Updated: Thursday, 09 Oct 2008, 8:50 AM CDT
Published : Thursday, 05 Jun 2008, 10:07 PM CDT
DALLAS (AP) -- Gov. Rick Perry took personal responsibility Thursday if Texas "stepped across some legal line" in the April raid on a West Texas polygamous sect's ranch while defending the state's action, The Dallas Morning New reported.
Perry, who was in La Baule, France, for a European business conference, said the state has an obligation to protect young women from being forced into marriage and underage sex.
"That's my bottom line on this," Perry said in a story for the newspaper's online edition.
He also warned members of the Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints that child sex abuse won't be tolerated and even suggested that followers of the renegade Mormon sect may want to leave the state.
"If you are going to conduct yourself that way, we are going to prosecute you," Perry said. "If you don't want to be prosecuted for those activities, then maybe Texas is not the place you need to consider calling home."
Willie Jessop, a Utah-based FLDS elder, said Perry's remarks were shocking, particularly given a Texas Supreme Court ruling that forced this week's return of 440 sect children on the grounds that Child Protective Services provided scant evidence that the children were in danger.
"It's an outrage that he should even make such gross and broad allegations," Jessop said. "He's listening to people that tell lies about the FLDS."
FLDS officials have accused the state of persecuting sect members for their religious beliefs.
Texas authorities raided the sprawling compound near Eldorado April 3 after three calls to a domestic abuse hot line, purportedly from a 16-year-old mother living at the sect's Yearning For Zion ranch who was being abused by her middle-age husband. The calls are now being investigated as a hoax.
Perry said based on the information state authorities had at the time "they acted with the best interest of those children."
"If responsibility needs to be taken for (court edicts) saying that we stepped across some legal line, I'll certainly take that responsibility," the governor said. "I am substantially less interested in these fine legal lines that we're discussing than I am about these children's welfare, that's where my focus is. That's where CPS' focus is."
Jessop, who has insisted that children at the ranch were not mistreated, has sidestepped questions about underage marriages at the YFZ ranch. But he did announce earlier this week that the church would no longer sanction marriages of any girl under the legal age of consent in the state where she lives.
Though the children have been returned, a criminal investigation is ongoing.
Copyright 2008 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.