Thursday, May 22, 2008

Oh No! Bad News for Girls in Texas!

I just got this news from the New York Times:

Appeals Court Overturns Sect Custody Decision

Child welfare officials had no right to seize hundreds of
children from the polygamist sect, a Texas appellate court

Read More

I am in complete disagreement with the Appeals Court. I think that going into the sect was one of the boldest moves for children, especially girls, that have been made in a long time. This is not about polygamy or freedom of religion, this is about child sexual abuse that is institutional and criminal if done under any other circumstance.

1 comment:

Ben said...

I am conflicted about this whole case. I absolutely condemn the sexual abuse that is occurring in this community, as well as the mental, emotional, and (in all likelihood) physical abuse. As the survivor of a cult, I know firsthand how damaging such an experience can be. Thankfully in my case the worst things that were physically done to me in the name of religion were not getting immunized until I was a teenager, and a couple of hard spankings.

However, I do think that the Texas Department of Family and Protective Services responded poorly to the situation. They have a history of mismanagement; and I'm not surprised, though I am disappointed, that they screwed this up too. Essentially, TX DFPS ran afoul of some of the core beliefs of this nation.

In this country we have decided that religious freedom permits almost any behavior. We also have decided as a nation that parents may raise their kids in whatever way they deem appropriate, short of actual physical or sexual abuse. It seems to me that trying to argue that, while child X has not yet been abused, their environment is conducive to abuse is likely very difficult to prove under current law. Yet that seems to be exactly what TX DFPS has argued, in most cases. The impression I get from the news is that the sexual abuse of FLDS girls does not really start until they are married too young. Of course one should recognize that the mental and emotional abuse of both girls and boys starts much, much earlier. Yet for the most part this early abuse does not concern the state, under our current system of law (as I understand it).

Remember also that Texas allows children as young as 16 to be married with their parents consent (easily given in this situation), and even younger with a court order. If the FLDS controls an entire town including the courts and law enforcement, as they did in Hildale Utah, how difficult would it be to legitimize these marriages (leaving aside the polygamy for the moment)?

I think this case is a very good argument for changing the way we think through these sorts of cases. But I won't pretend to know how best to formulate our response. Religious freedom is one of the ideas that have made this nation great, and consenting adults should be free to do whatever the heck they want. But when vulnerable populations are affected, who cannot consent to what is done to them, then I believe some restrictions on religious freedom are necessary. That belief is the first step. I'm not sure what the second is.

(If my comment makes no sense, I ask for your indulgence as I am operating on very little sleep)