A Texas judge today allowed parents to begin retrieving more than 400 children who were taken by the state during a raid on a polygamous sect’s compound in April. Texas District Judge Barbara Walther issued the order in the wake of a state Supreme Court ruling last week that the state had overreached when it moved the children into protective custody.
Officials fear sect members may flee Texas asks state justices to overturn polygamy sect ruling Texas had no right to seize sect children, appellate court says Walther on Friday had refused to sign an agreement between the state and attorneys for the Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints that would have provided for the release of the children. She said it did not provide enough safeguards against the families fleeing the state.
As attorneys prepared for another round of appeals today, Walther issued her new order. It requires parents to submit to fingerprinting and be photographed as they pick up their children, and to attend parenting classes. Families must agree to unannounced visits from social workers and must remain in Texas. The reunions were to begin immediately, but are expected to take several days as parents travel to the group homes and foster care facilities across the state where the children have been living.
“We’re happy that now we’re going to start seeing family reunions happen,” said Cynthia Martinez, a spokeswoman for Texas Rio Grande Legal Aid, which won the case before the Supreme Court on behalf of 38 FLDS mothers. “This is a good day.” The state is continuing to contest custody of the children on a case-by-case basis. The Texas Department of Family and Protective Services said in a statement that it was happy with the order.
“It allows the children to be returned safely to their families and caregivers in a prompt and orderly manner,” the department said. “Second, the court’s order ensures that the state’s investigation of abuse and neglect continues with strong provisions in place to prevent interference and ensure compliance by the parents. The safety of these children remains our only goal in this case.”
The state had argued that all children at the Yearning for Zion ranch outside the West Texas hamlet of El Dorado were at risk because of the FLDS’ belief in polygamous, underage marriage. The state Supreme Court, however, said that alone was not reason enough to separate all the children from their parents.
The FLDS long ago broke away from the mainstream Mormon Church, which banned polygamy in 1890. The sect has about 10,000 members, mostly along the Utah-Arizona border. Its spiritual leader, Warren Jeffs, is serving a term of five years to life after being convicted last year in Utah of forcing a 13-year-old girl to marry her 19-year-old cousin.