Conservative Indiana secretly hotbed of judicial activism!
May 26, 2005 11:52 AM   Subscribe

Thomas Jones and Tammie Bristol, both Wiccans, divorced in 2004. Likely they disagree about much, but not which religion they wish to teach their son. Too bad for them, then, that a Marion County Superior Court judge included a provision in their divorce decree which bans them from exposing their child to "non-mainstream religious beliefs and rituals". Neither parent requested this; in fact, both vehemently objected, yet the judge refused to remove it. I guess them there activist judges are a threat to freedom of religion after all - but I doubt that the Judeo-Christian Council for Constitutional Restoration will be going after this guy. Funny; he's right up their alley.
posted by tzikeh (46 comments total)
No, no, no, you got it all wrong, tzikeh:

"Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof, unless it's weird and different," etc.
posted by Plutor at 11:58 AM on May 26, 2005

How is this going to be enforced? Most of these types of agreements are enforced by parents tattling on eachother.

Also, couldn't they just claim that wicca is "main-stream" enough? might as well be. It's at least as stupid as most main-stream religions, that's for sure.
posted by delmoi at 11:59 AM on May 26, 2005

But Darth Sidious promised us peace.
posted by digaman at 12:10 PM on May 26, 2005

I was a little confused why they chose to send their son to a Catholic school, and I guess that's where the judge got the bright idea for this order.

"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.

But whatever. Great post.
posted by ScottMorris at 12:12 PM on May 26, 2005

I'm a little foggy on the details, but the government (actually the IRS) does decide between mainstream, non-mainstream (sect, cult etc) because of tax purposes, who can get designation as a tax-free organization and so on.
posted by stratastar at 12:16 PM on May 26, 2005

Stratastar - I am foggy on the details about that as well, but tax purposes are clearly not what's on this judge's mind. I don't think the IRS gets to determine what parents can teach their children. At least, not yet. ;)
posted by tzikeh at 12:19 PM on May 26, 2005

ScottMorris quotes the Court's decision "'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,' "

Wasn't this the same argument that justified secret baptism of Jewish infants and the subsequent removal of the infants from their (Jewish) parents' custody, and the Catholic Church's refusals to re-unite Jewish children taken in by Catholics with their Jewish parents, after the Holocaust?
posted by orthogonality at 12:19 PM on May 26, 2005

Talk about "activist judges"! I am certain the the fundies and theocons will be be screaming just as loud about this judicial activism as they did about the perceived activism in the Schiavo and the Ten Commandments cases.
posted by Osteo at 12:19 PM on May 26, 2005

ScottMorris: You send your sons/daughters to Chatard (the Catholic school in question here) because Indianapolis Public Schools have possibly the worst standard for student education in the state of Indiana. I knew many non-Catholics who went to Chatard (and other Jesuit/private schools) simply because of the reputation.

Also, There's Always Hope On Appeal! One can hope the Court of Appeals is bright enough to get this religious tidbit changed.
posted by salsamander at 12:20 PM on May 26, 2005

Many people send their kids to Catholic school, despite their not being very Catholic. That's more likely to be a pragmatic choice based on school quality than one based on belief systems. As for "confusion these divergent belief systems will have upon (the boy) as he ages", why not demand that the parents stop sending him to Catholic school, rather than demand that they stop teaching him their religion at home? Sounds like an agenda looking for an alibi, to me.
posted by vorfeed at 12:24 PM on May 26, 2005

Completely unconstitutional. It better be overturned on appeal. That's just completely illegal here in the US, telling parents what religion their child has to be raised in.

For the moment...
posted by zoogleplex at 12:24 PM on May 26, 2005

Salsamander is absolutely correct (not a product of IPS, but my mother taught in their elementary schools -- I grew up in a suburb), you go to Chatard because you can.

There are three big Catholic schools in Indy: Chatard, Cathederal, and Brebuef. Most of my friends went to Brebuef, which seemed at the time to be the most liberal -- they made their students take a World Religions class, at least. I had an uncle who taught at Cathederal, he was an old hardass.
posted by sohcahtoa at 12:26 PM on May 26, 2005

Any lawyers present? Surely this would not withstand appeal?
posted by kaemaril at 12:26 PM on May 26, 2005

(ScottMorris, the article points out that the father also went to Catholic school as a non-believer. In many city school systems, parochial school is a parent's best hope of seeing their child live long enough to graduate.)

