Church Lawyer Argues Search of Compound like Search of Vatican

Staff Report
The Associated Press

SAN ANGELO, Texas (AP) - Attorneys for a polygamous religious sect argued in court in San Angelo today that their clients have a right to their faith and privacy.

Agents have been thoroughly searching a commune near the remote West Texas town of Eldorado (ehl-duh-RAY'-doh) run by the polygamous Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints.

The sect has been the subject of an intense legal probe into alleged forced marriages of underage girls in the commune to older men. The search warrant covered all documents related to marriages among sect members.

The sect's attorneys told a Tom Green County state district judge today that the search of the sect's temple is analagous to a law enforcement search of the Vatican or other holy places. They urged authorities to handle any documents seized with respect.  But prosecutor Allison Palmer countered that the purpose in seizing the documents was to uncover evidence of criminal activity, not to malign a religion.

The search began Thursday after a 16-year-old girl called a local family violence shelter from inside the 1,700-acre complex. She reported that her 50-year-old husband had beaten and raped her. Since then, more than 400 children have been taken from the Yearning For Zion Ranch and placed in state custody.