Monday, April 2, 2012

Tennessee mom faces jail for baptizing her children without her husband's consent



A Tennessee mothers, Lauren Jerrell, will be tried with contempt-of-court charges and possible jail time for baptizing her children without the consent of her ex-husband. The charges that are being brought up against her is that she violated a court order. In Tennessee the parenting plan, which the court said was violated by Jerrell, requires that both parents have to agree on religious upbringing of the child. Since Jerrell baptized the children without the fathers consent and knowledge she would be violating the parenting plan.
This case that is going to be seen by the Tennessee Supreme Court can be seen as either the court interfering with religious disputes between parents or the right of the parent to influence their child with their personal religion. One of the mother's attorney stated that since their was no personal harm to the children that the parenting plan is unconstitutional. That as a divorced parent Jerrell has the right to influence her children with her personal religion, which includes the baptism of her children. The father disagreed with this because he believed that the children were to young to be baptized.
This could either be seen as the court interfering with the religious freedom of parents to influence their children or that it was a simple violating of a court order. Since the First Amendment states that "Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof..." and since the parenting plan gives the court the authority to decide for the parent if they can't come to a mutual agreement is the problem in this case. Since the court order has to do with religious disputes between parents it can be seen as an interference of government in personal religion.
The Court of Appeals Judge Alan E. Highers said that this case with Jeller has nothing to do with religion but if their was a failure on the part of the mother to follow court orders they had to prosecute her for that and that only. It can be argued that this can be seen as a religion case where the courts would be major entanglement of religion and government. Through the First Amendment there should be neutrality in cases that involve religion and that through the establishment clause the court should remain neutral in all cases that pertain to religion.
How can a court rule on and issue that is a private matter that involves religious decision-making which the court should stay away from. The courts should remain neutral while the court here decided that since the mother chose to baptize the children against the fathers wishes she was in contempt of the court order. The parenting plan has complex wording that the law requires the court to become entangled with parental religious decision-making.

11 comments:

Aanal P. said...

I agree with the issue you address through this article of the inevitable excessive entanglement of church and state as a result of the unclear parenting law. This type of law definitely requires the court to become involved in religious issues, but I don’t think it’s as serious as it seems. I believe the court is getting involved in making sure that the parenting law is being followed. The law is there to ensure that each parent can exercise their right to religion by passing it on to their children. If the court is to side with either parent, the court cannot be seen as promoting the views or religion of that parent. There are other factors that the court must look at, like who the kid stays with and the parents’ marital status. In this case, it is clear that the mom get to make the decision because she is raising the child and she is divorced. I understand where you see the issue, but in this particular case, when other factors are considered, it is clear that the court isn’t stepping into the personal religious field.

Charlesha L. said...

In my perspective this case seem to be solely about the violation of the parenting plan which was a court ordered decision. Although this issue refers to a dispute over religious activity and the mothers free will to free exercise with her children the court is above the entanglement of religion and law in this matter. I find that this is apparent based on the conviction they placed upon Jerrell.

Emrah K said...

After getting divorced, if the mother has the guardianship for children, she can baptize them. Both of them, father and mother are Christian, and both of them agree baptizing the children but the father says that baptizing will be better in next years. It is ok but if the court does not give authorization to the legal guardian of the children on some issues, these kinds of problems will continue. For example, the mother may want to take her children to a religious school, but the father may prefer a public school. What will happen? Therefore, whoever is legal guardian should have more rights to do for the children. Finally this parenting plan is not sufficient, if it regards the parents as equal.

Olivea M said...

I agree with Mary Whitfield, Lauren's lawyer, I do not think the courts have any right to settle religious disputes between married couples. The couples should be able to settle the dispute amongst themselves. I can't help but think that if the husband were to baptize the child instead of the mother this would not be this controversial. I understand that Lauren violated a law and therefore she should be held accountable. I do not think it is proper for the judicial and legislative branches of government to govern the decisions parents make in regards to citizen's personal religious beliefs. I think it is the parent's responsibility to be able to determine what is best for their child and to agree on it.

Anne G said...

As I understand this case the court should not rule on issues that involve parental decision-making. However, this case suggests there is more to the story. If the mother failed to follow a court order then that is one thing - but to be jailed for having her children baptized is another -- unless the court ruled that she could not. Then I'd want to know why the court is ruling on parental decisions. So, just what is the "complex wording" that requires the court to get involved?

bethd said...

Although this case seems to be about the court order that the mother has violated, the question I have is should the court in the first place even have been involved in the matter of religion. It seems that even addressing the issues of the childrens religion in court may in some ways violate separation of church and state. They may be upholding the parenting law, but should religion have even been addressed initally in court, should the court have made the decision on how the parents were to address this issue in the first place.

Amisha P said...

This case seems to be more about Jerrell violating a court order. During the divorce process the court has to make some kind of ruling about how religion is going to affect the children. I do not see it as excessive entanglement because the court did not say which religion the children had to follow. All the court said was both parents have to agree on the religious upbringing of the children.

Amber P. said...

I agree with Aanal. There is excessive entanglement of religion and state. The court is making the case more difficult than it is. The court is determining religious upbringing when it should only be determining who has the right to influence religion of the children. Like Aanal says in her comment, I believe there are other factors that must be considered before deciding the case. Not all parents are involved in the lives of their children after divorce or even equally involve, therefore, this should be taken into consideration before determining who gets to influence or make the decision regarding the religious upbringing of children.

Gabe AB said...

I do not believe that this case constitutes excessive entanglement, primarily because the religious mention in the Parenting Plan is effectively neutral as it does not specify religion. However, I also do not believe that it is good policy. First off, how is the court enforcing this policy? We see in this case that the mother may face jail time, but only because she baptized her children. But how else can the court enforce this, is reading a bible to your child enough to violate the court order? Interestingly enough, in this case both parents are christians and wanted to have their children baptized, only the father wanted to wait until they were older and could understand the significance of it. If this is resulting in jail time, what happens when a child with two parents of very different religions comes through? How can the court decide when one is "imposing" religion too much. Doing this would put a burden on the court that they cannot fulfill, and it should ultimately be a private conversation between the parents.

Sachin G said...

I think the mother has a complete right to influence her children with whatever religious beliefs and the husband should have no role after the divorce. But also on the other hand, the husband does have a say so in his child's religious upbringing.And it seems more like a family matter than court matter. Court's can not tell parents how to raise a child or try to solve a religious dispute between ex married couple.

Angela S. said...

The court is not ruling on religion. The court is ruling on parental rights. The order that she violated was that both parents had to agree. Knowing several people that have gone through divorces in TN the state is moving toward a model in which neither parent has custody alone, but instead they have joint custody. Based on what was reported it sounds like this was an example of that.