In the immediate sense, the raid may have happened because of a hoax. Telephone calls reporting abuse at the ranch have been linked to a woman in Colorado with an alleged history of false abuse complaints.
But both Texas and the polygamists had been courting a confrontation. Under "prophet" Warren Jeffs -- now in jail in Arizona -- the fundamentalist sect seemed to be ordering more underage marriages. And a West Texas representative sponsored a bill in 2005 that set new laws seemingly targeted at polygamists.
Here in Eldorado, the small town closest to the compound, residents still say they're glad the raid happened.
"It's not legal, and it's wrong, the way they were living," said Rosa Martinez, behind the counter at her Rosita's Casita restaurant.
But legal experts say the case could easily become a quagmire. They say Texas has an unusual burden: It has to prove not spankings or sexual abuse, but the dangers of an entire belief system.
"Can they say with a straight face that's in the best interest of these children, to be taken away from their parents?" asked Ken Driggs, a public defender in Georgia who has done extensive research on polygamy and the law. "Does government want to get in there and say, 'This is a good religion,' or 'This is not a good religion?' "
The answer to that question is obviously no, but of course that won't stop authorities in our great state. The question for me of course is whether the raid was prompted in part by religious prejudice, or whether authorities will settle for religion as the rationale for the raid when their other justifications fall apart. If they find little to no evidence of sexual, emotional or physical abuse, what else can they put on trial but the FLDS way of life? It's either that or back down, and we don't back down in our great state.
This is where conservatism in Texas runs runs into a condundrum. Religious conservatives would love nothing more than to shut the FLDS down and run them out of the state, but as the story gains national awareness it will become evident that FLDS members adhere to a lifestyle that, but for the polygamy, religious conservatives claim to value (Scott Henson explains in more detail.)And it will become evident even in most dimly-lit and prejudice wracked religious conservative brain that putting somebody on trial for their deeply-religious and Christian-like lifestyle is a little too much like putting fundamentalist Christians on trial for their parental decisions (like home-schooling.)
I don't agree with the FLDS way of life, but neither do I agree with the decision of fundamentalist Christians to teach their kids at home and indoctrinate with anti-science dogma disguised as religious freedom. But above all I think people should be allowed to live and raise their children as they see fit so long as they don't harm them physically or psychologically, no matter how unusual or strange their customs may seem to the rest of us. If Texas really wants to put the FLDS way of life on trial, then our whole state will lose.