As I have read the various comments on this story, I am struck by some who question why I, or others take the FLDS position, or support them, or seem sympathetic toward them. I have also read comments which I think express extremely well why I, from a Constitutional standpoint stand squarely with my FLDS Sisters and Brothers in Eldorado, Texas. I reproduce some of them below. While doing so do I do not mean to imply support by anyone for criminal conduct, but rather the preservation and protection of Constitutional Rights. Rights that are still afforded even the FLDS community.
Blake Ostler, a prominent Salt Lake City Attorney, and prolific LDS writer commented yesterday:
After having read the affidavit (based on hearsay) and reviewing as much of the transcripts as I could, it appears fairly evident that there have been massive violations of First, Fourth and Fourteenth Amendment rights. There was no need to search the entire compound. The warrant was so overbroad that it is a travesty.
It also appears to me that the lawyers for the FLDS are doing a half-assed job of defending their rights. This appears to be more about turning the kids over to the Baptists than about getting a hearing in time to get to the fact necessary to support even removing one child. I will state categorically that there is not a sufficient basis for removing all 400+ children from the compound. The Constitution has been violated and no one cares because these people act and look differently that those in Texas. Given the Texas track record of convicting perfectly innocent children, and the number who have died in foster care, the people carrying this out ought to be fired and competent people should take over.
I would never condone child abuse or the kinds of marriage between older men and young women. But the answer is not to displace all of the women and children and blatant disregard for their Constitutional rights. Where is the outcry against this blatant violation of rights? It seems we have early Mormons and the rest of the nation all over again — except this time the Mormons sit silently on the sidelines while it happens.
Anne: As a non-American perhaps you have no appreciation for Constitutional rights — which we regard as God given and not something we cast off at a whim. However, they are absolutely essential to our ordered government and protecting the rights of those deemed innocent until proven guilty. As judge, jury and execution, I can see how you would free yourself of the need to have sufficient evidence before acting. I can see that you would feel free to judge all of the mothers and all of the fathers of these children without evidence that really implicates them in the least. That is the prerogative of someone who gets to judge and execute before looking at any evidence at all. However, I’d hate to be a defendant in any trial where you had any say in matters.
Further, the evidence that young women are being brainwashed is called by any other name raising children to believe what the parents believe. If that is child abuse, then any religious teaching of children is abuse. Note I am not justifying child abuse or older men forcing young, underage girls (or anyone else for that matter) to submit to sexual favors. However, the fact that you simply presume that all men in the compound are guilty of such crimes puts you in the company of those folks in Texas who don’t need any justifying grounds for leaping to such conclusions either. The charges are based on hearsay — on someone’s testimony who doesn’t have personal knowledge. Investigation is warranted — not removing all children because at least one was beat by her husband. Have we learned nothing from the Salem witch trials?
That said, no one is justifying or looking the other way on child abuse. As I said, the appropriate course of actions was to do an investigation into the scope of any criminal practices and then, if the evidence warrants, take further action. The “lifestyle” has been going for at least 4 years in Texas and long before that in Arizona, a few weeks to conduct a proper investigation is certainly not unwarranted.
Finally, how do you feel about all children simply being taken away without sufficient evidence? If that happened to you, undoubtedly you would want the very constitutional protections you seem to so blithely ignore now.
Ardis Parshall, an historian and researcher specializing in the collections at LDS Archives, and Salt Lake Tribune columnist has commented:
Even granting that underage marriages and resultant pregnancies are common, nobody, even the nutters in Tapestry, have ever alleged that infants, girls of 3 or 5 or 7, or little boys, have been involved in inappropriate sexual contact. And while yes, you investigate any plea from somebody alleging abuse, you (at least reasonable people) do not take 401 children away from home on the mere possibility that *one* of them may have been harmed, nor hold their fathers on house arrest, nor force their mothers to choose whether to stand by their husbands or care for their children.
That’s a good reason to have a stake in it, Daniel.
Imagine: This summer some stake will hold girls’ camp in a part of the country where a majority of the population has a fuzzy idea of the line between local government and local mainline Protestantism — and who certainly can’t distinguish between FLDS and LDS. What’s with all those underage girls being sent to a camp, anyway, away from the watchful eyes of public school teachers? Especially when there’s a fence around the compound? And where there are BEDS on the premises? And what about all those adult males who go up in relays? They claim to be priesthood holders guarding the camp … but who really knows? Better safe than sorry — better call out the authorities.
Daniel, you may not have been exposed to some of the same charges I have. When I began work at the Clark County Fire Department (surrounding Las Vegas) in 1978, the Pentecostal department secretary realized I was a Mormon and began to tell me in lurid detail what went on in LDS Temples — she had learned at her church that bishops got first crack at brides in LDS temples. She was deadly serious, no irony, no sarcasm about it. She genuinely believed it. So if I can hear that in a stronghold of Mormonism, imagine what smoke-without-fire is billowing up in places where Mormons are unknown? That taught me that *we* are vulnerable, and eventually I recognized that *they* aren’t necessarily guilty of all the gossip (even gossip sworn out by Texas rangers and printed in respectable newspapers) that swirls around them. Or Scientologists. Or David Koresh. Or Jehovah’s Witnesses. Or Muslims. If I had a coat of arms, I think I would use the motto “What ‘everybody knows’ ain’t necessarily so.”
