Wife's "Anti-American Sentiments" (and Perhaps Anti-Semitic Sentiments)

Help Lead to Giving Husband Temporary Physical Custody of Children: Here's an excerpt from the temporary order in Ahmed v. Haroun (Minn. Dist. Ct. Sept. 7, 2005) granting the husband physical custody. The order was later superseded by a permanent order allowing joint physical custody based on a court-appointed custody evaluator's recommendation (see the appellate decision in this case).

c. Neither party alleges domestic abuse by the other party. Assuming Husband's assertions regarding Wife's conduct in practicing her Muslim religion, this Court has grave concern that she would not be an appropriate parent or role model for the children. In the same light, the Court has concern about Wife's volatile behaviors not just towards Husband, but towards the minor children and in front of the minor children.

d. In considering that Husband has lived almost his entire life in the Twin Cities area and has become a U.S. citizen, while Wife has not acclimated well to her relocation to the United States or American culture, has not sought US citizenship until after these proceedings commenced, voiced her anti-American sentiments, it is in the best interests of the parties' minor children to be under Husband's temporary physical custody.

Here is the passage from the husband's affidavit that contains what seem like the relevant "Husband's assertions regarding Wife's conduct in practicing her Muslim religion":

4. In Respondent's mind, the 9/11 tragedy was justified; she believes that America deserved it for being pro-Israeli and because America is standing by watching Israel "slaughter" Palestine. She supports the terrorists' action; she supports and believes in the extremism and Respondent supports Osama Bin Ladin and believes he is a "hero," and a role model to aspiring extreme Muslims.

Shortly after the 9/11 tragedy, we went to Egypt on vacation. It was then when Respondent became so obsessed with the Muslim religion; her brother has become and extremist. Respondent from this point on was consumed by watching every religious program and surfing the net on 9/11 propaganda that Respondent began neglecting the household. Respondent has since been unstable and does not deal with day-to-day issues with reason.

When I met Respondent she did not wear a Hejab. After 9/11, Respondent first started wearing a Hejab. Respondent believes (according to her belief and her interpretation of the Koran), that women who don't cover their hair "will be hung by their hair in hell," which is not true at all. Respondent claims to be a practicing Muslim. If that were true we would be going through the Islamic Jurisprudence of Minnesota Committee in resolving our divorce and she would not sympathize with the 9/11 terrorists. I, on numerous occasions, tried to tell Respondent that we are living in a great country: America where sky is the limit, where we can be more open-minded, and be open to learning from all that is around us. She is not willing to adjust to the American culture and instead, she has significantly gone the other way towards anti-America sentiment. After 9/11, Respondent posted on the refrigerator a list of Jewish owned businesses which she vowed to "boycott". I do not want her to teach the boys such racism and prejudice.

As our sons' father, I have been a positive role model by teaching them good ethics and values. Respondent claims that I have not provided any care for the boys. This is not true! I have fed the children, bathed, changed, shopped, taken them on bike rides, read to them, said prayers with them, swam with them, have gone to almost all of their doctor appointments, taken them to a mosque and Sunday school. I know that I can provide the kids with love and the exposure to the day-to-day life experiences. This is why I ask the Court to grant me physical custody. I am concerned that if Respondent has sole custody of the boys, then she will teach the boys the extreme beliefs she is following. I want the boys to live the "American life" and not grow up being taught and to believe anti-American sentiments that Respondent is following.

Respondent has not liked being this country and does not believe in what it stands for. Respondent has asked me many times to transfer to RE/MAX franchise in the Middle East. During discussions regarding our divorce, she has asked me to buy her an apartment in Egypt.

The wife denied the husband's accusations, though the court seemed to believe the husband when deciding on the temporary order. One of husband's friends and coworkers also filed an affidavit saying that "while at their house for dinner, I was struck to see a list ... of Jewish businesses to avoid, posted on the refrigerator" (a list that he was sure wouldn't be the husband's doing, based on what he knew of the husband's views). The affidavit also reported on the husband's pre-divorce complaints about the wife's "attitude towards her faith, her new country, and her predilection for surfing the internet and watching Islamic satellite programming that was anti-American and extremist in tone," the wife's "fundamentalism and Anti-Sem[i]tic views," and the husband's "concer[] with the type of message and values that extreme Islamic fundamentalism would have on their children."

The husband also alleged various other misbehavior by the wife; the judge seemed to be referring to this when he talked of "Wife's volatile behaviors not just towards Husband, but towards the minor children and in front of the minor children." But it seems pretty clear that the judge relied fairly substantially on the wife's anti-American sentiments, and her "conduct practicing her Muslim religion," which seems to refer to the pro-jihadist and anti-Semitic views. The court of appeals likewise seemed to think the wife's views were important to the trial court's temporary decision; its summary of that decision read,

Ahmed initiated a marital-dissolution proceeding in 2005. He filed a number of affidavits accusing Haroun of sympathizing with terrorists and engaging in anti-Jewish activity. The district court issued a temporary relief order granting Ahmed sole physical custody of the couple's three young children. The district court noted that because of Ahmed's claims about Haroun's "conduct in practicing her Muslim religion, this Court has grave concern that she would not be an appropriate parent or role model for the children." The district court, among other factors, based its decision on Haroun's failure to seek U.S. citizenship until after the proceedings commenced and Ahmed's allegations about Haroun's voicing anti-American sentiments.

In any case, this seems like a fascinating story, and an example of what I describe in my Parent-Child Speech and Child Custody Speech Restrictions, 81 NYU. L. Rev. 631 (2006) (as well as in this thread, which touches on another extremist-Islam-related parent-child speech case). A few questions for those who want to think further about this matter:

  1. Do you think that a reasonable judge could conclude — focusing only on the factual question, and setting aside the constitutional issues — that it's more in the child's best interests to be raised by a parent who is not anti-American, anti-Semitic, and fundamentalist Muslim than it is to be raised by a parent who is those things?

  2. Even if the answer to the first question is yes, do you think that the judge should nonetheless be barred from considering such parental views in the custody decision?

  3. If a judge is entitled to consider such ideological factors in this case, do you think that there should be any constitutional limits on child custody decisions that are based on such factors?