My Texas friends tell me that their Great State has the biggest of … well, you name it. Given the events stemming from the raid at the polygamous compound early in April, I’m ready to concede the point. It’s hard to conjure up a bigger mess, socially, legally and politically, than Texas has on its hands right now.
The facts so far: 1) the charges made by a person who anonymously claimed to be a 16-year-old domestic abuse victim living in a polygamous FLDS compound in Eldorado, Texas, cannot be confirmed, and 2) the Department of Public Safety and the Texas Rangers forcibly removed 463 children from their homes and their parents claiming child abuse with no proof that the taken children had been abused. The first event was used to justify the second, with no compelling, or even logical, evidence that there was a connection between the two that would justify a quasi-military action by Texas law enforcement against its own citizens.
Hundreds of attorneys arrived in Eldorado from every corner of the state to be part of the action, which makes you wonder how they occupy themselves on slow news days. Already the court calendar has been pushed back to give the attorneys time to review the documents prior to defending their bewildered young clients.
The judge’s docket is jammed to eternity and beyond with the caseload that the CPS pieced together out of what appears to be little more than their own prejudice and from which they now cannot easily back away.
Hundreds of children have been bussed to foster homes far from their parents, in a statewide diaspora of trauma, inhumanity and grief palpable to anyone who witnessed those televised scenes. If the legal system moves with the glacial pace for which it is known, and if the authorities in Texas cannot bring themselves soon to admit their poor judgment, many of those children could grow up without their parents.
Legally, children cannot arbitrarily be taken from parents even in the Bible Belt, even by the Texas Rangers, even if the local cowboys decide to use the ‘best interest of the child’ defense. Sooner or later someone will have to explain why the best interest of the child doesn’t include staying with mothers who have been accused of no crime, and how inflicting such pain on children and parents can be good for anyone. With no clear basis for the actions of the CPS and the local police, with CPS patting itself on the back and giving interviews to showcase their cultural sensitivity, there is talk of releasing children for adoption, and people state-wide are lining up.
All of this without admitting, much less addressing, the real issue, and it isn’t child abuse.
Polygamist males, for whom the institution exists, can’t legally marry more than one woman, no matter how much they yearn to sleep with lots of girls and show off their virility by having lots of kids. The solution for a polygamist sect is ‘celestial marriage’, a union entered into with church, but not state, sanction, as many times as a guy could wish. Voila. Lots of sleeping partners, lots of kids, and, since the sect gets Medicaid and other government assistance for single mothers and their kids, no need to support any of them. What more could a fixated adolescent want?
The women are indoctrinated from birth to subvert their own autonomy and by the time they get to puberty they know that they will be expected to also surrender their bodies and marry – ‘celestially’, of course – an older man. Mothers encourage early marriage and rationalize it as being good for the girls, much as the mothers on another continent sanction the genital mutilation of their daughters.
There is plenty about the sect’s way of life that seems repellent, even bone-chilling, to many of us, but for several years after the FLDS compound was built, there was nothing happening that authorities could latch on to as illegal. They must have waited impatiently for a reason to storm the compound, and finally, tenuous as it was, they got it. It came in the form of anonymous calls from a woman who has not been found, detailing abuse that cannot be confirmed, in a compound where she did not live.
With 31 teens pregnant or parents themselves among the compound’s 14 to 17 year old girls, it seems likely that the locals, their law enforcement, their child protective services, their jails and their media will have enough scandal to keep them all riveted for a long time.
As the children of FLDS grow up, attorneys will be debating and appealing the tar babies of this episode: religious freedom, privacy rights, parental rights and civil rights. It will cost taxpayers a lot.
It could have been so much easier, cheaper and less harmful to the victims if authorities simply shifted their attention from the group’s adolescent girls to the adolescent boys. When the children boarded the busses that would take them from their home, the small number of boys among the 400-plus children was shocking. There is a reason for that.
Polygamous cults sponsor another crime that is not nearly as salaciously gripping as sex abuse but is equally illegal: Child abandonment.
In order for the sect’s middle aged men to have flocks of wives, male children must be cast out when they reach adolescence. These boys are also the victims of polygamy. If states with polygamous settlements simply prosecuted parents who threw away their underage teens, to either fend for themselves or become wards of the state, polygamy would lose an important supporting pillar.