Judge: Parents Can’t Teach Pagan Beliefs
An Indiana judge has ordered a divorced couple not to raise him as a Wiccan.
Judge: Parents can’t teach pagan beliefs (Indianapolis Star)
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.
Some people have preconceived notions about Wicca, which has some rituals involving nudity but mostly would be inoffensive to children, said Philip Goff, director of the Center for the Study of Religion & American Culture at Indiana University-Purdue University Indianapolis. “Wiccans use the language of witchcraft, but it has a different meaning to them,” Goff said. “Their practices tend to be rather pacifistic. They tend to revolve around the old pagan holidays. There’s not really a church of Wicca. Practices vary from region to region.” Even the U.S. military accommodates Wiccans and educates chaplains about their beliefs, said Lawrence W. Snyder, an associate professor of religious studies at Western Kentucky University. “The federal government has given Wiccans protection under the First Amendment,” Snyder said. “Unless this judge has some very specific information about activities involving the child that are harmful, the law is not on his side.”
At times, divorcing parents might battle in the courts over the religion of their children. But Kenneth J. Falk, the ICLU’s legal director, said he knows of no such order issued before by an Indiana court. He said his research also did not turn up such a case nationally. “Religion comes up most frequently when there are disputes between the parents. There are lots of cases where a mom and dad are of different faiths, and they’re having a tug of war over the kids,” Falk said. “This is different: Their dispute is with the judge. When the government is attempting to tell people they’re not allowed to engage in non-mainstream activities, that raises concerns.” Indiana law generally allows parents who are awarded physical custody of children to determine their religious training; courts step in only when the children’s physical or emotional health would be endangered.
A rather bizarre ruling but, as the story makes clear, one that will certainly be overturned on appeal. It’s amusing but hardly worth the 272 comments this has generated at Eschaton in the last 2-1/2 hours. This isn’t some now trend, a sign of a vast conspiracy, or Jesus freaks taking over the world. It’s just some nutty judge making an idiotic ruling.
Update (1410): This story has set off a mini-blogswarm.
- Steven Taylor – “[N]ote to Judge Bradford: not all attendees of Catholic Schools are Catholic (or even Christian).”
“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) as well.”
Ed Morrissey – “…government has no business telling people how to practice religion unless the rites themselves break the criminal code…”
Jesse Taylor – “Bradford is, of course, a Republican.”
Edward @ Obsidian Wings – “Bradford gets high marks from the Indianapolis Bar Association, and a fairly short google search didn’t turn up any other indications of wingnuttery in his rulings, so I want to know what the hell was he drinking that day.”
Radley Balko – “Surely this can’t withstand an appeal.”