The Texas Supreme Court has ruled that child welfare officials must return dozens of children taken last month from a polygamist ranch to their parents.
The court's decision states that the April 3 removal of the children from the Yearning for Zion Ranch outside Eldorado, Texas, "was not warranted," based "on the record before us."
More than 450 children were initially taken into protective custody after an allegation of child sexual abuse at the ranch. The claim was made by a caller who said she was 16 years old and being abused at the complex. But state officials say they have not located the girl, and there is growing evidence the call was a hoax.
The ruling upholds a lower court decision involving 139 children whose 41 mothers had gone to court to regain custody. The Texas justices noted that their ruling does not address issues other than immediate custody, including "parental rights and the State's interest in protecting children."
The decision also states that Texas authorities have other protective options that don't require removing children from their homes.
The custody decision is expected to affect the status of 300 other children who have been placed in foster care throughout the state. It's not clear when any of the children will rejoin their parents.
The Yearning for Zion Ranch is a settlement of the Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, a polygamist group based in twin towns on the Utah-Arizona border. The group's "prophet," Warren Jeffs, is serving consecutive prison terms of five years-to-life for facilitating rape. His case involves the "spiritual" marriage of a 14-year-old girl to her 19-year-old first cousin. Former members of the FLDS group say the faith forces underage girls into marriages with older men.