TX Supreme Court: Seizure of Polygamous Compound Kids Invalid

Update: Grits for Breakfast has a news and blog roundup and some commentary.

The Texas Supreme Court has upheld a Court of Appeals ruling that found there was no valid justification for seizing children at the compound of a polygmamous religious sect.

The Texas Supreme Court agreed with a lower court's ruling, that Child Protective Services did not present ample evidence that the children were being abused. The high court ruling could possibly clear 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.

"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."

Via How Appealing: Today's ruling of the Supreme Court of Texas consisted of a majority opinion and an opinion concurring in part and dissenting in part. The majority opinion in a second, related case can be accessed here.

It's time to return these children to their parents. Background on the Court of Appeals ruling is here.

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    For once, I can agree with (5.00 / 1) (#4)
    by scribe on Thu May 29, 2008 at 05:39:32 PM EST
    the Texas Supreme Court.  This case was born of a phony phone call, nursed on (IMHO) religious prejudice, and flowered in the heat and light of cable news coverage formerly worthy only of a missing blond woman.

    I can't say anything other than I'm glad this poisonous weed of a case has been cut down.

    I hope the children's return will be expedited (5.00 / 1) (#5)
    by felizarte on Thu May 29, 2008 at 05:40:36 PM EST
    Without any plausible evidence of abuse, I think the Children's services acted arbitrarily to begin with.  DUE PROCESS!  I just hope the children, especially the very young, are not severely traumatized.

    I think they would have done (5.00 / 1) (#7)
    by bjorn on Thu May 29, 2008 at 05:42:51 PM EST
    better to only remove girls who were under age and had a baby or were pregnant.  But in this compound it must have been extremely difficult who was who because everyone has the same names.  I think Texas erred on the side of the children.  But it is the right thing to reunite children where there was no evidence of abuse or neglect.

    Only if you actually marry legally (5.00 / 1) (#9)
    by dianem on Thu May 29, 2008 at 05:45:25 PM EST
    I don't think the government can limit cohabitation, and religious ceremonies are not necessarily legal unless they are accompanied by a civil license (perhaps a Texas lawyer can clarify this). Regardless, I don't think most people care if people want to live this way, as long as their lifestyle doesn't involve sexual abuse of children.

    Texas f'd something up? (5.00 / 1) (#32)
    by Dadler on Thu May 29, 2008 at 08:58:02 PM EST
    Go figure.  Cults are bad for kids, as are men who want to f*ck them, but many other seemingly "normal" families are, as well.  Which is why the law must be applied equally and without prejudice, which, obviously, was not the case here.  I can be repulsed by a group and still believe their rights were violated.

    The sad thing is... (4.00 / 1) (#6)
    by dianem on Thu May 29, 2008 at 05:42:35 PM EST
    ...that there is apparently evidence that some of the young girls really were being abused, and the states overreaction has overshadowed that.  It seems like it would have been more appropriate to simply use the warrent to collect information instead of taking all of these children. It's not as if the families were going to take off in the middle of the night or harm them. Anyway, lets hope that this discourages this and other groups from tolerating "marriage" of girls who are not of legal age. I still wonder if it wasn't a set up. Is it possible that the group cleaned up enough that it was safe and then provided a false reason to invade the compoung? Politically, this is a disaster for the government. They won't be able to investigate this outfit seriously for another decade. Heck, the people in charge will be lucky to have jobs by next week.

    I thought this ruling only applied to younger (4.00 / 1) (#12)
    by bjorn on Thu May 29, 2008 at 05:51:17 PM EST
    children, not all the children.  Weren't they able to keep some of the girls in CPS care?

    How appalling! (3.66 / 3) (#23)
    by lizpolaris on Thu May 29, 2008 at 06:44:21 PM EST
    Let's just return all the little girls to their polygamous fathers to see just how young they are willing to go for new wives!  No evidence of child abuse at all.  Well certainly not - 13 and 14 year olds give birth all the time and why should the state do anything about preventing child rape?  How dare they put the welfare of children above the fantasies of fanatical rapists who believe they are empowered by God to rape again and again!  The state should certainly just look the other way here and encourage this sect to continue indoctrinating the boys that child rape and polygamy are just fine and the girls that they are born to submit to abuse.  Yep, definitely turn those kids over to their law-breaking parents - whose very crimes are related to the kids they are supposed to be caring for.  No problems there.

