Religious freedom and children’s rights

The seizure of 460 children from the LDS fundamentalist compound in Texas(New York Times: Deal to Return Children to Sect Breaks Down) was done because officials feared children were being abused, in part by the sect’s custom of marrying very young girls off to older men. From what I have read, this indeed was the practice in that community, and if true, is a sad and appalling misuse of adult’s power over children. No woman, young or old, should have to marry against her will. And in the vast majority of cases, I believe that a 12 or 14 year old is simply not mature enough to be married.

But that does not mean that every child, girl or boy, infant or teen, in that community was at risk. And it certainly does not give the government the right to remove every child from every family before specific investigation on each family has even been done. Can you imagine a scenario in which all the children were removed from Catholic families in a community if it was discovered that several predatory priests were putting children in the parish at risk? Or a decision to put all homeschooled children in the nation in public school because a few homeschooled children were illiterate? No way. That would be so vastly unfair to families that it is ridiculous to even consider.

It seems obvious to anyone with good sense that when questions arise about the safety of children, families deserve to be considered on an individual basis. This common sense practice was seemingly forgotten when the 460 FLDS children were seized from their families. If decisions like this become commonplace, all of our freedoms could be at risk.

I want all children to have the right to grow up safe and unharmed, and I am not sure if enough is right in the FLDS community to allow that to happen. But I do not believe that the government has enough evidence to prove that every child in that community is at risk. I have watched the updates on this story with an increasing ache in my heart for all the little children who are now in the care of strangers in foster homes in the overtaxed Texas foster care system.

Anyone who’s done any reading on attachment theory has read of the crucial importance of a primary caregiver in a child’s life. Separating little ones from their mothers has been proven to cause long-term damage to little children’s psyches. Adoptive parents all over the world are working to heal the wounds caused in their adopted children’s hearts by the loss of their first parents. Attachment is crucial to happiness and a sense of well-being as an adult. Even a two week hospitalization can leave a child with permanent scars to his psyche. (see Becoming Attached by Robert Karen)

I believe that these FLDS children have been harmed and have had their rights violated by being forcibly separated from their mothers. Harm is compounded with every day these children spend in foster care, away from their mothers. Paperwork piles up and lawyers get rich and hearings drag on, and still these children wait.

It could be that some of these children would be better off in other families in the long run. I certainly don’t agree with the beliefs of the FLDS. I’ve read enough about the community to know that not all is right in the FLDS community. Some of the mothers may be too brainwashed to make good choices about their children’s well-being. Certainly men who prey on children in that community should be arrested and locked up forever. And I hope that all women will be given the option to leave that community with their children and should be assisted to begin life elsewhere.

But I firmly believe that those families, whatever their beliefs, deserve the right to be treated as individuals, instead of a herd of cattle. As investigation drags on and lawyers spout rhetoric, and decisions are debated, for God’s sake, put these children back with their mothers.


  1. This was really well put. I understand exactly what you mean, and agree.

    My heart has been aching for the children, even though I’m not sure if the parents are completely all there.

    The authorities here in Texas didn’t know anything about the individual parents either. They used a bogus call to automatically assume that all children in the area were in danger.

    That should be frightening for the rest of us as parents. To see that one call from an unkown source cast suspicion and warranted the removal of hundreds of children, is scary.

  2. I love it when you write thoughtful posts like these. This was a very balanced and fair response to the situation.

  3. I am so glad you wrote this Mary. I have been feeling the same way. I wondered from the beginning why they didn’t go in and remove the men whom they thought were doing the abusing rather than taking all those children away from their mothers.
    You did a great job with this, and I agree whole-heartedly.

  4. Very well said, Mary. I agree wholeheartedly.

  5. Dawn in OR says:

    You did a very good job of of expressing what most of your readers probably feel about this issue, Mary. I think most of us mommies who have held our hurt children’s hearts and prayed for healing can understand very well the life long damage these children ripped from their mothers will deal with.

    Keep at it girl.

    Dawn in OR.

  6. Well said. This is exactly how I feel about it.

  7. I’ve been saying since the beginning that it seemed that the justice system had forgotten that they were dealing with individual families with individual rights.

    Also, may I gently suggest that statistically speaking, some of the children who were not at risk for sexual or physical abuse in the FLDS compound were probably subjected to precisely that abuse while in foster care. I would also suggest that this risk was compounded by the religious and sexual stigma that was associated with these children.

