Sunday, April 13, 2008

Surprising San Angelo and FLDS

A few years back, a billboard on Knickerbocker greeted Mathis Field visitors with the "Surprising San Angelo" slogan. We might think about reviving that slogan, it is inarguably true.

This past week, we had an early AM, thankfully minor, tornado or two. As it happened, CNN national feed beat the local alert system on the report by a few minutes. That is not a slap at the local system, we just happened to have in town a hundred or so of the hungriest news hounds on the planet covering the FLDS sect story. Given the time of day (OK, night), the CNN crew might well have been making their way home from Fat Boss Bar when they personally encountered this remarkably fast moving storm. Don't know that, pure speculation, but...

The Standard-Times is really doing a pretty good job, but they are running out of front page space. Had someone told me last May that the next SAISD Bond proposal would be buried under more urgent news, I'd have told them straight up to activate the third brain cell, no way. Oops!, would have lost that dollars-to-donuts bet. BTW, yours truly will be truly busy Monday, SAISD will hear a second presentation of the bond Committee and at 7:00 PM the ASU College Republicans will host another police chief candidate forum in CJ Davidson Center. With luck, I can catch most of both. Conchoinfo does have limited staff.

S-T has done a remarkable job of reporting this FLDS mess, but I have a few points worth mentioning. Using the term "sect" in the paper instead of "cult" was a good starting point. More on that point later.

Before I wander afield in general speculation, let me make clear; I support the idea of prosecuting any genuine statutory, even more vigorously any forcible rape arising from this investigation. Freedom of religion has limits. The Supreme Court may allow a Santeria believer to sacrifice a chicken to his God, but human sacrifice, be it mortal or rape, is clearly out of bounds. Christian Scientists are allowed to refuse medical treatment and die in good faith, but they may not withhold it from their underage children.

When FLDS bought the Eldorado property, a lot of people went into panic mode, not without reason. The history of this group in Colorado City, Az. or Hilsdale, Utah was scary. There, they had registered voters, put people on ballot, and in essence, they were the city gov't and police force. Had FLDS tried this in Schleicher County, with its limited number of voting age eligible, they probably could have owned Eldorado, politically. One of "Prophet" Jeff's policies was to withdraw from, rather than engage in, local affairs. Where the twin towns of Hildale and Colorado City had attracted enough attention that the states took over, Jeffs counseled the FLDS that flying "under the radar" would be more effective for the sect's interests than an overt takeover.

I am a little concerned that the breadth of the warrants issued might exceed the scope justified by a slightly shaky, second hand report, recanted in the last phone call to a non-gov't agency by a 16 year old as yet unproduced. Note here; law enforcement from two states have interviewed the alleged offender and chosen not to make an arrest as yet. Fortunately or not, Texas Statute gives Child Protective Services standing here that nearly no other criminal investigating unit gets. If this were an old-fashioned drug-trafficking case, it would take a high pockets Miami lawyer about two minutes to shred the warrant and the subsequent "fruit of the poisonous tree", effectively dumping a week long investigation in the nearest bar ditch. If one is curious, the warrant application is here.

As has been reported, State Rep. Hildebrand (Kerrville) put forth several legislative changes in response to FLDS. The most important was the change in the age at which a marriage can be "blessed" by the state from 14 to 16. There was also an "anti-polygamy" law which has yet to be tested in the real world.

To me, the most under-appreciated player in this drama is Schleicher Co. Sheriff David Doran. By approaching the FLDS leaders non-confrontationaly, he at least got their ear. Thanks to Doran and his connections, FLDS elders cannot claim ignorance of the change in statute: also thanks to Sheriff Doran, this raid did NOT turn into a Waco, Branch Davidian armed stand-off. Should it come to pass that the authorities over-reacted, at least everybody will be alive to hear that judicial determination. If Sheriff Doran comes off as "Andy of Mayberry", well look back at that TV series and its stress on common sense: good ol' boy Andy Taylor was hardly an idiot.

FLDS is one of the original spin-offs from the Utah statehood/Mormon agreement to ban polygamy. The Mormons disavowed polygamy in 1890 and Utah was given statehood in 1896. FLDS is not the only polygamist sect out there, they just get the headlines. Most of the 40-50,000 polygamists tracing back to some sect of Mormon belief escape official attention by drawing a bright line at age 18. Once past the age of legal consent, "spiritual unions" escape most polygamy/bigamy laws by not sanctioning with state license. In the eyes of the law, they are no different from any unwed "shack-up" relationship.

