Thursday, May 29, 2008

Interesting . . .

Here's the latest news from CNN, my commentary appears below the story

SAN ANGELO, Texas (CNN) -- Texas officials had no right to remove more than 440 children from a polygamist sect, the state Supreme Court ruled Thursday.

The Texas Supreme Court agreed with an earlier lower court's ruling, possibly clearing the way for the children to be returned to their families. They were removed in April from the Yearning for Zion (YFZ) Ranch, near Eldorado.

The ruling means that each child's case must be weighed individually, not all together, to determine if abuse has occured, according to an attorney close to the case. The ruling does not address the abuse allegations.

"We are not inclined to disturb the court of appeals' decision," the ruling said. "On the record before us, removal of the children was not warranted."

The court's 6-3 ruling came in the case of 38 mothers who had appealed the removal of their 126 children, but attorneys in the case have said the reasoning behind the court rulings can be applied to the removals of all the children from the Yearning for Zion (YFZ) Ranch in a raid that began April 3.

About 460 children were removed, although 20 were later found in court to be adults.

The state has maintained that FLDS members live in an environment in which the sexual abuse of underage girls is allowed through forced marriage to older men, and that young boys on the ranch are groomed to be perpetrators.

FLDS members deny any sexual abuse takes place and claim they are being persecuted because of their religion.

The 3rd District Court of Appeals said in its ruling that the state's Child Protective Services did not demonstrate that all the children on the ranch faced imminent danger, as necessary for their removal.

Attorneys for the mothers argued in documents filed Thursday, saying the child welfare workers failed to satisfy any of a three-pronged "test" in Texas law, which must be satisfied before a child can be removed from its parents.

"Rather than meaningfully address the three statutory criteria, the Department (of Family and Protective Services) offers diversionary reasons as to why it would be impractical, or 'wrong,' to return the children to their parents," the brief said.

Meanwhile, the ACLU added its voice to the argument on the mothers' behalf, saying in its brief, "the state's sole evidence ... was limited to general allegations that these parents are part of a 'culture,' and subscribe to a 'belief' and a 'mindset' that girls as young as 14 may be considered of age to marry," but that the state put forth no specific allegations of the harm the children face.

And a chaotic appeals court hearing last month, in which attorneys for groups of children were heard, was not sufficient for the state to retain custody of the children, despite a judge's ruling to the contrary, the ACLU said.

"When the state forcibly removes children from their parents' care, subsequent hearings must be held, must be adequate, must be fair and must include evidence sufficient to meet the state standard for every child removed," the organization said. "The state has broad powers to respond to actual threats of child abuse, but it may not separate families based on a parent's mere adoption of or association with a particular belief system."

Texas attorney Barbara Elias-Perciful supported the state in her filing. She has been a guardian ad litem -- an attorney representing children's interests -- in child protection cases for 16 years and is also the director of Texas Lawyers for Children.

"This case involves the systematic rape of minor children -- conduct that is institutionalized and euphemistically called 'spiritual marriage,'" she wrote. "Typically, there is no media coverage of the horrific acts sexual predators commit against children ... if the media showed the actual events of adult males demanding sex with 11-year-old girls, there would be no one questioning the graphic danger of returning these children to their home at this time."

Now, my comments:

Before you get all whacked out: I am not an advocate of polygamy. I am, however, an advocate of keeping families together. If a state sailed in and took the children of a same-sex couple, alleging abuse but offering no proof, I'd say something stinks. I'd say the state had gone in and taken the children away because the state did not approve of the parents' lifestyle. That is wrong. That is Orwellian. That is unconstitutional.

If Texas' child protection services had been worried about abuse, why not take the men into custody, rather than the women and children? That's what I've wondered all along, and, it's apparent now, that is what the Texan court system is wondering.

Would I want my daughter involved in a polygamous marriage? Absolutely not. But would I want her taken from me and my wife simply because the state believed my religion and mindset put her in harm's way, even if they had no proof of abuse or mistreatment; indeed, if they had evidence to the contrary, that she was well cared for, happy and screaming about her separation from her mother and father? Absolutely not. Are we innocent until proven guilty, or guilty before proven innocent in this country? In Texas, the latter seems to prevail in this case. And that's shameful.

Is it possible there is abuse going on at Yearning for Zion Ranch? Absolutely. It's possible there's abuse going on in Anytown, USA, but you don't see the state descending on entire towns and ripping mothers and children out of their homes on a wholesale scale because of that risk. If there were a town of same-sex couples in which a state had performed a similar action, you can bet there'd be metric tons of angst, especially if the appearance were that the seizures were done because of lifestyle, not proof of abuse. Are there towns just as religiously homogenized as YFZ? Yes. I can name a few. I've lived in a few. I live in one now -- Sugar City, Idaho, is very likely 98 percent LDS (for the uneducated, that's The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, which renounced polygamy at the turn of the 19th century; so call my membership in this church a bias if you want. Then tell me my arguments are wrong. Go ahead). If the state descended an some of the towns I've lived in and pulled this kind of stunt, I guarantee it would not be as peaceful as the events that took place at YFZ Ranch on April 3.

There were allegations of sexual abuse of children at David Koresh's ranch at Waco, Texas -- and Texas CPS didn't go in there; they let the Feds take care of things and let Koresh burn the place down.

Texas CPS is now waving around photos of FLDS Prophet Warren Jeffs kissing young girls as proof of abuse. Well, there's a difference here -- Utah and Arizona put Jeffs in jail, they didn't go after the girls and their mothers.

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