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Texas Polygamy and Child Welfare

52 Pages Posted: 12 Oct 2009 Last revised: 30 Oct 2009

Martin Guggenheim

New York University School of Law

Date Written: September 17, 2009


This article explains why the child welfare process was used in the 2008 San Angelo, Texas raid on the FLDS community which resulted in the removal of more than 400 children from their families. It argues that the criminal justice system, not the child welfare system, should be the preferred means by which state officials attempt to prevent the practice of polygamy. The criminal justice system contains many more time honored protections of civil liberties than the child welfare system. In addition, using the child welfare system contains one additional danger: the contamination and expansion of child welfare law to permit coercive intervention, authorizing state officials to remove children from families based on notions of morality. The article suggests that the ultimate danger of the San Angelo raid is that child welfare interventions will become too much about the (mis)behavior of parents, with a particular emphasis on conduct that is criminal or "immoral," and too little about what should always remain the central inquiry: whether children are in danger.

Keywords: polygamy, child welfare, children's rights, criminal law

Suggested Citation

Guggenheim, Martin, Texas Polygamy and Child Welfare (September 17, 2009). Houston Law Review, Vol. 46, No. 3, 2009; NYU School of Law, Public Law Research Paper No. 09-59. Available at SSRN: or

Martin Guggenheim (Contact Author)

New York University School of Law ( email )

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New York, NY 10012
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