DIVORCE, BLOOD TRANSFUSIONS, AND OTHER LEGAL ISSUES AFFECTING CHILDREN OF JEHOVAH'S WITNESSES

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1950s JEHOVAH'S WITNESS DIVORCE CASES

Child custody court case decisions typically are lengthy and complex, and deal with a multitude of legal issues. The following case summaries will generally include only those issues in which religion was a factor. Some summaries may omit issues relevant to the court's decision, but not relevant to the theme of this website.

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BETTY JO GRECO v. VINCENT GRECO was a 1951-53 Ohio divorce and child custody case. It is not known when Vincent Greco and Betty Jo Colyer, both of Cincinnati, Ohio, married, but their son, Gary Lee Greco, was born in May 1950, when Vincent was 20 years-old and Betty Jo was 18 years-old. About the same time, Vincent Greco wound up in the United States Marine Corp, and was sent to fight in the Korean War, where he was promoted to the rank of Sergeant. Betty Jo Greco filed for divorce from Vincent while he was away at war. Betty J. Greco was such a fine mother that Gary L. Greco was placed in the custody of her parents, Jesse and Maude Colyer. However, after marrying a Jehovah's Witness Male named "Hamburger", of Williams Corner, Ohio, the two JWs succeeded in getting custody of Gary Greco, in May 1952. Not having enough to keep him busy, in November 1953, Sgt. Greco obtained "leave" and sought to have custody of his son restored to the Colyers, so that Gary Greco would not be subject to the anti-American WatchTower Cult beliefs and practices of Betty J. Hamburger and her JW Husband. Outcome unknown.

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IN RE SANDRA RAE COOK (1955) and RALPH WILLIAM COOK v. DOREEN MAE COOK (1954) were related Oregon court cases which were yet another instance of a non-JW non-custodial parent being forced to save one of their children from the custodial JW Parent whom was refusing to consent to necessary blood transfusions for that child. In February 1955, Sandra Rae Cook, age 5, needed her tonsils and adenoids removed, and the surgeon and hospital required parental consent to blood transfusions if such became necessary during the operation. Custodial parent Doreen Mae Cook, of Metzger, Oregon, refused to give consent, so non-custodial parent Ralph William Cook was forced to seek court intervention. Circuit Judge Donald E. Long temporarily gave custody of Sandra Raye Cook in order for Ralph Cook to consent to necessary blood transfusions. Judge Long cited PRINCE, stating, "Parents may make martyrs of themselves, but they have no right to make martyrs of their minor children before they reach the age of discretion." Notably, the Cooks' 1954 Divorce had centered around the conversion of Doreen Mae Cook to the WatchTower Cult, but that Judge refused to listen to what he was told by Ralph Cook's attorney -- granting primary custody of all three children (the Cooks also had another 4 year-old daughter named Linda Doreen Cook, and an unidentified son) to Doreen Cook.

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GRIESHABER v. GRIESHABER was a 1958 Missouri appellate court decision which stands as a testament to the tens of thousands of marriages that have been destroyed after Jehovah's Witnesses came door-knocking while the husband was at work. Although this specific case should be interpreted within the environmental context of the 1950s, there are thousands of divorces that occurred in the 1960s, 1970s, 1980s, and right up to 2011, whose names could be interchanged with the Grieshabers.

Elzie Grieshaber and Alice Mae Grieshaber were married in August 1948. While this was Elzie's first marriage, it was Alice Mae's third marriage, and she had two children from a prior marriage. Elzie owned a small farm about six miles outside Saint Genevieve, Missouri. The farm was about a mile off the main road, and the closest neighbor was about a half mile away. Alice Mae was used to living on a farm -- probably having been reared on such, and doing so during her first two marriages. Alice Mae was perfectly acquainted with Elzie and his farm before she agreed to marry Elzie. Alice Mae was a typical farm wife who raised a garden, and helped Elzie with raising the crops and feeding the animals.

In addition to caring for the farm, Elzie was a iron worker. Elzie regularly traveled to the greater St. Louis area to help erect steel frame buildings -- some as tall as 30 stories or more. This was dangerous, exhausting work that required Elzie to leave home around 4:30 AM and return around 6:30 PM. In addition to being a hard worker, Elzie was a moral, non-drinking man who took his family to the Methodist Church on Sundays. The couple soon had two children of their own, and in 1954, Elzie constructed a new home on the farm for his expanding family.

In 1955, several strangers stopped at the Grieshaber's farm, spoke to Alice Mae about the Bible, and either sold or left some Bible literature. Typically, they intentionally failed to identify themselves as "Jehovah's Witnesses". However, their identity quickly became known as those JWs repeatedly returned in their efforts to convert the naive farm wife. Alice Mae became the "backcall", and thereafter the "bible study" of Kenneth Smedstad and Dorothy Smedstad, and slowly but surely Alice Mae became a JW convert.

Knowing little about Jehovah's Witnesses, and the consequences of associating with them, Elzie initially was cordial with the Smedstads after they started to also visit when he was at home. Elzie even drove Alice Mae and the children to a few Sunday afternoon meetings at the closest Kingdom Hall of Jehovah's Witnesses. However, the true nature of the beast gradually displayed itself. Not only did Elzie gradually notice a change in his wife as she spent more and more time studying WatchTower materials, attending meetings, and pestering him about such, but one day while the Smedstads were visiting, one of the Grieshaber children accidentally kicked Kenneth Smedstad's leather briefcase. Smedstad blurted out, "I don't see why people don't make their kids mind, ... ." (This editor has personally experienced numerous similar instances over the decades of JW Elders sitting in my own home speaking down to me in a similar fashion. The only reason those JWs walked away unscathed was because I was a "true believer" at the time.) Being a smarter, stronger person than I, Elzie Grieshaber quickly told Kenneth Smedstad that he was not going to come into his home and tell him how to raise his children. The Smedstads got up and left. However, little did Elzie Grieshaber know, he had won the battle, but lost the war. (Interestingly, during the divorce hearing, Kenneth Smedstad testified that this incident never happened.)

Thereafter, the JWs had no further chance converting Elzie, but Elzie still did not fully understand the consequences of Alice Mae's conversion. While Elzie nagged Alice Mae about her conversion, he grudgingly drove her and the four children to the Kingdom Hall on Sunday afternoons, while the family ceased attending church on Sunday mornings. Elzie specifically told Alice Mae that he didn't want his own two children to join the JWs, because he wanted them to live a normal childhood at home and at school without all the burdens of the WatchTower religion.

Things came to a head in June 1956 when Alice Mae wanted to attend a weekend WatchTower Convention being held in Farmington, Missouri. Elzie told her that she could go, but that she could not take the two younger children. However, Alice Mae left with all four children when the Smedstads came to pick her up. That evening, when Elzie got home from work and discovered noone home, the enraged father went after his own two children. Arriving at the convention, Elzie finally located Alice Mae and the children. Elzie walked right up to her during the program and demanded his two children. When Alice Mae refused to allow him to take the youngest, he slapped her. The ironworker also challenged any of the watching JW Males to try to stop him. No one tried. When Elzie got home, he burned Alice Mae's WatchTower literature. Alice Mae spent that night with the Smedstads and attended the next day's convention program. The Grieshabers had it out that next night, but things calmed down thereafter.

