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Two Arrests Signal a Giant Step Forward

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  • Melanie Jula Sakoda
    Submitted by Melanie Jula Sakoda http://writ.news.findlaw.com/hamilton/20060907.html Two Arrests Signal a Giant Step Forward for the Civil Rights Movement for
    Message 1 of 1 , Sep 7, 2006
      Submitted by Melanie Jula Sakoda


      Two Arrests Signal a Giant Step Forward for the Civil Rights
      Movement for Children

      Thursday, Sep. 07, 2006

      The last true frontier in civil rights in the United States is that
      of children's rights. It is our country's ugly secret that massive
      numbers of children are abused (a shocking one out of four, if a
      recent New York City study is to be believed). Yet the law has been
      excruciatingly slow both in stopping ongoing abuse, and in deterring
      abuse before it happens.

      Fortunately, two arrests last week indicate that the tide is turning
      in favor of child abuse victims. First, Warren Jeffs -- the prophet
      of the polygamous Fundamentalist Church of the Latter Day Saints of
      Jesus Christ (FLDS) who was on the FBI's 10 Most Wanted List, was
      captured and arrested. Jeffs was then indicted on two felony counts
      of sexual conduct with a minor and conspiracy to commit sexual
      assault with a minor.

      Second, the monks at the Christ of the Hills Monastery outside
      Blanco, TX, were arrested, based on allegations of pedophilia, and
      the monastery was closed.

      There was a time when abuse, especially by religious figures, was a
      see-no-evil phenomenon. Law enforcement would rather have eaten
      lightbulbs than pursued a religious figure for child abuse.

      Thankfully, that attitude seems now to have been relegated to the
      past, partially thanks to the Catholic Church child abuse scandal,
      and the author Jon Krakauer. One can only hope that viewpoint - that
      religious figures can do no wrong -- has fallen to the bottom of the
      dustbin of history.

      Warren Jeffs' Arrest

      Even while on the 10 Most Wanted List, Jeffs had managed to remain
      on the lam for months. He was discovered during a routine traffic
      stop in Arizona; his car held weapons, and tens of thousands of

      Jeffs is alleged to have personally transported many underage brides
      to the arms of much older men, who added these girls to their
      harems. He cited religious belief as an excuse for his illegal and
      destructive behavior

      Both authorities in Utah (where there is much polygamous behavior)
      and prosecutors within the federal government had turned a blind eye
      to the FLDS for decades. It took a bestseller -- Jon Krakauer's
      chilling book Under the Banner of Heaven, based on accounts by
      activists like the formerly-polygamous-wives' organization Tapestry
      Against Polygamy -- and other intense media attention to finally
      spur law enforcement to get serious about Jeffs.

      Now, both Utah and Arizona intend to prosecute Jeffs on the charges
      of sexual conduct with a minor and conspiracy to commit sexual
      assault with a minor. One would hope that the federal government
      will follow up with federal prosecution under the Mann Act, which
      forbids adults from transporting children across state (or country)
      lines for the purpose of sex.

      The Closure of the Christ of the Hills Monastery

      Also recently, Texas authorities closed in on the Christ of the
      Hills Monastery outside of Blanco, Texas. This monastery appears to
      have been an excuse for pedophiles to gather together to abuse
      children. It should have been shut down years ago; finally, it has
      been, and the monks have been arrested.

      The first allegations came to light in 1999 -- when the monastery's
      mother organization, The Russian Orthodox Church Outside of Russia
      withdrew its imprimatur. By now, there appears to have been multiple
      child victims, who were lured into participating in oral sex and
      sexual orgies.

      (It also appears that the monastery was engaged in a huge hoax. Many
      believers made pilgrimages to the monastery's Virgin Mary, which
      purportedly cried rosewater-scented tears. There appears to be solid
      evidence that the "tears" were placed there by the monks, using

      There was a time when the children abused in such settings had no
      chance for justice. Here was a small religious organization, outside
      a small town, in the large state of Texas - with a miraculous Virgin
      Mary, no less. In the past, no one would have listened to complaints
      about monks, of all people, especially when the alleged charges were
      said to occur on the same property as an ongoing miracle.

      But times seem to be changing, and laudably, these victims' voices
      were heard, and Texas authorities did the right thing in taking

      Authorities Should Be Lauded for Finally Taking the Side of Child

      When we see childhood sexual abuse victims prevailing on the system,
      and the system responding as it did in Blanco, what we are
      witnessing is the increasing momentum of a new nationwide civil
      rights movement -- one that is for children, to protect them from
      the horrific abuse so many suffer.

      As I've argued in previous columns such as this one,
      there is much left to be done to protect children. (Most especially,
      states must abolish the statutes of limitations that are permitting
      far too many serial pedophiles to strike over and over again.) But
      children are in a better position today than at any time in United
      States' history. We need to press for even more change, but we
      should also praise the authorities who have the courage to go up
      against religious figures when children's well-being is at stake.

      The Jeffs arrest is especially striking, because Jeffs was the head
      of an entire community that acquiesced in his treatment of his girl
      victims. Even some of the girls - immersed in their community's
      twisted mores - may defend him, at least at this point. (With some
      maturity, and the ability to speak to women who have been in their
      position, yet moved on to a better life, the girls are likely to
      change their minds.) Despite this potential problem with trial
      testimony, the FBI still moved against Jeffs - rightly so.

      That means the government was taking the side of the child victims
      over and against vehement religious adults. When defenseless
      children can prevail under the law, even when their tormentors claim
      righteousness, you know we are on the right path.
      Marci A. Hamilton is the Paul R. Verkuil Chair in Public Law at
      Benjamin N. Cardozo School of Law, Yeshiva University. An archive of
      her columns on church/state issues - as well as other topics -- can
      be found on this site. Her email address is Hamilton02@....
      Professor Hamilton's most recent work is God vs. the Gavel: Religion
      and the Rule of Law (Cambridge University Press 2005).
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