    In all of this horrible situation, the truest victims have been the children. May God bless and comfort them, and only He can.

  8. This is so true, and I didn’t think about it this way before, but it’s so crazy, because there are SO many situations where the kids SHOULD be removed from their homes- I knew of one situation where the father starved & beat his 3 children, and all the neighbors knew and complained over and over, and the system says “Oh, we can’t take them away yet…until this many complaints…or physical proof, or whatever”. And yet they swooped in and took all those kids…it is definitely food for thought! Thanks for taking the time to share this post with us!

  9. I guess I have the dissenting opinion on this one. Isn’t polygamy illegal? Haven’t these people been practicing it for years? My thoughts have been along the lines of how have they gotten away with it all these years. And if the children have been irreparably damaged by this fiasco (and I pray they haven’t), they have only their parents to blame.

    I’m a Bible-believing, homeschooling mother of five. If I do something illegal and get caught, I expect to pay the consequences, and yes, there will probably be repercussions for my family members as well. That’s the nature of sin.

  10. I am not well read on attachment theories. But as a mother of a 5.5 month old baby who spent three weeks in the hospital as a newborn, the statement that hospital stays can cause permanent damage to a child’s sense of well-being seems unnecessarily strong and alarming.
    Is not the presence of God with our little ones (wherever circumstances finds them) more powerful than any parental bonding?

  11. Heather,

    Certainly I was not intending to make a blanket statement, or to deny the sovereign power of God over all circumstances. God can shield those children’s hearts, and I certainly hope He will.

    However there ARE children all over the world who are walking wounded due to attachment problems. The hospitalized children I was referring to in general had no contact at all with their parents during their hospital stay.

    Kids vary tremendously in their ability to get past stress. Infants recover better than 2 year olds in general. Good parenting can tremendously facilitate healing. The child’s personality plays into it as well. Some very sensitive 3 months olds may have lasting damage from a month’s parental separation. Other children, like my very resilient daughter who spent a year in an overcrowded orphanage, have no apparent long term trauma.

    In the case of children who do suffer long-lasting trauma, does that mean God was not with them? Of course not. But sometimes, sadly, it does seem He allows children, even tiny babies, to be scarred.

    The Bible itself says, “In this world you will have tribulation.” As a Christian I have to trust that what He allows must be for our good, even when long-lasting trauma is involved. It is hard, and it is sad, and it is one of the reasons that I am praying for all the children separated from their parents right now. But I also have to remember the end of that verse, which I think is partly what you were alluding to in your comment. “…but fear not, for I have overcome the world….”

    BTW, if you are interested in more info on attachment and children, you might like to read this thread
    on the blog that I used to write.

    Thanks to all your responses to this post….


  12. Thanks for this post. I feel like so much emphasis has been placed on the shocking aspects of this community (which are legitimate and numerous) that people have easily forgotten the basic rights of the mothers and children involved. Each home needs to be evaluated separately and seizing all children at is unfair and traumatic. I cannot imagine how my two and five year old would handle being taken from me suddenly – away from the person they trust and love most and into a completely different environment and family. It would undoubtably be damaging. Damage like that should only be done if there is evidence that their individual home life is even more damaging. I firmly believe that this community needed some intervention, and has for some time, so I am glad that something is finally being done, and I understand that investigators have a hard time because of all the secrecy and loyalty that exists. But whatever happened to making sure that the children they are supposed to be protecting are truly handled with care?

  13. Mary,
    Thanks for sharing your thoughts on the issue. As a Christian homeschooling family we have been following this story with interest and heartache as well. How easily our own church fellowship (which is calvinistic, reformed and were about 80% of the kids are homeschooled) could come under some sort of outside interest from the government in the future. We too don’t want to see any children in an environment in which they are at risk, but to remove children that are in no way at risk just because they are part of a community is completely insane. This is just another example of our liberty being slowly eroded, it begins with a group that most would label as a “cult” and slowly continues to wear down our resolve…..enough of my ranting. Thanks for sharing Mary.


  14. Mary – it is interesting to me that you wrote about this, because my sister and I just finished up a chat tonight over a cup of coffee in which this subject came up.

    I understand what Jackie said above and yet find myself siding with you about the injustice to the children. Are their laws against polygamy in this country? Yes.