At some point, Elzie had ordered the Smedstads to stay off his property, but the Smedstads continued to visit Alice Mae when Elzie was at work. However, one day in August 1956, the Smedstads made the mistake of coming to the farm on a day when Elzie did not have to work. Elzie grabbed Kenneth Smedstad by the shirt collar, shook him, and threatened to beat his arse. Alice Mae grabbed Elzie long enough for Smedstad to run to his car. Unbelievably, the Smedstads called to Alice Mae, and she left with them, before returning later in the day. Thereafter, Alice Mae would continue to meet with the Smedstads in their car out on the public roadway.

On September 5, 1956, the Smedstads helped Alice Mae and the four children leave the Grieshaber home. As has been done time and again, the Smedstads took Alice Mae and the four children to the home of other JWs who Elzie did not know. Elzie eventually learned their whereabouts through one of Alice Mae's ex-husbands -- the father of the two oldest children. Elzie tried to get Alice Mae to return home, but she refused. Shortly thereafter, Alice Mae filed a lawsuit for separate maintenance claiming "constructive abandonment" in that Elzie had made her life as his wife intolerable. Elzie responded with a cross suit for a divorce. After a trial, the trial court denied both actions, and Alice Mae appealed. In June 1958, the Missouri Court of Appeals affirmed the trial court's ruling, stating in part:

We are convinced that prior to plaintiff's affiliation with Jehovah's Witnesses the home life of plaintiff and defendant was serene and surrounded with the happiness described by the defendant. What we have to say in this opinion is not to be characterized as an objection by us to plaintiff's affiliation with her newly found religious group. She was free to follow her religious beliefs in any manner or with any group she pleased. This was the attitude of her husband. While he tried to dissuade her from attending the meetings of this group, he nevertheless took her to the meetings and this continued after the assembly incident and it seems until the separation. The evidence clearly demonstrates that the only real objection defendant had was the effort of plaintiff to raise the two children born of this marriage under the influence and teachings of the Jehovah's Witnesses. Defendant resented her efforts and the efforts of the Smedstads in this direction. In connection with the Smedstads it must be said that they knew and acknowledged in their testimony that defendant did not want them on the farm. Despite this knowledge they persisted in calling on the plaintiff. It is our thought that under the circumstances they should have been satisfied with plaintiff's presence at the meetings.

As to the slapping incident at the assembly meeting, defendant had told plaintiff not to take the two children, but she stubbornly followed her own desires. Defendant had as much to say as plaintiff about the religious training of the children. While we do not approve of the slapping of his wife, we do believe that plaintiff's action in taking them to the meeting and in squeezing the child in an attempt to keep it from the defendant provoked the slapping incident and that defendant's action under the circumstances was excusable. Nor was the occurrence of the following night of any consequence. Plaintiff said defendant did not strike her but merely raved, cursed and shook her. Defendant denied that he shook plaintiff and denied that he raved at or cursed her. We defer to the trial court's finding on this occurrence.

The Smedstads must have known they were causing an estrangement between this husband and wife, because they called at the farm in August with the knowledge that defendant did not want them on the farm. Their visit on this occasion precipitated the rather vigorous warning given to them by the defendant. However, the Smedstads were not to be discouraged for they continued to visit plaintiff on the road outside the farm and aided plaintiff in her departure from the home. We see nothing wrong in defendant's conduct on the occasion of the August incident at the farm. It was an effort, as he said, to keep someone else from taking over in his own home.

Non-JW readers should understand that not only have there been tens of thousands of "Grieshabers" over the decades, but that such is due to the fact that there have existed thousands of "Smedstads" over the decades. There is one local JW Elder that I have known only sporadically over the years, who has been an instigator in at least 5 divorces of which I know, and I have no doubt that if I wanted to update my info with local JWs, that number might very well be doubled.

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BOND v. BOND was a 1959 West Virginia Supreme Court decision. In November 1956, Marjorie M. Bond filed for a divorce from William J. B. Bond, Jr.  In June 1957, Marjorie M. Bond was granted a divorce, with custody of the three minor children.  William Bond was granted visitation "at reasonable times, and so long as defendant conducts himself in a proper and decorous manner upon such visitations". The divorce decree also gave Marjorie M. Bond the right to occupy the home owned jointly by the parties, and to use the contents thereof. In addition to monthly alimony and child support of $100, William Bond was also required to pay the monthly mortgage.
 
In August 1957, William Bond filed for modification of the divorce decree. In addition to asking for specified visitation on Saturday evenings, William Bond requested that the court specify that the home which he was being made to provide for his ex-wife and children be limited to the ex-wife's and children's personal use as a residential premises.
 
In fact, the home was being used as a meeting place for the local Huntington, West Virginia Congregation of Jehovah's Witnesses.  Marjorie M. Bond, herself, testified that the home was used as a meeting place for various Jehovah's Witnesses activities on at least four days of the week. The home was used as a meeting place on Tuesday evenings, Wednesday evenings, Saturday mornings, and Sunday mornings for those Jehovah's Witnesses who were going to do door-to-door recruiting in Huntington. On Wednesday nights, an hour long "Bible Study" meeting was also held.  The Tuesday evening meetings may have also been used as training sessions similar to the JW's current "Service Meetings" - used to train JWs for recruiting.
 
During the August 1957 trial, William Bond's attorney tried to keep the beliefs of the Jehovah's Witnesses from becoming an issue, since he knew that such would become a problem if he won, and then the decision was appealed, as did happen.  William Bond's attorney simply wanted to make the point that his client should not be made to pay the mortgage on, and furnish a building for a religious group, of which his client did not approve. They simply asked that the home be limited to residential use by his ex-wife and children.
 
