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Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints

Seizure of children by the state: 2008-APR

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About the Yearning for Zion ranch:

Most of the FLDS' members are located in the twin cities of Colorado City, AZ and Hildale, UT. A separate colony of about 1,000 members live in Bountiful, British Columbia, Canada. In 2004-MAY, the FLDS announced that a new church location would be established in Schleiser County, TX, about four miles northeast of Eldorado. Here, the FLDS constructed the Yearning for Zion (YFZ) ranch on nearly 1,700 acres of land. It currently has 35 structures: 14 log buildings, four large metal buildings, and a large stone temple.

Concern about the FLDS and their alleged practice of marrying middle aged men to young girls motivated Texas lawmakers to pass a law in 2005 that increased the minimum age for marriage from 14 to 16 years. 1

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Seizure of FLDS children at the YFZ ranch near Eldorado, TX:

bullet2008-APR-03: An anonymous 16-year-old FLDS girl phoned an abuse hotline repeated times. She said that her name was Sarah, that she is a mother of an eight-month-old baby, and that she was pregnant for the second time. She said that she had been sexually and physically abused by her year old husband. Various sources give his age as 49 and 50. Acting on the complaint, the police raided the temple of the FLDS' YFZ ranch. By APR-05, 183 people had been removed from the ranch, including about 97 girls and 40 boys. Darrell Azar, spokesperson for state Child Protective Services said that 18 girls, who the state believes "had been abused or were at immediate risk of future abuse," were taken into state custody.
bulletAPR-06: The LDS Church in Salt Lake City issued a news release concerning polygamy:

"The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints reiterated Sunday that it has no affiliation whatever with a polygamous sect in Texas that has been subject to investigation by state law enforcement officers and child protective services. The Church discontinued polygamy officially in 1890, but more than a century later some news and Internet reports fail to draw clear distinctions between the Church and practicing polygamous sects." 2

The LDS Church regards themselves as the only legitimate Mormon church; it does not refer to the FLDS as a Mormon faith group.

By APR-06, 60 adults and 159 children had been removed from the ranch. An arrest warrant had been issued for Dale Evans Barlow, 50, who authorities believe had fathered a child with his 16-year-old wife. 3

bulletAPR-15: The number of children removed had increased to 416.
bulletAPR-17: Testimony began at Tom Green County Court. According to the Nancy Grace Weekend program on 2008-APR-26, the mothers outnumbered the fathers in court by a ratio of about 50 to 1. The prosecution attempted to prove the existence of under-age marriages and births to teenage mothers. Some state witnesses said that religious factors were irrelevant to the case; they attributed the unusual family structures to the FLDS culture and community. This might be an attempt to discount any future claim by the FLDS that guarantees of freedom of religion in the U.S. Constitution protect their family living arrangements.
bulletAPR-18: Some parents testified that the details of their religion is crucial to anyone attempting understand their culture. One of their witnesses was William John Walsh, described as a theological expert. He explained that the FLDS did not teach that under-age girls should marry older men. It is the prophet who decide if and when a couple w ould marry.

Another witness, Merylin Jeffs, 29, is a FLDS member and the mother of a seven-year-old daughter. She said that she would not allow her daughter to marry before age 18, "... no matter the consequences."

Angie Voss, an investigator with the State Division of Child Protective Services, said: "There is a culture of young girls being pregnant by old men," She found evidence that "... more than 20 girls, some of whom are now adults, have conceived or given birth under the age of 16 or 17."

Judge Barbara Walther ruled that all 416 children, who ranged in age from infants to 17-year-old teenagers, would be held in protective custody until the state could determine whether the children were abused, or were at risk for future abuse, if they stayed in the FLDS community. She ordered DNA testing to determine the mother and father of each child. She also ordered that the adults be fingerprinted.

Lawyers for the families accused the state of being biased against the FLDS community. They said that there is no conclusive proof that older men in the community had engaged in sexual behavior with girls as young as 15 years-of-age. Rod Parker, a lawyer and spokesman for the church, said that the Texas Division of Child Protective Services is now "... on trial for their high-handed and precipitous tactics in removing these children. ... C.P.S. is trying to put the church on trial." 4

The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) issued a statement stating that the YFZ situation has raised "... serious and difficult issues regarding the sometimes competing rights of children and their parents."

The statement was issued after ACLU representatives heard part of the testimony but before the judge issued her order.