My "Let's take a deep breath" moment on this comes to considering the application of the legal changes not to this sect, but to society at large. We all know that there are an unfortunately large number of under 16 girls in Texas who somehow manage to produce babies each year, completely unrelated to FLDS, virgin birth, or anything remotely religious. If it is society's will that these children be consigned to illegitimacy, something the 14-with-parental-consent law sought to avoid, well, bastardy isn't the social burden it was in my youth, so be it. Do we intend to go after the fathers of these children as criminals?

I grant that FLDS has demonstrated a pattern of forced under-age marriage beyond anything society should tolerate in the name of religious freedom going back to the 1890 schism from the Mormon Church. I am afraid the tools we craft in haste to go after FLDS will turn into an instrument of prosecutorial discretion which could later be used against individuals or groups which simply happen to be out of favor.

I recall the 70's when a few states dusted off the old, long dormant laws prohibiting unwed cohabitation. They were almost always used against "Hippies", mixed-race relationships, or whomever the local law thought to be "subversive". We saw police raiding large houses, counting noses, counting bedrooms, checking whose clothes hung in which closets, and busting unwed adults for sleeping in the same bed. As I recall, the passion for this sort of suppression weakened about the time the Governor's daughter was charged along with the Mayor's son, but perhaps you see where I'm going.

We need to take whatever time is needed and craft laws that are directed to the act we want to abolish, not suppression of a religion most of us find to be "weird". By definition, any religion, being a belief in something supernatural, requires a "suspension of disbelief". Typically, if it is our religion, we call it "Faith" and hold it in high esteem; if it is someone else's religion, we pity the poor brainwashed fool. When Thomas Jefferson forced into reality the Virginia Statute for Religious Freedom, the most notable "cult" protected by it was some new-fangled bunch of deranged Protestants known as "Baptists".

Take the following thought experiment. The majority of us are Christian, so assume we are describing our belief to someone of average intelligence and good moral character, but he is from the other side of the world and knows nearly nothing about Christian doctrine. After you have thoroughly befuddled him with the mystery of the Trinity and the duality of Christ's manhood/Godhood, throw in an explanation of a core Christian doctrine, the Miracle of Transubstantiation. Just for fun, explain that while taking Communion. Assuming he believes you, don't be shocked if he becomes physically ill watching you (from his point of view) drink blood and indulge in cannibalism.

I am not mocking my own religion, I am making the point that to a non-believer, ANY religion is horsefeathers. Civic law needs to rest on non-discriminatory legal precedent, not anyone's Holy Book. To do otherwise invites another generation, using another Holy Book, to turn the tables on us.


  1. There is a lot more to the story of FLDS. A BLOG that has been following this quite closely is
    They also have a number of additional links.

  2. gritsforbreakfast is a very worthwhile blog for a number of reasons. Its content and its attendant links can keep a thinking person entertained/informed for hours.

  3. Thank you for a very good post. I especially appreciated your local insights.

    To call this whole travesty tragic is a massive understatement.

    Your concern about how this could lead to future witch hunts is something that concerns me too.

    BTW I found you with a link in gritsforbreakfast.

  4. I just read a story from the Standard Times. It appears we have a British author in the area.

    The discussion on FLDS was invigorating to say the least.

    It seems any controversial subject, brings in the brightest and most gifted to interpret how the events should be interpreted in regard to civil rights and constitution.

    So yes..there were conclusions drawn which mostly protected the FLDS on principle. Then today, there was also a ruling the US Supreme Court that detainees at Guantonamo also have rights.

    It seems at every turn, we are challenged with defining the freedoms our founding fathers set forth in the constitution of this land.

    Of course we know there is great debate on what the First amendment, freedom of speech, actually means.

    Well, I think it is perfectly suitable to welcome a British author. The British have good command of the English language. I envy that and wish I had the same virtues.

    To end..I so much appreciate the wise people in this community, Jim especially, who sort of teach and lead the rest of us on a variety of things..Like how to think, whats important, how to be civil

    I also thank expat..who is always a gentleman and scholar with a lot of self control

    I myself am guilty of being a brawler and I realize it reflects my own weaknesses.

    Maybe, my only good trait is I learn from others, haha

    In closing, I would like to send out a great apology for being immature, wreckless, dum, and backwards country person.

    We can only hope that I continue to grow and become more civilized.

    Thanks Jim..I know I'm a sloppy writer and need to try harder.

    Maybe you could help me out and lay down some groundwork for what constitutes a great comment thread, and go into detail about what is offensive(off limits), and what is the correct use of free speech. I promise I will learn and try to apply it.