However, on cross-examination, the unknown (likely WatchTower-supplied) attorney for Marjorie M. Bond asked leading questions of William Bond in order to get him to discuss his opposition to the WatchTower Society.  In fact, the cross-examination of William Bond was quite lengthy, dealing almost entirely with the tenets of Jehovah's Witnesses. His own attorney finally objected, but not before this interesting testimony about Bond's young son was given:
"A few years ago the oldest boy, which is nine now, went to school, and when she had joined the Jehovah's Witnesses, she refused the boy the right to say the allegiance to the flag, and in turn that made him nervous, and we have taken him to doctors to find out what was the matter with him, and we found out there was nothing the matter with him, outside of a nervous condition, and then I found out that she went so far as to go down to school, and refused for the boy to say the allegiance to the flag, and then she kept the boy from playing in the yard, by making him read the literature, which took him around an hour and a half.  ...  That particular part there, was last summer, and she threatened to whip him, or if he didn't go to the meetings, she would put him to bed. Then they don't believe in voting. They don't believe in saluting the flag, and they don't believe in fighting, and they don't believe in hell, and they don't believe in the blood, and they don't believe in Thanksgiving, and they don't believe in Christmas, New Year's or any type of celebration."
William Bond's attorney explained his objection to the line of questioning:
"The basis of the objection, your Honor, is that this is not proper cross examination, and further, that this line of questioning is going into the merits of the particular religious sect and that in no place in the petition or notice filed herein is there any objection made so far as Mr. Bond is concerned as to her religion. In asking the Court to restrict - not to restrict - but to limit the use of this dwelling house for residential purposes only is not to restrict Mrs. Bond in any form whatsoever in her religion, and I believe that the testimony in the cross examination here is away off base and has nothing to do with the matters contained in the notice and petition and further, that it delves into the merits which I believe that none of us possibly should entertain at the present time. I object to that line of questioning."
The judge swallowed the bait, and even directed questions to Marjorie Bond about the Jehovah's Witnesses, including this sampling:
"Q. How do you reconcile your position as not voting as a citizen of the government of which you are a member?
"A. Jesus didn't vote and he sets the example for us.

"Q. Is that one reason why you will not pledge allegiance to the flag?
"A. That is an act of worship to an image, saluting or pledging of allegiance.
"Q. Is that your interpretation of pledging allegiance to the flag, that you are worshipping the flag of the United States?
"A.
Yes, sir.

"Q. And not acknowledging it as the symbol of the sovereign under which you live and breathe and have your being?
"A. Yes, sir, I know it is the symbol of the sovereign, but we owe our life to God and we breathe by God's grace and not by the laws of the lands.

"Q. Do you intend to bring [the children] up in that belief that you have just stated?    "A. Yes, sir, I do."
In April 1958, the trial court issued its decision, which stated, in part:
 "The Court upon consideration of the testimony and evidence submitted herein does find that the Plaintiff, Marjorie M. Bond, did, after said divorce decree was entered awarding to her the custody of the said children and exclusive use of said residence together with all the household goods and furnishings therein to be used as a home for Plaintiff and the said children, hold and permit others to hold meetings of Jehovah's Witnesses in said home, and designated said home as a regular meeting place of said Jehovah's Witnesses, and did while said meetings were being held require said infant children to be present and in attendance at said meetings, and that said meetings sometimes continued for periods as long as three hours during which periods the said children were required to be in attendance, and that said children ranged in ages from five to nine years and while many of said meetings were being held manifested displeasure, discomfort, and nervousness; that said children were instructed in some of said meetings by said Jehovah's Witnesses in the home set apart for the Plaintiff and said children not to pledge allegiance to the flag of the United States of America, not to vote in matters pertaining to Government and not to bear arms in defense of their country, even if it were being attacked by a foreign power seeking to destroy or subject same to capture and ruin, to which ruling of the Court the Plaintiff objects and excepts.
 
"Upon consideration of the testimony taken herein the Court is of the opinion and does decree that the holding of said meetings in said residence jointly owned by the parties hereto is detrimental to the best interests and welfare of the said three children, and that by reason thereof this Court does award the injunction prayed for, to which ruling of the Court the Plaintiff objects and excepts, and it is therefore adjudged, ordered and decreed that the plaintiff, Marjorie M. Bond, be and she is hereby enjoined, restrained, and prohibited from holding, or permitting others to hold meetings of Jehovah's Witnesses in the home owned jointly by the said Plaintiff and the said Defendant at 1809 Jefferson Avenue, in the City of Huntington, Cabell County, West Virginia, to which ruling of the Court the Plaintiff objects and excepts.

"It is further adjudged, ordered and decreed, that the defendant, William J. B. Bond, Jr., be and he is hereby granted the right of visitation with the said children on Saturday of each week from six o'clock P. M. to nine o'clock P. M., at said home owned jointly by the said Plaintiff and the said Defendant or elsewhere without the said Plaintiff being present during said time or times of visitation, to which ruling of the Court the Plaintiff objects and excepts. ... ...

"It is further adjudged, ordered and decreed that the issues joined by the parties in the pleadings found herein do not require a decision of the Court concerning the right or rights of the Plaintiff, Marjorie M. Bond, to worship as a Jehovah's Witness, to which ruling of the Court the Plaintiff objects and excepts.
After the first level appellate court refused to hear an appeal because "the judgment was 'plainly right'", the West Virginia Supreme Court took the case. The West Virgina Supreme Court reversed the trial court's decision relating to the use of the property, and affirmed the incidental issues relating to custody and support.  The West Virgina Supreme Court cited at length various irrelevant 1930s and 1940s decisions in favor of the Jehovah's Witnesses in scenarios regarding schools and the Pledge of Allegiance, the military draft, child custody (not even at issue in this case), etc.  Ignoring William Bond's rights as joint owner of the real property, and bringing up "custody" as an issue in a case that did not involve a custody issue, the court said:
"The husband now seeks to restrict or limit that custody. [Where did those fools get that? The only custody issue in this case was the time of Bond's visitation.] It is not shown that the children are being neglected in the usual sense; that they are abused or mistreated; or that they are subjected to any evil or immoral influence. While it appears that the home is used somewhat infrequently for small religious gatherings of Jehovah's Witnesses, it does not appear that such gatherings are characterized by loud noises, misconduct or any other sort of lack of decorum. Nor does it appear that the dwelling property is being defaced or abused. In essence, the husband displays a keen impatience with the tenets, teachings, beliefs and practices of Jehovah's Witnesses; he does not want his children reared in that religious faith; and, obviously, it is for this purpose that the defendant seeks to restrict the nature of the use the plaintiff and the infant children shall make of the home. [Did these fools stop to think that William Bond has the same constitutional rights and property rights as does his ex-wife?]  ... ...
 
"Plaintiff occupies the home in question, not only as a joint-owner thereof, but also by court order. She has a property right therein. It is her home, in which, by court order, she is charged with the responsibility of rearing, directing, training, instructing and caring for the infant children whose custody has been committed solemnly to her care. The use she is making of the home in instructing the children in the religious belief which makes the strongest appeal to her conscience is a normal use of a home. That home is her 'castle' in the sense that this Court has no constitutional right or authority to 'cross the threshold' in order to restrain her in the free but orderly and lawful exercise of her religious freedom. ...
 
"For the reasons stated, this Court holds that the provisions of the decree of the Domestic Relations Court of Cabell County which are designed to restrict plaintiff in the use of her home in matters pertaining to her religious faith is in violation of the letter and spirit of Article III, Section 15 of the Constitution of West Virginia, and, for that reason, such provisions of the decree are void and unenforceable. [Again these Mountaineer judges are idiots. William Bond simply asked that the home he jointly owns, and pays for, not be used as a church. William Bond did not asked for anything that restricted his wife or children from exercising their own constitutional rights within the home.]

