Did Texas go too far?

William Murchison's picture

As Archie Bunker, in “All in the Family,” used to affirm, “Nixon knows something I don’t know.” It was both a comical and a semilogical way of standing behind the President’s much-berated Vietnam policies.

What about, in our own day, the state of Texas’ seizure of 460-some-odd children in a polygamist bust, and their redistribution all over the state? Would the state’s reasoning — that the children, all of them, were in danger of abuse in their polygamous setting — qualify for the same exemption from scrutiny that Archie accorded Nixon’s war decisions?

Not according to the Texas appeals court that on May 22 pronounced the state’s “protective” actions illegal, saying evidence of any threat the children faced was “legally and factually insufficient.”

In other words, the court thinks the state launched a preemptive strike for which it lacked authority. Children and mothers were rounded up for only the most generalized of purposes, and roughly dispersed without, perhaps, due cause.

The polygamist story has been all over the place, not excluding the front page of The New York Times and the networks. Numerous Archie Bunkers, I would guess, willing to give the state the benefit of the doubt in many things, are fast rethinking the matter. Maybe after all, in this case, the state went too far, good intentions notwithstanding.

Reflexive trust in the benevolence of the state’s intentions (specifically those of the Texas Department of Family and Protective Services) likely stems in part from the multifarious horror stories that have filled heads and minds in recent decades — accounts of child abuse by adults, of the reduction of the innocent to objects of prey by the powerful. Priests, day-care center operators, youth workers and, yes, parents — whom can you trust any more?

We seem to have overdosed on these stories — some true but many constructed on flimsy evidence — to the point that child-adult relationships now invite almost automatic suspicion. We appear to sometimes no longer trust adults in general to do right by children in general. The flip side of too much trust — alas — is too little, which could be where we are now.

Texas may have generalized too much, come down too soon, too hard, too fast without sorting out the facts. Or, maybe not. The point to notice is the overall discomfort the Texas experience causes. All these kids, these mothers — does the hammer of government have to smash their lives without better evidence of pending danger and harm? We need to learn much, much more about “what Nixon knows.”

The discussion returns us meanwhile, or should, to a familiar point: that family relationships and responsibilities — hard as 21st century society works at redefining them — are of the cultural essence. Worthy of state protection, yes, but worthier still of that tender cultivation and support only the family can give — father to mother, mother to father, children to parents, parents to children. It’s why the culture has to be so careful in dealing with those relationships: to acknowledge the danger of child abuse and at the same time to avoid freaking out over mere suspicion of adult misbehavior.

One reason for the “Nixon-knows” defense of Texas’ intervention at the polygamist ranch is that Texas’ famously conservative government isn’t famous for overreaching. A second reason: the weirdness of polygamy, outlawed in this country for more than a century. Yet even good intentions sometimes go astray. And it’s possible to believe that a polygamist isn’t, you know, all there, without imagining him or her to be an abuser of children.

To take children from parents is hard and bad enough when there’s unmistakable cause. When the cause is merely inferred, sniffed at, imperfectly traced to the source — then the state goes too far.

Did the state go “too far” in this present notorious instance? What did “Nixon” know, and when did he know it? The Texas court of appeals invites us to urgent consideration of urgent questions — these two just for starters.

[William Murchison is a senior fellow of the Texas Public Policy Foundation.] COPYRIGHT 2008 CREATORS SYNDICATE, INC.

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carbonunit52's picture
Submitted by carbonunit52 on Thu, 05/29/2008 - 6:11pm.

My opinion is that that children should not have been separated from their mothers and their homes. The fathers on the other hand should have been removed until everything was sorted out.

Submitted by sageadvice on Thu, 05/29/2008 - 7:11pm.

Don't "fathers" have same rights of arrest as the kids?
Anyway, who knows for sure who their father there was?

Removing some of the pregnant, underage girls at a time might have broken up the camp. Assuming they could have discovered who was underage and pregnant!

