A subject that has been popular in the media in recent months is the controversy over the raid at the FLDS compound. The Fundamentalist Church of Latter-Day Saints is an off-shoot of the Mormon religion that practices polygamy and is widely regarded today as a dangerous cult. In Eldorado, Texas where their Yearning for Zion compound is located, police responded to a call from a 16-year-old girl inside the compound who was reporting abuse, claiming that she was forced to marry and consummate with an older man. The police and Child Protective services have since removed 450 children from the compound to the dismay and outrage of the mothers left alone at home. Now lawsuits made by some mothers have required the state to return several children to their homes. Though the reports that have come out of the compound of polygamy, underage sex, incest, and abuse are disturbing, the children who are not in immediate danger should be returned, otherwise, this is a major violation of the constitutional rights of those in the case who are verifiably innocent.
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Though much of the United States population finds the reports coming from inside the FLDS compound to be disturbing, the police should not be allowed to remove the children without legal grounds of proven child abuse. The constitution’s first amendment protects us from persecution based on religion and therefore protects the members of the Fundamentalist Church of Latter-Day Saints. Though they commit polygamy which is generally against the law, authorities tend not to prosecute unless there are allegations of abuse. The first amendment states that Americans have the given right to free speech, freedom of religion, and freedom to peaceably gather. At the time of its inception, the first amendment protected those who had come to America to practice a religion that was in minority in England and had been exposed to much persecution, which transfers equally to the protection that the FLDS church deserves. The first amendment is not intended to protect the rights of those everyone agrees with. Laws protecting freedom of religion are necessary because they are, at times, the only defense for a legal but controversial group. Essentially, if the law can protect FLDS it can protect any law-abiding citizen from being wrongfully accused or imprisoned. If we believe in the constitution and seek to uphold the rights included in the first amendment then we should seek to protect these people and their rights.
Another reason the removal of the children was unlawful is that they were removed based on a single allegation of abuse that was never verified. The police responded to a phone call from an alleged sixteen-year-old girl inside the compound. In a letter to President George W Bush, FLDS supporters claimed that the campaign against the church is an attempt to create a media frenzy and push political motives. “Officials have promoted and encouraged as part of their political agenda a flagrant disregard for the truth and have focused on sensationalism, sex, and vile accusations of every kind designed to promote prejudice and hatred” (Jessop 2). The removal of the children was based on the fact that they could not locate the girl who made the report and therefore had to take all the children to investigate whether they had been abused or not. But the girl was never found and the original abuse allegation has yet to be verified. Because of this, the raid can be considered unlawful. While police originally conducted the raid legally, with evidence that children were in imminent danger, the grounds of the raid are unproven and the continuing separation of the children is unlawful unless additional evidence of abuse arises. In fact, in recent weeks the court has ruled in favor of the FLDS members. “The state of Texas should not have removed children from a polygamist sect’s ranch because it didn’t prove that they were in ‘imminent danger,’ an appeals court ruled Thursday” (CNN.com 2008). Because of this court ruling, the law states that the children are being held based on an ineffective raid.
In addition to the fact that the reason for the raid has fallen through, the children should be returned to their homes because the relocation and drastic change in living conditions are extremely traumatic for the children who have been separated from their families. Studies show that during childhood people need constancy, routine, and familiarity. The fact that these children have been taken from their parents and placed in a completely foreign environment has many negative implications for their futures. Children who are separated from their homes often face difficulties communicating and relating to others. “Children need consistency, familiarity, and predictability…” (Legalaid.vic.gov.au 2008). The plight of these children can be compared to an immigrant taken from his home country and propelled into a completely foreign culture. “Adult migrants to the frontier and immigrants to big cities of a new country…could not and did not…leave their pasts behind—they always retained memories of ‘family, friends, the millions of details that made up the familiar world of their origins’ [West, 1992, 32]” (Corsaro 79). Even though we may feel that the lifestyles of the FLDS members are strange and undesirable, these conditions may be preferable for the children because it is the lifestyle they have grown up in and are accustomed to.
However, there are some exceptions to the rule; not every child among the four hundred and fifty should be returned to their homes. There are dozens of underage girls who are pregnant, which is unavoidable evidence of statutory rape. There is also evidence of child abuse and incest, and these children must be protected from their abusers as well. Though there may be many others who are suffering physical and sexual abuse within the compound, the authorities can only legally protect those who have confessed that they have been abused or have shown overwhelming evidence, such as the case with the pregnant girls.
While we may not agree with how the Fundamentalist Church of Latter-Day Saints conducts its lives, the government does not have legal grounds to keep the more than four hundred children they have removed from their homes. The laws are meant to protect citizens for cases such as this, where public opinion may be against them. The reason we have laws that protect freedom of expression and religion is that there are many people in the United States who live drastically different lifestyles within the law, and though many may try to stop them, they should still be allowed to practice the religion they believe in without unlawful persecution. As long as we continue to uphold the rules that protect the people we do not agree with, we can rely on those same laws to protect us when we face our own controversy.
“Age and stages of development in children”. Victoria Legal Aid (2008). Online. Internet. Web.
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Corsaro, William. The Sociology of Childhood (2004). Pine Forge Press: Thousand Oaks. 356 pages.
“Court: Texas had no right to take polygamists’ children” (2008). CNN.com. Web.
Jessop, William. Letter to President George Bush (2008). CaptiveFLDSChildren.org. Online. Internet. Web.