Constitutional Law

Texas Ranch Raid Sparks Senate Leader's Call for Federal Task Force

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Sparks flew in Arizona, Nevada and Utah last week after the Senate majority leader criticized prosecutors in those states for not being as aggressive as Texas authorities in pursuing claimed child abuse among a religious sect that reportedly advocates polygamy and “spiritual” marriages of underage teenage girls to much older men.

But Sen. Harry Reid, D-Nev., has apparently made up with the prosecutors he offended, and officials are now talking about organizing a federal task force to pursue potential enforcement efforts against the Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints in these other three states, according to the Deseret News.

In fact, there was a famous raid conducted in 1953 in an Arizona community then known as Short Creek, which was much-criticized, the Deseret News notes. And, although approximately 36 men, 86 women and 263 children were removed, criminal charges were brought against a number of adults, and all of the children and many of the women were placed in foster care, “after two years of acrimonious hearings and public recriminations, the charges were dropped and the families all went back to Short Creek,” reports the Christian Science Monitor.

The situation in these other three states, too, differs from the situation of Texas, where all the families from whom, at last count, 464 children had been removed were considered to have lived in one communal family on the Yearning for Zion ranch. In Arizona, according to Terry Goddard, the state attorney general, families believed to be engaging in such practices do not live together in a communal setting. So officials must identify a specific victim claiming abuse before removing other children and could probably take only that child, or at most only the other children in that one family, the Monitor reports. “They wouldn’t be able to enter all homes in the city because of one abuse complaint,” the newspaper writes.

Although Mark Shurtleff, the Utah attorney general, is reluctant to criticize other law enforcement agencies, “My gut feeling is they shouldn’t have. They’ve gone too far,” he says of the Texas raid of the YFZ ranch, the Deseret News reports in a later article.

It now appears, in Texas, that the anonymous teen whose complaint led to the state’s raid on the YFZ compound may never have existed, and an arrest warrant earlier issued against the man named in the cell phone call has been dropped without explanation, according to the Associated Press.

Meanwhile, the 464 children removed from the ranch in early April were placed in group foster care facilities approximately two weeks ago.

A website maintained by the Texas Department of Family and Protective Services provides details of an update given last week to the state legislature about the causes for concern that led officials to remove the children to foster care.

Additional hearings in the case are scheduled on May 19, but attorneys for the families say they are having trouble getting information in the meantime, reports the Salt Lake Tribune.

Additional coverage:

Salt Lake Tribune: “FLDS custody case: Month after ranch raid, polygamous dad speaks out”

Associated Press: “Polygamous sect seeking help from governor of Utah”

Arizona Republic: “Ariz., Utah assail senator for polygamy comments”

The Spectrum (editorial): “Kids’ safety overrides First and Fourth amendments”

Deseret News (editorial): “Mainstream no better than FLDS”

Washington Times (editorial): “FLDS Raid Ripples” “Texas Changed Marriage Age to Restrict Rights of Polygamy Ranch Residents” “Utah AG Mulled Texas-Style Raid on Polygamous Group”

Updated at 1:09 p.m. May 6 to indicate Harry Reid is from Nevada.

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