Friday, October 12, 2007

Mom’s religion dominates custody hearing

A Tennessee paper reports:
A Maryville woman who went to court on Aug. 14 for a child custody hearing says she was persecuted because of her religious beliefs at the hands of the Blount County judicial system.

According to Jo Anne White, what was supposed to be a standard child custody hearing turned into an almost hourlong "Bible study" in the courtroom in spite of the repeated protests of her attorney, Kevin W. Shepherd.

After a detailed discussion of her religious beliefs -- documented in court reporter transcripts obtained by The Daily Times -- and a brief recess to chambers, Blount County Circuit Court Judge W. Dale Young awarded temporary custody of White's two children to her ex-husband. The custody will be reviewed again in Circuit Court on Dec. 11.

While Young questioned White about one specific aspect of her religion, attorney Craig Garrett, who represented White's ex-husband, asked numerous probing questions about her faith. Of the 65 pages of court transcripts reviewed by The Daily Times, 41 pages deal directly with White's religious beliefs.

"We were discussing specific Scriptures and the details of end-times prophesy," White said. "My attorney kept protesting, but the judge kept it going for almost an hour.

"At one point, I told the judge, 'I didn’t write the Bible — so why are we discussing this?' ...

Calls from The Daily Times to Young’s office and home were not returned. Eugene Volokh, a law professor at the University of California-Los Angeles (UCLA) and expert on both child custody and religion in the courtroom, said, "A judge can’t say 'this religion isn’t good for the children' — you must have evidence.

"You have to be able to demonstrate that it isn’t in the best interest of the child.
"I think it's inadvisable to investigate someone’s religion in depth in the courtroom.
"This is not the kind of behavior we want to see from judges, but it doesn't necessarily constitute grounds for reversal."

While transcripts of the court proceedings do not state why the judge awarded temporary custody to White's ex-husband, they do show that religion was the primary topic of discussion in the courtroom that day.
I think that the real crime here is that a judge can make a custody decision and not even explain his factfinding or reasoning on the record. He can just make some arbitrary and predujiced decision, and get away with it as long as it doesn't put a stupid explanation on the record.

In this case, the judge quizzed the mom on whether the Bible says to celebrate the Sabbath on Saturday or Sunday. Either way, it should not be relevant to child custody.

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