Texas judge asks LDS Church to monitor FLDS prayer times

Published: Monday, April 21 2008 12:00 a.m. MDT

Texas State Troopers run the gate of the San Angelo Coliseum where security is extremely tight. Authorities have begun collecting DNA samples from children taken from the Fundamentalist LDS Church's YFZ Ranch.

Mike Terry, Deseret News

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SAN ANGELO, Texas — A judge wants attorneys representing FLDS mothers and children to ask local LDS congregations if they would be willing to "provide a buffer" for FLDS members who wish to pray in groups at a temporary shelter.

Judge Barbara Walther made the decision late Monday afternoon at a hearing to address three issues brought by attorneys representing mothers of children who remain in a state shelter. A total of 416 children were removed from the Fundamentalist LDS Church's YFZ Ranch earlier this month as part of a child-abuse investigation.

The group of mothers filed court papers earlier Monday demanding their rights to pray in private without having a Texas Department of Family and Protective Services worker overseeing them. They also filed a motion asking the judge to allow them to stay with their nursing children and asked for access to telephones to communicate with their attorneys.

Addressing the concerns about prayer, Walther said she was aware of a community of members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints in San Angelo. While acknowledging LDS Church members are not from the same group, she asked attorneys to see if the LDS faith would be willing to monitor the prayer services of the women and children who remain in the shelter.

"How would I stop someone from practicing their faith?" the judge asked.

She acknowledged concerns from Texas child welfare authorities about improper communications between mothers and children that could occur in such private prayer times and have an affect on the pending investigations.

"If they cross the line or coach the child or make any kind of comment on litigation, all bets are off," Walther said.

The president of the LDS Abilene Texas Stake, which oversees San Angelo, was surprised by the judge's request.

"They think we're the same ones because we use the Book of Mormon," said Charles L. Webb. "I'm dumbfounded they would suggest that."

Webb plans to contact church headquarters in Salt Lake City for guidance.

The judge did say if that fails, she would look at other options.

Regarding breast-feeding, the judge said attorneys ad litem should be working with Texas child protective services workers in mediation to solve that problem, declining to consider the motion to order that nursing mothers remain in the shelter with their children.

Last week, mothers of children over 4 years old were separated from their children and sent back to their homes. Texas child welfare officials have said the mothers that remain with their young children in the temporary shelters will eventually be separated as foster families and foster homes are located.

On the issue of the FLDS women and children being allowed contact with attorneys, the judge ordered eight phone lines to be set up — six for the children and two for the mothers — with 24-hour access to their attorneys.

Lawyers for Department of Family and Protective Services said they had already set up the phone lines earlier Monday.

At the end of the hearing, an attorney asked the judge to consider her motion to stop the separation of mothers from their children. The judge said she hadn't seen the motion, noting that she had a large stack of motions to go over.

When the attorney pressed her to consider it immediately, Walther stood up and announced, "Ladies and gentleman, this hearing is concluded," and abruptly left the bench.

In the motion, attorney Andrea Sloan asked the judge to allow the women and children 30 minutes in the morning and again at night to pray in private. "Without exception, respondent mothers have reported that the department will not let them pray without being monitored by the department," Sloan wrote.

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