Wednesday, April 23, 2008

Occurrence at Yearning for Zion Ranch

Temple at Yearning for Zion

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.

Warren Jeffs

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.

A distraught mother

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.


Dan Binmore said...

An excellent outline of my own position on the matter. It's one of those situations where the optimum outcome is really simply minimizing the misery.

Ridwan said...

Thoughtfull post Dade. I too have mixed feelings about what happened.

I understand that there were allegations but it seems as the state conflated the allegations into the massive action that was taken.

In between any community there are horrible stories of sexual abuse and other abuse.

But should the state be so quick to remove all children without so much as even knowing that one of the culprits was not even in the compound anymore.

Those children deserve to be protected but my gut instinct smells the usual heavy hand odour of state moralizing.

Minors should not marry. But polygamy is a grey area and one that the US unfairly demonizes.

If, as you say, consenting adults want to live in multi-partner relationships then who the hell is the state to intervene.

Polygamy in the US, like the death penalty, is legislated as a religious position and not one that is about law and order.

The constitution does specify religion as the sole ground for legislation. But then again, the state hardly recognizes this in practice.

I worry about those kids and their mothers.

In my head I want the constitutional principle of innocence before guilt to followed.

I suspect that we will find that the state acted foolishly and it will be too late for those poor families.

Peace brother,

Shus li said...

Quoting Ridwan:

"Those children deserve to be protected but my gut instinct smells the usual heavy hand odour of state moralizing."

I agree with that statement, and am waiting for the other shoe to drop. Who is benefiting from the breaking up of this little enclave of counter-culture? Whose image is enhanced by rescuing these youngsters?

One wonders if these actions, which did not result in a "compound" being turned into an inferno, with little children being roasted alive inside, have been performed to mitigate the horrible memory of David Koresh's group at Waco?

Anonymous said...

The Larry King interview made me more likely to believe in abuse, not less. The women were clearly cowed and not able or allowed to answer simple questions. Expecting one of these brain-washed women to stand up for the rights of a child is naive at best.