Another Troubling Restriction on Parent-Child Speech:

McCorvey v. McCorvey, 2005 WL 2863915 (La. Ct. App. Nov. 2), upholds the contempt citation of a divorced father. The family court judge had ordered the parent not to use any racial slurs in the presence of the child; here's the judge's rationale:

There was testimony elicited . . . that there were certain statements made . . . regarding racial and ethnic matters with the child of tender age . . . . There were allegations that the child was being restricted in the manner in which the child was being raised . . . contrary to racial equality, which was of concern to me . . . Some concerns by the mother . . . that the child was not to be exposed to any diversity whatsoever . . . . [EV: In context, this seems to mean that the mother disapproved of the father's racism.] I wanted to make sure the child had full exposure to all cultures, all races . . . . That was a deep concern of mine . . . . I wanted the child to have a good, wholesome upbringing so that the child would be exposed to society as society is, not in some tunnel vision type approach . . . .

The father later used a racial slur against the child's stepfather, and was held in contempt for this (as well as for some racial comments about one of the child's dolls). Setting aside the procedural question whether the court's order could be challenged collaterally in a contempt hearing — as opposed to on appeal — it seems to me that the order is unconstitutionally broad and viewpoint-based. Even if it were constitutional to bar the father from saying anything derogatory about the child's stepfather, I don't think a court may enter an order that (1) goes far beyond protecting the child's relationship with his new family, and that (2) focuses only on statements that express a racist ideology.

I agree, by the way, that teaching a child racist ideology (or various other kinds of ideologies) is against the child's best interests, which is the standard legal test in child custody cases. It just seems to me that the First Amendment limits the extent to which the government may restrict parent-child speech even when the government is trying to serve the child's best interest. (I discuss this in much more detail in my forthcoming Parent-Child Speech and Child Custody Speech Restrictions, 80 N.Y.U. L. Rev. (forthcoming 2006).)