April 22, 2008
The polygamist PR campaign

I have not been following the story of the raid on the FLDS compound very closely - read Grits if you don't already for some excellent coverage on the topic. I did read this story about their ad hoc PR campaign with some interest, and thought this bit was worth mentioning:

Plural-marriage families exist mostly in the shadows, said Mary Batchelor, a co-founder of Principle Voices, a Utah-based polygamy advocacy group. She said families typically don't speak publicly for fear they'll be prosecuted for bigamy or lose their children to state authorities.

"It's scary, but ultimately, we decided to speak up and let the chips fall where they may," said Batchelor, now a regular on the polygamy media circuit. "When there is a lot of mystery about something, then people's imaginations start to fill in the gaps and they tend to go darker and darker. That leads to a lot of misperceptions."

A lot of the mystery, of course, comes from the fact that these folks isolate themselves from the larger culture. They do this in part for the same reason parents of all stripes have always done this, which is to shield their children from messages and experiences that they consider abhorrent and antithetical to their values, but also because they understand that the larger culture doesn't understand them and will, if forced to acknowledge them, be actively hostile towards them. Their religious beliefs are a part of it, but as this Houston Press story from a few years back told us, non-religious folks who prefer multiple-spouse arrangements feel the same way.

I'm not going to claim I really understand their perspective, but in the absence of any credible claims of child abuse, and it appears there are none here, then I don't see how these people's business is any of mine, or any of the state's.

If the calls turn out to be fake, some criminal defense lawyers said they doubt any criminal charges that may be filed in the case would stand up in court.

An anonymous call is not sufficient to grant a search and seizure, Houston lawyer Charles Portz said. "That's not probable cause. What other proof do they have?" he said.

"Are they DNA testing for sexual contact or to see who the parents are?" Portz asked.

Jim Harrington, head of the Texas Civil Rights Project, said it will matter if the original call was legitimate or a hoax.

"The officials have a duty to investigate and make sure that there's a reasonableness and the credibility to that call," he said. "The general rule is that you cannot have a warrant based solely on an anonymous call. There has to be other factors that come into play that demonstrate the reliability of the anonymous call. Otherwise you could imagine the havoc from people filing these false (reports) all the time."

State officials are confusing family law standards governing the interests of children with criminal conduct involving abuse with children, Harrington said. The state is misguided to separate children from mothers instead of removing older men suspected of sexually abusing children, he said.

But some law school professors disagree.

An anonymous call that turns out to be a hoax "is completely after the fact and has no legal relevance," said Sandra Carnahan, who teaches criminal procedure at Houston's South Texas College of Law. "The issue will be whether the (search) warrant is valid on its face."

The judge may have had enough reason to sign a warrant if the anonymous caller, whether legitimate or not, provided ample detail about conditions inside the compound, Carnahan said.

Jack Sampson, a professor in the University of Texas Law School's Children's Rights Clinic, said CPS workers were obligated to investigate the allegations as a civil matter. Whether it turns into a criminal issue is to be decided.

"We don't know who the father is. But we do know that if the father is more than two years older (than the underage mother), that there's been a crime," Sampson said.

CPS spokesman Darrell Azar said it doesn't matter if the original call turns out to be a hoax.

"What matters is what we found there. We found a number of children as young as 13 who were being married and were giving birth to children and who were sexually abused and the judge agreed," Azar said.

"So it doesn't really matter what happens with that situation. Once we get a report, we're obligated -- legally and morally -- to investigate," he said.

I don't recall seeing any stories saying that they had found 13-year-old mothers in the compound, but maybe I just missed them. Be that as it may, I'm very uncomfortable with the idea that a phony call could trigger all this. That opens a huge can of worms that would have pretty far-reaching implications for us all. I hope that if any criminal charges are eventually brought, the judge takes a very skeptical look at that original warrant.

Given how many young kids are now being separated from their families, I just hope we can get this mess untangled before we do any real damage. Grits has a personal take on this, and points to this interesting post from a self-professed "feminist Mormon housewife" as well. Check 'em out.

Posted by Charles Kuffner on April 22, 2008 to The great state of Texas

Thanks for the link to the feminist Mormon site. It was a very interesting read.

My motto: "Hell hath no fury like a CPS worker who thinks they're working in the best interests of the child."

Posted by: Ron in Houston on April 22, 2008 11:01 AM

The call met the standards of being legitimate at the time it was received. If it was indeed phony, it was determined to be so after evidence was gathered and conclusions were made. If the information gathered cannot be used, then we're back to a call for help that must be investigated.

Posted by: Charles Hixon on April 22, 2008 2:16 PM

Don't let this turn into another "Short Creek" raid -- the real story here is that Texas law enforcement DID THE RIGHT THING.

Posted by: The_Other_Sarah on April 22, 2008 6:22 PM

Personally I think the agenda here is to run them out of Texas. Simple as that.

And I do predict it will work. Now that they've found that the Baptist-dominated power structure in that part of the world isn't going to accommodate them like the authorities do in Arizona and Utah they'll soon be on their way back home to Zion.

Whether any of these accusations come to fruition in the legal arena I think the objective has already been achieved.

In any event, good riddance. There are some things civilized society just can't tolerate. Multiple child brides is one of them. What's next...honor killings and female genital mutilation?

Posted by: Kent from Waco on April 23, 2008 12:07 AM
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