Monday, June 2, 2008

FLDS Church Officially Renounces Underage Marriage; Texas Judge Barbara Walther Signs Conditional Order Returning FLDS Kids To Parents

In an unexpected development on June 2nd, 2008, a spokesman for the Fundamentalist LDS Church (pictured at left, Willie Jessop) announced that the church will no longer sanction or solemnize marriages involving girls under the legal age of consent applicable in any jurisdiction where FLDS members live. It has not been established whether there is any connection between this announcement and the decision to release the FLDS children to the custody of their parents.

Stories with video available via CNN and KSL Channel 5. Salt Lake Tribune report HERE. On June 3rd, CNN also reported that the price tag for the entire FLDS operation is now approaching $7 million.

According to a four-page Deseret News article entitled "FLDS official: No more underage marriages; reunifications begin with the children", as well as a story in the San Angelo Standard-Times, FLDS member Willie Jessop, speaking for the church, released a prepared statement saying members will be counseled to not allow or participate in marriages below the age of consent. He said the statement will apply to all members of the church. It reads as follows:

"The church commits it will not preside over the marriage of any woman under the age of legal consent in the jurisdiction in which the marriage takes place".

This is not an official "revelatory" statement such as those announced by the mainstream Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints in 1890 which indefinitely suspended the practice of plural marriage within its organization, or the 1978 statement extending priesthood membership to all spiritually-worthy male members of any race. In both those cases, LDS authorities cited a formal revelation from the Lord as the authority to make the change. In contrast, the FLDS statement is simply a policy change.

The change in FLDS policy came on the heels of Texas 51st District Judge Barbara Walther's decision to sign the court order allowing the FLDS children to be reunited with their parents. However, the order, as you can see by viewing the nine-page PDF copy HERE, is not unconditional. The court order requires parenting classes, cooperation in an ongoing child abuse investigation including home visits and interviews between 8 A.M. and 8 P.M. The order also requires all children involved in the custody case to remain in Texas unless they get prior approval from the court; this means the parents must provide seven days notice before any moves, and 48 hours notice of any travel more than 100 miles from their homes, even within Texas. Parents can pick up their children from foster care facilities but must sign affidavits and be photographed.

FLDS officials expressed gratitude. "We're really grateful to have this order signed," said FLDS member Willie Jessop as he left the courthouse. He said logistics were still being worked out about returning the children to their parents and asked for privacy during the reunion. Most shelters are not prepared for what will happen next. "We are grateful that the court at least allowed mothers and children to come back," Jessop added. "We wished it was a better order, but hey, it gets the children and the mothers back and we'll take it."

A spokeswoman for the Texas Department of Family and Protective Services also expressed satisfaction with the court order. "It accomplishes two important goals. It allows the children to be returned safely to their families and caregivers in a prompt and orderly manner," Marleigh Meisner said. "Second, the court's order ensures that the state's investigation of abuse and neglect continues with strong provisions in place to prevent interference and ensure compliance by the parents. The safety of these children remains our only goal in this case", she continued. Read the Texas DFPS complete statement HERE.

The order returns all of the FLDS children, but it does not end the child welfare investigation into allegations of abuse and neglect on the YFZ Ranch. However, that investigation will enter a new phase with Texas Child Protective Services having to prove abuse individually - instead of en masse like a decision last month.

The parents are willing to participate in the investigation, attorneys said. Some will not be moving back to the YFZ Ranch to make a good-faith showing with CPS. But while the order said that the children could be released today, the foster care facilities may not be set up to let them go just yet. Parents will have to sign affidavits and be photographed. The children themselves are reported to be excited at the prospect of being reunited with their families. Read an additional story about this angle in the San Angelo Standard-Times.

But not everyone is happy about the decision. KTVX Channel 4 in Salt Lake reports that Carolyn Jessop, a former FLDS member and the author of the best-selling memoir, "Escape", is "heartbroken" that the children are being returned to their parents and worries about their well-being. She's also a former member of the Eldorado community itself, and said, "I am sure they believe they are invincible, that they have prayed and fasted. I'm sure they've been doing a lot of that and that God has answered their prayers".

But the Salt Lake Tribune also reports that just hours after signing the release order, Judge Barbara Walther arrived at the Schleicher County Courthouse in Eldorado to swear in a grand jury that may be considering indictments related to the polygamous sect. By the end of the day, 18 indictments had been issued, although no details were immediately available. The number was more than the usual; it is more typical for five to 15 indictments to be returned. Walther arrived at at the Eldorado courthouse at 12:30 p.m., accompanied by two bailiffs and her court clerk. She left an hour later. However, an updated KSL story published June 3rd reveals that none of the 18 indictments involved Eldorado FLDS people.

Commentary: This represents the best possible compromise in this case. The parents have custody restored to their kids, albeit with controls upon their movements. Regarding "parenting" classes, I suspect the FLDS mothers are more qualified to be teaching parenting classes than those who will be teaching them, since FLDS kids aren't potty-mouthed tattooed whiggers with multiple piercings.

The problem is balancing constitutional liberty with child safety. The state has some interest in ensuring protection for children who have dysfunctional families, since children are legally considered wards of the state rather than emancipated citizens. However, to assume that a particular lifestyle automatically constitutes a danger to a child without actual physical evidence of a danger is not only a form of profiling, but an expression of the pedophilia hysteria engulfing the nation. Out laws against sexual predators are in danger of becoming too vindictive; Utah's sexual predator laws no longer restrict the sex offender registry to sex offenders only. And as these registries grow, so do the danger to our liberties. We are not justified in turning America into a 3.6 millon square mile gulag just to protect kids.

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