    But what about a married man who is unfaithful? What about one who is unfaithful multiple times? Or has an affair with a particular woman for years? Aside from personal repercussions from sin on him individually and his family – does the government come in and take his children away or separate him from the family? Of course not.

    Or what about a man who has children with 2 or 3 different women, never married to any of them. He’s considered a societal norm. He pays child support.. but what about the emotional support of being a part of a family?

    I’m not trying to make a case for polygamy… I’m just saying that if the government decides to take action against the children of the FLDS families… why do other people get to live a life that’s similar, just not all under one roof?

    And for the record – I am not ever ok with minors marrying adult men. Just wanted to make sure I put that out there also 🙂

  15. I am torn on this one. I have studied significantly on cults and the FLDS are one of the most vile cults out there. The problem is this is a community that stands in open defiance of the law and promotes systematic child rape along with the doctrine of “blood atonement” which is essentially premeditated murder.

    That being said I cannot imagine any less competent government organization than child protective services. CPS is a vile organization that seldom does its job right. They fail the children they are charged to protect and damn most of the children to a life of almost certain failure.

    Being a strict constructionist on the constitution this case is so fundamentally flawed it is pitiful.

    Being an advocate for exploited and abused children I cannot justify sending children back to mothers who are systematically grooming them to be raped or become rapists.

    Being a critic of the domestic foster system I cannot believe these kids will have positive outcomes in CPS care.

    Being a scholar of cults the FLDS are as bad as they come and these kids are going to have major struggles ahead.

    I wish I was Solomon!


  16. Really well-written perspective, Mary. I’ve been struggling to form my own thoughts. I’m heartbroken at the thought of these children separated from their mothers, and I’m equally heartbroken at the kind of abuse some of these young women are enduring. It’s incredibly hard to process.

  17. mary – thanks for sharing your views. i feel very much the same as you. what a terrible thing all the way around.

  18. Thank you for sharing your thoughts about this sad story. I have also been following and my heart breaks for these children and also for the mothers. I wondered, like Linda, why they couldn’t just remove the men for awhile while they continued their investigation, but I guess that isn’t the “norm”.

    I hope they put all their time and resources into resolving it as quickly as possible so the families can move on and heal.

  19. I’m torn as well. I do feel for the children and the mothers. However, I know that some of those 12 and 13 year old girls are not returning to be children, they are returning to be WIVES. And that part sickens me to no end.

  20. Apart from all the other issues – my first thought went immediately to the nursing mothers and babies. I truly hope there weren’t any but I imagine there must have been some. To take a nursling away from its mother makes my heart ache.

  21. Heather says:

    I agree with much of your post. My heart aches for those children, but I am torn. Was this handled in a radical way because these people were living on a “compound”…they weren’t dispersed throughout a community like home schoolers or Catholics, or any other group. Interaction with non FLDS members was limited. Was there concern as to whether the mothers could make informed decisions or even speak up for themselves and their children? With overlap in families and the closeness of this group, did CPS feel that they maybe they only had one shot at this? Also, I remember that at least at the beginning mothers with children under four or nursing could stay with their children. If those mothers went back to their homes then it was their choice, wasn’t it? I do not know if CPS continued to allow them to be together though. I agree that CPS is far from perfect, and that families should be treated individually…but I see gray area here. Do we look at the families based on paternity or maternity, because that makes a huge difference here. This community seems very intertwined.

    In the end, it isn’t really for me to know the answers. I pray that it all works to His plan and that these children find good, happy lives.

  22. Torn here too. I had the same mindset as Heather on this one. The “compound” aspect is what changes things. Take your analogy of Catholics. Removing children from homes because a parish priest was found abusing a child would not make sense. But what if the abuse was found to be happening throughout a residential Catholic school? Would it be over the top to remove all the children from that school?

    I completely agree that CPS is not the best place, but what is the solution when you know there is much abuse going on, and it is within a closed community? With the polygamy aspect, it’s also hard to talk about “individual families” Is there such a thing in a community like this?

  23. I didn’t understand why, if there were a concern about abuse, the fathers weren’t removed from the compound instead the wives and children. I thought that the authorities typically remove the perpetrators, before the victims, so why not do so in this case?

  24. May I suggest that you read Under The Banner of Heaven? I think that you aren’t fully informed about the FLDS and the myriad ways in which they abuse their children and control their followers.

  25. Such a tragedy all around for those children. Thanks for your perspective and hopefully God’s grace will fill the children’s hearts.