April 17, 2008

Polygamist Custody Hearing Begins Today

The subject of parental rights when it comes to raising children to believe harmful falsehoods is not an easy one. It is tempting to argue that parents should have the right to raise children in their belief system, regardless of how ludicrous their belief system might be. And yet, the idea of Islamic extremists raising children to hate America and embrace terrorism is difficult to condone. Few like the idea of generation after generation growing up to be religious extremists, racists, or even mere idiots. And so, all eyes now focus on Texas, where a custody hearing begins this morning to determine what will happen to over 400 children removed from the ranch of a polygamist Mormon sect.

The proceedings themselves should be interesting given the sheer scope of the case. The 416 children removed from the Yearning for Zion Ranch will be represented by 350 volunteer attorneys, requiring multiple locations linked by closed-circuit television. But the thought-provoking implications of the case are the real draw.

The Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints, a Mormon group notorious for their continued practice of polygamy, owns this ranch. Followers insist that the allegations of sexual abuse which prompted the removal of the children are false. The spectre of religious persecution is likely to be raised.

Should society permit 16 year-old girls to be married to polygamists more than three times their age? What if such marriages occur on the basis of one's religious beliefs? Does that matter? Should it matter? These and other questions will be in the minds of many observers.

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