They may be in danger of sexual abuse but they’re not in imminent danger, which is (currently) the only statutory grounds for seizing custody. Your move, state legislature:
“Even if one views the FLDS belief system as creating a danger of sexual abuse by grooming boys to be perpetrators of sexual abuse and raising girls to be victims of sexual abuse … there is no evidence that this danger is ‘immediate’ or ‘urgent’,” the court said.
“Evidence that children raised in this particular environment may someday have their physical health and safety threatened is not evidence that the danger is imminent enough to warrant invoking the extreme measure of immediate removal.”
The court said the state failed to show that any more than five of the teenage girls were being sexually abused, and offered no evidence of sexual or physical abuse against the other children. Half the youngsters taken from the ranch were under 5. Only a few dozen are teenage girls.
The court also said the state was wrong to consider the entire ranch as a single household and to seize all the children on the grounds that some parents in the home might be abusers.
Bigamy is illegal in Texas; bigamy on an institutional scale like this would, one might think, be sufficient grounds to remove children from the environment. If the state legislature makes that claim with a new bill, we’re bound to be see a constitutional challenge to the statute citing the holding in Lawrence v. Texas about “intimate, adult consensual conduct” being constitutionally protected. Is this the case that finally legalizes polygamy — an instance of suspected child abuse by a radical Mormon sect? Or will the court that decides it duck the question by separating out child welfare (which deals with people who aren’t legally autonomous) from issues of private personal conduct vindicated by Lawrence (which deals with people who are)? Stay tuned!