The FLDS Case: Further Legal Issues
1. The initial seizure of the children:
According to unanimous votes of both a three judge appeals panel and the state Supreme Court, the seizure was legally unjustified (three justices, as I understand the result, held that it would have been justified if limited to female teens, six that the seizure of any of the children was unjustified). The seizure imposed substantial costs, monetary and others, on the parents and very large non-monetary costs on their children. Is the Department liable for damages? My guess is that it is not, that in this case as in many others government actors are not liable for their mistakes, but I might be wrong.
2. Classifying adults as minors:
For reasons I have discussed in earlier posts, I suspect that the Department, after discovering that only five of the minors they seized were either mothers or pregnant, decided to improve the evidence by reclassifying about 26 adult mothers as minors, thus letting it announce that 31 out of 53 girls aged 14-17 were pregnant or mothers. Suppose it is possible to prove in court that the "mistake" was deliberate. Restraining adults under color of law by pretending they are minors looks to me as though it ought to be both tortious and criminal.
3. The religious question:
At the time of the original seizure, the authorities' evidence of child abuse consisted of some bogus phone calls from a nonexistent 16 year old girl, information provided by an unidentified confidential informant, and the observation that there were pregnant women at the ranch who looked like teenagers. On that evidence more than four hundred children were seized and separated from their parents for about two months.
So far as we know, the informant had never been in the ranch. She appears to have been providing information not about those parents and their children but about their religious beliefs and how other members of their religion in other times and places were said to have acted; the obvious guess is that she is a past defector from the FLDS. One department spokeswoman explained the seizure of male children on the theory that they were being brought up to be abusers—which is to say, brought up in their parents' religion.
The obvious interpretation is that members of the FLDS were being persecuted for their religion. If so, is that a violation of federal law?
I would be especially interested in comments from readers familiar with the relevant law.