The Third Court of Appeals in Austin, Texas, ruled today that the grounds for seizing over 400 children and putting them in temporary custody with the Texas Department of Family and Protective Services were "legally and factually insufficient" under Texas law. The higher court found that the Department had not, contrary to the requirements of the Code, presented enough evidence of danger to the physical health or safety of the children; especially not to any male children or any female children who had not reached puberty. This ruling only addresses the immediate custody of the children.
What will this mean? Likely, it will occasion the immediate return of the children to their parents. The State of Texas may, nevertheless, continue to pursue the sect for creating unsafe conditions for children, or, for that matter, for polygamy. They may also petition the highest court in Texas to review the decision of the Appellate Court.
As the media continues to carry news on this topic, I hope that both sides of the case will be fairly presented. Willie Jessop, a church elder, and Rod Parker, attorney for the FLDS, have driven the media with their point of view. I'd like to defend the Texas authorities in one problem they have faced in this situation.
Child Protective Services had to revise down the number of underage pregnant girls and underage mothers, finding far fewer than originally claimed. Contrary to FLDS claims of "lying and cheating" by the Department, it was very difficult for Child Protective Services to get a correct count. Initially, the women refused to identify themselves or their children; the women don't have driver's licenses; the children call several women "mother"; and the women look much younger than their actual years, most likely a result of diet. After the DNA testing, the mothers became more forthright about the facts, which allowed the department to determine accurate ages.
We are still left with the question why any parent would willingly keep their child in a household where girls are at risk of a forced marriage to some old codger before the age of 16.
In the long run, perhaps young girls (and boys) will be safer in FLDS compounds everywhere in the U.S. now that it is clear that sexual abuse of young girls won't be tolerated by the State. At least, as an attorney and sexual abuse expert, I hope so.