Domestic Relations Counseling Bureau, which provides recommendations to the court on child custody and visitation rights.

When preparing snarks, don't forget to reserve half your scorn for the bureauocrat who criticized the parents' choice. I love this notion that being exposed to more than one religion's perspective is so damaging to a 9 year old "as he ages" that the judge can make deem it an offense worthy of removing the kid from one or both of his parents. I suspect even his own Catholic school would disagree that religious diversity is a problem anyway. At his age, mine was happily using their allocated hour of religious indoctrination per day to respectfully enlighten us about the world's other major religions.

Still, the judge's order makes it clear this is about ignorance of the Constitution and bigotry against Wicca. If "confusion" were the real issue, the parents should be allowed to resolve the so-called problem by placing their son in a non-denominational school.
posted by nakedcodemonkey at 12:27 PM on May 26, 2005

The argument that the boy would suffer confusion over the "divergent belief systems" of his parents and school is absurd. I've known plenty of non-Catholics who went to Catholic private schools; I went to a Catholic high school with a large minority of Baptist students. As far as I know none of them were driven into madness by doctrinal contradictions.
posted by maryh at 12:30 PM on May 26, 2005

I was a little confused why they chose to send their son to a Catholic school

I don't know how good the Indianapolis public school system is, but if it's not particularly good, that could very well influence the parents' decision to send their son to parochial school. That happened to me when I was a child; I lived right on the outskirts of East St. Louis, where no one would send a kid to public school if there were any alternative (see the first chapter of Jonathan Kozol's "Savage Inequalities"), and there weren't any affordable secular/private schools in the area. My atheist, highly educated parents sent me to a tiny blue-collar Catholic school (not even in our town; the nearby Catholic school REFUSED to accept a non-Catholic child, since I guess the religion wasn't struggling as much as it is now)for EIGHT YEARS.

Talk about culture shock. I'd never had any encounter whatsoever with organized religion until I went blindly into Mass at age six; had no idea what was going on, and tried to explain to my mother about "this guy dressed up like Jesus" (the priest's robe bore a striking resemblance to the one on the almost-lifesize Jesus statue in the school basement). I knew about Jesus from reading a children's bible at my aunt's house, but figured it was just a story, about as good as original Grimm.

I have little memory of what my parents told me about the situation and how to deal with it, but I went along in the religion classes the whole time I was there--and wouldn't you know it, turned out to be a Unitarian Universalist. (Have to say, I think the UUs would approve wholly of the Wiccan-Catholic blend that these parents are doing; my instinct when I read this story was to tell them to check out a UU church.) If handled correctly, this kid won't have any confusion at all; will just come out with liberal views and a weird, lingering interest in saints.
posted by dlugoczaj at 12:34 PM on May 26, 2005

It doesn't sound like the two religions are in conflict, anyway. Different, sure, but it's not like the kid is being forced to do a mental 180 each day or reconcile opposing moral outlooks.
posted by nakedcodemonkey at 12:45 PM on May 26, 2005

My best friend went to a Catholic grade school because it was right across the street from his house. I think he had first communion but he never did confession or confirmation. So it's not that unusual to send your kid to a school who's religious values you don't follow. Heck, I stuck it through the same grade school because I never wanted to cause the heartache that would've come with me confessing my views on religion so to speak.

It's not the judges job to resolve theological or other confusion regardless.
posted by substrate at 12:46 PM on May 26, 2005

Good nondenominational lord. My plans included exposing my son to all the religions I can wrap my head around and any that will let us come in and visit. I think knowledge of "how" people have faith may be more important than "what" people believe. Learning how to think, learning the similarities between the stories, finding the kernels of things which resonate as true to each individual...that is the religious training I want to give my son. (For the record, I too went to Catholic school, even after I refused to go through confirmation.)

This decision cannot possibly be legal. I mean, IANAL, but sweet mother of mercy, how can a judge tell a kid that he can't celebrate holidays with his parents...or tell parents that they will lose their child to the state if they practice their faith when the boy is around?

Wicca is recognized by the U.S. military and the can this judge consider it non-mainstream? Can you imagine the reaction this decision would have caused if the parents had been Muslim or Christian Scientists or Mormons?

This is so wrong that I'm tempted to go off on a rant about how this is the sort of thing we can expect in the New Theocratic America, but I can't believe that it will be upheld on appeal, and I refuse to believe that this lone lunatic judge is indicative of the state of the current judiciary.

