May 29, 2008

Ruling Concurs With ACLU Position

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
CONTACT: media@aclu.org

AUSTIN, TEX. – The Texas Supreme Court today agreed with the American Civil Liberties Union that the state failed to provide evidence sufficient to justify its removal of children from 38 mothers at the Yearning For Zion Ranch (YFZ) in Eldorado. In its ruling, the Supreme Court denied the state’s challenge to an appeals court finding that the removal was unwarranted, effectively requiring the state to return the children to the custody of their mothers.

“We are delighted that the justices agreed that the state overreached,” said Lisa Graybill, Legal Director for the ACLU of Texas. “While the children must be cared for and protected from harm, that must be done while simultaneously protecting the fundamental rights of due process to which the children and their parents, like all Americans, are entitled.”

Last month, Texas Department of Family and Protective Services seized more than 400 children during a raid on the YFZ Ranch, where individuals affiliated with the Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (FLDS) resided; the children have since been dispersed to foster facilities across the state.

In its friend-of-the-court brief submitted this morning, supporting last week’s unanimous ruling by a three-judge panel of a Texas appellate court, the ACLU of Texas and the national office of the ACLU asserted that before the state may deny a mother access to or custody of her child, the U.S. Constitution and state law require that the mother receive due process of law — including a fair hearing, individualized consideration of the evidence, and proper application of state law governing removal actions.

In its ruling last week, responding to a petition filed by the Texas Rio Grande Legal Aid on behalf of the mothers, the a three—judge panel of the Texas Third Court of Appeals found that the state had offered "legally and factually insufficient" grounds for the "extreme" measure of removing all children — from babies to teenagers — from the YFZ ranch.

“This is a triumph for one of the most basic rights guaranteed by the Constitution — the right to a fair hearing,” said Daniel Mach, Director of Litigation for the ACLU Program on Freedom of Religion and Belief. “We appreciate that in its ruling, the court, while upholding due process rights, also underscored the right and obligation of the state to protect the safety and welfare of the children.” A full copy of the ACLU’s amicus brief can be found at: www.aclu.org/religion/gen/35467lgl20080529.html

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