May 22nd, 2008
04:11 PM ET

FLDS court ruling: Bad thoughts aren't enough

[cnn-photo-caption image=http://i.cdn.turner.com/cnn/2008/images/05/22/art.polygamymothers2.jpg caption="Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints mothers smile as they leave the Tom Green County courthouse after hearing news of a court ruling in their favor. " width=292 height=320]

Jeffrey Toobin
CNN Sr. Legal Analyst

The Third District Court of Appeals, in Austin, today ruled that the children seized last month at the FLDS ranch must be returned to their mothers. The decision made a lot of sense to me. The nine-page opinion is very much worth reading here.

To me, the key passage in the opinion is this one:

"Removing children from their homes and parents on an emergency basis before fully litigating the issue of whether the parents should continue to have custody of the children is an extreme measure. It is, unfortunately, sometimes necessary for the protection of the children involved. However, it is a step that the legislature has provided may be taken only when the circumstances indicate a danger to the physical health and welfare of the children and the need for protection of the children is so urgent that immediate removal of the children from the home is necessary."

The question is whether the Texas authorities put forth enough evidence to justify the 'extreme' step of taking the children away from their mothers. The court focused a great deal on the claim by Texas that the 'pervasive belief system' of the FLDS put the children in danger­ that males were raised to be perpetrators of sexual abuse and females were trained to be victims.

But the point of the Court's decision was that a "belief system," even a dangerous one, was not enough to justify the removal of children from their homes. The government had to do more than prove that FLDS members had bad thoughts; they had to prove bad actions. And that's where the proof was lacking. The government could not prove specific dangers to specific children.

I, for one, have a great deal of sympathy for the Texas authorities who had to investigate this case. It was difficult to find out what was going on inside that compounds, and there were certainly ample grounds for suspicion. But it¹s a good thing that the courts insist on a very high bar for the decision to remove children from their parents. My sense, as well as the appeals' court's, was that the government couldn't and didn't­ make its case.

Filed under: FLDS court hearing • FLDS update • Polygamy
soundoff (38 Responses)
  1. bob

    So where are the Baptist's now? They had busses there to take the kids away. Why aren't they helping to reunite the families now?

    May 27, 2008 at 12:56 pm |
  2. Julie San Diego, CA

    Hey Jeffrey,

    The link to the opinion went missing. I'll trust that you put the "meat" of it in your statement that reads as follows:

    "However, it is a step that the legislature has provided may be taken only when the circumstances indicate a danger to the physical health and welfare of the children and the need for protection of the children is so urgent that immediate removal of the children from the home is necessary."

    What troubles me the most about what you said are the following excerpts:

    "The government could not prove specific dangers to specific children... it¹s a good thing that the courts insist on a very high bar for the decision to remove children from their parents."

    I married into a family of lawyers, so I'm not afraid to take you on on this one, because I think you're defining the situation too personally (I bet you're a parent; probably a very good one) and missing the real reason the laws exist: for the protection of the children. Parental "rights" aren't the issue here. Freedom of religion isn't the issue either.

    Let's remove religion from the equation and talk garden variety pedophilia outside the FLDS.

    If I were a mother that allowed her kids to be exposed to an environment where children could see that adult males were having sex with, and impregnating, underage females, the state would take away my kids – no questions asked.

    Let's get graphic with the visual: I live in a trailer park, I'm a single mom with 3 kids, and I take in a renter who is 35 years old and regularly brings home 14 year old girls to have sex with.

    My kids are "at risk" because they're being exposed to pedophilia. The state can (and should) put these kids into foster care until I learn how to parent.

    The FLDS is an extended family. Whether or not the biological "dad" is the pedophile (let's call them what they are), the kids are witnessing pedophilia within the "family unit". Because of this circumstance, immediate removal from the environment is necessary until trained social workers can assess who can and can't parent.

    I believe the state did the right thing.

    Still stand by your opinion?

    May 26, 2008 at 3:43 pm |
  3. Sharon

    I would like to add that there is a difference between two consenting adults having sex or getting married which should be between those two adults regardless of race or sexual orientation. Then there is anything other than that. Children do not have the mental capacity or maturity to have adult relationships, sexual relationships or be married and have children themeselves. Regardless if it is by force or not .Some minors choose by the will of their own to have sex that is unfortunate, It should be and is a crime to force them into it, or brainwash them into it. That also includes any other ridiculous possibilities that people bring up. Like animals and multiple partners. Animals can't make a choice either it is forced upon them and I am only bringing that up because of the statement s like the " man on dog" comment Rick Santorum brought up as though it was equivalent to gay marriage. We have decided as a society that multiple husbands and wives should be against the law so why should these people be allowed to break that law. I don't care how old something is that doesn't always mean it is right, it quite often means it may be outdated and ignorant. We as human beings owe it to God to become more progressive, enlightened, respectful, and loving. Parents do not have the right to harm their children , children are not property. I think it is our duty as a society to prevent abuse and that I believe is what the State of Texas was FINALLY trying to do.

