virus: Atheism is Love....

Wade T.Smith (wade_smith@harvard.edu)
Thu, 11 Dec 97 00:34:36 -0500


OK. I probably have your attention, well, except for Marie, who took her ball and went home.

David asked much earlier about fairness in the legal system- we all wonder about why and how religions develop their memetic power- some of us have children- some of us are divorced- some of us are divorced with children- some of us might even say it is time to raise the rag to our faces-

The following is a news report of a Family Law case here in the 'enlightened' commonwealth of Massachusetts. It doesn't answer any questions.

Although it is evidence that deities are bogus....

And I contend again that reason and the law are not cohabitors.

And-

Atheism would be a real answer here.... (It would also make it all moot.)

And-

Please take the time to digest it. It encapsulates practically every reason why religion and law have failed as problem solvers.

__________

In divorce, court can have say in child's faith

By John Ellement, Globe Staff, 12/10/97

Divorced parents of different faiths may lose the right to raise their
children in their own religion if doing so creates a substantial harm
to their children, the state highest's court ruled yesterday.

In saying that probate court judges may be the final arbiter in
deciding in which faith a child of divorced parents is raised, the
Supreme Judicial Court said a parent's right to religious expression
is limited by the best interest of the child.

In a 6-0 ruling, the SJC said a fundamentalist Christian father cannot
bring his children - who are being raised by the mother as Orthodox
Jews - to his church services because doing so would stir emotional
conflict within the children and wrongly force the children to choose
between their parents.

''Both the Massachusetts and the United States Constitution permit
limitations on individual liberties where there exists a compelling
interest,'' Justice Neil Lynch wrote for the court. ''Promoting the
best interests of the children is an interest sufficiently compelling
to impose a burden on the (father's) right to practice religion and
his parental rights to determine the religious upbringing of his
children.''

The SJC's ruling was seen by some attorneys as the logical extension
of the bedrock principle of child custody issues: Judges must decide
what actions are in the best interest of the child and all other
constitutional concerns are secondary.

''Constitutional rights are irrelevant here,'' said Sanford N. Katz, a
Boston College Law School professor specializing in family law. ''You
can't believe in Jesus on Sunday and believe in Moses on Saturday.
It's too confusing. Kids need stability. The home environment is not
stable if you are seriously going to expect them to believe in two
religions.''

But Michael S. Greco, the appellate attorney for the father, Jeffrey
P. Kendall, said the SJC has now given judges the right to
''micromanage'' intimate ethical and moral value systems a parent
wants to impart to their children.

''I think this decision has serious implications for the freedom of
religion and for a parent's relationship with his or her child. If
they have different religions, then there is a diversity and a
positive strength to be gained from being exposed to differing
religions,'' Greco said. ''That's what happens when you are an
adult.''

Greco went on to say such restrictions could apply to ''any
religion,'' and not just the faiths of the Kendalls.

Jeffrey Kendall and Barbara Zeitler were married in a Jewish ceremony
in 1988. Jeffrey was then nominally Catholic and Zeitler was a mildly
observant Reformed Jew. They had three children, each of whom was
given a name with Jewish religious significance. Jewish religious
practices were also followed.

In 1991, Jeffrey joined the fundamentalist Christian sect called the
Boston Church of Christ, which is located in Woburn. A key tenet of
that faith is that members reach out to others in hopes of converting
them. Moreover, members believe in Jesus Christ as their personal
savior and that those who reject Jesus are ''damned to go to hell,''
according to court records.

Meanwhile, Barbara converted to Orthodox Judaism in 1994 and began
raising the children in that faith. Their oldest child, a boy, who is
now 9 years old, began wearing the long curls and special clothing of
that faith. His two younger sisters also followed Orthodox tradition.

Their differing faiths led to the divorce. And the desire of both
parents to impart their religious beliefs to the children after the
divorce led Probate and Family Court Judge Christina L. Harms to issue
a ruling in favor of the mother. The SJC upheld that yesterday.

Harms concluded that Jeffrey had pushed his faith on the children, had
objected to them learning about the Holocaust, and fostered ''negative
and distorted images of the Jewish culture.'' Moreover, on one
occassion - although Jeffrey disagrees with her conclusion - the judge
said Jeffrey cut off his son's ''religiously meaningful sideburns'' on
the grounds that his son wanted a ''whiffle'' or ''Mohawk'' haircut.

Drawing on the work of a psychiatrist who interviewed the children,
Harms concluded the disagreement between the parents over their
religion placed the children in a ''no-win situation'' where they were
''perilously close to being forced to choose between their parents,
and reject one.''

She forbade Jeffrey to take his children to the Boston Church of
Christ services, or to enroll them in Sunday school, but did say that
having pictures of Jesus on his walls at home would not violate her
order. The SJC's decision keeps Harms's order in effect.

David E. Cherny, Barbara's attorney, said his client welcomed the
ruling. He said the SJC has essentially concluded that Jeffrey's
''religious beliefs required him to proselytize. Now he can't expose
his kids to his religious beliefs.''

Cherny said the struggle over the faith of children in divorce cases
is rare, but he added that yesterday's decison by the SJC may generate
a new wave of custody litigation as parents seize on it to challenge
''lifestyle'' decisions made by the other parent they believe will
cause the child ''substantial harm.''

Cherny said that standard cannot be met simply by one parent testifing
in court. Instead, there must be expert testimony showing a child
could be harmed.

Greco, Jeffrey's attorney, called his client a ''compassionate, caring
father'' who was deeply upset by the SJC's decision. ''He wants to
give his children the benefit of his values. Now, the father, unless
he is granted relief by a different court, can never take his children
to his church.''

Greco said there is the possibility that Jeffrey will appeal the
ruling to the US Supreme Court since the SJC touched on federal
constitutional principles in making its decision.

This story ran on page A01 of the Boston Globe on 12/10/97.
Copyright 1997 Globe Newspaper Company.

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Wade T. Smith
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wade_smith@harvard.edu | shouldn't do to a god."
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