Gods help us all if it is.
posted by dejah420 at 12:46 PM on May 26, 2005

Since this is a pretty clear violation of the constiution, it won't stand on appeal. The problem persists, though, that family court judges can make almost any demand they want on a parent. This is a particularly screwed up area of the law, as "the best interests of the child" can mean whatever the judge likes.
posted by cameldrv at 1:02 PM on May 26, 2005

This reminds me of the Anti-Social Behavior Orders in Britain. A law targeting one specific person that says that they're not allowed to do things that everyone else in the society has a right to do.

I shivered when I heard about those, and I was glad we don't have anything like that in the States. Looks like they do in Indiana.

Difference being that this will never hold up on appeal.
posted by gurple at 1:02 PM on May 26, 2005

My guess is that the judge is trying to say it is in "the best interest of the child". That the confusion caused by what he would be exposed to at school and what he would be taught at home would negatively impact his education. Unless there is some very strong evidence that this was his motivation and the damage to the child is real I cannot imagine that his ruling would hold up on appeal.
posted by Carbolic at 1:06 PM on May 26, 2005

My wicca friend's wicca daughter went to Catholic school. And got an a+ in theology class. And it was her favorite class.
posted by By The Grace of God at 1:08 PM on May 26, 2005

Why send a boy to Catholic school? So he can get laid. You just usually hope that it happens with a precocious girl in a plaid skirt rather than a priest in a black cassock.
Y'know, I'm gonna hope that the Religious Right tries to make a big issue out of this. Instead of calling them on their hypocracy, we need to goad them into self-righteousness and simply sit back and watch them make bigger douchebags out of themselves.
As for the case? Well, it's a widely-known fact that wiccan children smell funny and have terrible acne, and usually listen to EBM like the Hellfire Club. It'll be less damaging for him in the long run to simply be a lapsed Catholic.
posted by klangklangston at 1:15 PM on May 26, 2005

Why send a boy to Catholic school? So he can get laid.

Catholic Girls
At the CYO
Catholic Girls
Do you know how they go?
Catholic Girls
There can be no replacement
How do they go, after the show?

All the way
(That's right, all the way!)
posted by three blind mice at 1:27 PM on May 26, 2005

I would be extremely surprised if the religious right did anything other than congratulate the judge. They are only proponents for religions they agree with. I seriously doubt they'd stand up for mainstream religions like the Lutheran or Catholic churches.
posted by Carbolic at 1:31 PM on May 26, 2005

Actually Carbolic many (if not most) of the outspoken members of the religious right think of Catholicism as a weird sect that should really be wiped out just after gay marriage and abortion. (See KKK) They (the right) think that we (Catholics) are idolaters after all.

When the protestant right and Catholics agree on something they are uneasy bed-fellows.
posted by oddman at 1:49 PM on May 26, 2005

Eugene Volokh
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)...
posted by nakedcodemonkey at 1:58 PM on May 26, 2005

I tried to think of something thoughtful to say here. Maybe a snarky-but-serious comment about how I went to a Catholic college as a non-Catholic (Georgetown) and survived unscathed... Maybe an ironic comment about "all" those fucked up wiccans I knew at my Episcopalian high school, quietly gnashing their teeth at the conflict of the world. Maybe a serious comment about how, no, on appeal, this should probably be struck down as an abuse of discretion, and if there's any justice, the court of appeals decision will read, "WTF? Try again. Remanded."

But all I can say is: what an idiot.
posted by socratic at 2:00 PM on May 26, 2005

According to the ICLU's press release, "Pursuant to Indiana law and constitutional protections, parents with custody of their children can choose their religious exposure unless the children's physical or emotional health would be endangered."

