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May 26, 2005
Freedom Means The Leeway Of Foolish Choices, Your Honor

An Indiana judge needs a remedial course in Constitutional law if this report in the Indianapolis Star accurately characterizes his custody decree. In determining custodial arrangements for a nine-year-old boy, Judge Cale Bradford instructed both parents to refrain from instructing their son in Wiccan beliefs, despite their shared religion not being a point of contention in their filings:

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.

Bradford's reasoning behind this ban? The boy attends a Catholic grammar school -- and the judge doesn't want the parents to "confuse" Junior with contradictory doctrine. The father attended the same school as a youngster, despite also being a non-Catholic, and along with his ex-wife considers this ruling a flagrant violation of both their parental rights and their right to free expression of their religious beliefs.

I carry no brief for Wicca, nor do I want to enter into a debate about its wisdom or foolishness. The important and relevant fact is that government has no business telling people how to practice religion unless the rites themselves break the criminal code (i.e., if someone practiced human sacrifice, etc). The child's attendance at a Catholic school has no relevance to the parents' practice, or even that of the child. Many non-Catholics send their children for Catholic education because of the quality of instruction delivered at these schools, and understand the trade-off of religious instruction.

Judge Bradford may have had some reason to make a ruling pertaining to the Jones/Bristol family had the parents made it an issue in their divorce and custody complaints. However, Wicca apparently is not an issue in this case, or at least it wasn't until Bradford made it one. In a minor defense of Bradford, however, he wasn't the first to bring it up. Indiana's Domestic Relations Counseling Bureau, which apparently does home studies on custody disputes, decided to take it upon themselves to issue a judgment on the parents' beliefs as part of its report.

Unless Indiana has some sort of exemption to the First Amendment of which I am unaware, the entire state government appears out of order regarding free religious practice. If the parents do no temporal harm to their child, it's no one's business how the Jones/Bristol family churches themselves. Perhaps a few days at Bishop Chatard High School would be in order for Judge Bradford and the people at DRCB.

Sphere It Digg! View blog reactions
Posted by Ed Morrissey at May 26, 2005 11:57 AM

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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 ... [Read More]

Tracked on May 26, 2005 1:13 PM

» Freedom Means To Stay the [Choose Your Favorite Expletive] Out of My Family, Your Honor from The Wild Duck
Family Court Means Never Having to Say You’re Constitutional ... [Read More]

Tracked on May 26, 2005 7:59 PM

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