Polygamy Families

BOB ABERNETHY, anchor: In Texas, the Court of Appeals this week (May 22) said state officials were wrong and not have enough evidence to justify removing more than 400 children from the compound of a polygamous sect. The state had done this last month and dispersed the children to foster homes. Some of the mothers then sued to get their children back.

Wade Goodwyn has been covering the story for National Public Radio, and he joins us now from Dallas.

Wade, welcome. Why did the Texas judge think officials had to take all the children away from their parents?

WADE GOODWYN (Correspondent, National Public Radio): Well, because the state brought forward evidence that it claimed that they had numerous underage pregnant teens or underage teens who had already given birth a few multiple times, and they said that they believe there was widespread sexual abuse in this, at this ranch, and the judge agreed and seized all the children.

ABERNETHY: And then what did the Court of Appeals say?

Mr. GOODWYN: The Court of Appeals said not so fast, Judge Barbara Walther. The Court of Appeals did not believe that the state had proven that each individual child was in immediate danger of physical abuse, and the Court of Appeals said unless the state can prove that, the children have got to go back to the mothers.

Wade Goodwyn
Wade Goodwyn

ABERNETHY: And so are they going back now? Will they go back now?

Mr. GOODWYN: Maybe. The Texas Child Protective Services is going to appeal to the Texas Supreme Court. They have evidence of underage pregnant teens. I think they’re going to want to try that evidence in a different court, and while that happens I think the children will stay with the state.

ABERNETHY: Do the authorities know in all cases which children belong to which parents?

Mr. GOODWYN: I think mostly they do. It has been difficult for the state to find out who belongs to whom. There’s been resistance by the mothers and fathers and children of the Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, and the state has done DNA testing, the court has done DNA testing, and that will come back in about two to three weeks. But by, at that time, it may be a moot point if all the children are back with their parents by then.

ABERNETHY: Now, Wade, polygamy is against the law. Why doesn’t the state just shut the whole place down?

Mr. GOODWYN: Well, it is against the law. It’s a felony in Texas. But it seems that state officials in Utah, Arizona, and now in Texas are reluctant to prosecute for polygamy. Sexual abuse of an underage teen is another issue. But there seems to be a general feeling of “live and let live” among consenting adults, because if the state wanted, I think they probably could bring charges. Those are just charges that are hard to prove in court when no one wants to testify.

ABERNETHY: What have you been hearing around from people you talk to in the community? What do they say and think about what’s going on?

Mr. GOODWYN: Well, you hear everything. People are on all sides of this issue. It does not break down neatly into political lines. Conservatives feel both ways about it; liberals feel both ways about it. I think men in general tend to side more with the state being, seeing it that the state has been too aggressive. Women tend to be more concerned about the child’s sexual abuse. But, even inside of that, it doesn’t break down into neat groups anyway.

ABERNETHY: Wade Goodwyn of NPR News, many thanks.

Mr. GOODWYN: My pleasure.