Sam B., I agree with everything you’ve said. We don’t defend constitutional protections only because we personally might be vulnerable, but because they can be made meaningless for everybody when they’re made meaningless for some.
SamB, an East Coast attorney has commented:
I’d argue further: even if there is no conceivable risk to me at any time (which, realistically, there isn’t: I’m an attorney at a big East Coast law firm with significant knowledge of the community I live in, and I look and act like your standard American), I have a stake as an American. As an American, I have a duty to protect and advocate for the rights that all Americans enjoy, whether or not I like or agree with them, and whether or not there may be an impact on me. (Which is why I love the fact that big corporate law firms are representing the detainees at Guantanamo—even if they are bad people (which clearly, Bush to the contrary, most aren’t), they’re entitled to a fair process.)
That’s what everyone has said so far. The thing is, a mere suspicion that something bad is happening (beds in the temple, one of which must have been slept on—clearly a sign of adult men preying on underage girls!) doesn’t pass the muster for disrupting the lives of a hundred families because there may be some abuse going on. There is (sadly enough) undoubtedly a child being abused on the four blocks that surround my apartment building. And that abuse should certainly stop. But the fact that abuse is probably happening somewhere does not justify taking away my daughter and every other child on four New York City blocks; if, on the other hand, there was a credible suggestion that someone in the building next to mine was abusing his daughter, the state should certainly intervene, but at a level that responds to the problem, not at such a broad level.
Johnf, also an attorney has commented, over at BCC:
I think Texas may have been posturing this to create another Branch Davidian situation. As I have followed this story over the last few days, Texas authorities and law enforcement made a big show about how there might be large casualties because they were going to search the temple. I wonder if they are actually disappointed that there wasn’t a huge shootout — after all they rolled in all those ambulances.
Over at Guy’s blog, a commenter asked when it became the practice to take away the children of all the families in a group just because one family is suspected of abusing the children.
If children are being abused, then they need to be removed. But it appears that the touchstone of abuse here is that young women were being put into arranged marriages. Unless they actually marry while underage (Texas raised the legal age from 14 to 16 when the FLDS rolled into the state four years ago — apparently 14 is fine for fundamentalist Baptists but not FLDS), I fail to see how the prospect of an arranged marriage constitutes grounds to remove a child from its parents or its mother. The trauma of that action is severe. I have young daughters and I can’t really imagine their terrified reaction if they were seized from me and my wife by surprise one day and taken to a warehouse somewhere to wait for an undetermined amount of time. I can certainly imagine their terror though and it gives me chills.
There but for the grace of God go we Latter-day Saints, by the way.
re # 67 I guess that’s what happens when you learn about fundamentalist Mormons from a Baptist.
Bingo. Thanks for that succinct statement of the problem here.
Amanda, my heart goes out to you and your FLDS community. I do not share your religious belief in polygamy but wish I had some avenue to protect your rights and the rights of your children in situations such as this. Maintaining due process would be enough.
It’s not very comforting to know that if anyone claims abuse against another family in my church, that the state can come in and take my kids away with no cause.
This is precisely the point. When did it become the standard operating procedure to take the kids away from all of the families in a group because there are allegations that one of the families in the group has abused a child?
I hope that no LDS reader here thinks that what is going on to the FLDS is tangential to our lives. If this course of action flies, it will create horrible precedent for what a state can and cannot do based on what level of evidence.
To a fundamentalist Baptist, we LDS look just as deplorable as the FLDS and it is pretty easy to think that an affidavit can be drafted based on double and triple hearsay that LDS children are in danger of being raised weird and therefore should be removed and exposed to whatever horrors await them in a failing, underfunded state foster care system that is already lacking in space.
Fundamentalist Baptist hillbilly sherriffs in rural West Texas might genuinely believe that Jesus Camp is a more normal and proper upbringing for an FLDS child but the question is who gets to decide such a thing? If it is the government of the State of Texas then, as someone who grew up in Texas, all LDS and not just FLDS should be very concerned about what is happening in El Dorado.
The First and Fourth Amendments referenced by Blake afford everyone the following protections:
Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the government for a redress of grievances.
The right of the people to be secure in their persons, houses, papers, and effects, against unreasonable searches and seizures, shall not be violated, and no warrants shall issue, but upon probable cause, supported by oath or affirmation, and particularly describing the place to be searched, and the persons or things to be seized.
What is happening out in West Texas is very much about every LDS person, and every American. The Constitution protects the most reviled and unpopular Religious movement, or it protects none of us. It protects the least of these, our brethern, or it protects none of us. It is for this reason, that I for one, as Blake Ostler suggests, will not be a Mormon who stands silently by on the sidelines. Rather, I will quite vocally stand squarely with my FLDS Sisters and Brothers in West Texas.