Sunday, April 4, 2010

Whose God Wins?

A recent case in Illinois raises the question of whether a family court can order divorcing spouses to raise a child in just one religion. In an op-ed piece in Newsweek, Dahlia Lithwick details the issues that are involved, while also raising questions that need to be answered.

Joseph Reyes converted to Judaism when he married Rebecca Shapiro in 2004. When they split up four years later, Rebecca won primary custody of their daughter and Joseph was granted regular visitation. The two parents had allegedly agreed to raise their daughter within the Jewish faith, however, Joseph, seeking to expose his 3-year old to his Catholic background, had her baptized. When Rebecca found out, she obtained a temporary restraining order, prohibiting Joseph from exposing their daughter “’to any other religion other than the Jewish religion during his visitation.’” But when Joseph took his daughter to Catholic mass, his ex-wife’s lawyers demanded that he be held in criminal contempt, with jail time included in the punishment. While this case may seem like an average divorce case between two feuding individuals, it has turned into one that deals with important questions of religion and the rights of an individual as decided by the Constitution.

According to Lithwick, “divorce-court spitballs” have begun to fly. Joseph has argued that he converted to Judaism “under duress” to satisfy his in-laws, while also requesting and winning a new judge since the original judge was Jewish. Rebecca argues that she has sole custody of their daughter, and that the couple agreed to raise the child Jewish. Rebecca sent her to a Jewish preschool and believes that “exposure to another religion would ‘confuse’ her.” However, Joseph countered by saying that his daughter was not harmed by the baptism, and that under Illinois law a noncustodial parent can attend religious services with his or her child unless there is “’proof of harm to the child’ or it ‘interferes with the custodial parent’s selection of the child’s religion,’” which does seem to be the case here. Ultimately, Joseph believes that his religious freedoms have been violated.

The question that Lithwick raises is if a court can decide what religion your child will be. She argues that family courts violate constitutional freedoms all the time. Courts can bar you from interstate travel if you seek to move your child away from your ex, and can violate freedom of speech if they bar you from speaking ill of your ex in front of your children. In the end, as we continue to mention in class, it’s all about the children. While the author writes that “for most of us ‘there’s always only one way to heave, and its mine,’” she concedes that one parent will always been shut out of the decisions regarding a child’s upbringing, including their religious training.

The questions raised in this article and this case are tricky. On one hand, we need to take the education and upbringing of the child into consideration. However, religion is important to so many people, that it is understandable that these two parents have been reduced to petty squabbling. However, I do not think it is appropriate for a court to rule in this case. By choosing a side, the court will ultimately be forced to choose one religion over another. In the Supreme Court’s decision in Watson v. Jones (1871), the court was asked to rule on the issue of slavery between two sects of the Presbyterian Church. Justice Miller, in the Court Opinion, made the argument that civil judges are not as competent in religious law as religious tribunals are. “The law knows no heresy, and is committed to the support of no dogma, the establishment of no sect.” By ruling in a case like this, the court would clearly be forced to choose between two religions. This issue should be resolved between the parents, not through a secular court

1 comment:

Dallas M said...

This is truly a dilemma due to both parents actions in the matter and the court’s ruling. However, the parents should handle this matter in private instead of trying to drag the case into court. What parents do with their children have effects that can last their entire lives and not coming to terms with something like religion can leave a negative effect on the child’s religious outlook. I seriously hope that they do take into the account of the child and figure out a plan real fast or the outcomes could be disastrous in the long run.