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BATTAGLIA v. BATTAGLIA was a 1958 New York appellate court decision. Limited details only. This case evidently involved some unusual details not available to me.  This custody and blood transfusion case involved the couple Mario and Valeria Battaglia of Latham, New York. Mario was a retired jockey who operated a barbershop. The year 1957 apparently was a whirlwind for this family. This couple had a newborn baby, who apparently had a medical condition which either did require, or at least presented a likelihood of requiring blood transfusions. Around the same time that Valeria Battaglia gave birth to Michael, she joined the Jehovah's Witnesses, a religion which forbade blood transfusions. Valeria Battaglia evidently attempted to keep her newborn son from receiving the necessary blood transfusions.  That apparently led to this divorce and custody action between the parents.
 
The parents had been married in the Presbyterian Church. Baby Michael was baptized in the Presbyterian Church soon after his birth in September or October 1957. Valeria Battaglia joined the Jehovah's Witnesses soon thereafter. Mario Battaglia soon thereafter filed for divorce claiming that Valeria Battaglia was spending all her time going to Jehovah's Witnesses meetings, and doing door-to-door recruiting, rather than spending time taking care of her newborn son. Valeria Battaglia apparently moved out of the marital residence.  It is unclear whether she took the newborn with her. The details regarding the need for blood transfusions for Michael, and what Valerie did to prohibit such is also unclear.
 
At any rate, custody of seven month old Michael was awarded to Mario Battaglia, who apparently was in his 40s, since a comment from the appellate opinion mentions that he had already reared a son from a previous marriage from infancy through college. Therafter, Valerie Battaglia appealed. In affirming the trial court's custody award, the appellate court stated in part:
"During the fall of 1957, the petitioner joined a religious sect known as Jehovah's Witnesses. Largely as a result of the change in petitioner's religious faith, a clash developed between the parties which led to their ultimate separation. Respondent claims that the petitioner has been absorbed by activities in her newly embraced faith, attends meetings of the sect, and engages in work for it, as a result of which she has allegedly neglected the child.

"Respondent has also contended that one of the tenets of Jehovah's Witnesses bars blood transfusions, however essential such device may be deemed by medical experts. He has claimed that petitioner would not permit a blood transfusion for the child even though the child's life might be thereby saved, and further contends that the sect accepts the principle that the death of the child constitutes 'saving the child'.

"Petitioner, of course, enjoys her constitutional right to freedom of religion and may practice the religious faith of her choice without interference. She has not, however, the right to impose upon an innocent child the hazards to it flowing from her own religious convictions. The welfare of the child is paramount. If medical science requires a blood transfusion to preserve the child's life, the child should not be deprived of life because the mother's religious persuasion opposes such transfusion.

"The child has a right to survival and a chance to live and the court has a duty to extend its protecting arm to the child. It is of no concern to the court what religious preference the parents may elect. The best interests of the child are the primary concern in all custody conflicts and not the desires of either the mother or father. In this case, the father has demonstrated great interest in and affection for the child. He has previously had the custody of an infant son from a prior marriage, whom he has reared and who is now a college student. ... "

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RAGAN v. RAGAN was a 1958 Missouri appellate court decision. Famous WatchTower Society attorney, and former WatchTower Vice-President, Hayden C. Covington represented Agnes Vernie Ragan in this appeal, which Covington lost. With regard to Covington's representation on appeal, the very last paragraph in this lengthy appellate opinion is a nice place to start this summary:
"Since plaintiff properly raised no constitutional question in the trial court and properly presented no such question in this court, we have neither reason nor excuse to accept the invitation of plaintiff's counsel to browse through the judicial pastures of other jurisdictions from California to New Hampshire for examination of cases involving the [Jehovah's] Witnesses and their doctrines. Nevertheless, with freedom of religion so basic to our way of life and so cherished by all free people, we would deem it a duty and count it a privilege to deal with plaintiff's purported point in the exercise of our discretionary power to consider 'plain errors affecting substantial rights' under Supreme Court Rule 3.27, if plaintiff's constitutional guaranties of freedom of religion had been denied by the judgment under review. However, we can discover no basis for plaintiff's charge that the decree nisi was based upon her religious beliefs and practices.  On the contrary, the record shows that every objection of plaintiff's counsel to inquiries concerning those matters was sustained by the trial judge, who in some instances pointedly commented that such inquiries were not material or relevant. There was ample evidence to justify and support the award of custody of the two children to defendant, wholly disregarding plaintiff's religious beliefs and practices, and certainly our affirmation of the decree nisi, upon review de novo, is in no wise and to no extent predicated upon or influenced by any religious consideration. The simple truth is that there has been and is no constitutional question in this case.
Elmer Lee Ragan and Agnes Vernie Ragan were married in 1931. In addition to an 8 year old daughter and a 5 year old son, the Ragans also had two sons who were adults by the year 1957. The Ragan family lived in Fordland, Missouri, where they operated a grocery and farm supply business out of the same building in which they lived. In October 1955, Agnes Vernie Ragan joined the Jehovah's Witnesses. In May 1956, she left her husband and children, and thereafter remained separate and apart from them until October 1956, when the family was briefly reunited.  During this period of separation, Agnes Ragan engaged in the Jehovah's Witnesses "missionary work" of "placing literature".  She also found time to pursue two lawsuits seeking financial support from her husband.
 
When the second such lawsuit came on for trial in October 1956, the circuit judge, distressed by the tragedy unfolding before him, patiently talked with the parties in his chambers, persuasively urged them to reunite "for the sake of the children," and hopefully effected what we shall refer to as a reconciliation. At that time, the parties entered into an informal "agreement" that (as paraphrased by Agnes Ragan in its simplest terms): "I was to take care of the home and the children, and he (Elmer Ragan) was to take care of the business." According to Agnes Ragan, the specific provision that (as she put it) "I was to have no part in the business" was prompted by her complaint about working long hours in the store.
 
However, Elmer Ragan said that he insisted upon this provision because of Agnes Ragan's secret and unauthorized abstractions of cash from the store: "I couldn't trust her in the store no more."  Per the "agreement", Agnes Ragan was to attend two meetings of the Jehovah's Witnesses each week, a one-hour meeting for "Bible study" each Tuesday evening at a farm home two miles from Fordland, and a two-hour meeting each Sunday evening at Kingdom Hall in Springfield, but was not to participate otherwise in the Jehovah's Witnesses' "activities," which Elmer Ragan charged had caused Agnes Ragan to neglect and abandon both her husband and their children.