Terri Burke, the ACLU’s executive director, said in the statement: "While we acknowledge that Judge Walthers’ task may be unprecedented in Texas judicial history, we question whether the current proceedings adequately protect the fundamental rights of the mothers and children of the FLDS." 10

Although there are many conservative Christian legal defense organizations in the U.S., by APR-28, we have been unable to find any indication that any of them have become involved in the case.

bulletAPR-21: Connor Boyack, from Utah, organized a petition to protest the removal of children from the YFZ ranch. When the initial goal of 1,000 signatures was reached, it was sent to the Texas state government. By APR-28, 2,256 signatures had been obtained. The petition reads:

"We, the undersigned, urge Texan authorities to free the innocent women, children, and other members of the Fundamentalist LDS Church who are currently being detained.  We demand that the Constitutional rights of the innocent be preserved, and that due process be served.  As individuals are innocent until proven guilty, we call upon the Texas Governor to intervene in this matter and allow the women and children to return to their homes peacefully.  We also demand an apology, most especially from the Texas CPS, for the heinous acts of aggression displayed in these recent events."

The petition is available online. 9,10

bulletAPR-22: Considerable attention has been paid to the pioneer style clothing worn by women at the YFZ ranch. Carolyn Jessop, the author of the best-selling book "Escape" who successfully left the FLDS in 2003, wrote that that members believe the armies of God will judge women according to their clothing at the time of their death. It will be the deciding factor between a righteous and evil woman. She explained that women are expected to wear four to five under-layers of clothing in spite of the very hot summers in Arizona, Utah and Texas. 12
bulletAPR-23: The raid on the YFZ ranch was triggered by a series of phone calls to an abuse hotline. One of the calls allegedly came from a phone number that Rozita Swinson, 33, of Colorado Springs, CO had used in the past. In 2005, she pleaded guilty to misdemeanor false reporting in a Castle Rock, CO case. She was given a one-year deferred sentence. She was also arrested on APR-16 on another misdemeanor false reporting case that allegedly occurred in Colorado Springs during 2008-FEB . An new arrest warrant has been issued against her because of suspected involvement in the FLDS Texas case. The Associated Press reported that: "Texas officials and lawyers have said that even if the call that prompted the raid turned out to be a hoax it would not affect their custody case because the state acted in good faith." 7
bulletAPR-24: The mothers and children had been stored at the San Angelo Coliseum pending the outcome of the mothers' legal attempts at the Texas’ 3rd Court of Appeals to be allowed to stay with their children. They lost their appeal. Texas officials split up the families by bussing many of the mothers from the Coliseum; seven returned to the YFZ ranch; 40 were taken to a "save location." One woman held a sign out of the bus window that said: "SOS. Mothers separated. Help." Meanwhile, more than 400 children were distributed among group homes, shelters and residences -- some hundreds of miles away.

"Velvet," a mother who was forced to leave her 13-month old, said: "There are no words to describe how it was. We’ve been staying up nights to watch over the children because we didn’t know what would happen."

About a hundred protestors in Salt Lake City, UT protested at the EnergySolutions Arena in support of the FLDS. They had signs that read: "Free the Children" and "Got Constitution?" Some chanted "Shame on Texas; free those kids!" 5

bulletAPR-25: The total number of children taken from the YFZ Ranch grew to 467. They have all been sent to 16 foster-care facilities in Abilene, Amarillo, Austin, Corpus Christi, Ft. Worth, Houston, Midland, San Antonio, Waco, and Waxahachie, TX. 6
bulletAPR-27: The situation is somewhat chaotic because:
bulletThere are so many children involved.
bulletMany of the children and their mothers have been giving false and multiple names to authorities.
bulletAlmost all of the fathers are nowhere to be seen.

The authorities are convinced that very serious levels of abuse have existed within the FLDS and that many of its children are now in need of protection. Meanwhile, Willie Jessop, an FLDS member who has helped church members publicize their situation, has sent a letter to Texas Governor Rick Perry that accuses state child welfare officials of "... some of the most horrific violations of human rights that have ever been allowed on American soil." He asked the governor to "... stop this injustice and abuse" of the innocent FLDS children that resulted from them having been separated their mothers. His letter further states:

"The Texas Department of Family and Protective Services have demonstrated, in a most blatant way, their inability to properly care for, or even account for our children."

"Many have been left in critical medical conditions, resulting in permanent mental damage through threats, intimidation and ultimately separating them from their parents, disregarding their own psychological expert advice to keep children with at least their mother."

Deseret News reported that:

"Jessop accused Texas officials of 'false allegations about the finding of abuse against teenage girls' and accused some Child Protective Services employees of 'inhumane tactics and threats towards innocent mothers and children'."

"While not responding directly to the letter, DFPS spokesman Chris Van Deusen and others have repeatedly and strongly denied allegations made by several FLDS mothers that CPS workers threatened to never allow them to see their children again if they didn't cooperate or if the women returned to their homes at the YFZ Ranch."

