Fundamentalist Mormon Compound Raided in Texas, Raises Tough Questions
Editor’s note: An update to this story can be found here.
In Eldorado Texas, in the scrub of the West Texas prairie, Child Protective Services and law enforcement officials are going door-to-door at a massive, self-sufficient Fundamentalist Mormon compound. So far they have detained more than 400 children and put them in protective custody. Many more women and children are being held in interim housing off the compound, and men on the compound have been separated until the search warrants have been conducted.
At issue is the Yearning for Zion compound in Texas, a large property purchased by the Fundamentalist Mormon church known as the FLDS. On the compound, church members had created factories, a church building, farming, ranching, and everything needed for self-sufficiency. Recently the FLDS’s leader, Warren Jeffs, was convicted of several sex-related crimes, including being an accomplice to the rape of an underage girl. Jeffs apparently arranged a marriage between a fourteen-year old girl and her cousin, something that’s illegal in the state of Texas.
Authorities were tipped off by an unidentified sixteen-year old girl who was forced into marriage with an older man and had a child. Authorities claim they still have not identified this woman or her child, and are not sure if she is among the women and children who are currently being housed in controlled housing.
The claim of authorities is that the raid on the compound isn’t about the religious beliefs of the members but more about the systematic abuse of children. The more than 400 children in custody currently are there because authorities claimed these children were in immediate danger of abuse from family and others.
It’s hard to believe that a single report from a single girl is enough to raid an entire community and place hundreds of children in custody. The whole reaction smells of religious condemnation from the state rather than simple concern over child wellbeing. In the United States, we are supposed to have the freedom to practice our religion as we see fit, providing our religion abides by the laws of the United States, and even then there are some exceptions. The notable example of the Native American Church and its use of peyote is one example. In this case, the issue of polygamy is at issue since polygamy is technically illegal, assuming that a single man wants to be legally married to more than one woman. In these compounds, however, the man isn’t legally marrying more than one woman, though subsequent wives will be “married” in the church though not married in the eyes of the state.
The systematic abuse of children should never be tolerated, of course, but officials in Texas should proceed with extreme caution. If children are indeed being abused as reported, the perpetrators should be convicted to the fullest extent of the law. A raid on a fundamentalist compound should not be about eradicating a religious preference, but protecting children in legitimate danger. Texas is in no position to begin an ideology war with FLDS members. Their aim should only be about crimes committed.
TV fans can see the world of the FLDS fictionalized in the HBO series Big Love which chronicles one man and his struggles against persecution as a believer in FLDS doctrine, including polygamy.