Family Law

New Texas Rules for FLDS Moms May Distance Them from Their Faith

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As new hearings are about to begin Monday in the case of some 464 children of a fundamentalist religious sect removed from their communal ranch homes over allegations of sexual abuse, Texas child welfare officials have reportedly drafted family reunion goals that may force mothers to choose between their children and their religious beliefs.

Under the state’s guidelines, mothers will have until April 2009 to provide homes for their children that are safe from the threat of sexual abuse, reports the Dallas Morning News. However, it appears that they may have to establish noncommunal households apart from their husbands and religious group in order to meet the guidelines, which will be difficult for stay-at-home mothers without job training to do, some observers predict. Officials will need to know the identities of all adults living in the household.

Based on a cell phone complaint by an individual who, at last report, hadn’t yet been located, the state removed all children from the Yearning for Zion Ranch last month and has put them in group foster homes, removing all but the youngest from their mothers. Child welfare officials contend that underage “spirtual” marriages of teenage girls to much older men and polygamy in the ranch religious community operated by the Fundamentalist Church of Latter Day Saints created an abusive environment for all of the children. A number of underage teens in the group reportedly are, or have been, pregnant, and the FLDS advocates polygamy as part of the religion.

However, critics contend that the state overstepped its authority and may have violated parents’ constitutional rights, both in its sweeping enforcement approach and by conducting group rather than individual hearings over the removal of children from their parents, as discussed in earlier posts. Some also see a troubling discrepancy between the stringent group enforcement of sex abuse laws concerning the FDLS and the way that pregnancies and sexual abuse of underage teens in other communities throughout the country are handled by authorities.

Meanwhile, more information from the state is needed than has been provided so far, several attorneys tell the Dallas Morning News.

Says Susan Hays, a court-appointed Dallas attorney representing a 2-year-old girl: “Child rape is not part of their faith. Polygamy is. Somewhere in between there is where faith ends and abuse begins. The state needs to articulate how they see it.”

And D’Ann Johnson, an Austin legal aid lawyer who represents two sect mothers, says the reunification plan doesn’t tell mothers specifically what they need to do to get their children back. “It’s exactly the same for every single mother. I looked at this and thought, ‘Great, what are we supposed to do now?’ There are no specifics in it at all, just broad allegations,” she says. “They are acting as if the 1,700-acre ranch is one house.”

Earlier coverage: “Texas Ranch Raid Sparks Senate Leader’s Call for Federal Task Force” “Texas Changed Marriage Age to Restrict Rights of Polygamy Ranch Residents” “Child Protection v. the Constitution: Did Removal of 437 Kids Violate Parents’ Rights?”

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