By removing more than 400 children from a religious compound in Texas this month, state authorities carried out one of the largest mass removals of minors from their parents in the U.S., says the Christian Science Monitor. They set in motion a face-off between the state and a religious movement that seeks to live in a closed society, making oversight difficult if not impossible. The 416 children are in state protective custody near Eldorado, Tx., where the Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints (FLDS) owns the secluded, 1,691-acre Yearning for Zion ranch. One-hundred-thirty-nine women, who willingly left the compound, are with the children.
A judge has scheduled a hearing for tomorrow to determine if they all should remain in the custody of the Texas Department of Family and Protective Services (DFPS) for a longer period of time, perhaps permanently. Texas must take care not to violate the First Amendment rights of the church and jeopardize any future prosecution. Experts say the issues are as complicated as any they’ve seen, but most agree that religious freedoms do not trump the rights of children to a safe and secure environment. “The state was absolutely within its rights to take these children,” says Prof. Marci Hamilton of Cardozo School of Law in New York. “There is no religious defense to child abuse and no problem with the separation of church and state when the state stays focused on the abuse.” The mass removal was triggered by phone calls last month from a 16-year-old girl named Sarah to a local shelter. She said her husband in the ranch had physically and sexually abused her.