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The Trial of Polygamy in Texas

“Texas, it seems, is concluding that polygamy is child abuse. ” This observation was made by Rebecca Walsh, a columnist for The Salt Lake Tribune in connection with a case in Texas involving the Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints (FLDS) and more than 400 children who were rounded by investigators belonging to the Child Protective Services (CPS), elements of the Texas Rangers, and sheriff’s deputies following a raid of the ‘Yearning for Zion Ranch’ located near Eldorado, Texas (Walsh, 2008).

The FLDS, whose practices include plural marriage, is a break away sect of the mainstream Mormon Church which decided to ban polygamy sometime in 1890. With a membership estimated at between 10,000 and 12,000 under the leadership of Warren Jeffs, its self-proclaimed prophet, the FLDS considers its home bases to be the cities of Colorado in Arizona and Hildale in Utah. Jeffs and his two brothers were accused of sodomizing their own 5-year-old nephew and later coercing him to keep him from exposing the abuse.

Other cases involving bigamy, rape of children, forcing minor girls into marriage, and welfare fraud faced by the sect in Arizona and Utah must have forced the group to consider an alternative base (Moreno, 2004). According to Rodney Parker, a lawyer based in Salt Lake City and spokesman for the sect, the public attention brought by the cases “prompted the sect to look for a new ‘outpost and retreat’ in Texas. ” He said that the retreat was for the use of some 500 very private church members who wanted “to concentrate and focus on their religious mission without the interferences and pressures they’ve been subjected to” in Utah and Arizona.

Hence, a 1,691-acre farm was purchased for the sect by David Alfred, the representative of record for the YFZ Land LLC from the state of Utah around the middle of March, 2004. Even during the initial stages of their stay in the area, the residents were already uneasy with their presence. In fact, a group of local officials and some businessmen started flying over their compound in regular intervals. A local paper, Eldorado Success, on the other hand, ran stories about the sect on its front page (Moreno, 2004).

Things came to a head after a caller claiming to be a 16-year-old mother from the ranch told authorities that she was “beaten and raped by her 50-year-old spiritual husband. ” Reacting to that telephone call, authorities immediately raided the ranch and a total of 416 children whose ages ranged from their infancy to 17 years (including some Canadians) were taken starting April 3, 2008. An investigator later testified in court that evidence gathered showed that several girls gave birth when they were still under-age after having sexual encounters with older men.

Division of Child Protection Services investigator Angie Voss was quoted as saying that “more than 20 girls, some of whom are now adults, have conceived or given birth under the age of 16 or 17. There is a culture of young girls being pregnant by old men. ” Voss testified before Judge Barbara Walther of the Country Court of Tom Green on Thursday, April 17. It was the second day of the hearing which was held to determine “whether the children on the ranch were abused or whether they are at risk of being abused.

” According to Judge Walther, she might have to make a decision if the practice of the FLDS community of marrying under-age girls should be interpreted as a culture which is dangerous for children (Dougherty and Holusha, 2008). When the 416 children were taken from the ranch, some 139 women were allowed to voluntarily go with them and stay at the San Angelo Coliseum where the children were held. However, they were separated from the children and brought back to the ranch several days later except for those who had children below 5 years old.

Marleigh Meisner, spokesperson for the Children’s Protective Services of the state of Texas, said that the separation was necessary because the views of the experts was that the children would be more truthful in answering questions about child abuse without the parents hovering nearby. Parents complained about the separation, claiming that they were forced by police officers to go back home or they would be sent to a shelter for women.

However, Meisner stood her ground, saying that “I can tell you we believe the children who are victims of abuse or neglect, and particularly victims at the hands of their own parents, certainly are going to feel safer to tell their story when they don’t have a parent there that’s coaching them with how to respond” (Dobner and Graczyk, 2008). As things stood, Meisner said that they were facing a very difficult task because they could not get hold of birth certificates. As a consequence, ages and parentage could not be accurately determined.

Many of them respond to the same last name but authorities could not definitely say if they are related since most of the children do not even know who exactly their parents are (Dobner and Graczyk, 2008). As a matter of fact, confusion had been the order of the day. Authorities could not help being confused and the number of children kept changing because of the suspicion that about 25 “mothers” who accompanied the children are in fact under 18 years old and should therefore be counted as children. Another factor which complicates things is the tangled web which exists among the families.

Social workers on the case found out that “children refer to all of their fathers’ wives as their ‘mothers’ and to all men in the community as ‘uncles’” and that only DNA tests (which are already underway), could establish definite connections (Castro and Roberts, 2008). The state of Texas is in the process of putting together a case of physical and sexual abuse against the parents. It is also determined to strip them of custody and wants that the children are instead put up for adoption or be placed in foster care (Dobner and Graczyk, 2008).

During the custody hearing which was conducted for two days, lawyers representing the mothers claimed that a wholesale hearing was inadequate, with hundreds of lawyers competing for the attention of a single presiding judge. They argued that absent such adequate hearings for every child, it is illegal under the federal laws as well as the laws of Texas to separate the children from their mothers. Finally, the court ruled that the children will be temporarily held in foster homes until such time that individual hearings could be held to determine custody.The hearings are estimated to be finished by June (Castro and Roberts, 2008).

References

Castro, A. and Roberts, M. (2008). Texas court: State can take sect children to foster homes. Associated Press. Retrieved April 25, 2008 from http://news. yahoo. com/s/ap/20080424/ap_on_re_us/polygamist_retreat Dobner, J. and Graczyk, M. (2008). Texas defends separation of polygamist sect kids from moms. Associated Press. Retrieved April 23 from http://news. yahoo. com/s/ap/20080415/ap_on_re_us/polygamist_retreat Dougherty, J. and Holusha, J. (2008).

Investigator in Texas polygamy sect case says under- Age girls were impregnated. International Herald Tribune. Retrieved April 23, 2008 From http://www. iht. com/articles/2008/04/18/america/18polygamy. php Moreno, S. (2004). Polygamous Sect Moves in, And Texas Town Asks ‘Why? ’ The Washington Post. Retrieved April 23, 2008 from http://www. washingtonpost. com/wp-dyn/articles/A1152-2004Sep6. html Walsh, R. (2008). Walsh: Reason may still prevail in Texas. The Salt Lake Tribune. Retrieved April 23, 2008 from http://www. sltrib. com/news/ci_8989856

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