Posted by: aboutalbion | August 15, 2012

The law meets religion (2)

This post follows on from the last one (two days ago).  In this second case, separated Jewish parents could not agree over whether or not their ten year old daughter [D] could commence Christian baptism preparation classes.

The parents, both non-practising Jews, divorced in 2010. D lived alternate weeks with both parents.

After the divorce, the father began attending an Anglican church and converted to Christianity.  On the alternate Sundays that she was with him, D expressed a wish to accompany her father to church services.  During the summer of 2011, with the mother’s agreement, the father took D with him to a six day residential Christian festival.  Immediately after this, D expressed a wish to be baptised.  The father advised his daughter to wait, and informed the mother of this development.

Before further parental discussion took place, D unilaterally made contact with church officers about baptism classes.  The mother reacted to this by unilaterally (and successfully) applying for a prohibited steps court order which prevented the father from baptizing, confirming, or dedicating D into the Christian faith.

So the recently reported Romford County Court case before a circuit Judge was a rehearing of this case with all parties represented.  In the English Legal System, D was represented by a Cafcass officer’s report.

The interesting feature of this case (which contrasts with the case I mentioned in my last past) is that the judge could not dismiss it by ruling that he was not going to get involved in the truth or falsehood of religious claims.  In UK law, if both parents have legal responsibility for a child under the age of sixteen and cannot agree about a matter, a judge must make a decision based on what is in the best interests of the child.

It was agreed by all parties that there were no binding case law precedents on this matter.

The mother’s case was that D could not give her a reason why she should commence baptism classes (apart from her belief in God), that D was unduly influenced by her father, and that a delay of five years (until D reached the age of sixteen) was appropriate for such an important step.

The father’s case was that D always will be Jewish (on account of her mother being a Jew), that D’s involvement in church activities has always been at D’s request, that D was a bright girl who was mature for her age, that the mother’s opposition was in reality an expression of D’s maternal grandparents’ opposition, and that it was in D’s best welfare interests to be enrolled in the next baptism preparation class without delay.

The Cafcass officer’s report (representing D’s wishes and feelings in relation to her baptism), was based on two home visits (one with each parent) and a short walk with D on her own.  The report confirmed that D was a bright engaging child who knew her own mind, that D has sustained her wish to be baptised over several months, and that D saw her baptism as showing her commitment to her community.  The officer’s report concluded as follows: “In my role as a family support worker I am unable to make any recommendations to the court”. [the officer’s emphasis]

Having received the submissions, the judge decided that D could commence baptism preparation classes and, if the church minister found her ready, D could be baptised (even if the mother did not consent).  The judge further decided that D could not participate in the ceremony of confirmation before the age of sixteen without her mother’s consent.

The judge made this decision for many reasons, including …

(a)  In relation to D’s status as a Jew, “[t]here are no irrevocable consequences which will flow from her baptism”.  D cannot deprive herself of her Jewish status.  D “would therefore be free to resume her Jewish faith at any time if she wishes to do so”.

(b)  Through church attendance, D has been instructed “in the common Judaeo/Christian teaching of the Old Testament”.

(c)  The ceremony of baptism in the Anglican church is only the start of a faith journey.  Full membership of the church follows the later ceremony of confirmation.

(d)  Suggestions of a delay were not in the interests of D’s emotional needs.  D’s “upbringing for the first eight years of her life lacked any significant religious teaching upon which her own moral compass could be based”.  D’s “exposure to Christian teaching and her positive reaction to that clearly indicates that she has an emotional need which is being met by this experience”.

For myself, I find that the judge has replaced consideration of the truth or falsehood of religious claims with the legal principle that religious teaching is the necessary basis for the realization of a young person’s moral compass.

I am tempted to call this the (retail) loyalty card principle.  If the possession of one does not debar you from having another, why not collect loyalty cards?

I can’t help recalling that earlier this year, a US citizen (working in Iran) with a Jewish father and a Christian mother decided to become a Muslim.  He affirms that he believes that he has a triple identity.

I have the feeling that I shall want to comment further some day on this idea that religious teaching is the necessary basis for the realization of a young person’s moral compass.

[A Mother v A Father HHJ Platt Romford County Court 11 May 2012]


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