Bill Murchison

The discussion returns us meanwhile, or should, to a familiar point: that family relationships and responsibilities -- hard as 21st century society works at redefining them -- are of the cultural essence. Worthy of state protection, yes, but worthier still of that tender cultivation and support only the family can give -- father to mother, mother to father, children to parents, parents to children. It's why the culture has to be so careful in dealing with those relationships: to acknowledge the danger of child abuse and at the same time to avoid freaking out over mere suspicion of adult misbehavior.

One reason for the "Nixon-knows" defense of Texas' intervention at the polygamist ranch is that Texas' famously conservative government isn't famous for overreaching. A second reason: the weirdness of polygamy, outlawed in this country for more than a century. Yet even good intentions sometimes go astray. And it's possible to believe that a polygamist isn't, you know, all there, without imagining him or her to be an abuser of children.

To take children from parents is hard and bad enough when there's unmistakable cause. When the cause is merely inferred, sniffed at, imperfectly traced to the source -- then the state goes too far.

Did the state go "too far" in this present notorious instance? What did "Nixon" know, and when did he know it? The Texas court of appeals invites us to urgent consideration of urgent questions -- these two just for starters.

Bill Murchison

Bill Murchison is the former senior columns writer for The Dallas Morning News and author of There's More to Life Than Politics.
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