Alan K. Henderson's Weblog


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Saturday, May 28, 2005

Judge Bars Divorced Couple From Wiccan Upbringing Of Son this story:

An Indianapolis father is appealing a Marion County judge's unusual order that prohibits him and his ex-wife from exposing their child to "non-mainstream religious beliefs and rituals."

The parents practice Wicca, a contemporary pagan religion that emphasizes a balance in nature and reverence for the earth.

So what's the judge's excuse?

The parents' Wiccan beliefs came to Bradford's attention in a confidential report prepared by the Domestic Relations Counseling Bureau, which provides recommendations to the court on child custody and visitation rights. Jones' son attends a local Catholic school.

"There is a discrepancy between Ms. Jones and Mr. Jones' lifestyle and the belief system adhered to by the parochial school. . . . Ms. Jones and Mr. Jones display little insight into the confusion these divergent belief systems will have upon (the boy) as he ages," the bureau said in its report.

Some observations:

  • In divorce proceedings, judges typically don't (or shouldn't) intervene in upbringing issues over which both parents have no disagreement - except if the upbringing environment involves criminal conduct. In the comments to his own post at In The Agora, Ed Brayton says:

    The question at issue is whether the judge has the authority to determine that a given religion is bad for a child solely on the basis of it causing "confusion" with the more dominant religions in his social contexts. Clearly, no such authority could be justified without a very compelling interest. The exceptions to the free exercise clause should be drawn very narrowly. To make an exception solely on the basis of such alleged confusion would justify all sorts of intrusions into the private religious decisions of parents. Given that both parents are of the same religion, that it is entirely legal to be wiccan, and that parents are rightly given enormous leeway to raise their children in the religion they choose with only very narrowly tailored exceptions involving a direct harm to the child, I have a hard time imagining even a hypothetical justification for such a ruling in this case. Unless there is something truly crazy going on that hasn't been noted in the press - naked orgies in front of the children, or something like that - it seems obvious to me that the judge is going far past his authority in this case.

    Captain Ed offers the same argument:

    The important and relevant fact is that government has no business telling people how to practice religion unless the rites themselves break the criminal code (i.e., if someone practiced human sacrifice, etc). The child's attendance at a Catholic school has no relevance to the parents' practice, or even that of the child.

  • Note that Judge Bradford didn't rule that the Joneses had to choose between Wicca and the Catholic school.
  • The judge is right about one thing: the conflict between parental and school doctrine does present a dysfunctional environment. But the same situation exists when socially conservative parents, especially Christian ones, send their children to public schools infested with Political Correctness. Is the kid who has to balance between the Catechism and the Wiccan Rede worse off than the evangelical who has to balance between real history and revisionist PC history, between sexual discipline and PC sexual permissiveness, between real tolerance and the mindless conformity that PC masquerades as tolerance? Hey, maybe the ruling could serve as a precedent for making government schools unconstitutional...
  • The parents are clearly not offering Catholicism and Wicca as equally viable worldviews. That would be cruel - but not the criminal sort of cruelty described above.
  • If this sort of ruling isn't nipped in the bud, it won't stop with real fringe religions. Keep in mind that a lot of people think of "Christian fundamentalism" as "non-mainstream religious beliefs and rituals."

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