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US authorities remove 400 children from religious compound


The Texas children’s service system is taking swift action to find homes and resources for the more than 400 children removed since 4 April from the Yearning For Zion Ranch located outside Eldorado, in the second largest US state.

The ranch is the headquarters of the Fundamentalist Latter Day Saints movement, which allows its members to practice polygamy. The FLDS was once headed by Warren Jeffs, who in September 2007 was found guilty on two counts of being an accomplice to rape and is serving a 10 year sentence.

The raid on the sprawling compound built by Jeffs was triggered after a 16-year-old girl told authorities that she was being abused and that girls as young as 14 and 15 were being forced into marriages with much older men.

The Texas Child Protective Service has temporary custody of 401 children following a 4 April raid on the compound. In court documents released on 7 April, representatives for the religious group called the raid unconstitutional and an "irreparable" desecration. They compared the actions of Texas officials to "authorities rummaging through the Vatican". Lawyers for the ranch are seeking a restraining order on the authorities and a hearing is set for 9 April.

The children were accompanied from the compound by 133 women, and a 17 April court hearing has been set to determine their status. Fathers of the children were not permitted to leave the compound.

Texas is said to be facing a shortage of foster homes and more than 200 social workers from throughout the state are assisting in the search for temporary homes for the children.

The Dallas Morning News reported that the Eldorado raid was larger than the July 1953 raids on Short Creek, Utah, where more than 300 women and children from a centre of the same church were sent to foster homes.

The Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints is the largest Mormon fundamentalist denomination and one of the largest practitioners of plural marriage in the United States. Emerging in the 1930s, the FLDS is an offshoot of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (LDS Church). It split largely because of the LDS Church’s continued renunciation of polygamy and its decision to excommunicate practitioners of plural marriage. The FLDS Church and the LDS Church are distinct and separate denominations.

Four years ago, FLDS bought 1900 acres (769 hectares) near Eldorado in Texas which had a population of 1951 at the 2000 census. The religious group has thousands of members located throughout Texas, Utah, and Arizona.

Ecumenical News International