" 'Those [allegations[ are absolutely false. No one from CPS would say that,' Van Deusen said."

The mothers appear to be unable to tap into the phenomenal wealth of the FLDS. Many are relying on legal aid for representation. Texas RioGrande Legal Aid represents 48 of the FLDS mothers. The agency's communications director, Cynthia Martinez, states that she knows where two of the boys were supposed to have been relocated, but cannot immediately confirm that they are at that location. 6

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bulletAPR-27: Various groups hold differing opinions on whether the removal of over 400 children was a desirable response to allegations of abuse in the YFK ranch and the rest of the FLDS community:
bulletRobert Doggett, a lawyer for some of the FLDS mothers believes that many of the children are too young to have be indoctrinated to believe in plural marriages between girls and older men.
bulletOther lawyers for the mothers believe that the state went too far in seizing all of the children.
bulletThere is little response from the fathers of the children involved; almost all have disappeared.
bulletSome child advocates, family-law experts, and Judge Barbara Walther, the main Texas judge involved in the case, feel that the YFK ranch was unsafe for children because they were being groomed to become either victims or abusers.
bulletFormer state District Judge Scott McCown suggested that if any children were left behind at the ranch, they might have been moved out of the state. This would have placed them at risk and delayed the investigation. 8
bulletMAY-08:  Forty-eight FLDS mothers have filed a lawsuit in an effort to have their children returned. Their lawyers said that Texas Child Protective Services (CPS) did not have enough evidence to "justify the mass separation of every single child [from his or her mother] To distract attention from this inconvenient fact [the agency focused] on the mothers' purported beliefs, rather than on their actions or omissions."

CPS officials issued a news release defending their decision to remove hundreds of children from the YFZ ranch. They stated that the FLDS' communal living situation required  the removal of all the children in the face of evidence of sexual abuse. The mothers' "conspiracy of silence" left the court with no option but to cancel individual hearings and hold a single mass hearing. CPS lawyers wrote that the mothers, "... by throwing up a wall of deception and engaging in a conspiracy of silence, waived their rights to individual hearings. ... The investigation revealed that the children appeared to have a pervasive belief that when the prophet, Uncle Merrill, decided for them to be married, they would be married, ... No age was too young to be spiritually married, and the young girls wanted to have as many babies as they could."

Investigations supervisor Angie Voss determined that "Since the occupants of the ranch consider themselves as living in one large home or community", the agency  had concerns for all the children there. Agency lawyers wrote: "How could the Department have identified the alleged perpetrator or perpetrators when the evidence demonstrated that the entire male and female population at the Ranch had been enculturated into the belief that under-age marriage was sacrosanct?" 11

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References:

The following information sources were used to prepare and update the above essay. The hyperlinks are not necessarily still active today.

  1. Janet Elliott and John MacCormack, "400 children in custody in polygamist compound raid," Houston Chronicle, 2008-APR-07, at: http://www.religionnewsblog.com/
  2. "Clarifying Polygamy Confusion," LDS Church, updated on 2008-APR-24, at: http://newsroom.lds.org/
  3. "Police storm temple at polygamist ranch," CNN, 2008-APR-06, at: http://edition.cnn.com/
  4. Kirk Johnson and John Dougherty, "Sect’s Children to Stay in State Custody for Now," New York Times, 2008-APR-19, at: http://www.religionnewsblog.com/
  5. Michelle Roberts, "Mothers from polygamous sect separated from young children," Washington Post, 2008-APR-2, at: http://www.religionnewsblog.com/
  6. Brian West, "2 young FLDS boys unaccounted for," Deseret News, 2008-APR-27, at: http://deseretnews.com/
  7. "Polygamy abuse a possible hoax. Police say woman has history of false claims," Associated Press, 2008-APR-24, at: http://www.commercialappeal.com/
  8. "Debate heating up over state's handling of polygamist retreat case," Associated Press, 2008-APR-27, at: http://wwrn.org/
  9. The petition can be seen at: at http://www.thepetitionsite.com/.
  10. Brooke Adams, "ACLU joins debate about FLDS kids’ custody," The Salt Lake Tribune, 2008-APR-21, at: http://wwrn.org/
  11. Corrie MacLaggan, "Polygamist ranch is considered one household, state says," American-Statesman, Austin, 2008-MAY-10, at: http://www.religionnewsblog.com/
  12. "Latter-Day Restraints: Raiding the closet for latest cult fashions," New York Post, 2008-APR-22, at: http://www.nypost.com/

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Copyright © 2004 to 2008 by Ontario Consultants on Religious Tolerance
Originally written: 2004-JUL-25
Latest update: 2008-JUN-03
Author: B.A. Robinson

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