Civil Liberties

Child Brides and Mass Kidnapping

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Last week the Texas Department of Family and Protective Services issued a report (PDF) that seeks to justify its seizure of 439 children from the Yearning for Zion Ranch in Eldorado last spring, a mass kidnapping that the Texas Supreme Court unanimously ruled was legally unjustified. The report, which one critic fairly calls "self-justifying claptrap," highlights the department's unwillingness to admit mistakes, let alone apologize for the harm it did to the children it supposedly was trying to protect.

Last May the department's Child Protective Services (CPS) division claimed it had found 31 underage girls who were pregnant or mothers at the ranch, which is owned by the Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints (FLDS). In last week's report the tally has shrunk to seven, plus five more girls who were "spiritually married" between the ages of 12 and 15. The state is prosecuting 12 members of the polygamous sect, presumably the men married to those girls, for various offenses, including bigamy and sexual abuse. But since the raid that obtained evidence of these relationships was based on a false abuse report, it's not clear how those cases will fare.

Notably, the report says seven of the 12 girls were 14 or 15 when they married, which means they would have been old enough under the law as it stood prior to 2005, when the state legislature raised the minimum marriage age to 16 with the avowed aim of making life in Texas difficult for the FLDS. Until then the minimum age for marriage with parental permission was 14. (The marriages in question took places between 2004 and 2006.) Still, assuming the allegations are true, FLDS members broke even the old law in a handful of cases.

The question is whether those offenses justified the wholesale removal of every child at the ranch, including infants, toddlers, preschoolers, and teenage boys, who were forcibly separated from their parents for two months. The state's theory, which the courts correctly rejected, was that raising children according to FLDS beliefs was inherently abusive. In the report, the state argues that parents who knew about the underage brides yet remained part of the community were guilty of neglect. To which FLDS spokesman Willie Jessop replies:

For Texas CPS and law-enforcement officials to continue to make disturbing and unfounded allegations of abuse and neglect is nothing more than an attempt to justify their own barbaric actions…The Eldorado Investigation Report…is as false and fraudulent as the original hoax telephone call that triggered the raid.

Jessop conspicuously does not address the question of underage marriages (a practice the church officially disavowed after the raid), but his statement, headlined "YFZ Raid Was Never Justified," rings mostly true, especially with regard to the state's ever-shifting allegations. "When has CPS ever told the truth?" he asks. "They have never acknowledged their former inaccurate statements. They have no credibility."

One especially egregious example: The Salt Lake Tribune notes that the report provides no evidence to support the state's reckless allegations of bone-breaking physical abuse:

The department also alleged some children experienced physical abuse or neglect. It later said X-rays showed 41 children had previously had broken bones. But the final report says there is no evidence of physical abuse in 388 cases; it was unable to complete or make a determination in another 11 cases.

Jessop notes that the rate of fractures among Yearning for Zion children was "considerably lower than the national average." The insinuations about beatings that never occurred were of a piece with the state's general response to criticism of the FLDS raid. While at least some of the officials responsible for this $12.4 million fiasco presumably were sincerely concerned about the welfare of the FLDS children, that concern was quickly subsumed by the perceived need to justify their actions and cover their asses.

My columns about the Yearning for Zion case are here and here.

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  1. Cops covering their asses? Unheard of!

  2. Jessop notes that the rate of fractures among Yearning for Zion children was “considerably lower than the national average.”

    By the time I turned 18, I had broken both arms and a nose. I was active and roughhoused plenty. My parents did their job, getting me prompt medical care each time.

  3. Im pretty sure their teen pregnancy rate was below the national average too.

  4. The real problem here is the failure of local law enforcement. The FLDS runs the local police department which effectively allows FLDS husbands to keep wives in the compound against their will. This makes things rather difficult for the state police and prosecutors to weed out families who really want to be there from those who don’t. Ultimately the problem here is the co-mingling of church (the FLDS) and state (the local police). If the two are kept separate, then the police can ensure those who object to the FLDS doctrine are free to leave and it becomes much easier to conclude that those in the commune are there on their own accord (and following state laws when it comes to age of consent). Until that happens we’ll continue to see messes like the one described above.

  5. robc: It was.

    And they’re living on a godddamn farm. Of course they’ve had broken bones.

  6. Godddamn with three ds for extra damnation, apparently.

  7. ClubMedSux, they don’t run the department in Eldorado, though they do in Arizona.

  8. By the time I turned 18, I had broken both arms and a nose.

    OMG! You too? Did you have six kids like me? My daddy-husband is so proud, LOL!

  9. All they did was kidnap the kids based on bullshit abuse allegations. That is pretty bad. But at least they didn’t burn them all to death to save them from abuse like Janet Reno did. Honestly, how long before, if it hasn’t already happened, some public servent tells us that the police killed the child to save it? Sadly, not long.

  10. OMG! You too? Did you have six kids like me? My daddy-husband is so proud, LOL!

    Is your daddy-husband’s name LoneWacko, by any chance?

  11. ClubMedSux, they don’t run the department in Eldorado, though they do in Arizona.

    My mistake; I thought their Eldorado community was just a relocation of their Colorado City compound. In that case I’d like to know what kind of arrests the local police made prior to the raid. After all, if kids are being abused shouldn’t arrests be made before a full-blown raid takes place? Or if the abuse was so egregious as to merit a raid, should a report justifying the CPS’s actions even be necessary?