    DeputyHeadmistress (none / 0) (#45)
    by lizpolaris on Sat May 31, 2008 at 06:08:13 AM EST
    You have a high user ID so I'll assume that you meant to rate my comment as a 5 (which is the good).  I have no problem with you giving me a troll-rating (which is the 1) if you think it's justified, but you'd better leave a comment explaining why you troll-rate me (or any other time you do it) - precisely what about my comment do you see as troll-worthy?  Since I made the comment, I must be clueless about why it's objectionable, so you need to enlighten me.

    Happy rating!


    I am really torn about this...especially after (3.00 / 2) (#1)
    by PssttCmere08 on Thu May 29, 2008 at 05:37:05 PM EST
    other cases where sending children back to their parents doesn't seem to be the best thing for them....

    I'm ambivalent about it too (1.00 / 1) (#14)
    by stillife on Thu May 29, 2008 at 06:05:15 PM EST
    I've been following this story for months - Warren Jeffs' polygamist sect got a lot of airplay on CNN back when I was watching that channel.  I believe that these sects are nothing more than cults and are  abusive to women and children.  I guess the TX officials didn't have enough probable cause to keep the children from their parents, but I feel sorry for those kids.  And I have to say it galls me how these polygamist sects "bleed the beast" (i.e., play the system) to collect welfare.

    On The View today they showed a photo of (1.00 / 1) (#16)
    by PssttCmere08 on Thu May 29, 2008 at 06:13:21 PM EST
    Warren Jeffs kissing (full on the lips) his 12-year-old wife....what mother would let that kind of stuff go on?

    See (1.00 / 1) (#17)
    by Emma on Thu May 29, 2008 at 06:13:54 PM EST
    the posts at Corrente.  It's horrifying.

    Thanks...to my mind, those kinds of mothers (1.00 / 1) (#19)
    by PssttCmere08 on Thu May 29, 2008 at 06:16:50 PM EST
    should not be allowed to keep their children.

    I suspect (1.00 / 1) (#26)
    by Lil on Thu May 29, 2008 at 07:27:15 PM EST
    that these types of moms are the one who grew up getting kissed at age 12. This is about patriarchy, power and control, and abuse of women an children. A sort of Stockholm syndrome sets in.

    I understand and can agree with that.... (1.00 / 1) (#34)
    by PssttCmere08 on Thu May 29, 2008 at 09:23:04 PM EST
    however, at some level I think all of us should question what is right and what is wrong....someone who is pure evil would be the exception to that rule.

    there's organized abuse... (1.00 / 1) (#28)
    by Salo on Thu May 29, 2008 at 08:24:58 PM EST
    ...but the legal rules are the rules.

    The family protective service (3.00 / 1) (#10)
    by oculus on Thu May 29, 2008 at 05:47:18 PM EST
    has the ability to continue its investigation and, if the agency feels it has to pick up any of the children later in the best interests of the child, I am hopeful the agency will do so.  

    ...time to return these children to their parents (3.00 / 2) (#22)
    by Tatarize on Thu May 29, 2008 at 06:34:29 PM EST
    One of the issues with the case is that the kids aren't being raised by their parents. Mothers often have their kids taken and raised by caretakers. After all, you can't have your 15 year old wife with some kids kicking around. Better to let your older wives take care of them. At least until the kids are old enough to be either divided up amongst the old men of town or left by the side of the road to fend for themselves, depending on their gender.

    Yeah, give them back. There is no sign of immediate abuse.

    Both girls AND boys are abused at YFZ (1.00 / 1) (#43)
    by Niffari on Fri May 30, 2008 at 10:30:16 AM EST
    We all know that it is practice at YFZ to marry underage girls to older men. That's nothing more than child rape. Warren Jeffs sets the example and he is worshipped as the prophet.

