Constitutional Law

Supreme Texas Win for FLDS Moms: State Shouldn't Have Taken 400-Plus Kids

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Updated: Texas illegally removed more than 400 children from a ranch run by a religious sect that advocates polygamy and sent them to foster homes last month, a majority of the Texas Supreme Court decided today.

The ruling is a stunning victory for about 40 mothers and their roughly 126 children, who were represented by Texas RioGrande Legal Aid attorneys, reports the Houston Chronicle. Although the court’s decision directly applies to only these families, “it is expected to apply to all of the children because of a San Angelo judge’s global order last month that gave the state broad custody of minors taken from the Yearning for Zion Ranch near Eldorado,” the newspaper writes.

“On the record before us, removal of the children was not warranted,” the supreme court writes in a brief per curiam majority opinion. It points out, however, that “while the district court must vacate the current temporary custody orders as directed by the court of appeals, it need not do so without granting other appropriate relief to protect the children, as the mothers involved in this proceeding concede in response to the Department’s motion for emergency relief. The court of appeals’ decision does not conclude the … proceedings.”

Three justices filed a separate opinion, which concurs in part and dissents in part. The gist of their objection to the majority opinion appears to be that it did not differentiate between teenage girls deemed old enough to marry, either legally or spiritually, by the Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints, and boys and prepubescent girls.

“As to this endangered population, I do not agree with the Court that the trial court abused its discretion in allowing the Department to retain temporary conservatorship until such time as a permanency plan designed to ensure each girl’s physical health and safety could be approved,” writes Justice Harriet O’Neill for the dissenting group. “On this record, however, I agree that there was no evidence of imminent ‘danger to the physical health or safety’ of boys and pre-pubescent girls to justify their removal from the YFZ Ranch, and to this extent I join the Court’s opinion.”

As discussed in earlier posts, Texas child welfare workers removed some 468 children and sent them to foster homes throughout the state, saying that they were all at risk in the communal ranch home operated by the FLDS. Specifically, state officials contended that the sect promoted polygamy and marriages of underage teens to much older men.

A state appeals court ruled on May 22 that the children were not at sufficient risk to justify their emergency removal, and the supreme court upheld that decision today.

“The state in recent weeks has been forced to recognize that half of the 30 females it had put in foster care as underage abuse victims because they were mothers or pregnant were in fact adults,” the Chronicle notes.

Additional and related coverage:

New York Times: “Court Rules Sect Children Should Go Home”

CNN: “Texas high court: Removal of sect kids ‘not warranted’ “

Salt Lake Tribune: “FLDS update: Texas Supreme Court lets ruling stand to return sect children to parents” “Texas to Appeal Decision Calling for Return of 468 FLDS Kids to Parents” “State Wrongly Removed 400 FLDS Kids, Texas Appeals Court Says”

Updated at 8 p.m., central time, to include link to New York Times coverage.

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