This "reconciliation" was short-lived.  Within 2-3 weeks, tempers flared and trouble erupted again, by reason of Agnes Ragan's alleged failure to come home immediately after the meetings ended.  Instead, she allegedly was not coming home until 11:00 o'clock or later on several nights. Additionally, Elmer Ragan alleged that during the period from the reconciliation in October to the final separation on January 20, 1957, Agnes Ragan's mind was so occupied and her time was so consumed with the reading of WatchTower literature and activities that she failed to dress and feed the children properly, frequently left them "just running wild around the store" - "just doing whatever they wanted to do," and was so unconcerned about them that she "many a time" answered his inquiries about the children with "I don't know - go see about them"; that she would not engage in conversation without bringing up the Jehovah's Witnesses and attempting to answer every question "with scripture".  Further, Agnes Ragan spoke disparagingly of "anyone by the name of Ragan" in general and of her husband in particular, because, not being Jehovah's Witnesses, they were "no ways near the same type and kind of people" but were "an altogether different class or breed"; that she told the children that, "if they listened to me (their father), it was wrong and lie"; and that, in short, she was "very cold and indifferent" - "a long ways from a wife" to defendant and not "motherly with the children."

On an evening in November, 1956, Elmer Ragan waited up until 10:30P.M. for Agnes to return from her meeting, "went on to bed," heard no knock or telephone call, and did not see Agnes until she returned home the following morning, when Agnes curtly remarked:  "I would have been at home if you would have let me in".  Agnes gave no explanation of where she had spent the night.  During the trial, Agnes testified that she had "returned a little after ten," that there had been no response to her knocks on the locked door or to her call from the nearby telephone exchange, and that accordingly she had sought lodging for the night with neighbors of the same religious faith.
 
The final separation followed an altercation on the night of Sunday, January 20, 1957, after plaintiff had returned from Springfield "around 10:30 or a little after." According to Elmer Ragan, he was upstairs putting the two minor children to bed, when Agnes knocked on the downstairs door. Probably taking his good time, by the time he went downstairs to let Agnes in, she was beating and kicking the door. After that point, both parties gave widely different versions of the multiple physical attacks both probably made on each other. Interestingly, the then 18 year old son testified in Elmer's favor. At any rate, Agnes left the marital home permanently that night.
 
At trial, Elmer Ragan, and others testified that Agnes Ragan had a bad temper. The then 19 year old son testified that his mother "was always abusive" toward his father and "was always in a mad state of condition."  Two neighbor women related separate conversations with Agnes in which Agnes had admitted that "when she (Agnes) got mad there wasn't nothing she wouldn't say or do." According to Elmer, Agnes "would hardly ever just talk" to the children - "she would slap them, kick them first, and then tell them what she wanted." Both Elmer and son Don described an illustrative incident involving Robert Keith, the five-year old child.  "Little Bobby set a water pitcher at the table, and didn't set it on there good, and it fell off, and she just screamed and said, 'you little devil,' and kicked him and cried and so forth for about an hour or more and slapped him a time or two because the kid made a mistake." In describing his mother's reaction to the broken pitcher, Don said that she "had a sort of a screaming fit, and kicked him (Bobby), and went into a mad rage."  An employee who worked at the Ragan store, testified that he had seen plaintiff "kick the children in the stomach, in the back" - "almost anyplace, it didn't make much difference, I don't think."
 
Three neighbor women staunchly supported Elmer Ragan's assertion that Agnes had neglected the children. Two of these neighbors had seen the young Ragan children playing on a nearby railroad right of way several times and had sent them home, and the third neighbor recounted an incident in which she "went and got Bobby (5 years old at time of trial) off the highway and a big truck just barely missed him." All of this occurred while Agnes was at home. Nine witnesses for Elmer testified that the children had better care while Agnes was gone from May to October 1956, and after the final separation in January 1957, than while she was at home. Agnes also had six "witnesses" testify on her behalf, but as the trial judge noted, "not a single witness testified on her behalf on the all-important issue as to her care of the children."

More interesting was the testimony of three other local residents who all knew Elmer and Agnes.  One man testified that he had seen Agnes and an unidentified "somebody" drinking beer at a Springfield bar.  A woman testified that was returning from church between 10:00 and 10:30 P. M. on a Sunday night during December, 1956, when she came upon a parked, unlighted automobile stopped in the middle of a lonely road. Fearful that she could not pass this parked automobile, she "got out of my car and walked to the window" of the parked automobile for the purpose of asking the driver to move. She smelled "liquor or beer," and saw Agnes and an unidentified man in the parked automobile, spoke to Agnes by name, and received an answering "hello."  Another local man testified that "around three or four weeks" prior to the trial on June 3, 1957, he was driving over a dirt road near Springfield, between 11:30 P.M. and midnight, when the headlights on his slowly-moving automobile shone on a parked, unlighted automobile, facing toward him. "I seen Agnes in it, and I thought Elmer might have been there too, so I stopped and went up to the car, and I seen it wasn't Elmer, and just spoke to Agnes, and just turned around and walked back to my car, and took off."
 
The appellate judges who heard this case could barely contain their despise for the LIES of WatchTower Attorney and Vice-President Hayden Covington.  Note this paragraph from the appellate opinion:
"The tenor of plaintiff's argument on appeal is exemplified by these bold, sweeping affirmations in the opening paragraph:
'There is not the slightest suggestion that [Agnes Ragan] was guilty of any immorality. The record nowhere even faintly suggests that she did not properly care for her children. The evidence shows that she was diligent in providing them with religious guidance. Nowhere can it be found in the record that she neglected her children.'
 On this false premise (asserted in the teeth of a record fairly bristling with testimony to the contrary), plaintiff contends that, while 'both parties were qualified' to have custody of the children, 'lack of proof of disqualification made mandatory the award to the mother.'  But, sound and fury are sorry substitutes for fact and evidence, and plaintiff's counsel cannot, by his own bootstraps, lift himself and his client above the transcript here presented. Although our courts have said many times that, "all other things being equal," custody of a child of tender years should be awarded to the mother ... , the paramount and controlling consideration in every child custody case, to which all other principles and presumptions must yield, is the welfare of the child.
 
"In the homely language of the old adage, "the proof of the pudding is in the eating"; ... And, upon our independent and painstaking review of the entire record in the instant case ... with primary concern for the welfare of the children involved ..., we are convinced beyond peradventure of doubt that the judgment of the trial court, awarding custody of the two children to [Elmer Ragan], was justified and proper, finds ample support in the evidence, and should not be disturbed."
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MILLER v. HEDRICK was a 1958 California appellate child custody case which involved a Jehovah's Witness husband, named Dorsey Marlin Miller, and his Catholic ex-spouse, named Mary Hedrick. Limited details. Parties were married in 1951, and a son, Stephen Miller, was born 1952-3. Wife went to Nevada in October 1953 to obtain a divorce, which granted her custody, with Miller receiving visitation and responsibility to pay $15 per week child support. Wife subsequently resumed living in California, and remarried.
 
Although unclear, Miller may have converted to the Jehovah's Witnesses after the divorce, since the parties did not have troubles until some later point in time when Miller began to train Stephen as a JW, including taking him to meetings at a Kingdom Hall, and also out in door-to-door recruiting. At that point, Hedrick stopped permitting the previously allowed overnight and over-weekends visitation, and even threatened to move to Texas with the child. Thereafter, Miller began this action challenging the validity of the Nevada divorce, the amount of child support, his right to expose the child to JW teachings, etc. Outcome unknown.
 
