AUSTIN, Texas – Child welfare authorities are warning that members of a polygamist sect could flee Texas jurisdiction now that a court has found the state’s removal of their children was improper.
Texas Child Protective Services lawyers argued Tuesday that if the custody orders are rescinded, parents could take the children out of the state and “no Texas court would have any authority to enter any orders to protect these children.”
An appeals court ruled last week that the state failed to show that the youngsters were in any immediate danger, the only grounds under Texas law for taking children from their parents without court action.
About 440 children were taken into custody from the sect’s Yearning For Zion Ranch near Eldorado more than six weeks ago after someone called a hot line claiming to be a pregnant, abused teenage wife. The girl has not been found and authorities are investigating whether the calls were hoaxes.
Child welfare authorities have argued that all the youngsters should be removed from the ranch because the sect forces underage girls into marriage and sex. Members of the sect, the Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints, claim they are being persecuted for their religious beliefs, including that polygamy brings glorification in heaven.
The appeals court ruling against the state technically applied only to the 124 children of 38 mothers who filed the complaint. State officials acknowledged Tuesday that it could harm their case with the hundreds of other children from the ranch.
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The state’s court filing Tuesday – an update of an initial appeal filed on Friday – also said DNA testing of potential parents of the children is not yet complete and that children could be returned to sexual predators if the court doesn’t rule in its favor. The first DNA results are expected next week.
Also on Tuesday, a judge ruled that the state can keep custody of a sect member’s infant. The temporary custody agreement allows Louisa Bradshaw Jessop, 22, to live with her 2-week-old son and her two toddlers under state supervision.
The FLDS has broken away from the Mormon church, which renounced polygamy more than a century ago. FLDS members are concentrated in two towns along the Arizona-Utah line, but there also are enclaves in Colorado, South Dakota and British Columbia.