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Polygamy update

Its always so gratifying when you can say “I told you so”, especially when you have an appellate court backing you up.

As I noted a month ago, it seemed to me there were serious questions about the State of Texas taking custody of all 460-odd children living at the YFZ Ranch, a fundamentalist polygamy sect located in Eldorado, Texas, just south of my home in San Angelo.

Background (shamefully omitted from my first post): The YFZ (Yearning For Zion) Ranch was founded by the FLDS (Fundamentalist Latter-Day Saints) a few years ago. The FLDS split off from mainstream Mormons back when the Mormons officially gave up polygamy. They have run into trouble with the law at some of their other locations, and their current “Prophet”, one Warren Jeffs, is actually serving time as an accessory to (statutory) rape in connection with an underage marriage in his church. Their Eldorado ranch was raided after an anonymous call, since determined to have been a hoax, in which a “16 year old girl” (actually a woman in her thirties with no connection to the FLDS) claimed to have been beaten and raped there.

The Texas Court of Appeals heard an appeal relating to the seizure of children at the ranch, and threw the state out on its ear. Basically, the Court of Appeals found that the state had presented no evidence that met the statutory requirements for summarily seizing children from their parents, namely, that the children were in imminent physical danger and that there was no alternative to seizing them.

The appeal related only to 38 children, and so its not entirely clear yet exactly what its effect will be on the other 400-odd children (the number jumps around as some are found to be adults, and others are born). The language of the opinion is pretty sweeping, though. The state presented exactly the same case with respect to all of the children, and the Court of Appeals even indulged in a bit of obiter dicta, noting (even though none of the children in the appeal were pubescent girls) that the state had not even presented evidence that the pubescent girls at the ranch were in imminent physical danger.

The local court was in the process of grinding through the “60 day hearings” (so called because the state has to come back and make a full case 60 days after the emergency seizures). An attorney I know who is involved in the case told me the 60 day hearings had been cancelled. At this point, I see little alternative for the state other than returning the children to the ranch, but the state has obviously been planning to shut down the YFZ Ranch for some time, and I don’t expect it to just give up and go home. Careers are on the line, after all.

Certainly the FLDS is a distasteful lot, but this seems a pretty clear case of state overreach. The core of the state’s case can be fairly summarized as a claim that being raised in the FLDS is per se abuse. The Court of Appeals declined to start down that dangerous road, and should be applauded for it.

17 comments to Polygamy update

  • Andrew Duffin

    This could never happen in the UK, thank goodness.

    All our family court hearings are held in secret, with no publicity or journalists present, and the parents of removed children are threatened – quite plausibly – with even worse outcomes if they tell anyone what is going on.

    So the State never gets embarassed by anything as unpleasant as losing a case, and the careers of all concerned are perfectly safe.

  • Super-Electro-Magnetic Midget Launcher

    Lots of people don’t seem to know much about Mormons, so in fairness, it might be worth noting exactly “when the Mormons officially gave up polygamy”: 1890(Link). Which isn’t to say that the stuff they do still believe isn’t pretty damn weird.

  • permanentexpat

    The whole thing is a great pity for all concerned. In a sovereign state, the constitution of which separates church & state, there should be no ‘ifs or buts’. And everybody, including lawyers, should be absolutely aware of the dichotomy.
    I have enormous sympathy for those with strong (religious) beliefs…but the idea of religious freedom must be within the secular law, for the common good.
    I have no objection to polygamy whatsoever but if one practices it in a country which forbids it one is clearly breaking the law…just as much as if one commits a robbery.
    The simple recourse is to move to some country in which it is legal…but this is neither practical nor acceptable. Far simpler and more practical is to change the secular law…but that, for the majority, would be unacceptable.
    Where to go?…what to do?

  • Laird

    I’m not sure of the significance of this, but the appellate court did not order the immediate return of the children to their parents (mothers?), it merely ordered the lower court to vacate its order. Perhaps this is merely an artifact of the Texas legal system, or of the nature of the action (a mandamus proceeding), but it seems to me that the appellate court should have vacated that order itself. As far as I know those children are still in the custody of the state. That should be rectified immediately.

  • I have no objection to polygamy whatsoever but if one practices it in a country which forbids it one is clearly breaking the law…just as much as if one commits a robbery.

