By now, you've probably heard that last week an appellate court in San Angelo, Texas ruled that the state had no right to remove some of the hundreds of children from the FLDS Yearning for Zion ranch. The decision overturned an earlier ruling by a lower court and gave the court ten days to return the children to their families. All at once it seemed the circus of the last two months had ended. The judges had spoken and the kids were going back.
Being a former member of the FLDS and a child who was forced to marry at age fourteen, I had firsthand experiences with the issues at stake, so it was interesting to me to see the range of reactions from people around the country. No matter whom I spoke to, I was met by a mixture of outrage, relief, and confusion, as people tried to make sense of what this decision meant for the FLDS and more importantly the children. Everyone that I spoke to fixated on some version of the same question:
Should the court have allowed the children to return to the YFZ ranch?
It's an understatement to say that's a tough question. On one hand, FLDS members understandably want their children back. What's harder to understand is that FLDS members can only see this situation as an example of religious persecution. In their eyes, all the events of the last two months--the raid, the hearings, the DNA tests--are an elaborate stagecraft designed with religious persecution in mind. To them, the children are merely the excuse the government needed to chase them out of house and home. This view fits right into the story they've been taught since birth, the story that all outsiders are evil and only want to see the downfall of the FLDS way of life.
Unfortunately, this mindset makes it difficult, if not impossible, for them to see the reality that there is a very real risk for the girls in the FLDS. Texas for its part cares little about religious persecution and is far more concerned about the safety of FLDS girls. There is good reason for this. A couple of years ago when I agreed to testify against Warren Jeffs in Utah, it had been my hope that by raising my voice, I could spare other girls my fate. That perhaps the practice of underage marriage would finally come to an end, if the men behind it knew that it carried the risk of prison. What the raid on the YFZ ranch demonstrated was that sadly this behavior has yet to stop. While the actual number of underage brides and mothers still has yet to be accurately determined, there is no mystery that the practice has continued in spite of Jeffs' conviction.
Personally, my reaction was one of heartache for everyone involved. I could see both sides of this issue, and I understood what everyone involved in this saga was up against. While I knew that the FLDS children had been dealing with the shock of life in the outside world, I could also see that this decision was a setback to Texas's important efforts to protect those children.
Yet as difficult as it was for me to stomach this decision, it merely reinforced my feelings. Ultimately, I believe that these FLDS families need to be reunited, but not until the FLDS parents have proven that they can and will prevent underage marriages from taking place. This is not a black and white situation, but unfortunately, because children are involved it has to be. People can not compromise when it comes to the safety of these kids. As a result, both Texas and the FLDS need to contribute to a system that will put an end to the practice of underage marriage. The two sides need to work together to find a middle ground.
In the video that follows, I'll take you on another part of my exclusive tour of Alta Academy, so that you can see just how separate the FLDS culture is from mainstream America. Though the building is slated for destruction today, Alta Academy is where I went to from first grade to sixth grade. During those years, it was the center of FLDS life in Salt Lake City. Everything from FLDS baptisms to births to school classes occurred within its walls. It was here that I learned what it meant to be an FLDS member. As you go on this tour with me if you'd like more information please go here.