    May 24, 2008 at 9:28 am |
  4. Sharon

    If expressing and practicing religious freedom also includes breaking the law you should still be held accoutable for your actions and to the same standard of compliance with the law. I think sometimes we just over think things. I can't help but wonder if it was a sect of women with multiple husbands and sexual partners if it would be so well tolerated for so long? They aren't being persecuted for their religious beliefs and it doesn't take a genius to figure out that this is a cult led by men and the whole thing reeks of male dominance and abuse. It's disgusting that this country has allowed it to go on for so long. Multiple sex partners , child abuse and molestation. We should be ashamed as a country that we have allowed this.

    May 24, 2008 at 8:27 am |
  5. David

    Why do people keep saying that the FLDS in Texas were collecting welfare? The article I read, from the normal news channels, said that not a single one was on welfare, and that furthermore, the county received fully 33% of its annual funding from the FLDS property taxes. In other words, the FLDS helped to fund the CPS agency that abused them. They took a $700,000 piece of scrub land and in 5 years, turned it into a property that is valued at $20 million. Meanwhile, CPS spent $7.5 million of the state's money in just a month. It's much more likely that the FLDS paid for CPS's paychecks, than the other way around. Anybody correct me on the welfare issue?

    May 23, 2008 at 10:23 pm |
  6. Claudia, Houston, Tx

    This could have been avoided if the men had been removed and allowed the children and mothers to remain without being separated. I think this would have avoided the courts ruling.

    May 23, 2008 at 12:45 pm |
  7. bob

    One of the 14 year olds turned out to be telling the truth!! She was actually 27!! Her healthy lifestyle caused her to look much younger than 27. The title to this was "bad thoughts are not enough".... I did not see where the Court made that statement. Cooper, you should be ashamed. Why are you trying to stir things up by misleading people?

    May 23, 2008 at 10:09 am |
  8. Michael

    Unfortunately, if you think about it, 15 or 16 was the age a few hundred years back, so it's not that uncommon. Life expectancy was lower then. Also, I'm not sure about the US, but in Canada there's a law that allows minors to be married, as long as both sets of parents consent. It's pretty rare, and usually because of a teenage pregnancy. .. The question is, do we have the right in telling a long-standing religion that they are wrong? Every religion thinks the other one has it wrong.

    About the only thing I can see that's a 'threat', is inbreeding.

    May 23, 2008 at 6:06 am |
  9. Sabine

    Unfortunatly the Staate did not know what to expect and therefor wasn't prepared to deal with this situation properly,
    As we where able to get to look at how those children where living and how they where living it became clear that they are not growing up in a
    good environment. There where no toys,no crayons,what where their activities? There wheren't even green spaces or playgrounds for
    them,except for the monagomis man and his wife,ythey even had some animals
    Sure the womwn can feed them "good " wholsome home cooked
    meals,they have nothing else to do,they don't go to work they share
    all the work, and claim wellfare,
    I think that thiis compound is a Staate with in a Staate and that
    should never be permitted.Birth and Marriges have
    to be registered with the Staate.
    I hope that this whole mess gets all cleared out that the apeal goes not through and our society does not allow cults to set up their secretive compounds to have woman breeding like cows.

    May 23, 2008 at 3:17 am |
  10. Richard Patton

    This trampling of individual rights is just what one can expect from the growing liberal fascism that is becoming more and more rampant in the Nanny State that we are becoming.

    May 23, 2008 at 2:39 am |
  11. Monica

    I think poligamy is not only a crime, is also humiliating against all women no matter their religious beliefs; if not, why only old dirty men have the right to have so many wives, of different ages, but women don't have the same chance? Ladies!!! Come on!

    May 23, 2008 at 2:11 am |
  12. Jean V

    "Question?, Where are the husbands of these women, and fathers of these children ; and why aren’t they in the media, the courts, and standing with these women?"

    Good question.

    Answer? The ones who weren't expelled to thin out the competition for females - or who haven't recently fled to Mexico - are hiding from the police. They know that the DNA test results are going to force them to do a LOT of explaining to the authorities. How many fathers and uncles have sired children with their daughters and nieces do you think? DNA will tell.

