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Appalling, if Accurate:

The Indianapolis Star reports:

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.

Cale J. Bradford, chief judge of the Marion Superior Court, kept the unusual provision in the couple's divorce decree last year over their fierce objections, court records show. The order does not define a mainstream religion. . . .

"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. . . .

If the order is as reported, then it's a blatant violation of the Free Speech Clause (because it's a speech restriction), the Free Exercise Clause (because it singles out religion for special restriction), the Establishment Clause (because it prefers some religions over others, and requires the court to decide what's a "mainstream" religion), and likely the Equal Protection Clause (because the order discriminates based on religion) and the Due Process Clause (because of the order's vagueness) as well.

Courts sometimes do issue these sorts of orders when there's a battle between the parents; as I argue in this article, I think even those orders are generally unconstitutional, and especially when it comes to religious teachings, most courts have concluded that they can't be issued unless there's some evidence of likely harm to the children (rather than just abstract speculation, as seems to be the case here). But orders restricting what both parents can say to the child, issued on the court's own initiative and without either parent's support, are nearly unheard of, and would seem to be even harder to justify constitutionally.

Finally, the "avoid confusion to the child" argument is bad enough -- if accepted, then presumably it would mean that parents who are sending their child to a very liberal school (public or private) could be ordered not to teach conservative beliefs that are in tension with the liberal school's views on environmentalism, evolution, and the like. But even if restrictions genuinely and impartially aimed at avoiding confusion to the child were permissible, it's hard to see this order as applying such an evenhanded standard: Judaism and other "mainstream religions" would be quite different from what's taught at the parochial school, but they're allowed; only "non-mainstream religions" are forbidden.

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I Was Pleased To See This:

Apropos the outrageous (if press reports are correct) court order barring Wiccan divorced parents from teaching their child their religion, the executive director of the American Family Association of Indiana -- essentially a conservative Christian group -- says: "The parents have the right to raise their child in that faith, just as I have the right to raise my child in the Christian faith." A very good response.

Related Posts (on one page):

  1. I Was Pleased To See This:
  2. Appalling, if Accurate: