Constitutional Law

Report Says 1 in 4 Pubescent Girls Abused at Yearning for Zion's Texas Ranch


In a report today that appears likely to ignite further controversy over a fringe religious group that advocates polygamy, Texas Child Protective Services says more than one in four pubescent girls at the Yearning for Zion ranch near Eldorado had been sexually abused by being involved in an underage marriage with the support of the group and their parents.

The dozen girls in underage marriages ranged from 12 to 17, and were among 43 living there who had reached puberty who were removed from the ranch in April, according to the Dallas Morning News. They were “spiritually” married, the report states, apparently referring to a reported practice of performing such marriages when a legal marriage is not possible.

The report ends a nine-month investigation into what is reportedly the largest child-abuse case ever pursued in the U.S.

As discussed in earlier ABAJournal.com posts, the child-abuse case–which initially resulted in the removal of hundreds of children from their home at the ranch, until the state Supreme Court held that inadequate grounds supported this drastic measure–raised constitutional issues about the scope of parents’ rights to raise their children as they think best and follow their religious beliefs.

However, “for the Department of Family and Protective Services, the Yearning for Zion case is about sexual abuse of girls and children who were taught that underage marriages are a way of life,” the report states. “It is about parents who condoned illegal underage marriages and adults who failed to protect young girls–it has never been about religion.”

The report found that hundreds of children at the ranch were neglected, because the culture there put them at risk of underage marriage.

The newspaper article doesn’t say what further action, if any, is expected as a result of the report.

The ranch is owned by the Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints, which is based in Utah. A spokesman for the church could not immediately be reached for comment, the newspaper states.

Earlier coverage:

ABA Journal: “Discovering Eldorado”

ABAJournal.com: “Supreme Texas Win for FLDS Moms: State Shouldn’t Have Taken 400-Plus Kids”

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