The appeals court in the state of Texas has ruled that the authorities and a lower court judge were wrong to order the seizing of more than 450 children from a ranch run by a polygamist religious group in the west of the U.S. state.
The latest court ruling came during the biggest custody case ever in the United States, with some lawyers saying the children could soon be reunited with their families. Many of the mothers have been criss-crossing Texas to visit their children in foster homes.
The court ruled that Texas did not establish appropriate reasons to take the children from their families, who are all members of the Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. This group left the mainstream Mormon church after it renounced polygamy in 1890. Lawyers for the parents and children say that the court ruling means the hearing concerning the children has been suspended.
F.L.D.S. members claim they are being persecuted for their religious beliefs.
Heavily armed police raided the Yearning for Zion ranch near San Angelo on 4 April 2008 after an abuse hot line received a call from a woman who said that she was a 16-year-old child bride, and her older husband was abusing her in the compound. The caller has still not been traced, and it has been suggested the call was a hoax.
The appeals court concluded that the grounds for the raid, and the taking into care of the children were "legally and factually insufficient".
The court said the state had not proved that the children were in immediate physical danger, and, therefore, they had been improperly separated from their parents.
"The department … failed to establish that the need for protection of the children was urgent and required immediate removal of the children," the court document said.
While the latest legal opinion covers the children of only 48 mothers, lawyers said the ruling would probably apply to all of the children, who are mostly in foster homes across the state.
Jailed polygamist leader Warren Jeffs, whose Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints endorses plural marriage, founded the isolated ranch that was the scene of the raid.
Outsiders have described the lifestyle on the farm as austere, with women and girls wearing long pioneer-style dresses, and being taught that they must always obey men.
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