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JACKSON v. JACKSON was a terrible 1957 Kansas Supreme Court custody decision, which involved Leon Jackson, of Richfield, Kansas, and his ex-wife, Vena Irene French, who had remarried a Jehovah's Witness and had herself joined the JWs, and relocated with Jackson's three minor children to Amarillo, Texas. Famous WatchTower Society Attorney Hayden C. Covington represented the wife.
 
Leon Jackson filed for divorce against Vena French in 1952. On French's cross petition, she was awarded a divorce from Jackson, a division of the property, and custody of the three minor children:  Stephen, age 7, James, age 5, and Dianne, age 3. The trial court gave Leon Jackson the right of visitation at reasonable times, and the further right to have custody for a period of 60 days during June and July of each year. Leon Jackson appealed this 1953 trial court decision. The basis of his appeal was the trial court's exclusion of testimony from Vena's own psychiatrist, who had started treating her in 1947, had given a deposition in which he stated that he had previously diagnosed Vena Jackson as "a psychopath".  In Jackson v. Jackson (1953), the Kansas Supreme Court upheld the exclusion of this privileged communication, and thus, the prior custody decision was upheld. Between the time of the original trial in February 1953 and the time the decision on the appeal was entered by the Supreme Court in December 1953, Vena Irene Jackson had a nervous breakdown which resulted in hospitalization. In 1955, Leon Jackson sought change of custody, and was granted such in 1956. The trial court found, in part:
"15. The emotional and nervous instability and abnormalities of the Defendant Vena Irene Jackson are being and have been transmitted to the three children, and the same has had adverse effect upon the emotional development of the children and should not be continued.
"16. Plaintiff's home, as now constituted, is the best place for the children. Plaintiff's wife, by reason of training and experience, is especially fitted to aid in overcoming the emotional disturbances of the children, and a transfer of the children to the Plaintiff's home is necessary for their future welfare.
"18. Defendant, by reason of her nervous and emotional instability, cannot provide the children with as good home environment as the Plaintiff can at this time."
However, the 1956 trial court also produced the following findings with regard to Vena French's newfound religion, which the 1957 Kansas Supreme Court later used as its' basis to overrule the trial court's decision:
"9. In each interview the Court mentioned the question of military service. The older boy, Stephen, of the age of 9 years, used the answers of the other witnesses testifying as to the beliefs of the Jehovah's Witnesses, to the effect that the choice of military service was left up to the individual and he would make up his mind when he was eighteen years old, and at the time he was required to register.
"10. The boy James, of the age of 7 years, when asked the same question, stated that he would be a conscientious objector and when asked what would happen in such instance answered that he would have to go to prison, but that he preferred going to prison to being in the army. When asked why he had such preference he stated that he knew what the army would be like, but he did not know what prison was like, and he wanted to see what prison was like, just like `Gene Harvey' (a Jehovah Witness who served a term in the federal penitentiary for refusal to accept noncombatant labor service in lieu of induction). He stated that Gene Harvey served a term in prison, and that he wanted to be like Gene Harvey."
"11. The five-year-old girl, when military service was mentioned, asked the Court if it was not wrong to kill, with which the Court agreed, and she then volunteered the statement that in the war men cut off women's breasts and carried them around in their pockets. When asked who told her that, she stated that it was Mrs. Planque. Mrs. Planque was a witness in the case on behalf of the defendant. She and her husband are Jehovah's Witnesses, and her husband, who also testified, was what they call a 'servant.'
"12. The evidence disclosed that the defendant, during the two days hearing on this motion, stayed with the Planques.
"13. The defendant joined the Jehovah's Witnesses approximately 18 months ago, and since the original divorce hearing in February of 1953. She stated that she and the children had studied with the Planques and other Jehovah's Witnesses many times, and on an average of about two times a week.
"14. Pursuant to her faith as a Jehovah's Witness, Defendant does not teach the children to salute the flag. She will not teach them to accept military service when the two boys become of age when they are subject to Selective Service laws. The defendant, however, testifies she respects the flag, will stand at attention when the flag passes, but will not raise one hand in salute, or place her hand over her breast. The children will not have pressure placed upon them as to what their own decision will be when they become subject to military service. The Jehovah's Witnesses do not make gift exchanges at Christmas, under the belief that Christmas is a religious occasion not to be commercialized. Neither do they participate in Easter Egg hunts and similar modern day observances, on the ground that such observances are pagan in character. The children are taught these beliefs, but are permitted to make their own decisions as to whether they will participate in such celebrations. The family has gift exchanges on other dates not religious in character."
Based on these findings, the trial court made these conclusions of law:
"1. Religious freedom, as guaranteed by our Constitutions, should be faithfully upheld, and religious teachings to the children by a parent or parents, regardless of how obnoxious the same might be to the Court, the other parent or the general public should not and must not be considered as basis of making child custody orders.
"2. The Court does not believe that affiliation with the Jehovah's Witness organization, of itself, disqualifies a person from having custody of children. Neither does the Court feel that such affiliation is a necessary qualification for such custody to the effect that other elements should be eliminated from consideration.
"3. It is the order of the Court that the Plaintiff should have the care, custody and control of the minor children, effective at the end of the school semester in January 1956. ...
 Vena French appealed. Hayden Covington argued that the trial court had violated French's constitutionally protected right to freedom of religion. The 1957 Kansas Supreme Court agreed with the WatchTower Head Attorney, ignored the basic principle of doing what is best for the children, and amazingly stated in part:
In its conclusions of law, the district court apparently regarded the rule of religion in custody cases, but the findings of the court are so inconsistent with the rule that the record cannot be allowed to stand as it is. In this custody case, the record affirmatively shows religion was in it from beginning to end. The court may have had other good and sufficient reasons for changing custody, but they cannot be distinguished from those of religion. We must hold from the record that the court abused its discretion and that its order changing custody must be set aside.
 A well reasoned dissent argued that if a custodial parent's religious views and activities, constitutionally protected or not, were such as to result in "emotional instability" of the custodial parent, the trial court had not only the right, but the duty, to take such fact into consideration in determining what was in the best interests and welfare of the children.
 
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TAYLOR v. TAYLOR was a 1957 Iowa court decision. In 1956, Carol J. Taylor, of Mason City, Iowa, sued for divorce her Jehovah's Witness husband, Obie D. Taylor, of Gilmore City, Iowa, on grounds of cruel and inhuman treatment. The Taylors had been married since 1951, and had separated in July 1956. The divorce was denied. Specifically, Taylor alleged that her JW husband continuously attempted to convert her to the WatchTower religion, which she opposed. It is apparent that Taylor's attorney did an extremely poor job of presenting the evidence of the constant strain that such placed on Carol Taylor's mental health, which she testified was suffering. The 1951 judge relied on lack of verbal abuse and physical violence for his denial.
 