  12. I’m sad to say I was among the group that forgot all about this as quickly as CNN did. Are the children still in custody?

    Stupid shiny baubles, always distractin–

    Holy crap, a blue car!!!

  13. …how long before, if it hasn’t already happened, some public serv[a]nt tells us that the police killed the child to save it?

    Why does that sound familiar?

  14. — Sixty-three girls between the ages of 10 and 17 were asked to attend four-hour classes that reviewed state marriage laws and how to prevent sexual abuse.

    We libertarians are against those State marriage laws, Right?
    Four whole hours, if we added more marriage laws think how long those classes would be.

  15. My mistake; I thought their Eldorado community was just a relocation of their Colorado City compound. In that case I’d like to know what kind of arrests the local police made prior to the raid. After all, if kids are being abused shouldn’t arrests be made before a full-blown raid takes place? Or if the abuse was so egregious as to merit a raid, should a report justifying the CPS’s actions even be necessary?

    To my knowledge, they didn’t make any prior arrests, because they’re tards.

  16. Why are people so afraid to admit mistakes? I make mistakes all the time. What do they think is going to happen to them if they just say they’re sorry?

  17. To my knowledge, they didn’t make any prior arrests, because they’re tards.

    See, I thought it was because they didn’t have any credible allegations of criminal activity.

    The sheriff had been out to the ranch on several occasions, but apparently was unwilling to arrest people just because their churching was kind of funny.

  18. What do they think is going to happen to them if they just say they’re sorry?

    They’re afraid that they will come off looking not incompetent. And it’s important to them to look not just competent but practically omnipotent. Hence, no admission of error (even worse lying and coverups), even when their raids cause death to innocent victims.

    Any admission of weakness puts them at a disadvantage with respect to “the enemy”.

    Unfortunately, “the enemy” is us.

  19. Is your daddy-husband’s name LoneWacko, by any chance?

    No, and I resent the implication.
    Umm…What’s a LoneWacko?

  20. This whole thing struck me as wrong the minute it happened, while the general public (and the media), were still running around fluttering about those horrible mormons and screaming “Think of the children!!”

    Now, I find the mormon belief system horrible, but – straight up – these people are being persecuted for their beliefs.

    If this compound was a “planned community” with a gated fence around it, some charter schools inside, and a MCdonalds, it would never happen.

    If it was a bunch of Muslims, it’d still be in the media. With half the country screaming about the horrors of Sharia, and the other half yelling ‘Islamophobe!’.

    But they are Mormons, so you know, wierd scary religious freaks who are looked on with suspicion by everyione.

  21. wierd scary religious freaks

    That’s how I view Baptists and Catholics, but that’s just me.

  22. The Baptists and pentacostals I find a bit creepy, too.

    Having been raised Catholic, I regard catholicism as fairly mainstream. Nobody is a born again Catholic. It’s the rump of what was once a state religion, so it’s nice and regulated and ritualized. No wacked out speaking in tongues or screaming and yelling. For Catholics, going to church is like paying your taxes. Stand up, sit down, kneel, say the right words, okay you can go now.

    I guess maybe I would say they aren’t being persecuted for being Mormon specifically, but because they have wierd religious beliefs.
    Although, the Amish and other non-Mormon sects who also live very conservative lifestyles don’t seem singled out for special police attention.
    The Branch Dividians did get the same treatment, but these guys (FLDS) don’t seem to be an apocalyptic cult who think their leader is Jesus Christ. They just seem to be practising a very conservative lifestyle, much like the Amish or the Mennonites or Hutterites, or other conservative communal religious sects. It’s just because the Mormons have those aura of ohhh-polygamy-scary-scary around them that they seem to be under special scrutiny.

  23. don’t seem to be an apocalyptic cult who think their leader is Jesus Christ

    As opposed to the Obamacons.

  24. Here in Sydney, Oz, the wacko Religious Right are now trying to ban topless sunbathing on Sydney beaches to, like, protect the chillun or some such. Can you see it “ma’am, you can’t show those here, ma’am! No! Don’t point them at me! BAM! BAM!

  25. To what extent does does “freedom of religion” cover the “right” of adults to impose religious practices (not just beliefs) on their minor children, particularly practices that have long-term, detrimental consequences to their (the kids’) health and/or future opportunities? I’m not just thinking about pushing them into early marriage/childbearing (though certainly that as well) but practices like forcing them to drop out of school and go to work, or keeping them out of any schooling completely?

    I don’t pretend have any easy answers here, myself…I just don’t think this is always a cut-and-dry question of whether people are being “persecuted for their beliefs” or not.

  26. To what extent does does “freedom of religion” cover the “right” of adults to impose religious practices (not just beliefs) on their minor children, particularly practices that have long-term, detrimental consequences to their (the kids’) health and/or future opportunities?

    You mean like enrolling them in public schools?

  27. Nobody is a born again Catholic.

    Haven’t been to many Catholic baptisms lately, have you. The gospel that’s generally read is the account of Jesus’ meeting with Nicodemus, and of the need to be “born again of water and the spirit.”

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