My Views on FLDS v Texas: An Interim Summary
Having posted a good deal on this, I thought it would be worth summing up my current view, in part to have something to look back at when and if the facts become clearer.
I think it is clear that the FLDS engages in polygamy. Since there are few legal restrictions on consensual sex between adults at this point, however, it is not illegal for three or more people to cohabit, even if they regard themselves as married. Whether it is immoral would depend, in my view, on the details of the relationship.
I think it likely although not yet proved that the FLDS violates state law on age of consent. They could probably avoid doing so by making sure that any marriages involving women below the age of consent for non-marital sex were with women who could legally marry and were done as legal marriages to husbands who were not already legally married to someone else. It does not sound likely that they have taken such precautions, however. I do not think marriage not recognized by the state to someone below the age of consent for nonmarital sex is inherently wicked or immoral, although I can easily see that in many cases it would be.
I think it likely that the FLDS pressures young women into what they consider marriage. Under many, probably most, circumstances I would regard that as a bad thing to do but probably not something that either is or should be illegal, age of consent issues aside.
It is possible that the FLDS actually forces young women to have sex, which I would regard as clearly immoral, but I have not yet seen any good evidence of their doing so. I have seen no evidence that the FLDS engages in activities that would legitimately be classified as child abuse other than arranging "marriages" with young women. I am confident that their child-rearing approach is one I would not approve of—but that's true of a lot of people.
The Texas Authorities
I think it is clear that the CPS has been routinely misrepresenting the facts in order to justify its actions. The most recent example was an announcement about how many of the FLDS "minors" in their custody had evidence of having at some time broken a bone, offered as evidence of child abuse. As one newspaper pointed out, citing a medical text, the rate--about ten percent--was below what one would expect for a random set of children. Other examples include the claim that several of the girls knew the (we now know nonexistent) "Sara" and the practice of making public assertions about supposed minors without explaining that the age classification is merely the opinion of the CPS, which has refused to accept documentary evidence to the contrary and has at various points reclassified people to increase the count of "minors."
Given that, I am inclined to regard essentially all of their factual assertions as claims that might turn out to be true or might be largely bogus. Thus, for example, their figure on how many minors were either pregnant or had had children were offered with no explanation of how they were calculated. They could be based on very weak evidence of maternity, they could be based on selectively reclassifying young adult mothers as minors, they could be true. The figure on pregnancies is inconsistent with the figure on the total number of mothers unless the pattern of childbirth was striking irregular. That may indicate that the latter figure is bogus, it may indicate that CPS hasn't identified all of the pregnant women. One recent news story claimed that many had refused pregnancy tests.
In addition, the Texas authorities have so far avoided conceding what on the evidence is entirely clear, that the original phone call that set off the raid was bogus. The obvious reason is that conceding that would generate a news story favorable to the FLDS and unfavorable to them. Better to let the facts gradually trickle out while leaving inattentive members of the public with a mental picture of a (in fact fictional) pregnant sixteen year old with a fifty year old abusive husband. The authorities claim to have another source of information who they have not identified, but there is at least some reason to suspect that that source is an anti-polygamy activist who left the FLDS more than fifteen years ago, so could not provide any first hand information about the situation at the Texas ranch.