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Are FLDS sect's beliefs sufficient grounds for taking the kids?

Texas Supreme Court is set to weigh in on state's actions toward a polygamous sect.

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State officials' rationale for removal

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DFPS officials insist they were legally compelled to remove all the children from the ranch, sparking the biggest child custody case in US history, because they found many underage women with babies or pregnant, because FLDS members they interviewed provided conflicting or erroneous information about family relationships, and because the "pervasive belief system" of the sect put all the children at the ranch in danger of either participating in or becoming victims of sexual abuse.

FLDS members, however, who split with the mainstream Mormon church in the late 1800s after it officially banned polygamy, deny those claims. They've said that if there are abuses in individual families, those should be dealt with separately – not communally.

"From the very beginning of this case, I thought [the DFPS] should look at individuals and not try to treat every participant in this community as though they're all the same," says Rod Parker, a Salt Lake City attorney for the FLDS. "They're not all the same."

It's a typical practice in child-protection agencies to remove all children from a home where abuse is likely to have occurred, says Ellen Marrus, a family law expert at the University of Houston. (Her own view is that it makes more sense to remove the abuser and get help for the others.) "If this were a house in which several immigrant families were living and one of the children were being abused, would all of the children be removed? Absolutely."

Scott McCown, a retired district judge in Texas and director of the Center for Public Policy Priorities in Austin, says he finds some aspects of the appeals court decision disturbing.

"There was no mention of what the standard of proof is," says Mr. McCown. "What the [district] court had to find was sufficient evidence to satisfy an ordinary person of prudence and caution that there was a danger to these children. The court of appeals treated this more like a final trial when this was a temporary order."

He is uneasy, too, over the appeals court's inattention to evidence of "spiritual marriages" and their effect on children, given that polygamy is illegal in Texas.

Also expected this week are results of DNA testing on the adults at the compound, which the state ordered to establish family ties. And criminal charges are expected soon.

"I anticipate ultimately there will be some criminal charges pursued," says Allison Palmer, an assistant district attorney. "But we will only pursue those after a full, thorough investigation."

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