gut wrenching things I have ever read. I realize that American culture isn’t particularly thrilled about extended nursing, but a one year old ripped away from his mother and his source of comfort and everything familiar is going to have some really major issues. Way to go, Texas, way to jack up these kids worse than the FLDS possibly could.

  4. Great article. It’s about time someone called out Texas CPS on this outrage against the First Amendment. It’s only too bad that the overzealous bureaucrats won’t be prosecuted for abusing the civil rights of so many people under color of law, as the US Code provides for.

  5. Wait a minute Jacob, you seemed to have glossed over the 15 girls that were pregnant that were under 18? The fact that CPS could not sort through the intertwined family ties without DNA is troubling. There are valid biological reasons why we don’t allow in-breeding. My guess is that by the time the CPS comes up with the proper evidence, the FLDS will make sure the underage girls have disappeared, just like most of the teenage boys have disappeared.

  6. Wait a minute Jacob, you seemed to have glossed over the 15 girls that were pregnant that were under 18? The fact that CPS could not sort through the intertwined family ties without DNA is troubling. There are valid biological reasons why we don’t allow in-breeding.

    I think you missed his point. Of course some individual cases may merit state intervention, but the wholesale removal of all children, even those who were in no immediate danger (think young children and infants) is absolutely absurd. This is the source of the criticism.

  7. Frank, I understand your concern, but they botched all of this pretty bad. No matter how things seem, due process is required. And when CPS lies or misunderstands the age of more than 70% of those young mothers, don’t you think it’s time to sit back and make sure that this being done correctly and for the right reasons? 70% is not an isolated incident.

  8. Wait a minute Jacob, you seemed to have glossed over the 15 girls that were pregnant that were under 18?

    I believe the actual number of pregnant teenagers is down to 3 or 4, now that a little fact-checking had occurred.

    My guess is that by the time the CPS comes up with the proper evidence, the FLDS will make sure the underage girls have disappeared, just like most of the teenage boys have disappeared.

    WTF? All of the children at the compound are in state custody, including the teenage boys. If they’ve disappeared, its becase CPS misplaced them. Which isn’t beyond the realm of possibility.

  9. R C Dean,

    I believe Fred is talking about the accusations that they kick out young men because of spousal competition.

  10. … err… Frank.


  11. you seemed to have glossed over the 15 girls that were pregnant that were under 18?

    Not sure why this is relevant. In Texas, it is legal for everyone at 17 or 16 with parental permission. Until 2005, 14 was allowed. CPS hasn’t established, as of yet, a single broken law. They had a pregnant 14 yr old, but she turned out not to be pregnant. This isn’t too surprising as they had a teen-ager that was actually 27.

  12. If all pregnant teenagers were taken away from their parents by the state, entire neighborhoods would be ripped up.

  13. you seemed to have glossed over the 15 girls that were pregnant that were under 18?

    Well, the 14 year old — the youngest — isn’t pregnant. The 16 and 17 year olds almost certainly had Temple marriages with the consent of their parents — because sex without marriage is immoral from the FLDS POV — so even if the parents didn’t bother to register those marriages with the state, under the First Amendment I think Texas will have a hell of a time proving that those married 16 and 17 year olds aren’t legally allowed to have sex with their husbands.

    Which may leave 5 or so girls who are allegedly 15 and allegedly pregnant, and given the inability of Texas law enforcement to get their facts straight about the ages of the girls and whether they are pregnant, those may all go away too. It’s entirely possible that the FLDS were quite careful to obey the letter of the law in a failed attempt to keep Texas law enforcement from pulling a stunt like this.

  14. Hmmm…I wonder how many victims of real abuse could be found in a random group of 450 Texas children. If CPS can’t even find a couple in the FLDS group just by statistical probability, then either they are utterly incompetent or FLDS is the safest place in Texas for kids.

  15. One thing that troubles me but is not regularly addressed on either the pro or con side of this issue is whether these young women/girls actually gave meaningful, non-coerced consent to their marriages.

    And the FLDS does regularly kick teen boys out of the community to maintain gender ratios favorable to polygamy (thus benefiting the older, more powerful men who get to have multiple wives). This is what the comment above is in reference to.

  16. re: alley | May 28, 2008, 5:16pm | #

    “One thing that troubles me but is not regularly addressed on either the pro or con side of this issue is whether these young women/girls actually gave meaningful, non-coerced consent to their marriages.”

    My observance of some religious traditions where marriages are arranged for girls at young ages is that the girls are raised from childhood to understand that for religious or cultural reasons, they are expected to marry a man whom their family designates as a good husband. This is the case with most of my Arabic and Turkish students who follow Islam. Of course the girls have some input – if they cannot get along with the man the family will usually consider her feelings, but they accept arranged marriage as a matter of proper course. And some of them are married at 16 or 17 (in their native countries, not so in America) and have children and continue school. Two of my students from Jordan know they have to have a husband by the time they graduate college – either they choose one or their male relatives will choose one for them.