    Boys OTOH are groomed as molesters. It may take several years, but it will occur to most if not all boys when they reach 18 or 19. Do you ever think about the boy, just in his early 20's, who was convicted of his cousin's rape? All thanks to Warren Jeffs. How did this young man have a chance when the Phophet ordered him to marry his first cousin and consumate the marriage, all against her will? I feel sorry for him. He's in state prison too, I believe. Yet another victim of this bizarre cult.


    I was afraid this would happen... (3.00 / 1) (#31)
    by Leisa on Thu May 29, 2008 at 08:39:23 PM EST
    When I heard about this, I thought that these children were being further traumatized...  Why did the state not build a case to get the men and remove them from that ranch???  

    These mothers and their children have been indoctrinated into this culture and they all are completely isolated from the outside world.  I believe that the intervention was mishandled completely here in TX...  

    I think that we are looking at a very complex situation that needs more sophisticated handling than the state of TX started.  What a travesty for these women and their children.  How will the outside world gain their trust now?  They need our help and we just confirmed to them that we are unjust.  Did we just pile on abuse?  It was the women and the children that were paraded to the media...  I do not think that the victims were protected in this case.

    Do I remember correctly that (1.00 / 1) (#3)
    by zfran on Thu May 29, 2008 at 05:39:21 PM EST
    the only children who were checked for abuse were those of pubity age, not the younger ones, or am I not remembering correctly?

    Polygami is illegal, but (1.00 / 1) (#8)
    by felizarte on Thu May 29, 2008 at 05:42:58 PM EST
    this was not the crime charged here.  And besides, it would have to be the man that should be charged, not the children or the women.

    You should (1.00 / 1) (#15)
    by Emma on Thu May 29, 2008 at 06:12:31 PM EST
    read the dissent.  The people at YFZ were actively impeding any investigation, lying about who they were, lying about their children, lying about their ages.  I agree with the dissent, there was cause to believe these children were in danger and the active efforts to impede investigations made lesser remedies unlikely to protect the children.

    As I mentioned earlier...there are photos (1.00 / 1) (#18)
    by PssttCmere08 on Thu May 29, 2008 at 06:15:40 PM EST
    circulating of Jeffs kissing his 12-year-old bride...in my book that isn't right and her mother should be held accountable for letting her go with Jeffs.

    I agree. How is allowing your children (1.00 / 1) (#21)
    by Joan in VA on Thu May 29, 2008 at 06:31:57 PM EST
    to be raped not child abuse anywhere else? This group has 5 compounds in different states and Canada they they move these girls around to. No telling how many children are actually abused. There has got to be some way to stop it. The authorities have known about this for a long time but have been unable to act. The phone call was their first opportunity but now shown to be useless. So these folks will just continue their sick lifestyle.

    deep cover agents. (1.00 / 1) (#30)
    by Salo on Thu May 29, 2008 at 08:30:16 PM EST
    But that's precluded now of course.

    What are the public misconceptions? (1.00 / 1) (#24)
    by bjorn on Thu May 29, 2008 at 06:48:05 PM EST
    Warren Jeffs is a cult leader.  There is lots of evidence not just perception.  

    What if it was homicide instead? (1.00 / 1) (#25)
    by Joan in VA on Thu May 29, 2008 at 06:55:00 PM EST
    Should they step in if it were ritual human sacrifice as a religious practice? I'm sure you'd say yes. No religious tenets should override the laws of this country. The public's opinion should have no bearing on that. Maybe it does but it shouldn't.

    This is an outrage (1.00 / 1) (#27)
    by Foxx on Thu May 29, 2008 at 07:27:42 PM EST
    These girls are sex slaves. They have been indoctrinated from the minute they were born that they are NOTHING. What kind of lives can they possibly have? I am shocked that anyone would think children should be allowed to remain in that cult. You need to get some empathy and understand what is really going on.

    shouldn't this be done with undercover (1.00 / 1) (#29)
    by Salo on Thu May 29, 2008 at 08:28:30 PM EST

    There have to be Mormoms who are willing and eager to crack the abuse rings. One well placed agent could have nailed the ring leader's asses to the walll.

    statutory rape (1.00 / 1) (#33)
    by diogenes on Thu May 29, 2008 at 09:07:35 PM EST
    Why not just decide that 13 year old mothers are victims of statutory rape, get a probable cause evidence warrant, get DNA of all the men, and charge the fathers.  Do this a few times and the cult members will stop fathering children with underage teens, at least.

