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.

via Memeorandum

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).”

    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) 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.”

Surely not.

FILED UNDER: General
James Joyner
About James Joyner
James Joyner is a Security Studies professor at Marine Corps University's Command and Staff College and a nonresident senior fellow at the Scowcroft Center for Strategy and Security at the Atlantic Council. He's a former Army officer and Desert Storm vet. Views expressed here are his own. Follow James on Twitter @DrJJoyner.

Comments

  1. Ragdrazi says:

    (Shorter James Joyner: “I like to ignore what ever doesn’t fit my paradigms. They aren’t activist judges if they’re defiling the constitution!”)

  2. James Joyner says:

    Uh, no.

    The ruling is outrageously stupid but not a big deal because it won’t stick.This is just some county judge issuing an idiotic ruling. Of course it violates decades of 1st Amendment case law. Thus, it’ll be summarily overturned on appeal.

  3. Ragdrazi says:

    Oh come on now. This is just what you “cultural revolutionaries” want isn’t it? I mean the ACLU are a bunch of commies aren’t they? Enemy of the state? We don’t need to look out for civil rights. We’ve got the patriot act for that. I’m sorry. Everything I’ve seen out of the right in the past several years makes you’re statement look like crocodile tears.

  4. Ron says:

    No, no. I’m certain that this means the end of civilization as we know it. A clear sign that toleration of dissent is at an end. I’ll be stocking up on canned goods and digging my shelter tonight.

  5. Ragdrazi says:

    Now I aint saying that either, am I.

  6. wavemaker says:

    James, I don’t think Rag is even reading your statements.

    Pick your battles, Rag — or are you that uncomfortable realizing that James is taking the same side as you?

  7. Ron says:

    Rag
    I was responding (in my own fashion) to the whole idea, not your comment. In retrospect, though, I really did pass up an opportunity to bash the ACLU in passing.

    Oh well, another day maybe…

  8. Jim Durbin says:

    Wiccans shouldn’t be banned from practicing.

    The correct strategy is to make fun of them.

    The decision will be overturned. Everyone knows the only religion that the Constitution is allowed to prevent the spread of is Christianity.

    As for speaking of Activist Judges – this nonsense about there being such a thing as right wing activism has got to come to stop. It’s intellectually dishonest. I haven’t read the opinion, but I find it highly unlikely that the judge found a Constitutional right to ban the Wiccans from raising their child in any way.

    Judicial Activism requires twisting the meaning of the Constitution to fit a preconceived notion – usually the First and Fourteenth Amendments. This judge just ignored the law and the precedent of free speech.

    There is a difference.

  9. Ragdrazi says:

    “James, I don’t think Rag is even reading your statements.

    Pick your battles, Rag—or are you that uncomfortable realizing that James is taking the same side as you?”

    Oh I’m fine with that. I just don’t think he’s taken the time to realize he’s on the wrong side.

    Rag-drazi. Five extra button pushes will give you my tag.

  10. Ragdrazi says:

    “Ragdrazi
    I was responding (in my own fashion) to the whole idea, not your comment.”

    You were putting words in my mouth.

    “In retrospect, though, I really did pass up an opportunity to bash the ACLU in passing.”

    Silly you.

  11. Ragdrazi says:

    “Wiccans shouldn’t be banned from practicing.

    The correct strategy is to make fun of them.”

    Strategy? To what end?

    “The decision will be overturned. Everyone knows the only religion that the Constitution is allowed to prevent the spread of is Christianity.”

    Everyone but my good friend TJ.

    “Where the preamble declares, that coercion is a departure from the plan of the holy author of our religion, an amendment was proposed by inserting ‘Jesus Christ,’ so that it would read ‘A departure from the plan of Jesus Christ, the holy author of our religion;’ the insertion was rejected by the great majority, in proof that they meant to comprehend, within the mantle of its protection, the Jew and the Gentile, the Christian and Mohammedan, the Hindoo and Infidel of every denomination.”

    -Thomas Jefferson, Autobiography, in reference to the Virginia Act for Religious Freedom

    Don’t be a bigot.

    “Judicial Activism requires twisting the meaning of the Constitution to fit a preconceived notion – usually the First and Fourteenth Amendments. This judge just ignored the law and the precedent of free speech.”

    I see. So Judicial Activism requires taken a principled stance on an interpretation of the Constitution that disagrees with your own. . . not a direct tossing it in the trash like what happened here. Funny what you guys will get upset about.

  12. Ragdrazi says:

    “There is a difference.”

    There certainly is.

  13. bryan says:

    I’m simply amazed that this judge would even make such a ruling given not only the first amendment guarantees, but the parental rights granted under numerous supreme court rulings to educate their children as they see fit.

  14. legion says:

    I think Ragdrazi’s original point, and one I completely agree with, is that without organizations like the ACLU, this horrible decision wouldn’t be overturned.

    And while I’m typing,

    Judicial Activism requires twisting the meaning of the Constitution to fit a preconceived notion – usually the First and Fourteenth Amendments. This judge just ignored the law and the precedent of free speech.

    There is a difference.

    No, Jim, there isn’t. While I agree with your definition of activism, this judge obviously twisted the Constitution to override the parents’ right to raise their child as they see fit – he very clearly sees his own personal ideas about religion to be superior to the parents’, and declared that the right of society (or at least the parochial school the child attends) to not have to deal with non-mainstream religions trumps the parents’ right to raise their child pagan. He’s making new laws from the bench and twisting his Constitutional role & powers. He’s a judicial activist in the worst sens of the term.

