You've probably all heard about this since it's been all over CNN.com and other news sites for the past week, but the Texas Children's Protective Services has carried out a massive raid on a compound holding members of a secretive, radical branch of the Mormon Church, the Fundamentalist Church of the Latter Day Saints (FLDS). The FLDS continues to practice polygamy, has long been disavowed by mainstream Mormons, and is reputed to arrange marriages of its members to girls as young as 13, or possibly younger. These practices are hard to prove as many of the children have been born into the sect and lack proper documentation of their ages, and members of the sect rarely make contact with the outside world. The current spiritual leader, Warren Jeffs, has been convicted of accomplice to rape and sentenced to 10 years in prison for coercing a 14 year old girl to marry her 19 year old cousin. The entire sect is ruled by the church elders, who have absolute control over their followers. The FLDS has been left in relative isolation since a similar raid half a century ago in Arizona that was tarnished by a negative media backlash. So far the Texas government has removed over 500 women and children from the compound on suspicions of physical and/or sexual abuse, after they were called by a sixteen year old girl, pregnant with her second child, who reported being abused.
At what point should the ability to practice religion freely be limited by the need to protect basic human rights? Should the government force extremist religious groups to be more transparent in order to prevent abuse? Why has the FLDS, which has long been associated with physical and sexual abuse of its women and children, been tolerated for this long?