    It sounds creepy to those of us who do not follow this custom, but the girls accept it as part of their duty to their family and their faith, much the same way I accept certain duties and obligations to my family.

    If FLDS practices similar traditions, then the girls are raised to understand that accepting marriage and family at a young age are accepted and expected duties to their family and faith, then they would likely consent to marriage so they could be good, faithful Mormons worthy of whatever earthly and heavenly rewards their faith promises.

  17. So that translates to standard religious brainwashing.

    All religions do it. Whether it’s polygamy, teen marriage, genital mutilation, cannibalism, etc.

    If the brainwashing of one religion invalidates consent then they all do.

  18. Thank kew, Sully boy!

    Youse libbertarianses knows how to proteck us kiddie-fuckers. Why, Texas caint prove we fucked more’n 3 percent of them girls! 3 percent!

    Next time y’all come down here, youse kin have any l’il’ missy yew fancy, if’n yew kin ketch her.

  19. GG wrote: “Yearnin’, you’ll fit right in at the UN”

    I was thinking more that he would fit right in with the Westboro Baptists.

  20. I wonder what chance of Federal criminal prosecution there is against CPS of TX? I doubt TX would bring any charges and it would sure be nice to see an example made of the people in the state CPS blatently disregarding due process.

  21. I had not been aware that Texas had changed their laws specifically to attempt to criminalize the marriage customs of the FLDS.

    That really sucks. I mean, it really, really, really sucks. I now will discount every representation made by the state of Texas in this case by another 50%. It makes it obvious that the state has a vendetta against this group. It sounds like marriage at 14 with parental consent was OK, as long as it was “real Americans” doing the marrying, but once a religious minority arranged a move into the state, the law had to be changed to make them criminals and to facilitate the crushing of that minority by the state.

  22. You need to read the testimony of escapees from this cult and others of the Warren Jeffs school of Mormonism. These cults exist to satiate the bizzare depravity of it’s patriarchal leadership. Wives are taken as young as 12 or 14 and sexually abused, then their children are taken and raise by older wives and they themselves will be traded off to younger men once they’ve aged. Young boys are cast out or killed to maintain gender disparity and those who escape are more often than not scarred for life due to the sexual and physical abuse. These cults have worked long and hard on out-smarting the police.

    It’s no wonder they couldn’t find underage mothers. The escapees stories are not investigated for over a year and by that time the children of the underage girls are taken from them and given to older wives to hide their crimes.

    The law maybe satisfied, but justice was not done.

  23. Texas SC just upheld the lower court verdict. The CPS says it will comply, but I expect they will do it as slowly as possible…

    You need to read the testimony of escapees from this cult and others of the Warren Jeffs school of Mormonism

    And you can just ignore what those who stay in have to say? The truth, I think, is probably somewhere in the middle. Those who let have it in their interest to exaggerate. Those who stay have it in their interest to minimize. Don’t think for a minute that because someone “escaped” that their testimony is unimpeachable.

  24. “””So that translates to standard religious brainwashing.”””

    I agree. I take the position that the seperation of church and state means the state must allow standard religious brainwashing. If not, then no child should be allowed to attend standard religious brainwashing sessions, oops, I mean church.

    This fight is far from over. All the courts have ruled so far is that the lower court got the facts and law wrong as to what is required by law to seize the children. The children will be returned and the investigation will continue.

    I think all religions should pay close attention to this case since the state is trying to make the arugement that religious indoctrination of children is child abuse.

  25. Your article keeps saying Texas. As it turns out it was not the state of Texas that was behind this.

    Here are some links, you be the judge.

    Children from FLDS compound praise Texas Baptist agency
    http://www.abpnews.com/3168.article

    http://texaslastfrontier.com/prairie_fire_journal/blog1.php

    BCFS was also there to help out the Waco kids.

    You might search on “FLDS Baptist” and other such combos.

    As far as the ‘abuse’ of minors, 14 is plenty old biblically, since we are living in a bible literal country. You also did not take a close look at those women. They all seemed very healthly and physically fit, and young for their ages. I suspect that there was some intra gender jealousy going on.

  26. I fail to see how anything that the state of Texas did made any of the children worse off. It is also doubtful that any of them will be willing to tell of their abuse once they are locked back in their compound again – so the only chance to uncover the FLDS’s abuses is probably slipping away.

  27. Then you must be pretty blind, Kdog. The only good thing the CPS has done for these children at all has been to convince them that the state is a cruel persecutor and Satanic kidnapper that hates religious children and wants them to suffer, and it’s only good for them to be convinced of that because it’s true.

    If cult leaders ever had any trouble before convincing their followers of how evil the secular authorities are, they certainly won’t now. Ripping hundreds of children away from their mothers because of some crime their *fathers* might have committed–maybe–tends not to help your credibility with any people who don’t let wild allegations of sexual abuse blind them to the facts.

Please to post comments

Comments are closed.