DNA Testing Begins on Polygamous Sect

State officials have begun giving DNA tests to 400 children. The testing is intended to help determine their parents and relatives — though it could become part of a criminal case raising some interesting issues.

Officials in San Angelo have objected that the religious sect reserves the right to assign children to another mother or father if their biological parent leaves or is expelled. If this is the practice, it is hard to see how it has not been litigated since no religious organization possesses such authority. Even if a parent is expelled and one remains, the expelled parent would have a right to go to court for custody. Indeed, custody would likely be granted if the other parent is living in a polygamous compound.

Judge Barbara Walther ordered the tests after officials complained that members of the Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints have continually changed their names and given different ages.

The widespread use of DNA testing deepens the concerns over the criminal elements of the case. The probably cause cited in the original raid seems questionable, particularly given the failure to locate the alleged witness. Yet, under the civil statutes, the state is allowed to act in the best interests of the children – regardless of how possible abuse came to light. DNA testing is sometimes ordered in such circumstances. However, in this case such testing would likely be used to be a case against individuals for rape and other charges.

Routine DNA testing of felons has been universally upheld and Walther is likely to be upheld in her decision. It will get interesting, however, as a criminal case is assembled against any individuals.

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