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NICHOLS v. NICHOLS was a 1956-7 Missouri divorce case. Eausaw Nichols and Lucille Nichols were married in 1946. In 1956, Lucille Nichols separated from her JW Husband and filed for a divorce. Lucille Nichols complained that she was blind, and that despite the fact that she depended on her husband for certain daily needs, that Eausaw Nichols had repeatedly left her home alone for extended periods of time in order to attend WatchTower Conventions in distant cities such as NYC, Chicago, etc. The couple apparently had no children, nor relatives who lived nearby, which forced Lucille Nichols to obtain help from neighbors or whomever she could. Lucille Nichols had no intention of converting to the JWs, nor attending WatchTower Conventions and meetings with her husband, so she sought this divorce. The judge agreed, and granted her request. Eausaw Nichols did not even bother to show up for the trial. 
 
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THOMAS v. THOMAS was a 1956 Missouri appellate decision. Famous WatchTower Society attorney, and former WatchTower Vice-President, Hayden C. Covington represented Lillian June Thomas in this appeal. Willard B. Thomas and Lillian June Thomas were married in October, 1945, after Willard Thomas was discharged from the United States Navy at the end of World War II. Willard received a small disability pension due to injuries received in the war.  Lillian June Thomas had been married before, and she had a 3 year old son. Lillian's ex-husband paid no child support, and Lillian did not work outside the home. In 1946, Willard bought and paid for a home in St. Joseph, Missouri with savings bonds he had purchased during the war. Two sons were born to the couple.
 
The couple lived together amicably until July 1950, when Lillian June Thomas joined the Jehovah's Witnesses.  After joining the Jehovah's Witnesses, her religion became Lillian's priority. She went from house to house distributing pamphlets and preaching the doctrines of the WatchTower Society; sometimes taking the couple's children with her.  She, sometimes accompanied by one or more children, distributed pamphlets on the streets of St. Joseph. She attended meetings of Jehovah's Witnesses at Kingdom Hall in St. Joseph. She had attended four WatchTower Conventions held in other cities. Additionally, Lillian took the couple's children to the meetings of the Jehovah's Witnesses, and she was training them to believe and act as Jehovah's Witnesses.
 
Around the same time Lillian joined the Jehovah's Witnesses, Willard began to work as a police officer in St. Joseph. Willard did not believe in the doctrines of Jehovah's Witnesses.  He also was opposed to having his children taught WatchTower doctrines.  He objected to the influence exercised by Lillian over his children in getting them to accept WatchTower interpretations, particularly as such pertained to saluting the American flag.  Willard requested Lillian not to teach WatchTower doctrines to their children, but she continued to do so. There was quarreling in the family as the result of this difference of opinion.
 
In September 1954, Willard had had enough, and he moved out of the marital residence. He moved in with his parents in St. Joseph, where he later also brought his youngest son. The older son evidently refused to live with him. Willard filed for divorce that same month, and the case was tried in late October, 1954.  The trial court granted Willard a divorce, and awarded him the general custody of both of his natural children. Lillian received visitations every Saturday-Sunday, and the right to visit the children at all reasonable times. Her motion for a new trial was overruled, and she appealed. At trial, Willard testified:
"Q. How many hours during the day or week would she be absent from your home in connection with this religious matter?
A. Three or four times a week from half a day to a full day. She stated that sometimes she had been over in Kansas recruiting members, other times here in town getting in her hours. Usually she went on Sunday evening, Tuesday evening and Friday evening. That was meeting night. She stated she went down there. Where she went I don't know but she was gone mostly every Sunday, Tuesday and Friday evening from 7:00 until almost midnight.

"Q. What about the children?   
A. When I was there I would keep them. ... I would take care of them when I was working the midnight to morning shift. When I was working 4:00 to 12:00 she took them with her ... .

"Q. And that continued for a number of years?  
A. That is right ... . When I was working 4:00 to 12:00 I didn't know where she went. She said she went to the hall ... . I drove past there several times and I saw her in the hall several times. ... Sometimes she missed and didn't go out but may be once or twice during the week, but she was pretty determined and she made it most of the time."
 
Lillian testified that she only averaged about two hours per week doing literature distribution. She also testified that she attended one-hour and two-hour meetings at the Kingdom Hall on Tuesday night, Friday night and Sunday evenings. Willard had testified that: "Three or four times a week she wasn't there to prepare my meals. I never knew when I went home whether she would be there or not. Lillian countered: "When I knew that he was coming home ... I was always there" to prepare his meals".
 
Willard testified that he performed his duties as a husband and father to the best of his ability; that he supported his stepson, Gary, for nine years; that he paid all of the household and family expenses; that he paid all of the bills because defendant "never had time, she said, to pay them"; that he paid for "her makeup and everything else"; and that he gave defendant $6 every two weeks "to spend on whatever she wanted"; that after they moved into the house on South 11th Street, he bought all of the groceries and carried them home. Willard testified that Lillian had a charge account at a local dry goods store, for which he paid the bill.
 
Lillian testified that her Jehovah's Witnesses friends had to give her used clothing. She testified that Willard gave her only $3 every two weeks until she threatened to stop washing and ironing his clothes. She demanded the $6 every two weeks to do so. She further testified that Willard forbade her to draw any money out of the bank without his permission:  "If I had I would have gotten a beating." [Uh, then why didn't he beat you for not washing and ironing his clothes?]

Willard testified that on many occasions Lillian cursed him and called him vile names. She called him "an unbelieving son of a bitch atheist", even though Willard was not an atheist. Willard testified: "She kept telling [the children] that I was no good, because I carried a gun. ...  My boy ... eight years old told me many times, 'You are no good, you carry a gun.'"  Lillian denied everything.
 
Both parties testified "he said - she said" to an incident over Willard's alleged taking of money Lillian had earned selling berries, which she planned to use to travel to a WatchTower Convention.
 
Willard testified to an incident when his dad, mother and sister were visiting on one of Lillian's meeting nights. Lillian started to her meeting, but then returned to the living room, and said, "I am tired of your damned relations here. ... I don't want any unbelievers here that don't believe in Jehovah's Witnesses."  Lillian told Willard's sister: "You, I hate more than any."  Lillian then lunged at the sister, and Willard grabbed her to prevent a fight. Willard said his family never visited in his home again. Willard's family all testified to the incident, and Lillian didn't even bother to deny it.
 
Willard testified that when the Star Spangled Banner was played on the television, "She started beating on pans and booing, and most of the time jerked the plug out of the wall. ...  She would grab [the children] and take them in the other room."  She said that the television set was the work of Satan. Every time a preacher or a Catholic priest came on, or the flag was shown, she would turn it off or yank the plug out.
 
In July 1953, Willard took the family on a road trip to Yellowstone National Park.  Lillian was a pain on the trip because she had wanted to attend a WatchTower Convention in New York City, instead. She also complained about the trip to Colorado Springs the next summer.
 
