Distressed About the FLDS Situation in Texas

I have waited to comment on the situation down in Texas where the Texas government has removed over 400 children from their parents with allegations of abuse until there was more information available.

The situation distresses me for a number of reasons.

It wouldn’t be appropriate to go into details here on my blog, but a number of years ago I was involved in a brief legal struggle over some abused children. Having reported abuse to child protection services, I quickly discovered that unless there is physical evidence of abuse (bruises, dislocated or broken bones, etc.), the chances of getting abused children removed from their parents into the safety of state care are practically nil.

It is extremely frustrating and heartbreaking to talk to an abused child who has trusted you and to have to tell them that there is nothing you can do because they haven’t been hurt badly enough yet to deserve protection from the government’s Child Protection Services.

At the same time, through this process I did learn that there are very strong legal protections for parental rights in the United States, and that is something that I strongly support.

My wife home-schools our children, and we feel that deciding to do so is within our parental rights. We want a great degree of autonomy when it comes to how we raise our children and what beliefs we teach to them. In the United States that right is fairly well established. Just because our neighbor believes that the religious beliefs we teach to our children are wrong or even dangerous, doesn’t mean that the state should be able to take away our children.

So, returning to the situation in Texas, the removal of 400 children from their families is very distressing to me. On the one hand, it is distressing because I have to ask why the state feels justified in “saving” these 400 kids from their potentially abusive situation, while so many other children in demonstrably more immediate and more serious danger are left to fend for themselves against abusive, alcoholic parents? Are the abused, neglected, or systematically isolated children I reported worth less to the state than the children of the FLDS in Texas?

Reports of yesterday’s court appearance say that Angie Voss, from the Texas Department of Family and Protective Services, justifies the removal of the children by saying that the religious beliefs of the FLDS church, to which the children belong, create “an environment where young women have sex with older men, and young boys grow into adult men and have sex with young children” and that they “are living under this umbrella belief that having a child at a young age is a blessing — any child in that environment would not be safe.” Responding to the cross examining attorney’s question, “So based on the supposition that this may happen one day in the future, 400 children should not be with their families?” Ms. Voss answered, “Yes, ma’am.”

So, according to Ms. Voss, an environment that creates the future potential for abuse justifies the removal of more than 400 children from their parents. This flies in the face of my own experience with child protection agencies. While there was clearly an ongoing environment of serious potential abuse, we were told repeatedly that they would not remove the children unless there was visible, physical evidence of abuse. Why are these children not worth saving?

At a certain level I am sympathetic to Ms. Voss’s line of reasoning. After all, one could make the case that the FLDS movement bears at least an superficial, if not deeper similarity to the Children of God (later called The Family of Love) organization that arose from the Jesus Movement among the hippies in the late 1960s and 1970s.

As I said, on one hand it is distressing that they have chosen to “save” these kids while so many others are left to deal with abuse on their own. But, on the other hand, I am also very concerned about the violation of constitutional rights that the action of the Texas government may represent. As I mentioned above, I strongly support the protection of Parental Rights with regard to their children, and I worry about the potential violation of the free exercise of religion, due process, and illegal search and seizure. We cannot start punishing people because they could potentially commit a crime. We can only punish them for crimes committed.

I think a racial profiling analogy is applicable here.

If we were to start taking kids away based on racial profiling for potential abuse and allegations made against one or two members of that race, the whole world would be up in arms. But apparently taking away kids based on religious profiling is just fine? How is that justifiable? As things stand, our society largely rejects racial profiling just for the purpose of identifying suspects to be investigated. And yet, in the case of the FLDS, we have taken the step further and not only identified potential abusers, but removed the children from the homes of everyone in the group based on the allegations that a limited number of the group have committed a crime. How is that not more extreme than racial profiling?

Personally, I am not necessarily opposed to profiling, either racial or religious, to identify potential problem individuals. But I object to using profiling in conjunction with allegations against individuals to punish an entire group.

The third reason that it is distressing is that some people are mistakenly conflating the FLDS religion with my own LDS Faith. The desire to defend the FLDS constitutional rights, conflicts with my desire to make a clear distinction between their belief’s and my own.

So the entire affair distresses me. If children are being abused, I want them to be helped. If crimes are being committed, I want them punished. If parents rights are being trampled I want them to be vindicated. If individuals fit a profile that may indicates potential problems, I want them to be investigated. But I do not want a group to be unjustly punished for the crimes of a few of their members. And I want to defend constitutional rights without accidentally endorsing the FLDS beliefs, or real abuses that may have been committed, while still not confusing others about the differences between the FLDS and LDS faiths. These are difficult to balance.

As an additional bit of irony, the supposed “right” to abort a baby in the womb arose through case law from the penumbral parental rights afforded by the Constitution. And now, the right to kill an unborn baby is protected, and even celebrated, while the right of a parent to teach their children that “having a child at a young age is a blessing” is grounds for revoking parental rights and removing the children from their parents.

More on that later.

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