Tuesday, April 15, 2008


First of all, regarding my post on how Texas is dealing with the Fundamentalist Latter-day Saints in Texas...Mormon blogger Guy Murray continues to do a fantastic job rounding up all of the pertinent details about the raid on the FLDS compound, and those details aren't making Texas law enforcement (or perhaps just their child protection services, or perhaps both) look very good. I agree with all those who commented on my post that there probably needs to be a willingness to act quickly when minors or children are those who arguably are being threatened by certain behaviors within a closed community...but still--honestly people: taking over 400 children and teen-agers into state custody? Forcibly separating those mothers who had voluntarily left their home to stay with their children from them? Giving them a "choice" of returning to the ranch or going to a battered women's shelter...all without their children? This is still miles better than the Branch Davidians were treated, to be certain, but honestly, at what point does our nervousness about arguably abusive marriage and sexual practices cross over into the sort of bigotry that assumes any kind of family relationship within such a community must be a false one, or at least one subject to casual state interference? Texas is getting mighty close to that point, if they haven't crossed over it already.

I can't do better than to quote from a comment on my previous post, from my old friend David Watkins, in regards to the suggestion that we shouldn't weep too much for the FLDS:

[A]ny community is more than a pedophilia cult; given that it's the (disturbingly closed) universe that plays a central role in giving meaning to people's lives, it will inevitably be more than that...[and] even if and when we're all in agreement that this raid is a necessary and appropriate exercise of state power, we should still be troubled by the degree of state power we're authorizing (not just legally but morally here) and must consider in some detail the way we're authorizing this power such that we're minimizing chances of future abuses of state power following this precedent.

Well said.

Second, in other updates news, check out Patrick Deneen's further and very thoughtful elaboration upon the wonderfully snarky response of his to Senator Obama's gaffe which I discussed over the weekend. (I wish I could summarize the huge, contentious, fabulous, often unfair, often funny, comments thread which Obama's words inspired over at Rod Dreher's place, but not even I have that much time.)


Cicero said...

I was all ready to believe that there was serious abuse going on at this FLDS ranch, but I can usually tell when somebody is playing me, and right now I get the feeling that the Texas officials have been trying to control the media story so as to push my buttons into supporting their actions based on emotion instead of facts or evidence.

I don’t like it, and my bias is now moving away from the FLDS being child abusers to wondering why Texas is acting so defensive and secretive. (Granted I still suspect there are major problems in the FLDS community with abuse, but it’s starting to appear to me that it is not as widespread as I had believed.)

By the way, those pictures of inside the FLDS homes were nothing like what I expected. (Although I don’t know exactly what I expected- I’m starting to realize how biases I was about this group).

I was particularly interested in the kitchens, as in older, more traditional cultures, the state of the kitchen says a lot about the status of women in a home.

If a kitchen has the latest stove, and other cooking or housekeeping equipment it usually means a high status (in a traditional sense) for the wife. Historically the stove was the big thing.

In fact you can see echoes of this in modern culture in mother’s day gifts that tend toward cooking and cleaning appliances.

I looked at the kitchen and thought it looked surprisingly normal… and was that a coffee maker behind the guy’s shoulder!?!

Cicero said...

While I find this extremely disturbing I try to remember that there is definitely some evidence that a few girls are being married at a too young age.

From reading the affidavit I count:

2 reports from FLDS children of a girl who is 16 and married with a baby.

1 report of a sixteen year old with a new baby (can’t tell if she is the same as identified as the two children)

1 report of a woman who says she is 18, though the worker thinks she is 16 and was suppressed by the presence of her husband.

3 reports of women over 18, (18, 19, and 20 respectively) at least one of whom might have had children as early as age 16 (although at that point in time Texas age of consent w/ parental permission was 14, w/o parental permission was 16- I hope no one is going to argue for ex-post facto laws). These in particular create a difficult question as legally they are now adults- can you take an adult women into protective custody against her will based on a belief of past abuse?

1 report a girl estimated by the worker to be 16, with a 2 year old child. Attached to this is the statement of an 8 year old that this girl is 16 and has 4 children. (This contradicts some of the girls statements- so I would not be so sure about this one).

All of these are unfortunately double heresy as presented in the affidavit. (Not saying this is false, just saying that because of this it’s harder to tell exactly what the workers learned as it is not the workers reporting, it is another persons summary of the workers report on their interviews.)

Also, the husbands ages were: 33, 38, 40, and 40- Not the 50 and 60 year olds we keep hearing about.

I’m not so certain they are going to have any actionable evidence of marriages before age 16 (current Texas law allows marriage at age 16 w/ parental permission).

