One idea under discussion is to appoint one lawyer to speak at the hearing on behalf of each age group: children under 5, teenage girls and teenage boys, for example. If the state does retain custody, the children will be placed with relatives or in foster homes. Otherwise, they will go back to the ranch, perhaps under the supervision of a state monitor.ABC News says Texas CPS will likely argue that the entire YFZ Ranch is a single "household," which seems like a stretch given its division into atomic families with their own domiciles. Such a ruling, to me, would be embarrassingly wrongheaded, but that would be par for this course.
On Day 14 of this fiasco, several burning questions remain unanswered.
Was the raid based on a hoax phone call? If not, where is the complaining witness? She still hasn't been located, and I strongly suspect she may not exist. The language used in the phone call, according to former sect members, does not match religious jargon used by the group - e.g., she referred to "outisders" when FLDS uses the word "gentiles," and spoke of events on "Easter Sunday," which is a holiday FLDS does not celebrate.
If the call was legitimate, why didn't Texas Rangers arrest Dale Barlow, the Arizona man the caller accused of forcibly raping his child bride? I think the answer is that he could not have committed the offense, and they know it. But that hasn't stopped the Nancy Graces of the world from hyping his pre-judged guilt over the last two weeks as though the original call was legitimate and fully confirmed.
Will Texas now handle every other underage pregnancy this way? Will CPS and their jack-booted partners storm neighborhoods in Dallas and Houston and seize the children of everyone who looks underage? ABC News reports that the state "will probably offer evidence that unmarried minors (children under 18) at the ranch are pregnant or have had children. That's a prima face case of statutory rape, which is a crime." How many other underage girls get pregnant every year in Texas? Will all of these kids be seized prospectively, just in case the pregnancy came from statutory rape, or only in those instances where we dislike the parent's religion?
Though CPS has a lower burden of proof for initially seizing kids, I still believe the original search warrant for the ranch that started all this will never hold up on appeal in any criminal prosecution of individual FLDS members. Based on the phone call from "Sarah," the judge issued a warrant allowing the search of every building on the compound. To pass constitutional muster, a search warrant must "particularly describ[e] the place to be searched, and the persons or things to be seized." There was nothing particular about this warrant, it was as general as it gets. Indeed, King George's redcoats use of the same tactic first inspired the Fourth Amendment.
Finally, the root of the argument that these girls are abused is that they've been "brainwashed" by their religion. But don't all religions "brainwash" their children? Isn't every religion absurd to a non-believer?
For example, if someone believes they talk to an imaginary friend who's a carpenter from 2,000 years ago, and says that friend forbids teaching young girls about contraception and disallows abortion, should every member of their church have their kids seized when a teenager becomes pregnant? Do we begin seizing Catholic children because some priests molested children? That, to me, is the equivalent of what's happened here. There's an intermingling of religious intolerance in the state's action that has turned (probably fabricated) allegations of abuse against an individual into a sweeping excuse to violate hundreds of people's rights.
Today is probably a formality - this judge clearly has already decided to go along with this fiasco, if only to avoid appearing foolish for having approved the raid in the first place based on so little real evidence. But if she were smart - or if she wanted to save the state of Texas a boatload of embarrassment down the line - the judge would take this opportunity to inject some rationality into the process, and let the kids go home where no specific allegation of physical or sexual abuse has been confirmed.
See related Grits coverage linked here.
UPDATE: The San Angelo newspaper has live updates all day from the proceedings. See also this Salt Lake City Tribune article on key legal players, and Brooke Adams' update from the proceedings.
ALSO: Reacting to some of the discussion in the comment section, I thought I'd point Grits readers to this (perhaps?) related story from the Dallas News from November 5 of last year: Texas teens lead nation in birth rate. (My Grandma used to say that when you point a finger at someone else there's always three pointing back at you!)
MEANWHILE: Authorities in Arizona say the timing of the Texas raid was "wonderful" to force compliance by FLDS members in Utah and Arizona with a pending settlement busting up the trust that held their property in the community that used to be called Short Creek.