Thursday, May 22, 2008

Yearning for Zion Ranch

Appellate court overturns polygamist sect custody decision
SAN ANGELO, Texas - A state appellate court has ruled that child welfare officials had no right to seize more than 400 children living at a polygamist sect's ranch.

The Third Court of Appeals in Austin ruled that the grounds for removing the children were "legally and factually insufficient" under Texas law. They did not immediately order the return of the children.

Child welfare officials removed the children on the grounds that the sect pushed underage girls into marriage and sex and trained boys to become future perpetrators.

The appellate court ruled the chaotic hearing held last month did not demonstrate the children were in any immediate danger, the only measure of taking children from their homes without court proceedings.
Based upon what information Texas released regarding the original complaint - one anonymous phone call from outside Texas - I'm inclined to agree with this decision. Texas investigators had not infiltrated the sect, had not collected evidence, & had no named complainant. The state was completely unprepared for the raid. You couldn't bust a drug ring on such flimsy grounds, it would be tossed right out of court.

They can say the men are panderers & rapists, & that the mothers are complicit, & it makes sense in the present, if not in the strange 19th Century world furnished with up-to-date conveniences the sect was trying to preserve inside their compound, a frontier time when even if polygamy was was practiced only by Mormons, forced marriages of underage girls was common enough, & every kind of patriarchal abuse accepted if not condoned by law. Aside from the marital peculiarities, these kinds of closed religious groups are all over the map, most are very small, & we have little idea what really happens inside of them. It's alright to us if religious groups practice forced obedience, shunning, repression of civil rights, psychological manipulation, & willful ignorance in education, as long as there's an apparent exit door marked on the inside, although walking out the door requires a courage few of us possess, & a will to leave behind everything & everyone a person has known & loved.

Past experiences have demonstrated that it's almost impossible to "deprogram" people who have grown up in these closed, secretive cultures. The only hope for the children, I think, is to place them & their mothers - insofar as the Texan authorities can sort that out - with Mormon foster families, to hand the entire mess over to the Latter Day Saints, which, of course, Texas cannot do. & in exactly what other matters can the State of Texas be trusted to do the right thing? In the timeless lyrics of Shel Silverstein: I'm goin' down to Texas, and be one more horse's ass!
Legit religion is so protected, so venerated in America, that it's often difficult to figure who is in charge of mainstream & popular religious organizations, who makes the decisions, & how their money is earned & spent. It's more difficult to see inside the reclusive groups that allow some public scrutiny, like the various Anabaptist & ultraorthodox Jewish sects. The Amish are the best known of the Anabaptists, they rely on tourism, & it still takes effort to know who they are & how they're organized. One can find fairly easily a number of internet boards set up by lapsed & expelled members of these sects & read a variety of opinions attacking & defending their practices.

The Bruderhofs are a pacifist Anabaptist sect with a number of farm collectives in New York & PA, known for their wood childrens' products, & admired by conservative peace Christians (yes, those old-fashioned types exist) for their books & meditative writings. There is no private property in a Bruderhof community. Three years ago, the Bruderhofs suddenly pulled down all their websites except the commercial ones, with little explanation. Apparently, the ruling "fathers" decided they'd become too worldly. They are private & withdrawn, but Bruderhof communities will admit visitors, & send their children to public schools for the required number of years. If a religious group with no legal standing builds a walled compound in the middle of nowhere, doesn't recruit, arms itself, bars outsiders, how is anyone to know what goes on in there unless someone comes out & exposes it? Our tendency is to leave them be. Out of sight, out of mind.

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