Shielding child whose mother is Catholic from father's Wiccan lifestyle?

Vance R. Koven vrkoven at gmail.com
Thu Jan 24 08:52:05 PST 2008


I think Steve's message illustrates exactly the point. What's in the best
interests of *the* child is a matter to be decided with reference to the
particular child in question and to his/her family's unique circumstances.
It is not a matter for ideology.

If a child is raised in a household in which differences are extolled and
exhibited, then being exposed to them post-divorce doesn't in itself seem
likely to harm the child. But where a family has adhered to a particular
framework, and that framework is suddenly jolted, not only by the divorce
but by radical changes in what had been viewed as a fundamental aspect of
child-rearing, then it seems perfectly consistent with the legal standard,
psychology and the still largely accepted role of the family, for a judge to
ascertain whether harm is likely to occur, and take reasonable actions to
prevent harm.

Imposing a Unitarian world view on, say, a Pentecostal child who had
consistently been reared that way, while it may seem to Steve like a "good
thing," would be the worst kind of judicial bullying, as would an order for
a child raised in a Unitarian household to be sent off to Catholic school,
where in each case the judge reasonably concluded that this would create a
cognitive dissonance that could adversely affect the child's emotional
stability.

Vance

On Jan 24, 2008 9:32 AM, Steven Jamar <stevenjamar at gmail.com> wrote:

> I'm quite troubled by the idea that children are developmentally harmed by
> exposure to more than one idea, religious or otherwise.  And that a judge
> can decide that only one religion is not harmful, and decide which one.
>
> How about -- step parents -- that is confusing.  Or remaining single. That
> is confusing.  Or sexual orientation.  Or one is an environmentalist
> minimalist and the other a hummer -level  consumerist.
>
> Would it be the same if one was a catholic and the other episcopalian? or
> two sects of judaism?  or two brands of evangelical christian? or mormon and
> 7th day adventist?
>
> Barring a child from knowing a parent strikes me as not in the best
> interest of the child.
>
> As with anything else, there are, of course, limits -- but merely
> practicing a garden-variety of paganism or wiccan hardly seems dangerous to
> the mental health of anyone.
>
> In our Unitarian Universalist congregation we explicitly teach the kids
> about alternative views and beliefs and emphasize the individual and
> collective search.  I guess we are harming all of our kids and they should
> be taken away from us by child protective services!
>
> No.  This one goes too far.
>
> Steve
>
>
> On Jan 24, 2008 7:18 AM, Conkle, Daniel O. <conkle at indiana.edu> wrote:
>
> >  Maybe I wasn't clear.  I wasn't suggesting how these cases should be
> > decided, but only attempting to highlight what I think to be the underlying
> > issue or problem.  (Maybe my point was so obvious that it could have gone
> > without saying.)
> >
> > I haven't studied this particular area with care, but I'm inclined to
> > agree with what Vance writes in most recent posting.
> >
> > Dan Conkle
> >
> >  ------------------------------
> > *From:* religionlaw-bounces at lists.ucla.edu [mailto:
> > religionlaw-bounces at lists.ucla.edu] *On Behalf Of *Vance R. Koven
> > *Sent:* Thursday, January 24, 2008 8:44 AM
> >
> > *To:* Law & Religion issues for Law Academics
> > *Subject:* Re: Shielding child whose mother is Catholic from father's
> > Wiccan lifestyle?
> >
> > I'm a bit confused by Prof. Conkle's last sentence. The judges have been
> > explicitly ruling based on the "best interests" standard, which is the only
> > one they are permitted to apply. The question is not whether religion should
> > be exempt from the standard, but whether religion should be a favored or
> > disfavored component of it. In the case Eugene brought up, it seems that the
> > judge was very explicitly evaluating the impact of the father's religious
> > conversion on the child's personality formation, which is quite appropriate.
> > That such evaluations can serve as a subterfuge for a judge's personal
> > predilections is certainly a danger that should be guarded against, but not
> > at the cost of removing religious factors entirely from the evaluation; they
> > should be part of the consideration, to the same extent as anything else
> > that might affect the welfare of the child.
> >
> > On Jan 24, 2008 8:19 AM, Conkle, Daniel O. <conkle at indiana.edu> wrote:
> >
> > >  Ordinarily, the government, including judges, properly has little or
> > > no say in parental decisionmaking, lifestyle choices, etc., even if those
> > > parental choices or activities might not (in the view of the government,
> > > including judges) be in the best interests of the child.  It seems to me
> > > that the difficulty in the particular context of custody and visitation is
> > > that the government, through judges, necessarily involves itself in these
> > > matters.  The question then is whether or to what extent the religious
> > > aspects or elements of particular parental choices or activities should
> > > render them immune from the "best interest" evaluation that otherwise would
> > > be applicable in this specific corner of the law.
> > >
> > > I think Carl Schneider has written helpfully on these questions.
> > >
> > > Dan Conkle
> > > *******************************************
> > > Daniel O. Conkle
> > > Robert H. McKinney Professor of Law
> > > Indiana University School of Law
> > > Bloomington, Indiana  47405
> > > (812) 855-4331
> > > fax (812) 855-0555
> > > e-mail conkle at indiana.edu
> > > *******************************************
> > >
> > >  ------------------------------
> > > *From:* religionlaw-bounces at lists.ucla.edu [mailto:religionlaw-bounces at lists.ucla.edu]
> > > *On Behalf Of *Vance R. Koven
> > > *Sent:* Thursday, January 24, 2008 7:53 AM
> > > *To:* Law & Religion issues for Law Academics
> > > *Subject:* Re: Shielding child whose mother is Catholic from father's
> > > Wiccan lifestyle?
> > >
> > >   Shouldn't the issue be framed as whether the judge is granting
> > > greater solicitude to religious aspects of the child's upbringing than to
> > > non-religious ones of comparable influence? If the father had suddenly
> > > developed an extreme interest in, say, raucous rock concerts (weird people,
> > > drums, dancing), contrary to the household ambiance when the parents were
> > > married, would an order such as this seem so exceptional?
> > >
> > > I think in a lot of these cases, where post-divorce one parent
> > > undergoes a lifestyle transformation (in either direction--harking back to
> > > the original case of the father who became ultra-Orthodox or the mother who
> > > recanted orthodoxy), the court is saving the parent from him- or herself by
> > > limiting the child's exposure while the child could develop a strong
> > > aversion to the wayward parent. Older children, of course, are well-versed
> > > in rolling their eyeballs at their parents' idiosyncrasies (though I wonder
> > > if that too is a feint).
> > >
> > > Vance
> > >
> > > On Jan 23, 2008 7:14 PM, Ed Brayton <stcynic at crystalauto.com> wrote:
> > >
> > > > The more I dig into cases similar to this the more I think that
> > > > judges
> > > > should not be allowed to consider religion at all. It's just too
> > > > ripe for
> > > > abuse, too open for a judge to be prejudiced against one party to
> > > > the case
> > > > because of their religion or (more commonly) their lack of it. I am
> > > > astonished at the fact that appeals courts have refused to overturn
> > > > such
> > > > rulings even when they've been outrageously wrong.
> > > >
> > > > Ed Brayton
> > > >
> > > > -----Original Message-----
> > > > From: religionlaw-bounces at lists.ucla.edu
> > > > [mailto: religionlaw-bounces at lists.ucla.edu] On Behalf Of Volokh,
> > > > Eugene
> > > > Sent: Wednesday, January 23, 2008 4:22 PM
> > > > To: Law & Religion issues for Law Academics
> > > > Subject: Shielding child whose mother is Catholic from father's
> > > > Wiccan
> > > > lifestyle?
> > > >
> > > >        A recent New York state appellate court decision upheld a
> > > > father's
> > > > petition for overnight visitation, but stressed that this was done
> > > > only
> > > > because the father and his fiancee "agreed to refrain from exposing
> > > > the
> > > > child to any ceremony connected to their religious practices," and
> > > > because
> > > > the Family Court could mandate, in the visitation order,
> > > > "protections
> > > > against her exposure to any aspect of the lifestyle of the father
> > > > and his
> > > > fiancée which could confuse the child's faith formation."
> > > >
> > > >        I tracked down the trial court decision, and it turns out the
> > > > father's and his fiancée's "lifestyle" and "religious practices"
> > > > were
> > > > Wiccan.  The trial court concluded that the child (age 10 at the
> > > > time of the
> > > > appellate court's decision) "is too young to understand that
> > > > different
> > > > lifestyles or religions are not necessarily worse than what she is
> > > > accustomed to; they are merely different.  For her, at her age,
> > > > different
> > > > equates to frightening.  So when her father and her father's
> > > > fiancé[e] take
> > > > her to a bonfire to celebrate a Solstice, and she hears drums
> > > > beating and
> > > > observes people dancing, she becomes upset and scared."  There was
> > > > no
> > > > further discussion in the trial court order of any more serious harm
> > > > to the
> > > > child, though of course there's always the change that some evidence
> > > > was
> > > > introduced at trial but wasn't relied on in the order.
> > > >
> > > >        Given this, should it be permissible for a court to protect
> > > > the
> > > > child from becoming "upset and scared" by ordering that a parent not
> > > >
> > > > "expos[e the child] to any aspect of [the parent's] lifestyle ...
> > > > which
> > > > could confuse the child's faith formation"?
> > > >
> > > >        Eugene
> > > > _______________________________________________
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> > > > _______________________________________________
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> > > >
> > >
> > >
> > >
> > > --
> > > Vance R. Koven
> > > Boston, MA USA
> > > vrkoven at world.std.com
> > >
> > > _______________________________________________
> > > To post, send message to Religionlaw at lists.ucla.edu
> > > To subscribe, unsubscribe, change options, or get password, see
> > > http://lists.ucla.edu/cgi-bin/mailman/listinfo/religionlaw
> > >
> > > Please note that messages sent to this large list cannot be viewed as
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> > > wrongly) forward the messages to others.
> > >
> >
> >
> >
> > --
> > Vance R. Koven
> > Boston, MA USA
> > vrkoven at world.std.com
> >
> > _______________________________________________
> > To post, send message to Religionlaw at lists.ucla.edu
> > To subscribe, unsubscribe, change options, or get password, see
> > http://lists.ucla.edu/cgi-bin/mailman/listinfo/religionlaw
> >
> > Please note that messages sent to this large list cannot be viewed as
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> > posted; people can read the Web archives; and list members can (rightly or
> > wrongly) forward the messages to others.
> >
>
>
>
> --
> Prof. Steven Jamar
> Howard University School of Law
> _______________________________________________
> To post, send message to Religionlaw at lists.ucla.edu
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> Please note that messages sent to this large list cannot be viewed as
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>



-- 
Vance R. Koven
Boston, MA USA
vrkoven at world.std.com
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