Wednesday, April 23, 2008
Occurrence at Yearning for Zion Ranch
By now, nearly everyone has heard about the raid that occurred on a remote Texas ranch, wherein Texas state officials removed more than 400 children from their parents and community. The raid was in response to allegations of child sexual abuse and coerced marriages. The raid took place on April 5 and is being called the largest child-protection operation in history.
The ranch, called "Yearning for Zion," is located 160 miles northwest of San Antonio, Texas, and is the home of an offshoot of the Mormon church which is called the Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints (FLDS). The sect, which claims 10,000 members throughout Texas, Utah, Nevada, and Arizona, adheres to the belief that a man must marry at least three wives in order to ascend to heaven, and that women must be subservient to their husbands in all things. This sect acknowledges convicted rape accomplice Warren Jeffs as its leader. Jeffs was convicted in Utah of two counts of rape as an accomplice for arranging marriages of underage girls within his community. The sect apparently regularly practices to arrange marriages of virginal girls (some as young as 13 years of age) to older men.
The raid in Texas occurred as a result of a phone call placed to Child Protective Services alleging sexual abuse of a 16-year-old girl by a 50-year-old man who was ostensibly her husband. The girl, who has yet to be found, supposedly bore a child to the man sometime last year.
Since the raid, there has been a concerted effort on the part of the FLDS to win sympathy from the public. Angst-ridden mothers appeared on CNN's Larry King Live pleading that their children be returned to them. The men of the community were conspicuously absent from the interview, and the women would not answer any questions about them.
I watched Larry King interview these women, and I must say, my heart bled for them. (No doubt, this is just what the shadowy leaders of the sect hoped for.) Their pain and worry was sincere and apparent.
As I watched, and empathized with these very polite and demur women, I pondered the actions that the state of Texas had taken. Had the state acted in the best interests of the public? Were the rights of the FLDS being respected? What about the children?
At this point, my feelings on the matter are still in flux. As a matter of principle, I am not convinced that the state has a right to outlaw polygamy. After all, consenting adults should be able to live as they please, so long as they do not infringe on the rights of others. As the pagans say, "An' it harm none, do what thou wilt."
But the raid wasn't in response to allegations of polygamy; it was in response to allegations of child sexual abuse.
And that's just it, isn't it? The children whom the state removed from their parents were not consenting adults. According to Texas law, girls 16 years of age or younger may not marry, even with parental consent. In other words, the state has determined that a girl younger than 17 does not have the judgment or experience to be able to consent. One could argue that 17 is an arbitrary age and that, I suppose, is true. Nonetheless, until the law is changed, 17 is the age of consent in Texas.
Ostensibly, the purpose of society and law is to protect the weak and the helpless. Of course, it is also vital that the rights of the individual be respected. (Beware the tyranny of the majority!) Cases like this one necessarily cause controversy and reexamination of laws and social mores. And that's healthy for society. But, alas, for those undoubtedly frightened children and their frantic mothers.
We humans are so often compelled to choose between evils, even as we strive to do good.