What is next for YFZ

YFZ RanchNow that the Texas Supreme Court has ruled that Texas officials were wrong to remove more than 450 children from a FLDS ranch, journalists should be focusing on what is next in the legal process. The idea being portrayed in some news accounts that this case is over and the FLDS group will be left alone should be set aside because allegations and evidence of forced underage marriages and impregnated minors don’t just disappear.

In fact, the concept that all of the children are headed home to their parents should not be reported because it is highly unlikely to be the case. Some children will eventually be sent back to their parents, but it will be interesting to see which of them do not and on what grounds.

The key for journalists to understand is that all the Texas courts have said is that it was wrong to remove all of the group’s children on a single theory of child abuse. The case for removing children due to abuse or potential abuse must be proven on an individual basis. In other words, Texas officials cannot break-up families because of their religious beliefs.

Here is a nuanced account from The Salt Lake Tribune:

Based on that, the state’s action was too over-reaching, one attorney said.

“Sadly, I think there may be some children that needed to be protected within that community,” said Polly Rea O’Toole, a Dallas attorney representing an 8-year-old child. “But because of the way the department went about it by sweeping up 460-odd children at one time they may have deprived themselves of the opportunity to protect children.”

Willie Jessop said the “FLDS I’m acquainted with do not allow children to be married until they are of legal age.”

For a good perspective on what is next, check out this report by Stephanie Simon and Ann Zimmerman at the Wall Street Journal:

Authorities said they feared that the polygamist families, once reunited, would flee out of state and resume practices that officials consider abusive, such as yoking young girls to older men in marriage.

The Supreme Court acknowledged those concerns. But the majority of justices ruled that the state could take other measures, short of separating families, to protect the children from sexual abuse.

For instance, the district judge handling the case could order the families reunited on condition that they promise to remain in Texas. Or she could insist that men identified as possible perpetrators of abuse move out of the home.

The judge could also grant the state custody of the children deemed most at risk, specifically pregnant girls or teenagers who have hit puberty and are considered ready for marriage in the culture of the Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.

“Basically, it’s back to square one,” said Jack Sampson, a family law professor at the University of Texas.

He said he expected that all young children and boys would be returned to their families within days, but some older girls might remain in state custody pending individual review of their circumstances and the risk that they will be abused. “The return of all the children is certainly not mandated,” he said.

Two important news angles are at risk of disappearing from the news coverage.

Of course there are those who still believe, as the Texas state officials alleged, that the group’s religion and beliefs justify removing the children for their safety. While that viewpoint is no longer legally sustainable without more evidence in Texas, reporters should not forget that the argument still exists and could re-emerge if the state is able to uncover more evidence.

Secondly, The New York Times picked up the important previously under-reported angle of the harm done to the children through the state-forced separation.

Since the public’s perception of this situation is formed largely through reporting by journalists, it is essential that the reality of the situation is portrayed and not wild allegations by government officials. Just as journalists covering the planning stages of military invasions should never take the words of public officials as the gospel truth, journalists covering the FLDS or other groups should never assume allegations made by state officials have proper legal or evidentiary support. That can lead to disastrous consequences and poor decisions that may or may not be reversible.

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  • FW Ken
  • Michael

    it is essential that the reality of the situation is portrayed and not wild allegations by government officials.

    or by well-orchestrated defenses being offered by church members and their advocates. Journalists need to be a little skeptical of everyone when abuse and neglect charges are involve and realize that allegations by the state should not be taken at face value, but also the state’s failure to prove their case doesn’t mean there are serious concerns about what’s happening in those family situations.

  • Martha

    This is a heck of a mess, whatever happens. Are they still going ahead with plans to seize the property to cover the costs of this raid? Where does that leave the families – where do they go to live?

    There are legitimate grounds for concern about underage and polygamous marriage, but this kind of smash-and-grab raid doesn’t help. Any news about the LDS itself – is it getting involved to help those who want to leave, or is there any Mormon body that can help them?

  • Rathje

    Martha, I’m pretty sure my Church is adopting an extremely strict hands-off policy about the whole YFZ mess – at least at the official level.

    LDS bloggers are, for the most part, outraged about the way this was handled by Texas authorities, and have even expressed a degree of sympathy for their plight – but they are hardly a definitive sample. LDS officials categorically do not want to wade into this mess.

    There are some support groups in Utah for ex-FLDS women who “escape.” But they have no affiliation with the LDS Church. In fact, I think they are mostly Protestant-oriented operations.

    I think the worry is that rushing to the rescue will simply cement in many Americans’ minds that “those Mormons take care of their own.” “Their own” in this case being the FLDS. The LDS Church has spent half a century trying to convince America that it is not affiliated with these people. They aren’t about to undo all that work.

    Besides, it’s uncertain how welcome the offer of help would be anyway. The FLDS consider us LDS to be apostates who denied the true faith. I think they would not trust us any more than they trust the local Southern Baptists.

  • http://www.downeastpagan.com/ Ananta Androscoggin

    I have been a bit surprised that so far (at least, of what I’ve come across to read or view) nobody in the press has said anything about all of those DNA samples that were taken, and suggested that perhaps the state of Texas might have to make sure that they give the right children back to their actual FLDS parents, which in itself might help to indicate who should be arrested on the abuse and other types of charges being suggested during all of this.