Why I'm Uncomfortable With The Texas Polygamy Raid

You've all no doubt watched the proceedings over the last 2 months: Texas Child Protective Services ("CPS") seized 460+ children from the FLDS (a splinter Mormon sect) and put them all in state custody. I initially watched the proceedings with fascination, and several questions came to my mind. Then as the days continued on and the answers to those questions were not forthcoming, I became increasingly uncomfortable with what Texas had done. I kept my misgivings mostly to myself, sharing them only with a few friends and waiting for the courts to sort it all out. But on May 22 the Texas Third Court of Appeals ruled that the state's grounds for removing the children were "legally and factually insufficient."

Time to speak up.

First, my up-front disclaimer: I believe the FLDS is a cult with a severely warped worldview. I fully support the illegality of polygamy and underage marriage (2 things this group is known for), and I think they could scarcely be more wrong about their ideas of God, themselves, and the world.

Having said that, I am greatly troubled by what appears to be a grave breach of civil rights in this case. What the Texas CPS did is unprecedented: never before has so large a custody sweep taken place, and with so little evidence to justify it. The phone call which prompted the raid in the first place is looking increasingly like it was a hoax. What's more, the abuse allegation surrounded teenage girls who were forced into underage marriages; yet all 460+ children were seized despite the fact that most of them are boys and very young girls - kids that not even CPS says were being abused.

To justify such unprecedented categorical action, CPS has argued that the FLDS was brainwashing all the children into abusive thinking, which justifies the seizure of many kids who weren't actually being abused. That line of thinking is scary to me. This kind of "guilt by association" logic with no hard evidence behind it is what dictatorships use to violate their citizens. "You read the wrong books, so for your own protection we're sending you to the state re-education program."

It did not escape my notice that these proceedings were happening in Texas at precisely the same time the State of California was trying to remove it's citizens right to homeschool their kids if they so choose. You see, while most Americans (including me) think the FLDS cult is sick and wierd, an increasing number of Americans think anyone who takes their Christian faith seriously is similarly sick and wierd. To many nowadays, a parent who sends his child to a Christian summer camp, or to a Catholic parochial school, or (gasp!) homeschools his kids is no different than this Texas cult. It's all religious brainwashing, and thus no less subject to state interference. We've already had the rabidly anti-theistic Richard Dawkins argue that parents passing on religious belief to their children is itself a form of child abuse.
And the book in which he says this is a bestseller.

An interesting hypothetical: our government says a girl has a right to an abortion. Yet if her parents raise her to believe that abortion is morally wrong, are the parents subject to state coercion for denying their daughter her rights and thus "abusing" her? Using the logic of the Texas CPS, the answer would be yes.
The religious freedom and civil rights implications of this case in Texas cannot be overlooked. This is the real reason America has a church/state separation in the first place: to protect the citizens and their practice of faith from state coercion (the fact that such a separation has been used to marginilize religious people in public life is ridiculous, but that's a subject for another day).
Now let me say that if in fact some FLDS girls were married off before their legal age, that's statutory rape and the law should be enforced. One cannot do anything one wants in the name of religion. But this nation has always placed significant restrictions on the government's ability to control the lives of it's citizens, and for good reason. Based on what I've read, I simply do not believe the State of Texas had sufficient grounds to act so broadly against the FLDS.

I'm glad the appellate court agrees with that assessment.


Ken said...

You figured I would respond to this one, right? I have a lot to say on these topics, but I'll try and stay focused...

First, on the California case. I was actually in Los Angeles when that decision came down. The group that brought the complaint did not intend those consequences. The original action was an effort to force specific children who were being abused to attend public schools because it was a manner in which to keep them safe. In this instance, the judge completely overstepped his authority in bringing down the whole home-school program. With the proper controls in place, homeschooling can be just as effective as long as the parents also take actions to properly socialize their kids.

On the FLDS case, a lot of it disturbs me. I understand that, at the time, Texas CPS was responding to what they thought was a legitimate issue, but to treat the entire ranch as one household is simply not right. There is a gross violation of civil liberties going on here. Once the claim was investigated and determined to be a hoax, the children should have been returned to their parents and the authorities should have apologized.

There are two things that make this country great. The first is that we are a country of law, and we respect the rule of law (although you could call us hypocrites to a certain extent for our behavior elsewhere, but that's a story for another time). The second is our respect for civil liberties. There is a reason the First Amendment is, well, first. Just because we do not approve of someone's religious beliefs does not mean that we can attack them for it. If specific laws were broken, those need to be addressed. However, to say that their faith inherently indoctrinates them to be co-conspirators? That's a stretch.

I believe the FLDS at YFZ Ranch will have the last laugh here - I heard they request 600 voter registration forms. The residents of El Dorado's worst fear may ultimately come true - a group this size will be able to dominate politics in this stretch of Texas.

I also have issues with the media's portrayal of the FLDS, but that's a topic for another time.

On a lighter note, Matt - I'm not wholly surprised that you would think a group that doesn't allow consumption of coffee has a skewed worldview. But that's the pot calling the kettle black...

Matt Guerino said...

"On a lighter note, Matt - I'm not wholly surprised that you would think a group that doesn't allow consumption of coffee has a skewed worldview. But that's the pot calling the kettle black..."

Touche! I have no comeback...


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