Defending Mormon Polygamists: The ACLU Squeaks Up

By Wendy Kaminer,

        Now that Judge Barbara Walther has refused to release from state custody the 416 children taken from their parents in the raid of a polygamous compound in Texas, ordering all parents and children to undergo DNA testing, the Texas ACLU has issued a  tepid, tentative statement of “concern” about their civil liberties.

        "While we acknowledge that Judge Walther's task may be unprecedented in Texas judicial history, we question whether the current proceedings adequately protect the fundamental rights of the mothers and children," said Terri Burke, executive director of the ACLU of Texas.

        "As this situation continues to unfold, we are concerned that the constitutional rights that all Americans rely upon and cherish -- that we are secure in our homes, that we may worship as we please and hold our places of worship sacred, and that we may be with our children absent evidence of imminent danger -- have been threatened," Burke said.

        This general acknowledgment that the summary removal of 416 children absent actual evidence of their abuse threatens fundamental rights is preferable to the silence that preceded it, barely.  The ACLU’s statement is more like an exercise in public relations than a defense of civil liberty; taking no stand for or against the state’s unprecedented actions in this case, which threaten to consign over 400 children to foster care, the statement seems designed to offend no one, while providing cover for the ACLU, should it be accused of ducking a hard civil liberties case.  ACLU spokespeople sound more like bureaucrats than fearless advocates of individual rights: they carefully pay deference to state power to protect children, ignoring the dearth of evidence in this case, and stress that the ACLU “deplores crimes against children” and “stand(s) opposed to child abuse,” in case anyone thought the ACLU stood in favor of it.
        Obviously anxious about appearing “soft” on child abuse (at a time when rational approaches to protecting children have been perverted by hysteria about abuse,) the ACLU prefers being soft on violations of civil liberty, when the liberties of wildly unpopular or politically incorrect groups are at stake, when standing up for civil liberty might adversely affect fundraising.  The polygamous practices of Mormon fundamentalists are generally repugnant to ACLU supporters (they’re repugnant to me) even if they don’t involve the abuse of minors.  Perhaps that explains why the ACLU statement is silent about mandatory DNA testing of the parents and children taken from the Yearning for Zion ranch.  Elsewhere, the ACLU trumpets its concern about DNA data bases and opposes mandatory DNA testing of everyone arrested, stressing that “in America, people are presumed innocent until proven guilty” --  unless they’re members of a Mormon fundamentalist sect, I guess.

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