It has been literally painful for me to watch the women from the polygamist Mormon sect in Texas plead on television for the return of their many children. As a mother of three, I cannot help but be moved by their obvious, though highly orchestrated public display of distress over the state’s removal of more than 400 children under allegations of sexual abuse of girls and young women. These mothers, in their homemade high-necked, long-sleeved, floor-length prairie dresses with their hair in modest buns or braids, seem to be speaking to us from another, simpler, perhaps even purer time when life was less pressured and less complicated than ours in the 21st century. {mosimage}
    I do believe their distress is real, but I am not so sure about the simplicity and purity of their lives. I suspect life in the cult is darker than it seems on the freshly scrubbed faces displayed by the women selected to be on camera.
    Among the greatest blessings of our nation is our freedom of religion. Each of us is free to practice religion as we find it meaningful — or to practice no religion at all. What we are not free to do is to impose our version of faith on other people, including our own families. That is the issue here. The adults in that Texas compound are legally free to choose for themselves, even if some of those women do exude a distinct zombie-like or robotic quality.
    As this sad and disturbing drama plays itself out in Texas courts, we need to keep in mind several facts. Polygamy is illegal in our country and has been disallowed by the official Mormon church for more than a century.            
    Having sexual relations with children is also illegal. If the allegations of adult men having sex with adolescent girls are true, even under the banner of a “religious” marriage, then the men should be prosecuted to the fullest extent of Texas law. If the pioneer-clad mothers were unable or unwilling to stop any such abuse and did not call Texas authorities, then they are complicit in the abuse. They deserve at least the scrutiny of Texas law enforcement authorities, if not prosecution.
    Welfare fraud and Medicaid fraud are also illegal, a form of taking public undeserved public monies. News reports speculate that the many children born out of legal wedlock to women engaged in polygamy are supported by various government programs instead of by their fathers and mothers. These are not new allegations, having been made before by a number of sources, including, Jon Krakauer’s book about fundamentalist Mormon polygamy, Under the Banner of Heaven. I do not know whether children born to “religious wives” not legally married to the fathers are being supported by public dollars, but I do think Texas authorities are correct in looking into the questions. This is not where I want my tax dollars to go, and I expect many readers feel the same way. {mosimage}
    All of this being said, it is impossible not to feel for the children who have been removed from their families. Children need stability and the assurance of love and physical and mental well-being. The situation has got to be difficult for many of them. Nevertheless, authorities in Texas acted in response to allegations of abuse, and properly so. Given the numbers of children involved, sorting it all out is going to take some time. No one, however, wants these children returned to a situation in which their physical and mental safety is not assured, and so patience from all parties is required
    Tearful and grieving adult mothers are hard to resist, but our first thoughts and deepest concern has to be for the children and young men and women whom we do not see crying and beseeching us on television if, they in fact, are doing that at all.
    My guess is that some of them are deeply relieved to be out from behind those walls.  
    Mea, mea culpa.
    Some columns generate more mail than others, and a recent column on a new and improved GI Bill brought several well reasoned and well written responses, which I sincerely appreciate. While I am well aware that our nation currently has a GI Bill and that thousands are using it to further their educations, my understanding of that apparently did not come across in the column. So intent was I in advocating for more benefits under a GI Bill that I did not acknowledge adequately enough the benefits available today.
    I am delighted that many members of Congress are also interested in improving our current GI Bill. One effort which stands out to me is S.22, introduced on the first day of the 2007 term of Congress by Senator Jim Webb (D-VA). This legislation would provide veterans who have served since 9/11 with the same level of benefits as veterans who served in World War II. It is still pending.

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