Despite attempts by some current religious figures and politicians to redefine the Constitutional meaning of religious freedom in the narrow context of Christianity, everyone in this country has the right to practice whatever religion they choose -- or to practice no religion at all. Religious freedom also means, however, that anyone can claim to be a prophet no matter how ridiculous or insidious his or her beliefs.

Such is the case with the Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints in the west Texas town of Eldorado. The FLDS, which teaches that polygamy brings glorification in heaven, is a breakaway sect of the Mormon Church.

Warren Jeffs, who is now in jail in Mohave County, Arizona, awaiting trial on five counts of sexual conduct with a minor, four counts of incest and one count of conspiracy to commit sexual conduct with a minor, founded the FLDS. In November, he was sentenced to two consecutive terms of five years to life in Utah after being convicted on two charges of being an accomplice to rape in connection with a marriage he performed in 2001.

Warren Jeffs isn’t the first man to use religion as a cover for pedophilia, sexual abuse and rape, nor, unfortunately, will he be the last. This begs the question. Isn’t about time for some common sense regarding religion?

Common sense certainly was in short supply yesterday when the Texas Supreme Court affirmed the Third Court of Appeals ruling, which said that Child Protective Services failed to show an “immediate danger” to the children seized from the FLDS sect in Eldorado. The end result is that nearly all the children must be returned to their parents. The Third Court of Appeals had ruled last week that the state failed to show that any more than five of the teenage girls who were seized by child welfare officials were being sexually abused. Gee, only five?

Under Texas law, children can be taken from their parents if there's a danger to their physical safety, an urgent need for protection and if officials made a reasonable effort to keep the children in their homes. The high court agreed with the appellate court that the seizures fell short of that standard.

In their less than Solomon like ruling, the justices said child welfare officials can take numerous actions to protect children short of separating them from their parents and placing them in foster care, and that the court may still put restrictions on the children and parents to address concerns that they may flee once reunited.

Apparently, the justices failed to clarify how long Child Protective Services should wait in the future before deciding an “immediate danger” exists for the rest of the children. Recently released photos show Jeffs with one his brides, a twelve-year old girl.
While they wait for the next rape or for the sect to flee to another state, maybe the justices could work on the definition of “parent” and what legally constitutes a “religion”.

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