Home Schooling and Child Custody:

The News & Observer (North Carolina) reports:

Wake District Court Judge Ned Mangum said on Friday that he will require Venessa Mills to enroll her children in a public school for the upcoming school year. The ruling came as part of an ongoing divorce case....

Thomas Mills, Venessa's husband, had raised concerns that the children would be sheltered in a home school instead of in a regular public school setting.

Mangum appeared to agree with Thomas Mills at last week's court hearing even as the judge said that home-schooling has "had a great benefit" for the children.

"I do think that in the interests of the children being well rounded that public school will be a great option for them," Mangum said during the court hearing. [Audio of that is available on the News & Observer site. -EV] ...

The Mills' three children, ages 12, 11 and 10, have been home-schooled by their mother since 2005. She said they have made noticeable academic improvement since then, with two of the children performing two grade levels above their ages.

WRAL (Raleigh) also reports:

In an affidavit filed Friday in the divorce case, ... Thomas Mills ... said he was "concerned about the children's religious-based science curriculum" and that he wants "the children to be exposed to mainstream science, even if they eventually choose to believe creationism over evolution." ...

In a verbal ruling, Mangum said the children should go to public school.

"He was upfront and said that, 'It's not about religion.' But yet when it came down to his ruling and reasons why, 'He said this would be a good opportunity for the children to be tested in the beliefs that I have taught them,'" Venessa Mills said....

Of course -- if the judge's oral statements are being accurately reported by Venessa Mills -- the same logic would apply to children who are taught at private schools that teach creationism: If one divorced parent objects to such teaching, the judge could order that the children be sent to noncreationist schools instead of creationist schools, or give custody to that parent who promises to send the children to such schools.

I should note that I would firmly oppose any judicial order interfering with the father's ability to expose the children to evolution when the children are visiting with him (assuming the mother is given custody and the father is given visitation). And I personally do think that it's more in a child's best interests to be taught evolution than to be taught creationism. I just don't think that the First Amendment allows judges to make decisions based on such matters, for reasons I mention in my Parent-Child Speech and Child Custody Speech Restrictions article.

For an earlier case suggesting -- in my view, wrongly -- that disfavoring the creationism-teaching parent is more legitimate in child custody cases, see Waites v. Waites, 567 S.W.2d 326, 333 (Mo. 1978) (suggesting that under “best interests” test court may consider whether parent “would refuse to permit the child to attend a school class where evolution is taught”). For lots of cases in which judges considered parents' religiosity, atheism, racism, Communism, pacifism, support for Nazism, advocacy of the propriety of homosexuality, condemnation of homosexuality, and more, see the article I cited above.

For more on child custody decisions and home schooling -- setting aside the creationism issue, which as I note could arise even when the child is taught in a religious school outside the home -- see these older posts.

Thanks to Patrick Martin and Robert Bell for the pointers.