Okay, I'm probably going to be very unpopular for my take on this issue, but please bear with me and hear me out. My real concern about this whole drama is regarding civil liberties. To me, this entire incident and the fallout beginning to occur has sounded awfully fishy. I hope that more of us will examine this situation from all angles before we form a quick opinion and file it away. This historical event could very well have ramifications for all of our futures, and the very survival of this country.
For those of you who may not be aware, authorities raided the 1,700 acre Yearning for Zion Ranch in West Texas on April 3rd, allegedly as the result of a call from , a 16 year old girl who claimed to be living in the compound, married to an older man who physically and sexually abused her. Interestingly enough, although police burst in with guns and S.W.A.T. gear, taking 416 children and their mothers captive, no one has been able to locate this caller. Indeed, no one has even been found who knows her or has ever heard of her before.
But let's even look past that. Let's play devil's advocate for a while. Let's assume that this girl does exist and let's assume that her accusations and claims are valid. Wouldn't you send CPS investigators to the home in an effort to determine the facts? Why would a massive police raid ensue, and why would 416 children be forcibly taken away from their mothers in buses? The mothers and children were kept apart, and all cell phones were confiscated, so that no one could contact anyone else.
And this is the point that REALLY bugs me. WHY would you raid the entire community? If CPS received a call from anywhere else, would police raid the entire community of Cedar Park, Plano, Bethesda, or Carmel because of one report from one family? How can even the original family be considered guilty without a proper, formal investigation, much less the entire community?
Additionally, comments from both Representative Harvey Hildebran and Texas Attorney General Greg Abbott certainly point to at least the possibility that this was a premeditated set-up, based on fabricated information.
Although officials originally stated that the raid had absolutely nothing to do with polygamy [most notably, Darrell Azar of the Texas Department of Family and Protective Services (TDFPS)], Hildebran's statements indicate the exact opposite. "We've been fighting this for awhile, trying to do something about it," Mr. Hildebran said. "But we needed a complaint. You can't just say: 'Golly, I can't get into that ranch, I bet you lots of awful stuff is going on in there.' " Mr. Hildebran said that based on recent conversations with law enforcement officials, they had been poised to respond if and when a cry for help came. "There was some anticipation, at least some preparation," Mr. Hildebran said. Hmmm, do you mean someone might have been a little trigger happy, Mr. Hildebran?
Earlier Thursday, Texas Attorney General Greg Abbott said on CNN's "American Morning" that "the case really doesn't hinge upon that particular 16-year-old." He said once investigators could "in good faith... go into the compound and determine whether or not there was any kind of wrongdoing, the case is on its own after that." But, he said, "It's our belief that these children who are under the age of 17 have engaged in sex with older men, which is a violation of Texas law, which is also a potential violation of the bigamy laws. So yes, we do believe we have information that will be substantiated in court that will show there has been sexual assault as well as bigamy."
So, then, sirs, it really is about polygamy and religious beliefs? But didn't you say that it wasn't? What about following proper procedures? The identity of this person (most articles simply refer to her as a 16 year old, and very few actually even have her name) and her original call aren't even the basis for the case? Well, then, what was your basis for the raid?
Oh, but, wait, it gets so much better. Personal property, such as hard drives from computers, were immediately taken. If your neighbor was accused of child abuse, would it be okay for them to walk over to your house, next door, force themselves in, take your cell phone, take the hard drives from your computers, or anything else of yours, for that matter, and separate you from your children for what has already been two weeks? Oh, but don't let me forget. Your children would also be forced to undergo blood tests, regardless of how you or they might feel about it.
