judge needs a class on the constitution 5.26.2005

Judge: Parents can't teach pagan beliefs
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.

Bradford refused to remove the provision after the 9-year-old boy's outraged parents, Thomas E. Jones Jr. and his ex-wife, Tammie U. Bristol, protested last fall.

Let's be clear. This is not a dispute between two parents over religion. While their parents did get a divorce, their point of contention was not religion: both are Wiccan, and wish to raise their child as Wiccan.

On occasion the courts will get involved when divorced parents fight over religion. And in such cases you have what can only be construed as a "mess" slamming up hard against the First Amendment. But that is not the case here: both parents want to raise their child as Wiccan, the Judge--whose ruling is based upon a report from child protective services--does not.

If there was ever a precedence not to set, this is it.

I don't care if you agree or disagree with Wicca, think it's a beautiful religion of earth worship or an invented cockamamy pseudo-religion or the work of the devil. What's important here is that this Judge made a binding ruling--over the objections of both parents--which violate at least three separate constitutional principles I can think of: freedom of expression, freedom of religion, and equal protection.

Worse, this sets a horrible and rather nasty precedence, as it permits the judgment of a handful of people untrained in legal issues to make recommendations in future cases which could eventually erode at any meaningful interpretation of the First Amendment. For example, imagine a neighborhood with a high number of Muslims deciding that teaching Christianity to children in their neighborhood is offensive. They'd just need a willing child protective services agent to file a report--and with the precedent here set, suddenly parents are no longer legally allowed to take their children to a Christian church.

And before anyone goes off and says something stupid, like that this is somehow part of Conservative conspiracy, note that the two web sites I first saw this on, the Volokh Conspiracy and the Captains Quarters Blog aren't exactly bastions of liberal thought.

At it's root this is fundamentally a Constitutional issue.

posted by William Woody at 3:06 PM

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A moderate conservative living in the left coast, surrounded by the sureal, wonders if there is a sane life living amongst those who have lost touch with reality.

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