April 22, 2008
Posted: 06:27 PM ET
NEW YORK – The DNA tests and upcoming custody hearings for more than 400 children seized from a polygamist sect's West Texas ranch are only the first chapters in what will likely be a lengthy and complex legal nightmare.
Convicted FLDS leader Warren Jeffs
The state obviously has a duty to protect children from abuse, but the debate will rage as to whether the constitutional rights concerning religious liberty and freedom from unreasonable search and seizure were upheld.
Now it seems the tip that led to police descending upon the Yearning for Zion compound with body armor, automatic weapons and an armored personnel carrier may have come from a Colorado woman who has a history of false reporting to authorities.
In court filings seeking the termination of parental rights, Child Protective Services officials say being born into the sect ensures child abuse, describing "a widespread pattern and practice ... in which young, minor female residents are conditioned to expect and accept sexual activity with adult men at the ranch upon being spiritually married to them."
We'll have to see what that evidence of abuse is. Sect lawyers say the searches of the 1,700-acre compound violated First and Fourth Amendment protections as well as the Texas Constitution.
Despite this, people arguing the government overreached its authority may have a difficult time making a case if allegations of abuse turn out to be true.
The government certainly hopes history is not repeating itself, with this ending up being another Short Creek, the 1953 raid at a compound on the Utah-Arizona border that seemed to strengthen FLDS leaders who were Warren Jeffs’ predecessors, drove a governor from office and possibly discouraged officials from taking action against the group for decades.
Times have changed. Jeffs is behind bars, sentenced to two consecutive five-year sentences to life in prison in Utah for being an accomplice to the rape of a 14-year-old girl who married her cousin in 2001.
But as child welfare officials in Texas move some 437 children to temporary foster care facilities before custody hearings in May, authorities have not seen the last of the FLDS, which has an estimated 10,000 members across the United States, Mexico and Canada.
– Bob Regan, In Session senior executive producer
Filed under: FLDS
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