This is an archived article that was published on sltrib.com in 2008, and information in the article may be outdated. It is provided only for personal research purposes and may not be reprinted.
Two months after Texas officials raided a ranch and removed 468 children from their homes, a court, at the direction of the Texas Supreme Court, has ended this injustice, ordering that the children be reunited with their parents. Many of the children, whose parents belong to the Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints, had been forced into foster care and scattered across the vast Lone Star State.
Two Texas appeals courts, including the state's Supreme Court, recognized that tearing these kids from their families was unwarranted without specific evidence of child abuse.
From the beginning, state Department of Family and Protective Services officials have argued that the culture of the polygamous FLDS sect is abusive, subjecting under-age girls to arranged marriages with older men and a lifetime of sexual servitude. They have argued that the culture raises girls to be victims of sexual abuse and raises young men to be abusers.
There may be truth in that. But under the law in the United States, a culture cannot be indicted. Only the specific people who commit specific crimes against specific victims can be. Thank goodness.
So far, the evidence that Texas officials have presented has not been convincing enough or particular enough to justify removing all of this community's children from their parents.
That is not to say that foster care may not be warranted in certain instances. But that's the whole point. Officials must meet the burden of proof in individual cases.
Granted, that's sometimes a difficult proposition in secretive polygamous communities. But the standards of justice cannot be relaxed just because the practice of polygamy is distasteful or considered wrong by most Americans.
Judge Barbara Walther, who issued the original order in April granting the department temporary conservatorship of the children, was not lenient when she vacated that order. Under her latest order, the FLDS parents must not interfere with the state's ongoing investigation, must make their homes open for unannounced visits and their children available for interviews and examinations. They cannot remove their children from the state and must notify authorities if a child is to travel more than 100 miles.
But at least the children can return to their parents. If individual children should be removed from their parents' custody because of abuse, the state will have to meet the law's burden of proof. That's as it should be.