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Video: Sect parents praise ruling

TODAY contributor
updated 5/23/2008 8:49:44 AM ET 2008-05-23T12:49:44

In the wake of an appeals court ruling that said the state of Texas was unjustified in taking away five of her children — along with more than 400 others from the Yearning for Zion ranch, stronghold of a polygamist Mormon sect — Nancy Dockstader felt reborn.

“I am just thrilled. I feel like I am coming back to life. We can be a family again. It’s unreal,” she told TODAY’s Matt Lauer Friday from San Angelo, Texas. With her was her husband, James Dockstader.

Texas Child Protective Services has 10 days to appeal the ruling to the Texas Supreme Court, and in the meantime, more than 450 children taken from their families during the weeklong raid that began on April 3 will remain scattered across Texas in foster care.

In its ruling, the appeals court said that a lower court that authorized the raid abused its discretion in allowing children to be removed from their homes without a court hearing. Such emergency removals, the appeals court said, are reserved for extreme situations in which the physical health and welfare of the children are in immediate danger.

‘Pervasive belief system’
The CPS has contended that the children on the ranch are being raised in a “pervasive belief system” that grooms males to commit sexual abuse and females to become brides as soon as they reach puberty. State officials initially said that dozens of girls taken into custody had either had children or were pregnant, but many of those girls have since proved that they are of legal age.

The Dockstaders say they are a monogamous couple. They have seven children in all, but their two oldest boys, ages 21 and 19, were not taken into custody.  Three other boys, ages 12, 14 and 16, along with two girls, ages 9 and 23, are in custody. Authorities claimed that the oldest girl, who has a 2-year-old daughter, might be underage. The Dockstaders still don’t know when they will get their children back.

“We’re gonna take it one day at a time,” James Dockstader told Lauer. “We expect that they will go ahead and appeal it. We have full hope that it will be soon.”

The couple said they haven’t had time to decide whether to take legal action against the state or whether to return to the 1,700-acre ranch outside of Eldorado, Texas. The compound, which began in adjoining towns on either side of the Arizona-Utah border, was founded by Warren Jeffs, the leader of the sect. Jeffs is in prison after being convicted last year of forcing a 14-year-old girl to marry her cousin.

‘Safest environment’
“If we need to move away from the ranch, we will,” James Dockstader said. “We would like that to be our home. We feel it’s the safest environment for our children.”

The Dockstaders previously appeared on TODAY on May 12. At that time, only Nancy had been allowed to visit their daughters, and neither parent had seen their sons in the 37 days since they were taken into custody. They were told the reason they couldn’t visit the boys and James couldn’t see any of his children was because they hadn’t been assigned a caseworker. Within hours of being on TODAY, the couple had a caseworker assigned to them.

The court ruling was made specifically in response to an appeal filed by Texas Rio Grande Legal Aid on behalf of 48 FLDS families, including the Dockstaders, but it is expected to affect all of the families involved in the raid.

The ranch was built to be as self-sufficient as possible, with sect members raising their own cattle and produce, manufacturing their own concrete, and even quarrying the limestone used to build a temple. But since the raids, some members have reportedly moved back to Utah and Arizona, fearing further raids.

The CPS has said that girls in the sect are essentially raised to be sex slaves.

“It’s the most untrue statement that I ever heard,” Nancy Dockstader told Curry. “They’re simply going on bad information. They don’t know the truth.”

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