  15. Just Me says:

    Is there any sane person out there who thinks this decision will stand? Is there a sane person that actually agrees with the decision?

  16. Ragdrazi says:

    “Is there a sane person that actually agrees with the decision?”

    I don’t think most people on the right are sane. Please prove to me that you are.

  17. Jim Durbin says:

    Legion – I haven’t read the opinion – and if the judge based his ruling on any court case, I’m willing to admit you’re right in this case.

    The idea that somehow any statement about liberal misconduct has to be followed up with, “but conservatives do it to” is the worst kind of justification for bad behavior, and it obscures the problem – judges molding their intrepretation of the law to fit their social agendas.

    And the big difference is no one is defending this judge on constitutional grounds.

  18. Kent says:

    This decision is insane.

    Conservative judges are obviously not immune from the temptation to engage in judicial activism. However, I believe the conservative community as a whole is sincere in condemning such activism. That is why Joyner was able to post a long list of conservative bloggers who are all over this judge.

    The questions conservatives need to answer are: How do we prevent judges — at either end of the political spectrum — from engaging in judicial activism? And, what do we do about long-established precedents that are Constitutionally suspect? At what point should stare decisis prevail?

  19. Ragdrazi says:

    “And the big difference is no one is defending this judge on constitutional grounds.”

    Being defensible on constitutional grounds makes you an activist. . .

    “judges molding their intrepretation of the law to fit their social agendas.”

    is the process of constitutional interpretation that has been going on since the beginning of the union.

  20. Maggie says:

    I am tired of anything the GOVERNMENT tells me to do or not to do in raising children….my goodness, my folks manage to get me to “majority” without carseats, bike helmets, or school distributed condoms. Et al.

    LEAVE ME THE HELL, ALONE!

  21. McGehee says:

    Not only should the ruling be overturned, but the judge should be sanctioned. I don’t care if this is a first-time anomaly for him, the judiciary needs to make sure there isn’t a second.

  22. Just Me says:

    I don’t know what he was thinking, but it looks like his ruling was based on a report by the domestic relations counseling bureau, what I don’t understand is why the judge didn’t recind the order, when he learned that the parents were not in any disagreement regarding religion.

    The ruling makes no sense at all in light of the fact that both parents practice the same religion.

    There is no way the ruling will stand up-there isn’t a single constitutional or legal reason for the judge to have kept the ruling in place.

  23. carpeicthus says:

    There’s *definitionally* no such thing as right-wing activism? Totally ignoring jurisprudence is better than, um, not? Wow.

  24. Ragdrazi says:

    I see. So you can’t argue me on merit so you just have your spam filter take care of me? Hmm. Oh well. Keep yourself as dumb as you want to be.

  25. Ragdrazi says:

    Oh. Sorry about that. Coming in off of work. I’m a little tired. Yeah. That was dumb of me. Sorry.

  26. LJD says:

    “Some people have preconceived notions about Wicca, which has some rituals involving nudity but mostly would be inoffensive to children”

    Just for some perspective, to those who readily jump on the freedom of religion bandwagon. We don’t see the entire picture here. “Bradford said Wednesday he could not discuss the pending legal dispute.”

    One would hope a judge is intelligent enough to realize the repercusssions of such a decision… However, I wonder about the “mostly inoffensive” disclaimer. Where do we draw the line? Chopping of chicken heads? Drinking human blood? Sacrifice? I’m not saying these things of Wicca, rather unchecked freedom of religion in general.

    So why the hell is this kid in Catholic shcool? There’s more here than meets the eye.

  27. Just Me says:

    LJD you draw the line at things that actually illegal. It doesn’t sound like there was anything illegal going on, it sounds like the issue was between the religion the parents practiced and the child’s attendance at a Catholic school. Where the parents send their child to school shouldn’t have any bearing on what religion they practice or teach their children.

    The only thing I find curious in the case is that the father is the only one actually going to court on this. Why isn’t the mother also joining in the suit, but it may be something procedural I just find it curious.

  28. ICallMasICM says:

    Actually though the order isn’t constitutional I don’t think as a matter of personal advice it’s so bad.

  29. LJD says:

    Is it legal to take peyote? Drink blood? Practice Incest? Polygamy? Depends on which state, perhaps.

    The wife not being involved is telling. Remeber, this is the result of a divorce. Strange things happen when people are emotionally stressed. There must have been some incident that caused the judge to pry into this.

    We’ll see the rest of this story unfold. Right now, I’d say too early to tell.

  30. Wick Deer says:

    To the gentlemen who claims there is no such thing as an activist Federal Judge: Not so much.

    Bush v. Gore was an extraordinary act of judicial activism.

    Leaving aside whether you liked the result or not, it is also the worst piece of judicial reasoning that I have ever read. Ironically the reigning champion in bad craftsmanship that it knocked out was Roe v. Wade.

    Wick

  31. Wick Deer says:

    At the hearing on the Motion to Correct Errors, the judge was explicitly offered the option of a more narrowly tailored ruling banning nudity.

    The judge did not take up the offer.

  32. Handmaid with a Tale to Tell says:

    This does not surprise me at all. I left Indiana — a State I love, and in which I was born and raised, and in which various lineages of my family have resided since well before the Civil War — because of the extremist conservative political and economic control of the state.

    This is the state that rounded PI to 3.14, gave birth to the Klu Klux Klan, the John Birch Society, and saw Clarence Manion create an extremist conservative movement that broadcast rightist rhetoric through the air waves on the Manion Forum for decades that is now mirrored by the corporate media.

    This is the wave of close future unless these folks are reigned back in, and quickly.