    Lost Boys (1.00 / 0) (#38)
    by DeputyHeadmistress on Thu May 29, 2008 at 11:43:31 PM EST
    Abandoning boys: it keeps getting brought up, but most of these families are headed by fathers who aren't even old enough to have teens (most of them are in their 30s or less).  And there is no evidence even hinted at by the state that they have abandoned any boys.  The discrepancy between teen girl and boy numbers alters drastically when you remove the 26 'minor' girls who turned out to be adults.  And isn't it interesting that CPS did not make that error with any of the boys?  There are no 'disputed minor' boys.  Curious.

    what is about (5.00 / 1) (#41)
    by Jlvngstn on Fri May 30, 2008 at 10:17:54 AM EST
    the facts she presented that so bothers you? You don't have to agree the principles of a people to defend them or lay out a set of facts that the MSM is not laying out for you. I appreciate the headmistress laying this out, it gives us perspective that we don't get from other sources. IF you believe what the MSM says, it is just a big rape farm run by pedophiles and heretics. I may not agree with their lifestyle but I am hard pressed to believe everything the msm tells me. Where are those weapons of mass destruction anyway?

    No, The Courts have failed the children (1.00 / 1) (#42)
    by Niffari on Fri May 30, 2008 at 10:23:56 AM EST
    Particularly the female children. The overwhelming evidence of YFZ and FLDS is of a sect that actively engages in child molestation AKA "spiritual marriages." The state will now have to hunt down each individual family unit, a near impossibility given the tangled web of deception the sect practices. How then does one find out who is what child's parent? How do you tell if a mother has older children, hidden from authorities, which would label her a victim of her older husband's child rape?

    This is the problem. The state already has clear evidence of 5 mothers who are underage. That's rape. It also clearly occurs with the knowledge and consent of the child's parents. That's conspiracy to commit rape. One child rape is an outrage. 5 is a trend. Toss in those nauseating phots of Warren Jeffs with his "wives" AKA little girls and it's pattern and practice. How in the heck did Texas find for the sect? It's appalling.

    I would be interested to learn if (none / 0) (#13)
    by oculus on Thu May 29, 2008 at 06:04:38 PM EST
    any of the commenters here have practiced juvenile dependency law.  

    Welfare Fraud and the YfZ families (none / 0) (#35)
    by DeputyHeadmistress on Thu May 29, 2008 at 11:32:05 PM EST
    They aren't on Welfare:   "Albert Hawkins, the state's executive commissioner for health and human services, said it was unclear whether members of the sect have private insurance. He also said that officials have found no evidence that anyone from the sect is receiving any sort of public assistance."

    and even if they had been- I wasn't aware that being on Welfare was just and legal cause for removal of your children.

    Sexual Assault of Minors (none / 0) (#36)
    by DeputyHeadmistress on Thu May 29, 2008 at 11:38:41 PM EST
    I apologize in advance for the length of this:

    The state kept saying it had 31 girls from 13-17 who were pregnant or had children.  They would not provide an age break down.  As their cases went to court, 26 of those minors turned out to be 22, 20, 26, 27, and 18.  Their attorneys have told the court that these women showed their i.d. to CPS long before CPS stuck them in foster care as minors. CPS refused to accept it.

     One of the girls is 14, and she is not pregnant nor is she married. Her attorney had to fight to get that admitted to the record- Walthers said it was irrelevant.  What CPS ended up with is FIVE girls from 16-17- four of them are or will be 18 this year.
    No 13 year olds.  No 14 year olds.  No 15 year olds. This pregnancy rate is not much different from the mainstream, in fact, since they do not use birth control, it's lower than the number of sexually active girls this age in the mainstream.
    One of them is married to man less than three years older than she.  One is married to a man less than five years older.  I don't know about the remaining three, except that I think one of them is much older.

    The two mothers who gave birth in custody and CPS took custody of their newborns?  On documents submitted to the court at the 14 day hearing, CPS had their names and birth years correctly noted.  And one of them was shown to be 22 and one 18- yet four weeks later, CPS was still saying they were minors- until hours after they gave birth.

