I blogged the other day about a North Carolina judge's decision in a custody case. The case is being portrayed in the press as a religious conflict, in which the judge based his decision to deprive a mother of custody in part on the fact that she was teaching the children creationism. I suggested in my earlier post that the story sounded suspicious to me, largely because all we were given in the reports were quotes from the mother herself. We now have a written decision from the judge and it is clear that the original news story was, indeed, deeply misleading.
Most notably, this case is not one in which the father sought to deprive the mother of custody; on the contrary, the mother is the Plaintiff—she is the one asking the judge to deprive the father of “all decision making authority...related to education and religion,” as well as overnight visits, visits on Sundays, and other things. It is the mother, not the father, who is seeking to enlist the judiciary’s help in forcing an ideology on the children. The court has denied these requests in an eminently sensible ruling.
Moreover, that decision has virtually nothing to do with evolution or science education. As you can see from reading the order, the court received extensive evidence and individual testimony to the effect that the mother in the case has joined a cult which engages in some very disturbing practices. One former member of the cult testified that it “is not a healthy place for kids to grow up[;] it is run by fear and manipulation.... People are constantly beaten down mentally and live a miserable existence....” Other former members testified that the cult’s leader “made several inappropriate comments about girls as young as 4 years old” and “condoned a ‘boot camp style regimen’ that involved waking children as young as 4 up in the night screaming at them to do push-ups.” The mother’s own father testified that one of the children “exhibit[ed] signs of extreme strain.”
The cultish nature of this group is indicated by the fact that the mother asked the court to forbid the father from “allow[ing] the children to have contact with any ex-Sound Doctrine members or anyone hostile to the organization.”
The father testified that he objected at the time to his wife’s decision to remove the children from public school, and that “[r]ather than sheltering the children, I wanted them to learn about how to socialize within their peer groups, how to deal with peer pressure, and to have a firm foundation for their future social relationships.” Although he ultimately agreed to the children being home schooled for a while, he did not plan for this to be a permanent arrangement.
In my previous post, I said that merely teaching children creationism is not child abuse and not grounds for depriving a parent of custody. But it’s clear from this order that there is a lot more going on here, and it comes a lot closer to child abuse. Deeply sad as it is, it is right for courts to make decisions like this in the best interests of the child, and here the court’s decision appears to be perfectly reasonable.
What’s more, the attacks on the decision, and on Judge Magnum, appear quite unreasonable, hysterical, and ignorant. A weblog established to protest this decision, called Homeschool Injustice, complains that the decision is “substantially different from the order that was drafted and submitted last week by Mr. Mills’ attorney.” But of course, draft orders prepared by attorneys are just proposals which a judge may either sign, or discard in favor of his own order. There’s nothing irregular about Judge Magnum issuing an order that’s substantially different from the draft. And a judge’s in-court comments are only preliminary remarks, so there’s nothing surprising about the fact that the written order “removed or qualified” the judge’s earlier remarks. The rest of the blog is filled with similarly emotionalistic complaints, which do not substantiate any claims of impropriety on the part of the judge.
And the blog’s statement that the mother is “asking that the American legal system function, as it was intended to, not upon the laws of men but the laws of God” dramatically undercuts its credibility. The American legal system, of course, was not intended to function on the laws of God; it is a secular institution devoted to enforcing the laws of man only.
Responsible home schoolers have nothing to fear from decisions like this. As Ian Slatter, spokesman for the Home School Legal Defense Association, said when asked about this case, “It's a tragedy of divorce, but we don’t see any broad implications.” That’s exactly right. This is another non-controversy, being advanced by irresponsible, legally inept reporters.
Update 2: A comment at LGF brings to light this chilling brochure by the cult in question, which boasts of the fact that communicants are afraid of it and find its regimen strenuous and painful, and apparently admits to brainwashing members: “At Sound Doctrine Church we also love each other enough to give up our own opinions and way of thinking. Other people often shamelessly label this as ‘brainwashing’ but, for us who know the power of the cross, it is simply the love of God at work in our minds and thoughts.” How pathetic.