COMMENTS: Fundamentalist Mormon Parents Vindicated

For all the coverage given to the adherents of the Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints on the Yearning For Zion ranch outside of San Angelo Tex over the last seven weeks, this was only the second time that they have qualified as Story of the Day. The first time was in the first week of April when Texas child welfare authorities raided the ranch and took every single child and minor teenager living there into custody. This second time was inspired by a Texas appeals court ruling that the raid and the seizure were illegal. Welfare authorities had no evidence of "immediate or urgent danger to physical health or safety of the children." ABC and CBS led with the decision. NBC chose severe weather in Colorado because KUSA, its affiliate in Denver, had snared some dynamic images of a rampaging tornado.

That removal of all the children and young teenagers, CBS' Hari Sreenivasan reminded us, was based on the state's insistence that the 1,700 acre ranch "was all one household--if one child was in danger they all were." The appeals court disagreed. ABC's Kate Snow (embargoed link) added that the sect's belief in polygamous marriages involving post-pubescent teenagers was no evidence of danger to "any male children or any female children who had not reached puberty." NBC's Don Teague noted that even the allegation of a widespread pattern of underage marriage "eroded this week" when the welfare authority conceded that "at least 15 of 31 mothers it said were children are actually adults." CBS anchor Katie Couric interviewed Guy Choate, the lawyer from the Texas State Bar who coordinates representation of the children's interests. Couric asked what evidence his court guardians had found of child abuse: "That relating to sex, and spiritual marriage, with girls as young as 14, 15," was his reply. He made no mention of abuse of boys or of preteen girls.

NBC's justice correspondent Pete Williams called the ruling "a total legal smackdown…a harsh rebuke" of the state authorities with "not a word of sympathy in this ruling for what the child welfare department said it was up against." CBS' in-house legal analyst Andrew Cohen (part of the Sreenivasan videostream) noted that it was also "an indictment of the trial court judge who, the appellate judges said, got the facts and the law wrong." However there are no family reunions in the immediate offing. The children are "scattered across the state of Texas in foster care facilities," NBC's Teague pointed out. If that state decides to appeal the case to Texas' Supreme Court, "the children would remain where they are right now," ABC's Snow warned, and even if no appeal is lodged, they will not go home for a couple of weeks. Maybe the happy homecoming will mark a third Story of the Day to round out the narrative.

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