    No, not really, as I would argue that robbery is objectively immoral and illegal (unless the state sanctions it, that is), whereas polygamy is merely illegal.

    But is that the key issue? If a law makes immoral demands (and a great many laws do), then one must decide which matters more, the value of the rule of law or your own moral theories. Uually once a law is seen as immoral in its intentions, the issues become largely practical (i.e how does one thwart the state at an acceptable risk to yourself).

  • Dr. Kenneth Noisewater

    At least in the US, the news is also pretty thick with allegations that a number of the underage girls (married or no) in this compound were bearing children?

    Any way you slice it, that points to crime, and putting a stop to that IMO is what the police are good for.

    Of course, if that charge is trumped up and there was no sexual abuse of minors (which all sexual activity between adults and minors is by definition) then prosecute the accusers and prosecutors..

  • Virginia

    The self-proclaimed prophet Joseph Smith started polygamy in the 1800′s he had 34 wives the youngest was 14 years old.
    Polygamy in the u.s.a. has been going-on for more than 100 years and it is againt the law. There were three previous raids without making the life of those women safer or changing a thing. Within the compound there are men with jobs as police officers and law enforcement officers who do not give a damm about the law.
    MANN ACT prohibits white slavery. It also banned the interstate transport of females for immoral purposes. The Court decided that a person can be prosecuted under the Mann Act even when married to the woman if the marriage is polygamous. Thus polygamous marriage was determined to be an immoral purpose.”
    Forcing 14, 15 even 16 years old to spiritually wed a 60 years old bag it is very inmmoral.
    Is it ever going to stop?

  • Michiganny

    It was stunning to see the TX Supreme Court actually protect citizens from the government.

    And of course the phone call was a hoax. It was obvious from the start. We do an awesome job in this country formulating the false casus belli du jour. The funny thing is that tired old ones have life, too. You still have Kim Du Toit saying Ted Kennedy is both a limousine liberal and a communist-tinged traitor (Stalin would’ve loved Ted’s pa, right?), every edition of Lou Dobbs’s show doing its utmost to demonize people for the crime of their Mexican birth, and the government saying it can destroy communities in Texas for the sake of their own children.

    I only wish we’d inject a little versimilitude into the following topics:

    *Gay Marriage. We can’t keep the darkies from marrying our women, but we’ll sure as shit keep the faggots from getting hitched. We fear our sons will cry out to be diddled.

    *The Middle East. We ruin oil-rich countries because we want oil profits going to Wall Street, not to towelheads trading in their camels for Gulfstreams.

    *Latin America, Damn Near Anywhere Else, Certainly Texas. As a rule, we will fuck with anybody who believes any creed that is not well represented in Ivy League common rooms. Or Texas Friends of Police ice cream socials.

  • Rich Paul

    The simple recourse is to move to some country in which it is legal…but this is neither practical nor acceptable. Far simpler and more practical is to change the secular law…but that, for the majority, would be unacceptable.
    Where to go?…what to do?

    This is why the Founding Fathers wrote the First Amendment. This is an explicitly antidemocratic measure which is designed to protect the minority from the whim of the majority. The laws against polygamy in America are invalid on their faith, because they prevent Mormons, Muslims, Primitive Christians (some sects of which practiced polygamy), and some (very few) sects of Jews from the free exercise of Religion.

    The self-proclaimed prophet Joseph Smith started polygamy in the 1800′s he had 34 wives the youngest was 14 years old.

    The self-proclaimed part is cute loaded language, but I’m not aware of any prophet who was not self-proclaimed. Jesus made statements which clearly implied that he was not like other people, and not in a short-bus sort of way.

    Joeseph Smith did not invent polygamy, though he did found one of the religions which practices it. Polygamy is a ancient practice, generally (AFAIKT) designed to quickly increase the population of it’s practicioners by creating pressure on women to stay within the group, while at the same time encouraging men to look outside the group for mates.

    As for the age of his youngest wife, customs were once very different. Life spans were shorter, and economic survival was much more difficult. Marriages were earlier. Sorry. That’s just the way it was. It amazes me that people so consistently condemn earlier generations for not living by the ethical systems we have since devised, especially because the ethical systems we have since devised are based on the ethical systems they were devising at the time.