There was clear evidence of polygamy being gathered, and I can’t help but feel that case they are building is going to go like this:

1: Polygamous marriages are not legal

2: Therefore it matters not if the parents gave permission for their 16 year old to marry, they are not married.

3: Therefore, their “husbands” are guilty of statutory rape (and I guess the parents as well).

Not I’m not sure how I feel about that. I can see the legal reasoning, but it’s a far cry from the horrors they keep talking about in the Media.

Essentially… it seems to me the case they are building is not about abuse as much as it is attacking polygamy… It also seems to me that the lesson Texas officials took from the cautions they received from Utah about the Short Creek Raid was not to avoid a massive raid, but instead to control the media so as to create a lynch mob mentality.

Maybe there is some more evidence yet to come forward. I sure hope so, cause otherwise this is going to be a mess.

Doug said...

As one might expect, the Salt Lake Tribune has scadoodles of related stories. I started here, but the "related" sidebar seems to be in pretty much all of them.

laura said...

Russell, I've read your two posts and the discussion at Times and Seasons. I have to admit that I'm puzzled by the commentary at Times & Seasons. If the media accounts are true, then TX had every right to take those kids away from the women. If the accounts are false, then that's another story, but let's just assume that they are true for the time being. If there was a widespread practice of marrying off teenage daughters, then that's child abuse. If other women knew about these practices, but did not call authorities, then they are a party to the crime. In all child abuse cases, the kids are removed immediately and promptly. Even the kids who were not directly abused. The trial comes later.

I'm a little confused about the controversy.

Russell Arben Fox said...


If the media accounts are true, then TX had every right to take those kids away from the women....If there was a widespread practice of marrying off teenage daughters, then that's child abuse. If other women knew about these practices, but did not call authorities, then they are a party to the crime. In all child abuse cases, the kids are removed immediately and promptly. Even the kids who were not directly abused.

Right. I think the controversy you see on Times and Seasons and elsewhere boils down to a general distrust that the state will be a responsible and fair player in a matter dealing with the custody of children coming out of this particular religious situation. This is a distrust that has some constitutionalist roots, and part of it is our strong belief that families need to stick together, but which mostly goes back to our own historical memory. Since our experience is that religions which, in the name of building Zion and creating "eternal families" and whatnot, practice unconventional--even scandalous--marriage and family-building rites are not going to get treated well, we feel kind of sympathetic to those parents who want to keep as many of their children out of hands of the state as possible. Of course if the evidence of abuse or rape or underage coerced marriage is found and proven, it's all going to be over (as it should be!), and I don't think any except some very hard-nosed old-school Mormons would complain about that. But, failing to prove that, will Texas still return all the children to their parents? If you have reason to fear that they won't, then you have reason to be suspicious that the state, while following proper protocols, took all the kids, even those (like, for instance, young boys) who by the evident practices of the FLDS and by their stated doctrines had no cause to fear abuse or coercion.

Now, if you find the whole thing simply horrifying, then you'll say "Of course they have cause to fear abuse and coercion--simply growing up in and internalizing FLDS norms is itself conducive to abuse! It's the same reason we take both children away in family abuse cases, even if the stepdad was only going after the daughter." And you're point is a reasonable one; that's a good basis for the law. Some of us just fear it, even if irrationally so...because other people were led to believe that we were horrifying, once. (The truth, of course, is that we certainly weren't a perfectly nice liberal religion either, same as I'm sure the FLDS aren't (though I'd insist we were better than them...the FLDS, at the top anyway, seem to me to be disturbed, corrupt, wicked bunch). But we got shot at for our trouble. The FLDS, thank goodness, at least haven't been (yet).)

Laura said...

I understand there's a historical context here, but at the same time, I think it is a huge mistake for Mormon and other religious folks to minimize and even excuse the practices happening in the FLDS community. I think it was also a huge mistake for Catholic bishops to minimize the abuse happening by rogue priests in the 70s and 80s.

Marrying off underage girls is just wrong. Period. 14 year old girls should not be making babies. Some of the rationalizations for this behavior that I've read on the blogs makes me ill.

If the state is able to prove its case that underage marriage was encouraged in this community, then I absolutely think that ALL the children, boys and girls alike, should be removed from these unfit parents.

And let's just say it. If a person marries off a 14 year old daughter, he/she is an unfit parent. If a community hushes up this practice, then the entire community is abetting a crime.

I understand that the state may have over reached its authority in the past. But if these allegations are true, then I think minimizing this situation does not serve your cause.