    Nice "men", eh? Serial statutory rape is the founding principle of their whole cult. These "tough guys" found it easy to push brainwashed women and girls around.

    But when the authorities come calling, the menfolk scatter like cockroaches. Color me NOT surprised.

    May 23, 2008 at 1:38 am |
  13. bob

    Idiots!! You are idiots!! The State blew this when they tried to take 400 kids away from parents without any cause. They failed to show cause why the kids were in danger. If the State can show that a kid is in danger, then the State can step in. Until then the Appeals Court says: they go home!! What about the fake call that started this? Let's she who the 33 year old that made that call points her finger at when asked why she did it!!!

    May 23, 2008 at 1:03 am |
  14. Brian


    Can you explain to me where in the US Constitution does it allow any federal or state government to cherry pick what falls under the definition of marriage? The Texas Appeals Court can condone 416 children in the same polygamist household, beacuse the state did not provide enough "proof" of any wrongdoing, yet a state can ban gay marriage and/or adoption simply on the basis of one's sexual orientation? Does the US gay population need to create a unified church in order to be cherry picked? Hmmm.

    May 23, 2008 at 12:22 am |

    Question?, Where are the husbands of these women, and fathers of these children ; and why aren't they in the media, the courts, and standing with these women?

    May 22, 2008 at 11:11 pm |
  16. Peggy

    Before everyone gets upset about the court ruling today, it may be rational to view the full ruling. It may also serve you well to read the many reports of the individual case hearings where TX Child Protective Services have repeatedly testified that the "disputed minor was actually an adult" and "there is no evidence of abuse or neglect". The legal merits for the emergency removal were not met and the Appellate Court upheld the rights of the children and their parents. The trauma inflicted upon these children is the true crime.

    May 22, 2008 at 10:33 pm |
  17. Biffie

    Jean V: I'm appalled at the un-American marxist feminazi thinking that is going on inside your brain(if you even have one)!! Those 3rd District Judges are the first officials in this whole farse to show the least bit of the milk of human kindness and regard for the principles of freedom guaranteed by the Constitution of the United States. The CPS are going forward with the same reckless disreguard for the rights of honest Constitution and freedom loving parents as you display in your uninformed hate filled retoric. I am an FLDS man not living in Texas. I am middle-aged and I don't personally know of a girl having children at age 13 or 14. So if I can live all my life in this Church and never know of that, then how do you become so informed about 13 year olds marrying 50 year old men? By their fruits ye shall know them and I will put my kind loving and hardworking honest children up against your video game watching rap music listening to rebellious disrespectful juvenile delinquents any day!!

    May 22, 2008 at 10:23 pm |
  18. Lili

    Would you let a 16 yr old girl live in a whore house?

    These young girls are going back to the "Ranch" to go to bed with who ever the pimp, oops I meant prophet tells them to.

    May 22, 2008 at 10:16 pm |
  19. Annie Kate

    Decisions like this make it hard for Child Protective Services to protect children from abuse. It seems like it is only after the children have been abused that the courts get interested. Preventive measures seem to be actively discouraged and this case is a perfect example of it. The court could have made a real difference to these children by keeping them out of that ranch – instead its doomed them to a life of possible underage marriage and rape and having one baby after another so the cycle can continue.

    Annie Kate
    Birmingham AL

    May 22, 2008 at 10:10 pm |
  20. Mike, UT

    I completely agree with Texas on there decision for getting the children out. Whether its 5 kids or 15, the point is that this cult allows it underage marriage and multiple wives and its plain and simply wrong!!! The ranch is not a haven for people of like minds to go to. Its a prison where people are raised ignorant of the rest of the world and know nothing of whats going on outside there fence. I mean come on, whats a tour of the ranch mean to anyone when its completely empty? Who cares what the schools look like or the dairy farm? If they really wanna drop the sterotypes the US have of them, then let us when when there conducting a sermon or during other group church activites. They won't because just like in Utah everything pertaining to the LDS faith is secretive and whether there FLDS or LDS, they all wanna keep as much a secret about there faith as they can cause they know the rest of the world won't put up with it. Thats why they have there ranch and secure as a prison and why native Utahn's shun outsiders.

