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Officials fear sect members may flee

May 28, 2008|From the Associated Press

AUSTIN, TEXAS — Families of children seized from their polygamist sect's ranch could flee Texas if they regained custody, child welfare authorities said Tuesday as they urged the state Supreme Court to block a ruling that found the massive removals to be improper.

Updating an earlier appeal, Texas Child Protective Services lawyers argued that if the custody orders were rescinded, parents could take the children out of the state and "no Texas court would have any authority to enter any orders to protect these children."

The 3rd District Court of Appeals ruled last week that the state failed to show that the youngsters were in any immediate danger, the only grounds under Texas law for taking children from their parents without court action.

The state filed its initial appeal Friday, arguing that Texas law gave a lower-court judge discretion on whether to remove the children.

Also Tuesday, a judge ruled that the state could keep custody of a sect member's infant. The temporary custody agreement allows Louisa Bradshaw Jessop, 22, to live with her 2-week-old son and her two toddlers under state supervision.

About 440 children were taken into custody from the Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints' ranch near Eldorado more than six weeks ago after someone called a hotline claiming to be a pregnant, abused teenage wife.

The girl has not been found, and authorities are investigating whether the calls were a hoax.

Child welfare authorities argue that all the youngsters should be removed from the ranch because the sect forces underage girls into marriage and sex.

Members of the sect contend that they are being persecuted for their religious beliefs, including that polygamy brings glorification in heaven.

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