History Suggests Sect Parents Will Get Kids Back

The plan, obtained by ABC News, "doesn't say anything about religious beliefs. It doesn't say anything about polygamy," he said. "All it says is that if they want the kids returned to them, they are going to have to be protected."

The church has cast the case as the latest attack on its religious rights -- the continuation of a conflict that has gone on for more than 70 years between the fundamentalist sect and the government .

Last month's raid in Texas is the fourth carried out against the sect by police in different states. The group's largest community, known as Short Creek, straddling the Arizona and Utah borders, was raided in 1935, 1944 and 1953.

The 1953 raid was the most determined by prosecutors. Authorities swept into Short Creek, arrested 36 men and took 86 women and 263 children into state custody and sent them to small towns throughout the state.

But the raid backfired. Public opinion turned against the government after images of crying children being torn from their parents were splashed on the front pages of newspapers across the country. The raid has been widely credited with ending Gov. Henry Pyle's political career.

The two raids have followed much the same process. Officials searched for birth certificates, census records and other documents to sort out the complicated family trees within the isolated communities.

Prominent leaders of the Mormon church publicly encouraged the prosecutions in 1953. These days, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, a Mormon from Nevada, has urged the federal government to get involved in prosecuting the FLDS polygamists.

But there were important differences, says former sect member Bistline, who wrote "The Polygamists," a history of the FLDS community in Short Creek, later renamed Colorado City, Ariz. The sect today, he said, is more extreme than it was in the 1950s.

"We weren't ordered to marry, we had dances, we had freedom to do what we wanted to do," he said. "It was just a normal situation."

"The people taken from Short Creek weren't criminals, they were just normal people," Bistline said.

The criminal case lasted just six months, ending when prosecutors offered the men a deal: They would drop all charges against the women if the men pleaded guilty to conspiracy -- a misdemeanor. The men accepted the deal and were sentenced to one-year probation.

The women were told to disavow polygamy and stop teaching it at their schools, according to Bradley's book. Though the women refused, the sect's children were sent home after two years in legal limbo.

"The lesson was, God won the battle for them," said Rena Mackert, a former FLDS member who was born a few months after the Short Creek raid. "The men all came home. The women came home. The children came home. And life was back to the status quo."

According to Bistline, changes started "immediately after folks came back in 1955." By the 1960s, he said, church leaders were telling girls whom they could marry. "And it just kept getting worse," he said.

Church leaders like Warren Jeffs, now in a Utah prison for being an accomplice to rape, took dozens of wives for themselves, Bistline said.

He said he thought the raid in Texas was justified, though he believed the children should be returned to their mothers.

In order for that to happen, CPS has drafted 10 goals and 14 tasks that parents will have to work toward to regain custody of their children, according to family service plans obtained by ABC News.

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