    Forcing 14, 15 even 16 years old to spiritually wed a 60 years old bag it is very inmmoral.
    Is it ever going to stop?

    Of course the force is only tangentially connected to polygamy. The connection is that because polygamy is illegal, people who are the victims of real crimes cannot report them, because they have been forced underground.

    This is no different from the lack of quality control in illegal drugs, or the unwillingness of prostitutes to report assults against them. All you have to do is repeal the Christianity Enforcement Acts, and all these problems would be addressable.

  • Rich Paul

    … invalid on their faith …

    That should read “invalid on their face”.

  • krm

    If sodomty is now constytutionally protected activity, as well as casual promiscuity, why is it possible to ban limited/longterm multiple partner deals that are much closer to the traditionally protected marriage arrangments?

  • R C Dean

    At least in the US, the news is also pretty thick with allegations that a number of the underage girls (married or no) in this compound were bearing children?

    Any way you slice it, that points to crime,

    Perhaps, but CPS doesn’t go around impounding every pregnant teenager. If they did, they would have tens of thousands of kids in custody. Its pretty clear that merely being pregnant is not ipso facto abuse or neglect that warrants emergency action by the state.

    I have no objection to polygamy whatsoever but if one practices it in a country which forbids it one is clearly breaking the law…just as much as if one commits a robbery.

    The FLDS does not commit polygamy as defined by state law, because it does not claim that its “spiritual unions” are marriages. In some ways, it is the reciprocal of the civil unions bandied about as a possible solution to the gay marriage issue – their spiritual unions are church-only, no state, while civil unions are state-only, no church.

    I’m not sure of the significance of this, but the appellate court did not order the immediate return of the children to their parents (mothers?), it merely ordered the lower court to vacate its order.

    I’m not an appellate lawyer, but that’s a pretty common formulation for appeals courts – they are reviewing and directing their action at the lower court, not at the litigants directly. It may also have something to do with the “writ of mandamus” that this appeal was seeking.

  • Rich Paul

    I have no objection to polygamy whatsoever but if one practices it in a country which forbids it one is clearly breaking the law…just as much as if one commits a robbery.

    Ask yourself this:

    Is morality important because it is a reflection of law, or is law important because it is a reflection of morality?

    I would argue the second case, and since somebody who marries two consenting adults, of any gender, has committed no moral infraction (that is, has not initiated force against any other human), I don’t much care what the law says about it. Of course, I would think twice about doing it, because it is contrary to my self-interest to be kidnapped by the FCES — the Fundamentalist Christian Enforcement Squads.

  • KTEL60

    Texas, by God. That’s all I can say

  • Sunfish

    Any way you slice it, that points to crime, and putting a stop to that IMO is what the police are good for.

    Maybe.

    I don’t know Texas’ age-of-consent laws. All I know are those in my own state, where it is entirely possible for a 15-year-old to have sex and get pregnant without a crime occurring.

    In the case at hand, it was still worth investigating. However, just because you smell smoke does not amount to being able to prove to a court that there was actually a fire. And IMHO this case is the classic example of the difference between “What I know” and “What I can prove.” I find it entirely plausible that adults were tapping teenagers in this instance. But, very simply, you don’t arrest or seize without some proof and you don’t convict or terminate parental rights without more than just “some” proof.

    So, I’ll stand by what I said the last time we had this discussion: “Maybe the authorities were thinking X, Y, and Z, but I’d rather wait for the evidence and let a court unscrew this mess.” Trying to understand anything about the legal system from mass-media coverage is like trying to eat soup with chopsticks. You get people who see something sensational on the front page when the story first breaks, internalize it right then, ignore or discount the retraction on page 43 a week later, and are now worked-up over something that didn’t actually happen.

    BTW, Michiganny: that’s a new low even for you.

  • Darryl

    I have been watching this story and am gleeful that the appellate court reversed this one.

    The basis of the state ripping these children from their parents was the hoax phone call. We can probably assume that the state (or rather, the people there who pick which cases to pursue) wanted to shut these folks down because of their polygamist practices.

    It is probably the case that the children there werent in any more danger than any in America who are forced to live in poor neighborhoods. Polygamy, like smoking pot, is not inherently an immoral act, except that it is defined that way by the majority.

    This case is far from over, but, I am chalking this up to a small victory for liberty, and the notion that people have the right to free association.