Thursday, May 22, 2008

State overstepped in Texas polygamist case

I was beginning to get bits and pieces of this story from some of Freedom's Texas editors and writers during Freedom School. Now a state appeals court has pretty much confirmed it. It has ruled that the state acted improperly when it seized more than 400 children from the Fundamentalist Latter Day Saints church "compound" near Eldorado, TX. The state simply didn't have sufficient information of endangerment to warrant such a wholesale seizure. Apparently not all the children are being released, only those of 48 mothers who had refused to be separated from their children and had been housed in a barracks. But attorneys say that by implication it should apply to all 455 of the children seized.

What I've been hearing from Texas writers is that while it seems likely that there were polygamous marriages at the ranch, the state just swept up everybody, including children born into monogamous marriages. Another problem, hinted at in stories when the raid was conducted in April, is that the telephoned tips about abuse and young girls forced into marriage may not have come from inside the compound but from a more-or-less professional polygamy-buster who claimed to be a young girl. At any rate, the girl who was supposedly the informant has never been identified or found.

What's fascinating about all this is that most of the news media have been cheering on and gloating about the raids and generally pining for more. All it takes to arouse the seizure-lust of most of the media, apparently, is allegations of child abuse along with the fact that members of the group are just plain weird. I'll admit that the group I saw once on TV sounded like Stepford Wives. And if there really is child abuse, it should be sought out and prosecuted. But the government seems allergic to doing things properly; it has to conduct a military-style raid and take custody of hundreds of children. Apparently the state learned nothing from Waco.

My Texas acquaintances say the San Angelo Standard-Times has done the best job of covering this story and is just about the only media outlet to do skeptical stories rather than cheerleading for the government. Here's a link to its Website and to today's story on the release of some children.

I maintain that many of the apparent problems associated with sects like this would be less likely of the government were smart enough not to outlaw polygamy. When a practice is forced to go into hiding or underground, there's a strong tendency for its practitioners to get more insular, paranoid, and just plain weird. If polygamists could live next door, fewer would go into compounds. And compound residents who didn't have to hide and lie and feel persecuted might not be so psychologically dependent on leaders whose subsequent power (like any power) is likely to be abused.

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