SAN ANGELO (ABP)—The state of Texas had no right to remove some—if not all—of the more than 460 children taken from their polygamist parents, a state appeals court ruled May 22.
It was unclear if or when the children—some housed by Baptist Child & Family Services —eventually would be returned to their parents, who are members of the Fundamentalist Latter Day Saints, or FLDS, church. The sect is led by controversial polygamist Warren Jeffs, who is in jail on unrelated charges.
A district judge in April ruled in favor of the state of Texas, which seized the children during an April 4 police raid on the church’s 1,600-acre Yearning for Zion Ranch compound near Eldorado. Thirty-eight FLDS mothers filed suit against the Texas Department of Family and Protective Services to have their children returned.
A three-judge panel of the Texas 3rd District Court of Appeals ruled May 22 that the state failed to prove the children are in immediate danger.
“Evidence that children raised in this particular environment may some day have their physical health and safety threatened is not evidence that the danger is imminent enough to warrant invoking the extreme measure of immediate removal prior to full litigation of the issue,” the court’s majority wrote.
After the April 4 raid, several Baptist churches and agencies were among those asked by the state to help care for the children. Baptist Child & Family Services, an agency affiliated with the Baptist General Convention of Texas, was charged with coordinating care for hundreds of the children.
The appeals court instructed the lower court to vacate its ruling, but did give instructions for returning the children, according to several news reports. The state could appeal the case to the Texas Supreme Court.
In a message sent to Baptist Child & Family Services, a Texas Department of Family & Protective Services representative indicated the state agency’s legal staff was reviewing the court order and had not determined its next steps yet.
“As of the time of this writing, Judge Walther has not vacated any orders granting temporary managing conservatorship of any of the children in this case. We have been instructed by DFPS legal that we are not to return any child to any parent until further notice,” said Heather Shiels, director of residential contracts for the state agency.
“Children under the age of 18 are not to be released to their parents or persons other than CPS staff. Young adults 18 years of age and older, including many of the ‘disputed minors’ who have been dismissed from DFPS conservatorship, are free to leave their placements but may not take their minor children with them.”
With additional reporting by Managing Editor Ken Camp