Constitutional Law

Texas Judge Returns 400-Plus FLDS Kids to Their Parents

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After a Texas Supreme Court ruling Thursday that officials overstepped its authority by removing some 468 children from their homes at a ranch run by a religious sect that advocates polygamy, a judge signed an order (PDF) today returning custody to their parents.

Families from the Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints have already begun picking up their children from foster care facilities throughout the state, according to the Associated Press and the Houston Chronicle.

Child welfare officials had contended that the ranch environment was abusive to not only underage girls who were pressured into “spiritual” marriages but children of all ages and both genders. However, a state appeals court held and the supreme court agreed that the children were removed from their homes based on their parents’ claimed religious beliefs rather than evidence establishing a significant risk of physical danger to the children, as discussed in an earlier post. These courts also noted that officials apparently hadn’t considered less intrusive options short of removing the children.

“In exchange for regaining custody, the parents are not allowed to leave Texas without court permission and must participate in parenting classes. They were also ordered not to interfere with any child abuse investigation and to allow the children to undergo psychiatric or medical exams if required,” AP writes of today’s order by state District Judge Barbara Walther.

“However, it does not put restrictions on the children’s fathers, or require parents to renounce polygamy or live away from the sect’s Yearning For Zion Ranch in West Texas.”

A state investigation continues into possible child abuse among the FLDS group. Meanwhile, a separate criminal investigation has been launched concerned several alleged “spiritual” marriages at the ranch between the sect’s now-imprisoned founder, Warren Jeffs, and girls as young as 12, another post notes.

Additional and related coverage:

Los Angeles Times: “FLDS raid appears to have backfired”

Deseret News: “Texans had been ‘reining in’ the FLDS via state laws”

Voice of America: “Texas Court Orders All Children From Polygamous Cult Returned To Parents”

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