AUSTIN, Texas, May 29 (UPI) -- The Texas Supreme Court Thursday said the state had no right to remove more than 400 children from their parents custody in a raid on a polygamist sect.
The court, however, did not order the children returned immediately to their mothers, providing instead that "appropriate relief to protect the children" be arranged first. The justices said state officials had acted prematurely in seeking to remove the children from their parents' custody.
The case -- the largest custody case in Texas history -- stemmed from an April 3 raid on the Yearning for Zion Ranch near Eldorado. Authorities seized 468 children, saying they were at risk of sexual abuse.
Thursday's ruling affected 129 of the children taken into custody by the Texas Department of Family and Protective Services, but the ruling is expected to apply to all of them because of a blanket ordered issued early on by state District Judge Barbara Walther.
"Instead of focusing on whether each parent engaged in or tolerated the sexual abuse of their children, the (state) put their entire religion on trial," the mothers of the children argued in papers filed with the court. State officials claimed if the children were returned to their mothers, they'd be spirited away to the sect's property on the Utah-Arizona border and would be at risk of sexual abuse.