Increasingly I'm coming to think that the case against the Eldorado polygamist compound may be a setup job. Certainly the warrants used to sweep into the compound and remove more than 400 children by force seem inadequate, and the church will ask a court today to quash them.
I have no idea what would happen then to the 400+ kids taken from the compound. What a mess!
Why could the warrants be tossed out? For starters, the initial warrant named the wrong person. Dale Barlow, the 50-year old man who an anonymous phone call accused of marrying and assaulting an underage girl. Barlow is actually on probation living in Arizona, says he's never met the girl in question, and has not been arrested. According to the Salt Lake City Tribune:
Joni Holm, who has helped children leave the FLDS, said the teenager who called officials on March 29 and 30 and claimed she was abused is married to a different, younger man. The girl's husband is in his late 30s, is related to Dale Barlow, shares his surname and has a similar sounding first name, Holm said.Indeed, they can't even find the 16 year old girl who's phone call set off the whole chain of events. None of the information on which authorities based the raid appears to have panned out. The error regarding Barlow in the warrant could easily wind up creating a "fruit of the poisonous tree" situation where none of the evidence from the compound searches can be used in court. Again from the SLC Tribune:
"I know they're looking into the wrong one," Holm said.
The first warrant identified Dale Barlow by name and his birth date. The copy on file in court does not list the name of the investigator who petitioned for it.So if the first warrant targeted the wrong person, and the second, expanded warrant was based on observations from the first, I don't see how these warrants stand up in court, though maybe some attorneys in the crowd have additional thoughts. Several criminal defense lawyers interviewed on CNN also questioned the breathtaking scope of the warrants.
A second and more expanded warrant, signed Sunday night, was based on observations and evidence found by law enforcement and child services workers inside the compound, according to court documents.
Not only that, though, some of the laws the sect has been accused of violating appear to have been passed specifically to target their religious beliefs, making previously legal activities illegal in order to penalize this particular organization. According to the Houston Chronicle:
So how does that jibe with the plain language text of the US Constitution's first amendment, which declares that "Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof"? I'm quite surprised my former employers at the ACLU of Texas haven't jumped all over this. I believe Hildebran may well have crossed the line by passing laws specifically aimed at a religious group.
In 2005, the sect's relocation to his district prompted Rep. Harvey Hilderbran, R-Kerrville, to push for changes in the marriage law, including increasing the minimum age at which teenagers can marry to 16, if they get parental consent or a court order. Previous law allowed someone as young as 14 to get married with parental consent.
"Had this bill not passed, there would have been quite a few of them that were married and were pregnant for instance or married with kids that were under 16 that they could not have done much about," Hilderbran said. "I've got some pride in it. It's one of those things I knew it was the right thing to do."
Don't get me wrong: True pedophiles should be prosecuted to the full extent of the law. But that's a little different than changing the law to redefine historic religious practices by a particular sect as "pedophilia," which is what Rep. Hildebran did. Similarly, there's a big difference between investigating an individual, anonymous complaint from a single teenager, and forcibly taking 419 children away from their homes based on guilt by association.
I'd feel the same way if the state decide to seize all the children of parishioners in a Catholic church whose priest had been accused of pedophilia. What's the difference between that and what's happening in West Texas based on allegations against one man?
As Fox News' Greta Van Susteren declared, "being weird isn't a crime." And the alleged crimes of one man don't justify violating the rights of hundreds. When we identify "weird" people whose religious beliefs we don't like and pass laws criminalizing that behavior, as Hildebran did, to me that borders on "prohibiting the free exercise" of religion. This whole episodes strikes me as grandstanding and overkill.
UPDATE: According to "The Polygamy Files," the Salt Lake City Tribune's blog on "the plural life," some people familiar with FLDS are questioning whether the call was legitimate:
Why? Much of the verbage is wrong for the FLDS sect. For example, they don't refer to ''the outsider's world.'' Non-FLDS members are ''gentiles,'' the caller pointed out.See more excellent coverage from The Polygamy Files here, here, here, here, here, and here.
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