Which brings me to the point raised in this post by a new blog sponsored by the group Principle Voices - Introspection of a Plural Wife (at Heart): The ACLU and other civil liberties groups need to step to the plate on this issue and inject some rationality into the process. Breaking its silence 13 days after the raid, the Texas ACLU issued a press release announcing it was "observing" the case, but did not return phone calls to the national media. Indeed, ACLUTX's early decision to remain a spectator is one of the reasons I've jumped on this case with both feet - it increasingly appears they will not.
Wrote Principle Voices director Mary Batchelor, "We understand that the Texas ACLU is watching this case closely ... but we strongly urge the Texas ACLU to become actively involved in these proceedings now before many more violations occur."
Hear! Hear! I can tell you for certain that when I was Texas ACLU's police accountability project director (2000-2006), I would have been all over this case like stink on a hog. I understand from third-hand sources the Eldorado raid has been a source of major internal wrangling within TX ACLU, and some leaders in the organization have opposed getting involved behind the scenes, which explains the weenie "we're observing" language in their press release. (Jim Harrington, a former ACLUTX executive director who runs the Texas Civil Rights Project, so far has been more actively involved.)
I'm glad to see Principle Voices taking leadership, since the Eldorado story has been marked by nothing more prominently than the utter ignorance of government officials and the media about fundamentalist Mormons. Wrote Batchelor:
There are many things people do not understand about our culture. Fundamentalist Mormons are not a single homogeneous body. There is great diversity within the culture, with varying belief systems and practices, separate groups and churches, and even those who refer to themselves as "independents" who are not a part of any church or group. (For example, I am an independent.) Many polygamists from these other churches, or who are independents, are well-blended in society, are cosmopolitan, live in regular neighborhoods and could not be picked out of the crowd and identified as polygamists.The strange dress, hairstyles and public presentation of the FLDS polygamists has too much detracted from the central constitutional issues at stake, so I welcome the perspective of serious religious folk demanding protection of the YFZers' First Amendment freedoms.
There is a lot of confusion regarding Mormonism. The term is commonly identified with the mainstream LDS Church, which abandoned polygamy over a 30 year period beginning in 1890 when it released a manifesto renouncing the practice. It subsequently authorized underground polygamy while publicly denying the practice, until ultimately, by about 1929, it ceased altogether (except where it is still accepted as a theological tenet enduring in the hereafter; the LDS Church still regularly marries men in its temples to more than one female spouse for after this lifetime.)
The different branches of Mormonism can be compared to the different branches of Christianity. There are Protestants, Lutherans, Baptists, Catholics, etc., who all consider themselves part of the larger Christian body (LDS also consider themselves part of that body, with a great deal of protest from mainstream Christianity).
Relatedly, Grits' writing on this subject has recently received some attention. A Dallas News editor crafted together a couple of my recent columns to produce this op-ed today, and yesterday I did an interview on WNYC public radio in New York.
With as much national media as the case has received, I've been amazed how many folks - even reporters - are still unaware that the original phone call setting off the incident was a hoax, that there was no 16-year old rape victim to be rescued by the massive raid on the ranch. Invariably, I find that adding that tidbit of information changes people's perception significantly about what's going on in this case.
UPDATE: Confirming my sense that the ACLUTX and other civil liberties advocates on both left and right are abdicating their responsibilities by failing to participate this case, David Bernstein at The Volokh Conspiracy opines, "It's time for a nationally prominent civil liberties attorney to get involved." Yeah, because there aren't any "nationally prominent" Texas barristers who could handle it, right?