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Legal experts agree that a student ordered to attend public school after a parental dispute over education does not represent religious persecution. But they also agree that religion and child custody are mixing in messy ways, and that current case law offers few guidelines for resolving such conflicts.

In mid-July, New Hampshire judge Lucinda Sadler ordered 10-year-old Amanda Kurowski into public instruction after her divorced parents—who share custody—disagreed over her homeschooling status. The case became a cause célèbre in conservative Christian circles because of Sadler's comments about the girl's "rigidity on faith" and how she "would be best served by exposure to different points of view."

One attorney observer said it is only one of many parental disputes that land in family courts, leading to a patchwork of disparate rulings.

"Parents today are penalized in custody proceedings for being too religious, not religious enough, or for belonging to an unpopular religious sect," Joshua Press wrote in a 2009 Indiana Law Journal article. "The current situation with religion in custody disputes cries out for the [U.S. Supreme] Court to intervene."

Among cases where religion and custody have clashed:

In Ohio, a Roman Catholic father unsuccessfully sought to deny his ex-wife visitation after she became a Jehovah's Witness. In North Carolina, a court granted a Jewish father exclusive religious decision-making for his child, instead of his Christian ex-wife.

Two years ago, a Kansas father who wanted to homeschool his child successfully appealed a judge's decision that the child enroll in public school. He and his ex-wife resolved the situation by choosing a Christian school as an alternative.

Press said that ...

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hide thisNovember November

In the Magazine

November 2009

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