    May 22, 2008 at 9:46 pm |
  21. bob

    Quit complaining and read some facts: The flds teenagers had no sexually transmitted disease. The average percentage of teenage american girls with std's is 24%. The flds kids became ill eating all the processed junk food fed to them by the foster parents. The kids were used to eating only wholesome homemade foods free of harmful additives, so store bought processed food made them ill. The kids were returned to their mothers because it was proven to the Court that they are better cared for by their parents than most kids in America, plus there was no evidence of crime there. The State originally said the birth certificates were forged because the girls looked younger. Turns out they looked so young because they wore no make up, ate good food, did not use drugs and were not pumped full of presciption mind alterning drugs like American kids in public school. The kids were well behaved and educated. Go figure..... they were doing it better and Texas could not tolerate it!!!

    May 22, 2008 at 9:38 pm |
  22. Mari, Salt Lake City

    NOT ALL RELIGIONS ARE 'CULTY'......... the Christian faiths offer FREEDOM in CHRIST! We can leave whenever we want, come and go. When you are in a cult, they follow you, call on you, refuse to remove your name from their scrolls....... etc.

    Don't be fooled, people, the flds is a cult. Just as they have always been.

    May 22, 2008 at 9:16 pm |
  23. Mari, Salt Lake City

    THE FUNDAMENTAL PROBLEM IS: that there is quite a lot of SECRECY in these so-called-religions. If they are not a cult, then why the secrecy? Why the oppression of women? ABRAHAM was not married to his slave, whom he had sex with! So he was NOT a polygamist! These men in the flds 'marry' the women, that's NOT what Abraham did! READ the Scriptures!

    Being a fringe 'religion' is not a crime, BUT INSISTING YOUNG GIRLS MARRY MEN OLD ENOUGH TO BE THEIR FATHERS ........IS!

    Its the secrecy and lack of freedom that make this a cult, dangerous and sick.

    May 22, 2008 at 9:13 pm |

    The people that are handling this need to stay away from the religous topics. The state may not be able to get the kids off the compund but the can get the men off the compound. Weren't these women getting state and federal assistance? If they were, they have received millions in assistance, monetary, medical, etc. why did the government not catch this? The government can get DNA testing thru exsisting child-support statutes. Establish paternity, then do the math and find out if these girls were underage. If they were go back and file multiple statutory rape charges, and charge mothers as accessories. Also if possble charge mothers with welfare fraud, The tax payers money probably built that compound. Can RICO statutes apply to these type of cases, I am not a lawyer, but there is more than one way to skin a cat. Tthey did it with other criminal enterprises, why not this one?

    May 22, 2008 at 9:07 pm |
  25. Dr. Sam

    THE FUNDAMENTAL PROBLEM is that there a new circle of witch-hunt has been going on in the past decade against those whose religion is not mainstream. If truly there is freedom of religion in America, why should it matter to the authorities that certain religions practice polygamy? Once authorities start their assault on religion in this fashion, they are prone to conjure up all sorts of negative caricature and images to justify their oppression of religious groups. Intervention is called for in suspected or proven cases of child abuse; but does that entitle the authorities to go on a wholesale assault of a religious compound, rounding up all women and taking their children away from them. As we ponder on this behavior, let us not forget that some of the most religious and holy men of the past, from Abraham to Joseph Smith were polygamists. King Solomon, David and other reputable Jewish leaders were polygamists–and they were counted as good men and God-fearing kings. There are so many pressing problems the authorities should be focusing their attention on, not this. Instead, they are expending much precious time and resources into this type of publicity stunt! Today, the court sanctioned their action. I hope they will promptly obey the ruling!

    May 22, 2008 at 8:34 pm |
  26. Jonathan, Hartford, CT

    The courts paving the way for Romney's vice presidency.

    May 22, 2008 at 8:18 pm |
  27. Terry Fletcher Berea,KY

    Being a member of a fringe religion is not a crime. All religious groups are a bit "culty".

    May 22, 2008 at 8:06 pm |
  28. Terry Fletcher Berea,KY

    Way to go Texas judge? It's time that "childrens services" learns that destroying the lives of good people in the name of "protecting children" is the ultimate hypocrisy!

    May 22, 2008 at 8:03 pm |
  29. Jean V

    I am horrified and appalled at the sloppy thinking of the court and others who are in favor of returning these children to the perverts and pervert-enablers that are breeding them and grooming them to be future perverts and pervert-enablers.

    The FLDS cult should have been broken up decades ago!

    Educate yourselves before you parrot Libertarian nonsense about "parental rights" and "freedom" vis a vis the FLDS.

    Warren Jeffs has already been convicted on one count of child rape and is facing multiple additional charges. These nut-jobs scatter like roaches and regroup someplace else (e.g. Mexico, Canada, etc.) whenever the authorities get close. The men lie and manipulate and support their families of 25-35 kids by abusing state welfare systems.

