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A state of abuse

Zach Einterz | Tuesday, April 29, 2008

Those of you who pay close attention to the news have probably heard a lot about a secretive group in Texas that rapes and abuses children. In 2004 alone, 100 children from this organization received treatment for poisoning, 63 received medical treatment for rape, and 142 gave birth. A child in this organization is four times more likely to die than the average Texas child. Despite these abuses, the group has remained shrouded in mystery, protected by a veil of secrecy from those within the system. The leader of this group has shown “callous indifference in hiding the truth” says a lead state investigator, who encountered “repeated and continuing roadblocks and stonewalling” while trying to uncover the abuses of this organization.

Given the abysmal record of child abuse within this organization, an appropriate course of action would be to liberate the children and place them in a healthier environment. Unfortunately, the fox is guarding the henhouse. The record of abuse described above comes from a 2006 investigation into the Texas Department of Family and Protective Services. Texas Comptroller Carole Strayhorn, calling herself the “voice for these forgotten, neglected, abused and dead children,” uncovered systematic abuse in the Texas foster care system. This system, which presided over the deaths of 116 children between 2003 and 2005, now has custody of 463 children abducted from the Fundamentalist Latter-Day Saints (FLDS) Church.

On April 3, a fully-armed SWAT team raided the FLDS-occupied Yearning for Zion (YFZ) ranch in Eldorado, Texas. The raid on the ranch was prompted by a phone call from a 16-year old girl who claimed she was an abuse victim from inside the compound. Authorities still haven’t given a satisfactory reason as to why they needed armored vehicles and assault weapons to raid a peaceful people for an instance of sexual abuse. Officials also have yet to identify the alleged abuse victim and are now suspecting that the phone call was a hoax from a schizophrenic Colorado woman who has a history of false reporting. Regardless, the judge in the case has ordered all 463 children abducted from the ranch to remain in state custody. In doing so, the presiding judge ignored the advice of the state’s own witness, child psychologist Bruce Perry, who testified that “the traditional foster care system would be destructive to these kids.”

The FLDS Church practices polygamy, and many of the teen girls taken from the ranch are pregnant or have children. However, the possible sexual abuse of several teen girls should not result in the abduction of all of the children. Only half the marriages at YFZ ranch are polygamous, and many loving parents have lost custody of their children as a result of this raid. Over 150 of the children now in state custody are under the age of five even though officials acknowledge that there is no evidence of abuse among these younger children.

The forced separation of FLDS families has little to do with the children’s welfare. Of more concern to government officials was the nonconformity of the FLDS. Members of the FLDS church wear colonial-style clothes, work on a farm, grow their own food, and never watch TV. Clearly, the children need to be freed from this oppressive indoctrination and exposed to a world of short skirts, processed foods and “Project Runway”. Some of the men in the FLDS church practice plural marriage and provide for their children; an abhorrent alternative to the more commonplace practice in the rest of the U.S. of engaging in serial marriage and not providing for one’s children. Simply put, in small-town, evangelical Texas, the alternative lifestyle and religion of the FLDS church was not welcome.

This article is not a defense of the FLDS church, as I personally disagree with many of their beliefs and practices. Of concern to me is the lack of restraint exercised by the state. The United States was founded on ideals of individual liberty, religious freedom and tolerance for all groups of peoples. Our Constitution grants us the freedom to live in a manner of our choosing as long as our actions don’t infringe upon the rights of others. This freedom applies to everyone regardless of the absurdity of their beliefs, the offensiveness of their actions, or the unconformity of their lifestyle. Yet, Texas officials, in an enormous display of self-righteousness, have essentially outlawed the practices and lifestyle of the FLDS church and they have unnecessarily and unconstitutionally placed hundreds of kids into a system that is no less abusive than the environment from which they came from.

Zach Einterz will be graduating in three short weeks. He thinks Texas should secede from the Union. Contact him at zeinterz@nd.edu.

The views expressed in this column are those of the author and not

necessarily those of The Observer.