Children taken from the ranch of a polygamist sect, The Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints, must be returned to their parents, has ruled the Supreme Court in the US state of Texas.
In April the children were placed into foster care, after officials raided the compound, saying young girls were being forced into marriage and sex.
To the court, child welfare officials had overstepped their authority. It said that it hadn’t been proven that some 460 children taken from the ranch were in immediate danger.
The Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints had denied abuse and said it was being persecuted.
With its ruling, the Supreme Court affirmed a decision by an appeals court last week.
“We are not inclined to disturb the court of appeals’ decision. On the record before us, removal of the children was not warranted” it said.
Texan law says that children can be taken from their parents if there is a danger to their physical safety, an urgent need for protection, and if officials made a reasonable effort to keep the children in their homes.
Though it is unclear when it will happen, the appeals court ordered the return of the children to their parents.
“The moms are clearly very happy at the news that it looks like they’re going to get their kids a lot sooner than expected” Cynthia Martinez, a spokeswoman for legal aid attorneys, representing 38 mothers who filed the complaint, was quoted as saying by the Associated Press.
“It’s definitely an emotional day” Ms Martinez added.
But the ruling only concerns the 38 mothers (photo from the dailymail.co.uk) and their 124 children. However, attorneys say the reasoning behind the verdict can be applied to the removals of all the children from the ranch.
The Associated Press news agency reports that the polygamist practices of the sect are clearly visible by the 168 mothers and 69 fathers of the children that have been identified so far.
And more than 100 children have still not been matched with mothers.
While some parents have complained that their sons and daughters are living at different locations, forcing them to criss-cross Texas in order to see them, others have said that they do not know where their children have been placed.
The Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints teaches that polygamy brings glorification in heaven. It is a splinter sect of the Mormon church, which officially abandoned polygamy more than a century ago.