    They've been taunting the authorities, raping their own girls and throwing their boy children away like garbage for decades. When a man dares to stand up to cult leadership, they "take away" that man's wives and children and "give them" to so-called loyal men like prizes in a sick social game where human beings are mere pawns.

    How could the environment in which these children are being raised be any more sick? Any more dangerous to their long-term welfare?!? Short of feeding them Koolaide ala Jonestown, this cult is as vile and as sick as they come.

    Meanwhile, we stand by, wring our hands, say, "Oh, what a shame" and then attack those who are actually trying to STOP the decades-long pattern of well-documented child abuse?


    May 22, 2008 at 6:23 pm |
  30. Tammy, Berwick, LA

    Great. I hope the legal system is feeling so smug when these children are molested and abused and impregnated underage in the name of God and their prophet (or is the prophet their God?). Abused kids lie to protect their abusers. Abused women lie to protect their abusers. Perjury risk doesn't matter. Protecting the abuser to same themselves does. Of course the same legal system allows the killing of the unborn through abortion so why should real live kids matter when the most fragile and defenseless don't?

    May 22, 2008 at 5:44 pm |
  31. Judy Stage

    Why would anyone believe any decree by the Texas legal system? Tell it to the 18 young men who were railroaded to prison and after many years in prison exonerated by DNA testing. Also tell it to the two Texas border guards who are in prison on testimony by a drug dealer from Mexico who was given immunity to testify.
    It is my hope that some good will come out of the FLDS mess especially for the children. Hopefully some of these women will see the light and leave by their own choice. Hopefully they will begin to understand that their lifestyle is perpetrated by the power and manipulation of men. I certainly don't get how anyone could believe that this is God's will.

    May 22, 2008 at 5:44 pm |
  32. D Trenton

    Wish they could find a way to take everyone of those children away from that ranch for good. Find a way to break the cycle of brainwashing and abuse by dirty old men. Those women are obviously abused and brainwashed, know no other way of life, and are leading the children right into the same limited, restricted, abusive future. There was nothing wrong with the authorities being armed and prepared for any kind of confrontation. Criticisms would have been leveled at them for not being prepared if they had approached unarmed and the CPS personnel were fired upon. This was not a raid against religious beliefs. It was a raid against a bunch of disgusting misogynistic old men raping and abusing young girls and abandoning young men once they get in the way and are of no use. And because of this judge's ruling these disgusting practices against young adults is going to continue. Pathetic.

    May 22, 2008 at 5:39 pm |
  33. Mai Oklahoma

    Here hoping that these families get some justice from injust Texas authoritgies. The whole raid was wrong. Going in like they were raiding a large group of terrorist with all types of arms was just wrong. This was a bad time for these people which they will remember the remainder of their lives. This was a raid against religious beliefs. Maybe thery should raid the Trinity Church that teaches hate and racism.

    May 22, 2008 at 5:27 pm |
  34. Arachnae

    Great. Score a win for the dirty old men who believe they have a god-given right to a limitless supply of teen 'wives'.

    May 22, 2008 at 5:14 pm |
  35. Kim in NY

    Good – are these children being returned RIGHT NOW? And what were they thinking going back to the ranch yesterday w/o a warrant? Were they surprised when they were turned away at the gate? The authorities have created a new generation who be suspicious of outsiders. I believe they have accomplished nothing good. If they continue to investigate and find abuse, by all means throw the book at the accused, but don't assume the whole situation is abusive.

    May 22, 2008 at 4:55 pm |
  36. Peace

    Great! It made no sense to go take the babies from their mothers and their homes and their families! That was just wrong.
    Bravo to the Judge.

    May 22, 2008 at 4:41 pm |
  37. D Trenton

    What a shame that the rape of young girls at ceremonial marriage bed is not seen as a danger to the physical health and welfare of the children because the state got the numbers wrong and it is only 5 girls and not 15 or more. Those 5, or any number of girls, should still be protected even if it is not the shocking dozens that officials first believed. Charges should still be made against those who committed statutory rape no matter how few the number.

    May 22, 2008 at 4:30 pm |
  38. Cindy

    From the day that it was told that the phone call that started all of this was or could be a hoax I knew that the state had went too far. They should have tried to look more into it. And then to take all of the kids from the whole community was to me wrong too since they had no proof what so ever that they all were being abused. I guess now their case is very quickly unraveling right before their eyes! Next time they will use better sense and have more evidence.

    I don't think that how the FLDS live is right. But to take the kids with insufficient evidence is wrong. And if they can do it to them they will do it to others.

    May 22, 2008 at 4:22 pm |

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