Atheism and Custody Cases January 2, 2008

Atheism and Custody Cases

Around 1940, a couple was denied an adoption solely because they were non-religious.

Eventually, court action prompted a change in rules and the couple was able to adopt a boy:

John Burke, an atheist, and his wife, a pantheist, had left the line blank. As a result, the bureau denied the Burkes’ application. After the couple began court action, however, the bureau changed its regulations, and the couple was able to adopt a baby boy from the Children’s Aid and Adoption Society in East Orange.

Then, in 1969, the same couple decided to adopt a baby girl.

Again, they were denied:

In an extraordinary decision, Judge [William] Camarata denied the Burkes’ right to the child because of their lack of belief in a Supreme Being. Despite the Burkes’ “high moral and ethical standards,” he said, the New Jersey state constitution declares that “no person shall be deprived of the inestimable privilege of worshiping Almighty God in a manner agreeable to the dictates of his own conscience.” Despite Eleanor Katherine’s tender years, he continued, “the child should have the freedom to worship as she sees fit, and not be influenced by prospective parents who do not believe in a Supreme Being.”

In 1971, the New Jersey Supreme Court reversed that decision.

You would think non-religious people wouldn’t have to deal with this crap in the 2000s.

But Ed Brayton says it’s still going on. This time, it’s not an adoption issue; it’s a custody case:

I’ve got a friend in New York who just went through this and I’m gathering all the legal documents to publicize that case. The outcome was beyond outrageous. The mother, who had full custody during the divorce and custody fight, lost custody because the father would make the child attend church while the mother would not.

This despite the fact that the father had multiple drunk driving arrests and even admitted under oath that he still drove with the child in the car after drinking. This also despite the fact that he had a history of violence, enough to warrant a personal protection order granted to the mother. But the judge felt that raising the child in a “Christian” environment trumped all of that.

If all this is accurate and the documents show this to be true — and the mother really seems capable of having custody — outside the legal ramifications, it just shows that there is still discrimination against atheists.

Depressing, no?

(via Pharyngula)

[tags]atheist, atheism, adoption[/tags]

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What Are Your Thoughts?leave a comment
  • PrimateIR

    More than depressing! Doesn’t this decision imply that the children of atheists can be removed from their home, per New Jersey Law?

  • The Rabbit Ambulance

    And people wonder why my default stance toward vocally religious people is suspicion with a good hint of hostility. It’s because of shit like this, that’s why. Gotta admit though, you have it a lot worse in the good ole US of A.

  • Siamang

    Um read closely, Primate. The New Jersey Supreme Court struck the ruling down in 1971.

  • Mriana

    You know, this religious, non-religious thing is rediculous. It’s like the religious are continuing to persecute those who do not believe as they do. 🙄 It’s insane.

  • I hope she takes it up to the next level. That decision should not stand.

  • There apparently were cases in Europe in the 19th century where some children were forcibly removed from non-Christian households and put in foster care so they could be brought up Christian… (or am I victim of an urban legend?)… If true, perhaps abuses like this is why Europeans, for the most part, don’t take religion as seriously as on the other side of the pond. The Europeans, over time, grew tired of religious excesses.

    The religious persecution in the US is typically of a more subtle form… like don’t let your children play with (or date date) the non-religious — or skip over job applications of people who, after googling their name, show some signs of participating in online atheist discussion groups. In the US, religious persecution usually shows up in ways that “can’t be proved in a court of law”.
    Many commenters on this website (like me) are using an alias or just their first name for real legitimate reasons. They are afraid of religious persecution — for example, limiting their future employment opportunities…

    I wonder how many atheists fake being religious (or at least belong to a church) so not to be persecuted in these subtle non-provable ways.

  • PrimateIR

    Thank you Siamang. I did miss that.

  • I hate to be the lone skeptic here but I have an invisible pink dragon in my garage… and I’m still working on the documentation before I go public.

  • oops, I hit enter too quickly.

    Having never been divorced but having friends/family that have gone through them, divorce cases ALWAYS other circumstances that aren’t nearly as simple as one side or another would make it have you believe.

  • stogoe

    Dude, it’s Ed Brayton. I may not agree with him at times, but he’s got a solid track record. At least let him show his evidence before you start pissing in his face.

  • I understand who he is and I agree with and respect him on many, many, many things but I’m not going to grab my pitchfork until I see some evidence. We atheists haven’t had an opportunity to have a good angry mobbing for awhile.

  • Joseph R.

    I am also skeptical of this. I need to see more evidence in support of the story. It just doesn’t sound plausible. There has to be more to the story.

  • Julie

    Yikers. I was a little afraid of stuff like this when I was considering adoption. There are so many private, religious adoption agencies.

  • As an attorney who handles custody cases, I would have to agree that the case, as related, needs more scrutiny. If the facts were so one-sided, I can’t see many Judges, save an overt, rabid fundamentalist (and they do exist in the judiciary – remember Judge Moore?) taking the position that a drunk driving, wife abusing father should have custody over an atheist mother. There had to be some other negative factors on the mother’s side. Perhaps the story is related by her side, and she’s simply emphasizing the religious angle, to deflect attention from the other problems with the case.

    Or perhaps the Judge actually is a rabid fundamentalist.

    The nice thing, as Hemant notes happened in New Jersey, is that the appellate courts are more reliable, and more intellectually rigorous in their application of the law. You can get some strange decisions, mostly anomalies, at the trial level, but the higher courts tend to even things out.

  • Karen

    There apparently were cases in Europe in the 19th century where some children were forcibly removed from non-Christian households and put in foster care so they could be brought up Christian… (or am I victim of an urban legend?)…

    That might have been at least one of the reasons that aboriginal children were taken from their families in the Australian outback and raised by white, Christian families in the cities. I’m not sure how much religious belief was a factor in those cases.

    But I’m sure I’ve read of some cases of Jewish children being taken to be raised by Catholics in Spain, for instance, and of Jews who converted forcibly and later hid their Jewish backgrounds. In fact, there have been a couple of high profile cases of this, among them Madeline Albright, secretary of state under Clinton. Her parents were Czechs who converted to avoid persecution and raised her Catholic. The Virginia senator George Allen, of “macaca” fame, also had a Jewish mother who was afraid to be identified as a Jew and either converted or hid her background.

  • How is it that Christian parents are favored over atheists in a divorce? Especially in light of things like this:

    She died because her only “treatment” for illness was PRAYER.

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