And today, April 17th, the latest chapter has started to unfold: the issue of the legal proceedings themselves. We appear to have completely ignored and violated due process during the haste of separating these families and rushing the children off to foster homes. Because each of the children are being represented by a different attorney (many of them volunteers, at that) and because of the small size of the courthouse, much of this has been viewed by live video feed. And it appears as though possibly many of the lawyers, children, and parents are in different rooms. I am a little unclear on this detail, however. According to the NY Times, "Because more than 350 lawyers are involved in the case, many of them on a voluntary basis, the county courthouse was too small to accommodate them and the members of the church who wanted to attend the hearing. That is why the live video feed was set up at the nearby city hall." Although Judge Barbara Walther of Tom Green County apparently easily justified signing an emergency order to give the state custody of the children, she apparently isn't very concerned about the rights of the children or their families, or to determine probably cause, or to find time to let each case be reviewed individually. According to CNN, "Of Thursday's hearing, [attorney Damiane Banieh] said, 'I found it to be laborious. They were unable to get down to the real issue as to whether or not they had probable cause to go in and get these kids. Attorneys were objecting to everything, and rightfully so. There were lots of motions filed,' Banieh said. 'We didn't have an opportunity, one by one, to look at them and have an opportunity to file written responses. The other thing I had a serious problem with is... no parents, to my knowledge, received a copy of the original petition for emergency removal. You are supposed to know why your children are removed; and if you don't know why your children were removed, how are you supposed to prepare your lawyer to come in 14 days [later] and defend you?' " As per the New York Times, "because of the numbers of the children, parents, lawyers, and state officials involved, some lawyers said they expect all sides to make group arguments, rather than individual ones. While this may sound convenient, and expedient, that is really an insidious illusion. Why should the cases of individual families be potentially compromised simply because lawmakers decided to abuse their authority, arrogantly opting to springboard from one very questionable allegation into a massive illegal search and seizure against an entire community?
As I said, as a starting point, I was willing to play devil's advocate and give the benefit of the doubt that the allegations might be true. But what if I'm wrong, and my concern that this was a staged set-up by certain lawmakers is actually true? The members of the religious community confide that the remote ranch, with its log cabin-style houses and white temple, is simply a refuge from a hostile and sinful world.
This appears to have been corroborated by at least some of the attorneys and members of the police force who participated in the raid. "Two Houston, Texas, attorneys representing children removed from the Eldorado ranch visited it Thursday afternoon, saying they wanted to see whether it was a clean and safe environment, because the state had alleged it was not. 'It was a very clean place,' said attorney Jason Castraneda, who represents a 5-year-old. Members make their own milk and cheese, he said, and the ranch is "almost like a little city.' Attorney Damiane Banieh, who represents a 2-year-old, said she did not see evidence that the children were in an unhealthy environment. She described the men at the ranch as cordial, despite the circumstances."
I want to be clear that I am in no way saying that I have a grasp on the compound's way of life and that I am not sweeping the possibility of child abuse or sex abuse under the rug. If that call was legitimate (Google, is there even a recording of it in existence? Apparently not...) and not a prank call from a 33-year-old Colorado Springs woman, (ARREST UPDATE!) then the crimes need to be addressed and the problems need to be solved. But from everything that I have witnessed, the real crimes are by the State of Texas and the local Eldorado and Green County officials. Officials said the community was unclean and unsafe. That appears to not be true. Officials claim to have received a call alleging child sex abuse. That caller is nowhere to be found. Officials claimed the investigations and hearings would be fair. Yet, the violent raid, seizure of property, and abandonment of due process appear to contradict that promise.
When I think of attorney Jason Castraneda's observation that this is a tight community in which neighbors are making milk and cheese, it again reminds me of my earlier reactions. What if the local, state, or federal government decides that they don't like the Amish way of life? This country was born out of a desire and a need to escape religious persecution. But we appear to be experiencing just that. Representatve Harvey Hildebran is quoted as having had issues with this particular community since 2005, and proudly announced how he had been working to change laws in order to "fight this" and "do something about it". That hardly seems like an impartial lawmaker to me. What happens when the government decides that the Amish religion is not conducive to "democracy" or that their way of life is essentially "tax evasion"? Do we invade those "dangerous communities" with our SWAT gear and attack vehicles, as well? What if the government decides that it doesn't like your religion, or mine? Heck, lawmakers and citizens can't even come to terms on whether or not The Ten Commandments can be displayed at public facilities, such as courthouses.
Additionally, it appears that at least one 5 year old handicapped child might have been removed improperly, his special needs ignored, and that children are being told it is child abuse to have your mother hold your hand. Wow. It doesn't really sound as though the authorities who claim to be protecting all of these children actually have taken the needs of the children to heart, does it?
I hope that everyone considers these travesties and these frightening trends for what they are. Undoubtedly, the courts will go above and beyond in their efforts to illustrate any real or imagined crimes emanating from inside the compound. So let's try to look at the other side of the coin, the emerging police state and this violation of civil liberties. Heck, with incidents like this, maybe Bush didn't need the Patriot Act to treat all of us as criminals, guilty until proven innocent?