State must triumph church if children’s safety questioned

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Lately, the news has been buzzing with information about the Yearning for Zion Ranch, a religious compound in Eldorado, Texas, after a 16-year-old girl called from inside the compound and claimed she was being abused by her 49-year-old husband.

Members of this Texas religious sect are part of the Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints, a group that split from the Mormon Church when the latter banned polygamy in 1890. Not much is known about the sect; its members are not very willing to share information, and not many records are kept. Texas police claim that polygamy is ongoing and have administered DNA tests to try to distinguish family lines. The police also found a document detailing marriages between girls as young as 15 or 16 years old to men in their 40s. The sect seems to be stuck in the 19th century, when younger women married older men frequently; however, this is when the life expectancy was also much lower. While it’s hard to imagine today a young woman wanting to marry a man 25 years her senior, The New York Times reports that marrying young and having lots of children are what the sect’s members aspire to in life.

The state has removed more than 400 children from the ranch and has placed over 100 of them in foster care in nearby areas. The remaining children that were removed are currently being housed in the sports arena, the San Angelo Coliseum, and San Angelo Pavilion.

After seeing the women of the ranch on TV, it’s hard to classify the sect as anything but cult-like. The women seemed like Stepford wives, unable to veer from their script when different questions were posed to them, only able to repeat that their concern was for the return of their children. All of the secrecy surrounding the Ranch doesn’t help clear its leaders’ names; such mystery hints that something is indeed being hidden from the public (and it’s not just the women below their concealing, outdated clothing).

There is indeed a lot of mystery surrounding the case of the polygamous Texas ranch. First is the matter of Sarah, the girl who supposedly made the call to the police. When state officials investigated, the mothers claimed that no such girl existed, while other girls claimed that they did know of Sarah, but that they didn’t know where she was. Whether or not Sarah is real, however, the phone call “she” placed has amassed so much attention that it should help to make people aware of the wrongful practices occurring at the ranch.

In addition, the case of the hundreds of children taken from the ranch is still up in the air. Without proof that they’re in danger of being mistreated, there’s no real reason that they should be kept from their families — and such proof is difficult to find. The women have pleaded for the children’s returns, but they still won’t answer any questions about the ranch. While the mothers are unquestionably concerned for their children, it appears that they really don’t know what is best for them by keeping them in such a limiting environment, and so the state must protect the children when their parents cannot.

A key issue in this case is the ever-present question of the separation of church and state — should the state really have the power to take away children from the ranch because their religious practices are frowned upon? While some may say that they should be allowed to practice their religion however they please, we must keep in mind that they are still living in the United States, where polygamy is, in fact, illegal, as are underage sexual relations. Just because we have a separation of church and state does not mean that unjust acts under the former should be ignored. The state must put the protection of the children first and foremost, and until the church starts speaking up, it seems the only way to do so right now is to keep the children away from the church and its members.