This is an archived article that was published on sltrib.com in 2008, and information in the article may be outdated.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.
One of several troubling aspects of the raid on the Yearning for Zion Ranch by Texas authorities has been the absence of criminal charges. If children of the Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints all were in imminent danger of being made victims of systematic sexual abuse, as Texas child-protection authorities repeatedly argued, why was no one charged with a crime?
Now, more than three months after the April 3 raid, the state of Texas has begun to answer that fundamental question. A grand jury has indicted the polygamous sect's prophet, Warren Jeffs, and five other men on charges related to sexual assaults on underage girls. Presumably the charges arise from arranged marriages.
As these cases develop, the story of the FLDS and its practices at the YFZ Ranch will come to light in open court. The state's cases and the quality of its evidence will be tested, and a judge and jury will try the facts and apply the law. Fair-minded Americans will reserve judgment until the facts come out.
In May, the Texas Supreme Court decided, rightly in our view, that Texas authorities had overreached their authority when they removed some 460 children from the custody of their parents at the ranch, based only on long-held suspicions and an anonymous telephone call that turned out to be bogus. The court ruled that authorities had insufficient grounds to remove children from their parents and place them into foster care without first proving that each one was in imminent danger.
Even if there were proof that an underage girl had been forced into marriage with an adult man, the state of Texas could not then justify the claim that every other child in the community was likewise endangered.
In short, it all comes down to individual acts and accountability. The government cannot make a blanket indictment of everyone in the FLDS, it can only indict individuals for particular crimes.
With the charges against Jeffs and others, that is where this case is going. And rightly so.
Jeffs has already been convicted on a similar charge in Utah, and he awaits prosecution in Arizona. Texas will be third in line.
It is to be hoped that as this process plays out, the people of these states and their leaders will get a clearer picture of the FLDS and its practices, and that officials can gain a better idea of whether further investigations are warranted.