Friday, May 23, 2008

Tx Court Intervenes

Late yesterday the 3rd Texas Court of Appeals (Austin) handed down a ruling that the state of Texas had no right to remove children from the polygamist religious sect at the Yearning For Zion ranch in far west Texas. Presumably the state will appeal that decision to the state's supreme court. Meanwhile, it's unclear whether the state will have to return the children to their mothers and life at the YFZ ranch while an appeal to the supreme court is pending. More than 400 YFZ children are scattered across the state in foster care facilities.

I haven't read the decision, but it seems to me that the problem here is that the state is acting under child protection laws which address abuse and neglect in traditional families. Under these statutes, the courts are constrained from interfering with parental custody without a compelling showing of immediate physical harm to children. The rights of the parents and the goal of keeping the nuclear family together are the paramount goal.

These laws weren't written to address situations like those reported at the YFZ ranch where young girls are "married" to much older men,"wives" are routinely re-assigned by the head of the cult, and the teenage boys are run off lest they challenge the authority of the male elders. Although there are laws against polygamy, they aren't enforced and don't address situations like this. Unlike Utah and the four corners area of the southwestern US, Texas does not have a history of dealing with polygamist cults. I don't know if these other states have legislation that specifically addresses child protection issues in polygamist cults.

The Houston Chronicle reported the reaction of a young woman who escaped from this cult and is advising the state's child protection workers on how to work with these children. It is disturbing.

The case involves conflict between the protection of civil liberties and the need to protect children from what appears to be a predatory cult. It seems preposterous to apply the traditional view of the sanctity of the family and parental rights to this situation. On the other hand, the precedent set in this case might be applied to others less egregious.

Once again I see the wisdom in the old adage: hard cases make bad law. Hopefully the state supreme court will stay the enforcement of the appellate court's order until it can decide the case, allowing the children to remain where they are until a final decision is made. Pray for them.


Mac said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Mac said...

The hardest, most gut-wrenching cases I have ever handled are the child sexual abuse cases. While I was doing something about the crime as a prosecutor, it was after the fact. The pain that had been inflicted on the innocent little ones was horrendous

This is another example of a situation in which the law has not caught up with a depraved humanity's ability to sin. I will be praying for the children and for your Supreme Court.


SpookyRach said...

Here's hoping for sanity for all those involved.

Presbyterian Gal said...

I wonder if there is any similarity with this cult and what happened with the "Children of God" many years back.

Child abuse is astonishingly easy to get away with. My neighbor, a registered sex offender on parole, had children on his property recently even though it is against the law for him to do so. When we called it in, the police did not show any interest. Their focus was only on his drug dealing.

It's almost as if, if it doesn't happen right in front of them and blood and bruises occur, than it's not actionable.

It's tragic.

Princess of Everything (and then some) said...

It just breaks my heart.