The Texas Mis-Step: Why the Largest Child Removal in Modern U.S. History Failed

88 Pages Posted: 20 May 2010

See all articles by Jessica Dixon Weaver

Jessica Dixon Weaver

Southern Methodist University - Dedman School of Law

Date Written: May 20, 2010


This article sets forth the historical and legal reasons as to how the state of Texas botched the removal of 439 children from the Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ Latter Day Saints’ parents residing in El Dorado, Texas. The Department of Family and Protective Services in Texas overreached its authority by treating this case like a class action removal based on an impermissible legal argument, rather than focusing on the facts and circumstances that could have been substantiated for a select group of children at risk. This impermissible legal argument regarding the ‘pervasive belief system’ of a polygamist sect that allowed minor females to spiritually marry older adult males sparked questions of how far the Free Exercise Clause of the First Amendment and the Fourteenth Amendment go in protecting religious freedom and parental rights. Ultimately, there was a failure on both sides of the case – harm caused by the unnecessary removal of hundreds of children who were not in immediate danger of abuse, and harm caused by the return of teenage girls who were at risk for sexual abuse on the Yearning For Zion Ranch. The article concludes by discussing key factors that would have made a difference in the outcome of the case and the impact of this decision on the interrelationship between parents, the state, and the child.

Suggested Citation

Weaver, Jessica Dixon, The Texas Mis-Step: Why the Largest Child Removal in Modern U.S. History Failed (May 20, 2010). William & Mary Journal of Women and the Law, Vol. 16, No. 3, Spring 2010, SMU Dedman School of Law Legal Studies Research Paper No. 58, Available at SSRN: or

Jessica Dixon Weaver (Contact Author)

Southern Methodist University - Dedman School of Law ( email )

P.O. Box 750116
Dallas, TX 75275
United States
2147682641 (Phone)
2147683142 (Fax)

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