    There were 15 adults whom CPS claimed had become mothers as minors- but they all happened several years ago- at least one of them became a mother 8 years ago, and we don't know where she lived and the laws of that state at that time.

     From the 3rd Court's ruling: "* *There was no evidence that the male children, or the female children who had not reached puberty, were victims of sexual or other physical abuse or in danger of being victims of sexual or other physical abuse;

        * *While there was evidence that twenty females had become pregnant between the ages of thirteen and seventeen, there was no evidence regarding the marital status of these girls when they became pregnant or the circumstances under which they became pregnant other than the general allegation that the girls were living in an FLDS community with a belief system that condoned underage marriage and sex; (7)

        * *There was no evidence that any of the female children other than the five identified as having become pregnant between the ages of fifteen and seventeen were victims or potential victims of sexual or other physical abuse;

        * *With the exception of the five female children identified as having become pregnant between the ages of fifteen and seventeen, there was no evidence of any physical abuse or harm to any other child;

    "  there was no evidence regarding the marital status of these girls when they became pregnant or the circumstances under which they became pregnant other than the general allegation that the girls were living in an FLDS community that condoned underage marriage and sex."

    I do think there is cause to investigate further, and I think that is what will happen- the state will keep the teen girls.  But it wasn't cause to take away 450 children, separate them from siblings and put them in foster shelters spread across the state.

    thank you (5.00 / 1) (#40)
    by Jlvngstn on Fri May 30, 2008 at 10:13:00 AM EST
    headmistress. It is nice to see the facts as opposed to the sensational crap on MSM. I agree that investigation may be warranted but within the bounds of the law and without ripping kids away from their parents (irrespective of how wildly different my views on parenting are from theirs). The state completely overstepped its authority and the MSM continues to milk this thing for as much ad revenue as possible...

    The nasty Warren Jeffs photo (none / 0) (#37)
    by DeputyHeadmistress on Thu May 29, 2008 at 11:41:59 PM EST
     CPS won't authenticate it or say where they got it.  There is no evidence that other members in the community knew about it.  Marriages are not the big shindig ceremony that we think of- sometimes only the fathers and the minister are present with the couple, and the community finds out they're married when she moves in with the groom.
    I know it seems impossible, but it is also not unheard of for marriages to be performed for reasons other than sex- bonding two families, seeking power, etc- and they are not always consummated.  The date on that photo indicates it happened while Warren was on the run from the FBI, so it's quite reasonable that it would have been secret.  Since they believe that marriages continue in the afterlife, and the purpose of marriages HERE is to be wed eternally there, where you will procreate for all eternity while peopling your own earth, they just don't see an unconsummated marriage, or delayed consummation, quite the same way we would.
    The photo is reason to hold the family of that girl (they do know who her father is) and to look closer into Warren's behaviour.  But there's nothing there that justifies holding 450 children from the community.
    A blogger with contacts with the community tells me that the girl has been examined by a doctor and she's still a virgin. I do not know if that's true. I just know that while it would be strange in our culture, it's quite compatible with theirs.  Being married to the prophet in the 'afterlife' would be quite a coup. It would not even keep her from being married to somebody else during her lifetime- they have marriages just for time, and marriages for eternity.

    Owen, I am not FLDS or LDS. I am not associated with any polygamous group. I do not approve of polygamy, and I do not share the general doctrinal beliefs and practices of the FLDS.
    The FLDS have many practices foreign to mainstream culture, some of which I share (I am a homeschooler. My family doesn't do television. We are Christians), some of which are abhorrent to me (their "prophet" past and present, polygamy), and some of which are just different in a neutral fashion (dress, diet).  But individuals within that group vary and have a right to defend themselves on an individual rather than group basis.  That's not what has happened.  This has been a trial of a religious group, and merely being a member of the group and  I do like our Constitution, and I value certain constitutional freedoms that I believe CPS and Walthers violated.
    I am concerned about some practices on the Ranch, but I also believe that the way CPS handled this has pretty much precluded any successful prosecution of any crimes, and the remedy, particularly for children under 5, inflicted a known and certain trauma on young children who were in no danger of abuse for years to come- according to the state's own expert witness, and that abuse was a 'belief system' alleged to be shared by the group- without any questioning of individual members to see where they did or didn't agree with those beliefs. Many do not practice under-aged marriage.
    Civilized jurisprudence focuses on individuals and their actions, not on groups and their beliefs.

