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ACLU of Texas Observing FLDS Custody Hearings in San Angelo

18 April 2008 Published in Legal Advocacy

A representative of the ACLU of Texas is in San Angelo observing the custody hearings currently underway concerning the children of the Fundamentalist Church of Latter Day Saints (FDLS), in front of Judge Barbara Walthers of the 51st District Court.

The hearings are part of a standard fourteen-day process mandated by the Texas Family Code, at the conclusion of which the court must return a removed child to the custody of his or her parents unless the government provides sufficient evidence that the child’s physical health or safety is in danger and, despite the government’s reasonable efforts to enable the child to return home, there is substantial risk of continuing danger if the child is returned.

Although the custody hearing is continuing, based on the testimony we have heard, we believe the government’s efforts to protect the children of the FLDS in Eldorado and the continuing proceedings raise serious and difficult issues regarding the sometimes competing rights of children and their parents.

“While we acknowledge that Judge Walthers' task may be unprecedented in Texas judicial history, we question whether the current proceedings adequately protect the fundamental rights of the mothers and children of the FLDS,” said Terri Burke, Executive Director of the ACLU of Texas.

“As this situation continues to unfold, we are concerned that the constitutional rights that all Americans rely upon and cherish – that we are secure in our homes, that we may worship as we please and hold our places of worship sacred, and that we may be with our children absent evidence of imminent danger – have been threatened,” Burke said.

The ACLU deplores crimes against children and believes that one measure of a society is how well we protect those who cannot protect themselves. We stand opposed to child abuse and support the government’s mandate to intervene when abuse is suspected, to safeguard the health and welfare of children.

“We recognize that this balancing act is difficult, but we are concerned that government may not be complying with the Constitution or the laws of Texas in the execution of its mandate, from how the raids were conducted to whether the current process protects basic rights,” said Lisa Graybill, Legal Director for the ACLU of Texas, who is in San Angelo watching the hearings. “The government must ensure that each mother and each child in its custody receives due process of law in determining the placement of the children and other matters regarding the children’s care.”

Karen McCreary, the Executive Director of the ACLU of Utah, noted “The government has both the obligation to protect children from danger and the obligation to do so constitutionally.”

Members of the FLDS live in communities in Utah and Arizona as well as Texas.

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Click here to visit the ACLU of Texas website