Wednesday, June 4, 2008

Judgment Day in Texas

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Like the PBS documentary about Intelligent Design, Judgment Day was equally harsh for Texas Child Protective Services. The Texas State Supreme Court upheld an appellate court’s ruling that the 450 girls forcibly removed from a Mormon cult in Texas be returned. The court ruled that the Fundamentalist Mormon’s polygamist and other sexual practices were protected by the separation of Church and State as set forth in the U.S. Constitution.

The order signed by Texas District Judge Barbara Walther, responding to a state Supreme Court ruling last week, allowed parents in the Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints to pick up their children from foster care facilities around the state almost immediately.

In exchange for regaining custody, the parents are not allowed to leave Texas without court permission and must participate in parenting classes. They were also ordered not to interfere with any child abuse investigation and to allow the children to undergo psychiatric or medical exams if required.

However, it does not put restrictions on the children's fathers, or require parents to renounce polygamy or live away from the sect's Yearning For Zion Ranch in West Texas. "We're really grateful to get the order signed," said Willie Jessop, an FLDS elder.

The FLDS denies any abuse of the children. Church officials have always maintained that they are being persecuted for their religious beliefs. The FLDS, whose members believe polygamy earns glorification in heaven, is a breakaway sect of the Mormon church, which renounced polygamy more than a century ago.

Walther's order does not end a separate criminal investigation. Texas authorities last week collected DNA from jailed FLDS leader Warren Jeffs as part of an investigation into underage sex with girls, ages 12 to 15. He has been convicted in Utah as an accomplice to rape and is jail in Arizona awaiting trial on separate charges.

Listen to the 1-minute broadcast of this story [mp3]