Authorities in Texas on Monday began taking DNA samples from from the 416 children seized in a raid on a polygamist religious group’s West Texas ranch. The state plans to match samples taken from adults in the Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints community to determine family blood lines as they investigate reports of under-age marriages and abuse. (The New York Times, free registration)
What the commentators said
Texas faces an “unenviable” decision, said the Los Angeles Times in an editorial (free registration). “Anachronistic hairdos and prairie dresses notwithstanding,” the pain of the mothers separated from their children is plain to see, and, in cases where there is no evidence of abuse, the kids should be returned home rather than sent off to live in foster care. “The polygamist lifestyle is deeply distasteful on many levels,” but it would be wrong, and devastating, to remove children from “nonabusive parents” and “punish families for their religious ideology, not their behavior.”
Those women in “pioneer dresses buttoned up the neck” may be weeping, said Deborah King in The Huffington Post, but they have stood by “while their underage daughters are handed over to men old enough to be their grandfathers—men who already have any number of wives and a passel of children. Men who are often close relatives.” And they have watched as male children who spoil the polygamous math are “routinely” cast out to fend for themselves. “What has been pulled over these women's eyes that they don't see this as abuse?”
The uncomfortable fact for the parents is that polygamy is a crime, said Rich Lowry in the New York Post (free registration). So even if there turns out to have been no child abuse—and Texas authorities say the kids were well cared for—that compound is no place for children. “Family relationships in America have become broken and convoluted—but nothing on the order of the bizarre sect led by Warren Jeffs, now serving time for forcing a 14-year-old to marry her 19-year-old cousin.” Surely the “liberal wave of nonjudgmentalism and of hostility to traditional marriage” has not gone so far that it will provide a place for these polygamists to hide.
The DNA testing will certainly stir the controversy already swirling around this case, said legal scholar Jonathan Turley in his blog. “The probable cause cited in the original raid seems questionable, particularly given the failure to locate the alleged witness. Yet, under the civil statutes, the state is allowed to act in the best interests of the children—regardless of how possible abuse came to light. DNA testing is sometimes ordered in such circumstances.” But in this case the results could be used to support rape and other charges against adults on the compound.