So presumably the judge is filing this under the heading of "endangerment to emotional health".
posted by nakedcodemonkey at 2:20 PM on May 26, 2005

Judges can, and do, order all sorts of wacky things that won't stand scrutiny. At 16, after some hijinks involving a high-speed chase and many police cars, a municipal court judge sentenced me to, among other things, go to church every week (this was a small town). I ignored that part and nothing came of it.
posted by Ethereal Bligh at 3:31 PM on May 26, 2005

Oddman, not just idolaters but mariolaters to boot. Once upon a time anything other than Southern Baptist was suspect. I've been living with these people for years.
posted by Carbolic at 3:51 PM on May 26, 2005

So, what's the problem? Wicca has been mainstream for some time. Even if this incredibly dubious clause remains intact, they should easily be able to prove Wicca's mainstream standing.
posted by FormlessOne at 4:23 PM on May 26, 2005

Sounds like the kind of thing that would be grounds for disbarment and/or removal from the bench in most states; I suspect that in Indiana it's grounds for election to the state Supreme Court.
posted by aaronetc at 4:30 PM on May 26, 2005

> nakedcodemonkey at 12:45 PM PST on May 26
>It doesn't sound like the two religions are in conflict,
>anyway. Different, sure, but it's not like the kid is
>being forced to do a mental 180 each day or
>reconcile opposing moral outlooks.

They are deeply and fundementally opposed.
posted by Ken McE at 4:35 PM on May 26, 2005

nakedcodemonkey writes "So presumably the judge is filing this under the heading of 'endangerment to emotional health'."

No, the child's physical health: as good Christians, we don't suffer a witch child to live. We burns 'em.
posted by orthogonality at 5:05 PM on May 26, 2005

Are there means to remove nutso judges from their job once they prove themselves incapable of following the law, let alone interpreting it?
posted by five fresh fish at 6:08 PM on May 26, 2005

I can't wait to see who wins. I've always wondered if spells were more powerful than prayers.
posted by effwerd at 6:49 PM on May 26, 2005

"Wicca has been mainstream for some time."

A lot longer than christianity even. I mean, hey, what's more mainstream than a winter solstice tree?
posted by mischief at 7:12 PM on May 26, 2005

[Wicca & Catholicism] are deeply and fundementally opposed.

Do elaborate.
posted by nakedcodemonkey at 9:14 PM on May 26, 2005

This AP article adds a few more details. Including that the decision didn't originate with the judge. It also clarifies that the order itself characterizes the parents' religion as "non-mainstream".
A court commissioner wrote the unusual order into the couple's dissolution decree... "the parents are directed to take such steps as are needed to shelter [son] Archer from involvement and observation of these non-mainstream religious beliefs and rituals." The splitting parents challenged that section of the decree, but Judge Cale Bradford, who reviewed the commissioner's work, let it stand.
posted by nakedcodemonkey at 10:02 PM on May 26, 2005

I haven't read anything, not even comments, but I would like to say that I think Wicca is a sham - an anthropologist friend wrote it up and it's true, it's about as legitimate (in its origins) as Scientology, though it lacks the latter's malevolence. The writings on which it is based have been conclusively traced to the late 20th century, post-dated to the 18th and co-opted for these purposes. She may have been wrong but she was pretty thorough and that's just what I read.

That said, the state shouldn't prohibit them from teaching it to their kid.
posted by BlackLeotardFront at 10:06 PM on May 26, 2005

Wicca is only 50 years old, true. However, its ideals are thousands of years old. The "origins" your anthropologist friend found were that of Gerald Gardner and Doreen Valiente, who developed the ancient and original beliefs of Paganism (of which Wicca is a denomination), into a system, choosing particular deities, systems, morals, and ancient moral laws into a systemic religion that respects nature and works by revering the world in general.
posted by malusmoriendumest at 12:07 AM on May 27, 2005

Thanks to everybody that pointed out that the parents were merely looking for the best school they could send their son to. That is almost certainly what happened, but hadn't occured to me. And the argument that it would confuse the boy is ridiculous, of course. Like someone up there said, he would almost certainly have an advantage by being exposed to multiple views of morals and life. Regardless, it's none of the judge's fucking business.

Here's hoping this one's struck down in appeal.

On preview, blackleotardfront: just how old does a religon have to be before it ceases to be a "sham"? Therefore Rastafarians and the Nation of Islam have no business establishing a belief system? Do we have to crucify one of them so that 100 years later they can start to establish a legitimate religon?
posted by ScottMorris at 12:40 AM on May 27, 2005

I refuse to believe that this lone lunatic judge is indicative of the state of the current judiciary.
But is it very indicative of the state of the future of the judiciary?

I suspect that in Indiana it's grounds for election to the state Supreme Court.
Or a seat on the federal bench under the current national political majority?
posted by nofundy at 5:26 AM on May 27, 2005

Wonderful, ScottMorris. Thank you.
posted by malusmoriendumest at 3:11 AM on June 2, 2005

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