When they write to complain of a lack of due process of law and violations of religious freedom, the American Civil Liberties Union and other critics of the state's intervention on behalf of abused and neglected children in Eldorado, Texas, dismiss known facts about the lives of children in the Fundamentalist LDS compound; ignore the well-established principle that the state's compelling interest in the health, safety and welfare of children permits it to impose necessary limits on the free exercise of religion; allege without substantive basis that Child Protective Services is acting out of religious bias against the FLDS; and grossly understate the complexity of the issues involved in this sad affair.
What is known from facts on the ground and experiences elsewhere is that underage girls are summarily "married" to older men, resulting in statutory rape, pregnancy and the birth of babies to children; that any FLDS mothers are complicit in this heinous practice; that underage boys are often banished from the community to a life on the streets at the whim of their male elders; that the true links between children and putative parents and siblings are largely unknown and perhaps unknowable; that "families" of multiple wives and their many children are used to scam the state and federal welfare systems; and the cloistered environment of the compound is employed to produce generation after generation of perpetrators and victims of these practices. No element of freedom of religion under the United States Constitution protects this behavior.
Since the day the children were removed, the confirmed number of pregnancies or motherhood among these young girls has risen to at least 31. Interviews and written documents have raised the possibility of sexual abuse of the boys, and physical exams have revealed injuries past and present that may indicate physical abuse of some of the children, girls and boys alike. This is the morass that CPS faces in trying to prevent harm to a very large if indefinite number of children, and the offered summary solution of cherry-picking the obvious case of abuse while otherwise letting life go on as usual misconstrues the law and belies the difficulty and imperative nature of the job.CPS and other authorities are working to sort out the players, good from bad, restore as many parent-child relationships as the law and good social work allow; and place children in safe, loving foster and permanent homes when reunification is not possible. Their actions to date are grounded in evidence sufficient for the reviewing court to have awarded temporary custody to the state. Continuing that custody while developing a permanency plan, or immediately returning the children to their parents, will be the subject of timely hearings specific to each child. Meanwhile, the FLDS, the parents and the children are represented by attorneys, many of whom are providing legal services pro bono. All the due process required under the law is in place.
C. Ed Davis is general counsel (retired) of the Texas Department of Family and Protective Services.