    I also know that there are unlikely to be anywhere near the numbers of pregnant teens and abused girls that CPS claims.
    The stories of pregnant 13 and 14 year olds are largely mythical.  The single alleged 13 year old mother is now 22, an she didn't live in Texas when it happened, and we aren't sure she actually has an 8 year old.  CPS Agent Angie Voss says she does.  Angie Voss is also the one responsible for holding a 22 year old in custody against her will, insisting that she was a minor child- in spite of the fact that documents Voss submitted to the court at the 14 day hearing showed that pregnant adult's proper birthyear, making her 22 years old.

    Angie Voss removed the children on the basis that she saw pregnant minors.  She knew they were pregnant minors because they looked like minors to her (in spite of the driver's licenses), and they were undeniably pregnant.  Problem: the only two to give birth so far are 18 and 22 years of age. So Voss did not see any pregnant minors.
    A third 'pregnant' minor is indeed a minor- she's 14.  But she's also not pregnant, and the court has had to admit that.

    The 3rd Court also noted:

    "The Department conceded at the hearing that teenage pregnancy, by itself, is not a reason to remove children from their home and parents, but took the position that immediate removal was necessary in this case because 'there is a mindset that even the young girls report that they will marry at whatever age, and that it's the highest blessing they can have to have children.'"
    "  there was no evidence regarding the marital status of these girls when they became pregnant or the circumstances under which they became pregnant other than the general allegation that the girls were living in an FLDS community that condoned underage marriage and sex."

    You may not like what the FLDS believe about children being the highest blessing- but it is a belief that is constitutionally protected. CPS admittedly removed these children because of *beliefs.
    And you may be concerned about the five pregnant teens (four of whom will be 18 this year), as am I.  But CPS had an obligation to find out some things before they took away the children, such as... who were the men?  Were they other boys?  Angie Voss was asked this in court, and she said she didn't know if she'd tried to find out or not.
    They needed to ascertain marital status, and they didn't even try.
    The State of Texas changed the age of marriage with parental consent from 14 to 16 in Sept of 2005, less than 36 months ago.  According to Rep. Hilderbran, the lawmaker responsible for spearheading that change, he did it entirely to stop the FLDS from flourishing in Texas. He also tried to push through some legislative changes targeted at making it harder for the FLDS to vote, but that didn't make it through.
    They also changed the bigamy laws, making it a felony, and you are committing bigamy in Texas if you 'give the appearance of being married' whatever that means, while you are married to another.
    So it's difficult to see this process as some noble endeavor to Save the Children rather than an effort to stamp out a religious sect that Texas finds embarrassing.

    Furthermore, the 3rd Court of Appeals noted:

    Texas law allows minors to marry--as young as age sixteen with parental consent and younger than sixteen if pursuant to court order. Tex. Fam. Code Ann. § 2.101 (West 2006), §§ 2.102-.103 (West Supp. 2007).

    So when Texas changed the marriage laws less than 36 months ago, they still left an opening for children under 16 to marry- with court order.  I am not saying the FLDS have a court order (I am reasonably sure they do not).  But I am saying it was wrong to take away 450+/- children on the basis of one pregnant 16 year old and four 17 year olds with babies on the basis of an activity the court sanctions under certain conditions, without finding out if those conditions were met- without the state even trying to find out if the girls were married, if they'd conceived in Texas or in another state where the age of consent is below 16, or if the fathers were 40 years old or 19.

    The double standard is even clearer when we note that these are all the minor mothers they have, the FLDS do not use birth control, and in the 'mainstream,' 1/4 of teenaged girls have had at least one STD and Texas has the highest teen pregnancy rate of the nation- and nationwide, 40 percent of teen pregnancies are, in fact, fathered by adult men.

    Finally, the ruling left open the possibility of Walthers keeping the pubescent girls while the state continues its investigations, which I think would have been reasonable at the start, and I think that's what she'll do.