Frankly, I think maybe they did it the only way it could have been done considering the difficulty of a country police forces assets.
Maybe now they have enough information and evidence to prove some of it in court.
Just think a minute about how one would go about picking up all the underage girls in the rest of the country who are pregnant, and most of all how would you find the Daddies?

Want to arrest all of South Atlanta, Philadelphia, Washington, D.C.,
Appalachia, Los Angeles, etc.? Just try and find the Daddies!
It is a religious thing as much as a legal thing.
Many parts of the world mistreat very young girls--and boys.
Arrest them!

Submitted by Seeking on Sat, 05/31/2008 - 1:14pm.

The main reason these folks were targeted by authorities in the first place was because they didn't fit the "normally-accepted" definition of what religion and family should be. We need to be very careful that we do not support the stiffling of religious freedom in this country.

The "interpretation" of the Bible has been a subject of discussion for hundreds of years. Not everyone believes in the doctrines of the "main-stream" religions....in fact, there are even differences of opinion within denominations on which "translation" of the Bible is the "official" word of God. One group might choose the New International Version" and another might not "trust" anything but, the "King James Version". Who is right?

Everyone of the translations I have seen, espouses doctrine that is no longer deemed (by whom?) civilized or appropriate. This doctrine was fine a couple of thousand years ago but, now that doctrine of things like "plural marriage" and "legal age of consent" are considered taboo--simply because society has decided it should be so. Oh, and let's not forget the infamous "Eye for an eye".

Don't get me wrong--I don't agree with the practice of underage marriage anymore than I would agree to multiple marriage. I also, don't believe in murder. However, since it seems that some peoples' religion is based on how they have picked and chosen the verses and doctrine they wish to follow...what gives us the right to judge those folks in Texas? What gives us the right to tell them they can't live within the guidelines of their religion?

What's next? Will the "religion police" arrest those that are practicing full body emersion baptism or maybe those that don't?

Submitted by Elfie on Sat, 05/31/2008 - 4:37pm.

in an orphanage by priest, who had a revelation from god that it was a way to preserve their celibracy, would we accept that? Do we accept the Muslim code of justified murder of a woman to keep the family honor? I don't think it's their religious beliefs being challenged, it is these horny old men building their personal harem of underaged girls. Look into what happens to the boys in these communes when they hit their teens and become competition. Utah is full of young men cast out of FLDS sects on trumped up charges of watching a movie, playing a video game, or rolling up their shirt sleeves. These women are brainwashed and isolated, but at some point it becomes their chose to stay. If the old geezers would just keep their pants zipped up until the girls are of legal age, I think most of us would respect their religious rights more.

Main Stream's picture
Submitted by Main Stream on Sat, 05/31/2008 - 5:24pm.

"...it is these horny old men building their personal harem of underaged girls"

Correctamundo. It is a cult of horny male pedophiles obsessed with little girls and Texas officials did the right thing to take those kids away. And the mothers are not mentally strong enough to protect their own children.

Using religion to justify their perversions - sick, sick, sick.

Submitted by loanarranger707 on Sun, 06/01/2008 - 8:45am.

Freedom of religion is the freedom to BELIEVE anything you want.

It is not the freedom to DO whatever you want.

Submitted by USArmybrat on Sat, 05/31/2008 - 9:16pm.

Hitting it right on the head of the nail, Main. As a nurse, I'd LOVE to take care of these sick,sick old men,Main!! CLAMP! SCALPEL!!

Git Real's picture
Submitted by Git Real on Sat, 05/31/2008 - 10:32pm.

Put the Brat on your staff.

I'd LOVE to take care of these sick,sick old men,Main!! CLAMP! SCALPEL!!

All I can say is that it's a good thing those dirty old men... I mean pedophiles weren't booked in Fayette County or they'd already be back servicing their harems.


"That man was Griffin Judicial Circuit District Attorney Scott Ballard".


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