The night Willard moved out in September 1954, the couple had a physical altercation after Lillian came home from a meeting at around 10:00 PM. Both parties gave widely different versions of the incident. Lillian also testified to numerous other occasions in which she alleged that Willard struck her.  She also testified to numerous times of being cursed at and called bad names. The oldest son testified in support of Lillian.  Willard denied most of such. There were many other charges and counter-charges, and denials by each as accused.  Several of Lillian's Jehovah's Witnesses friends testified on her behalf, while Willard's police chief and neighbor testified on his behalf.
 
On appeal, prepared by Hayden Covington, Lillian contended that "upon a review of the whole record this court should reach the conclusion that defendant was entitled to the divorce and the plaintiff was not entitled thereto"; that "the court abused its discretion when custody of the minor children was awarded to the plaintiff"; and that "the judgment of the court below denied defendant her right of freedom of worship and of religion, contrary to Article 1, Section 5 of the Constitution of Missouri and the First and Fourteenth Amendments to the United States Constitution." They further contended that the "sole basis of the decree of divorce was that defendant left the house 'whenever she felt like it and over the protest of her husband' to worship Almighty God Jehovah"; and that "the record in this case shows that the only reason the children were taken away from defendant was that of her religion"; and consequently that the judgment appealed from denied defendant her constitutional "rights of freedom of worship and of religion".

The appellate court first nixed Covington's constitutional violation claims pointing out that no such type claim had been made at trial for their review. The court went on to affirm the trial court's ruling, stating in part: 
"While each divorce action based on alleged general indignities must be determined on its own facts, the courts have said repeatedly that indignities, such as to warrant the granting of a divorce, ordinarily must amount to a continuous course of conduct. A single act, or occasional acts, will not suffice. The acts relied upon must amount to a species of mental cruelty, and must evidence a course of conduct by one of the parties toward the other whereby the other's condition is rendered intolerable through acts of such character and frequency as to be subversive of the family relation. ...
 
"In the case at bar there was a direct conflict in the testimony on almost every charge and countercharge. If plaintiff's evidence be accepted as true, he was entitled to a decree of divorce. Plaintiff's evidence, as a whole, was substantial. It disclosed a course of conduct on defendant's part extending over a period of about four years, the cumulative effect of which may well have rendered plaintiff's condition intolerable. It is our duty, of course, to review the whole record and reach our own conclusions in divorce cases, but where, as here, the decision depends largely upon the credibility of the witness, we must give due deference to the conclusions of the trial judge who saw and heard all of the witnesses, and we are not authorized to set aside the judgment unless clearly erroneous. ... Applying this rule, we defer to the conclusion of the trial court that plaintiff was the innocent and injured party and therefore entitled to a decree of divorce.

"We turn to defendant's contention that the court erred in awarding the custody of the parties' children to plaintiff. As stated, after the separation plaintiff took the younger boy, Stephen, to the home of plaintiff's parents and Stephen has been living there since that time. Plaintiff's mother testified that she was employed 'in the daytime' at 'Montgomery-Ward'; that her husband did not work and was at home 'all the time'; and that plaintiff always stayed at home with Stephen when he was not on duty. Plaintiff testified that he was living with his parents; that their home was a modern six-room house with three bedrooms, located a block and a half from Webster School; that if he were awarded the custody of the children they would be 'properly supervised and have all their care and affection, and one of us will be with them at all times'; that his mother had been taking Stephen to Sunday School at the Second Presbyterian Church; that his mother was a member of a church at Halleck, Missouri, and about ten miles from St. Joseph; that when he was a boy he attended services at a Presbyterian Church; that when he was in the Navy he attended church services every Sunday, and continued: 'I study the Bible but I haven't been attending church.' As we have seen, at the time of the trial, defendant, Gary and the parties' older son, Dennis Michael, were living in the home at 3738 South 11th Street. Defendant testified that if she were awarded the custody of the parties' children she would need money for their support, and that she 'could get a job very easy'. She did not say who would care for the children when she was working.

"Defendant insists that the best interests of a child of tender years requires that it be placed in the custody of its mother. Ordinarily, as between the father and mother, the mother will be awarded the custody of such a child unless it be shown that she is unfit to take charge of the child or that she cannot provide it with a suitable home. It is well settled, however, that 'the findings of the trial court in matters involving the custody of a minor child of divorced parents, while not binding upon the appellate court which must review the record for itself, are nevertheless not to be lightly disturbed, and will be deferred to unless the appellate court is firmly convinced that the welfare of the child requires some other disposition.' ... Under the record in this case, we cannot say that the trial court abused its discretion in awarding the custody of the children to plaintiff."
 
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BENNETT v. BENNETT was a 1953-5 Indiana court decision. In 1953, John Bennett, a Jehovah's Witness, and Isabell Bennett, a Presbyterian, were divorced. The mother received primary custody of their 8 year-old son, John A. Bennett, with the father receiving visitation rights. At some point after the divorce, Isabell Bennett obtained a court order to stop the husband from training their son in WatchTower beliefs during visitation periods.
 
However, John Bennett refused to obey the court order, because God required him to train his son "morning, noon, and night". Isabell Bennett was forced to seek enforcement of the court order. In a 1955 hearing, John Bennett acknowledged teaching the boy that reciting the Pledge was worshiping a "graven image", and teaching him that holiday celebrations were "pagan rites". But, the main problem was more quantity than quality. When he had the boy, he also was constantly making the boy memorize Bible verses. Bennett was a fanatic, and he was attempting to make his son a fanatic. A psychiatrist warned that the by-then 10 year-old was approaching being "emotionally disturbed". The judge revoked John Bennett's visitation. 
 
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LANGE v. LANGE was a 1954 Wisconsin court decision. Limited details. Richard Lange and Lois Lange, of North Bend, who were the parents of two minor children, were divorced in 1954 after Lois Lange converted to the Jehovah's Witnesses and trouble in the marriage thereafter erupted. Lois Lange's rearing the children as Jehovah's Witnesses also erupted as an issue in the custody proceedings, but Lois Lange did receive custody, with Richard Lange receiving visitation. 
 
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HUNTER v. POWERS was a 1954 New York court decision in which a Jehovah's Witness Mother was found to be "neglecting" her ten year-old daughter. At the time of this court action, the unnamed JW Mother and her estranged husband were in the process of divorcing, and custody was obviously going to be the main issue.
 
The two parents were originally Catholic and were wedded in the Catholic church. The couple had a prenuptial agreement that all children would be reared as Catholics. A daughter was apparently the only child, and had been baptized in the Catholic Church, and had been reared as a Catholic until the age of eight. At that time, the Mother gradually converted to the Jehovah's Witnesses. The couple apparently separated, and the JW Mother induced the daughter to abandon the Catholic Church, and join the JWs.
 
The Catholic father wisely went to the Society For The Prevention of Cruelty To Children, and had that agency investigate the JW Mother's alleged "neglect". That agency was then able to go to the local domestic court and testify to its' own observations. It was demonstrated that the ten year-old daughter was being "neglected" by being compelled to accompany her JW Mother "door-knocking" and selling WatchTower literature on the streets at all hours of the night and day. At other times, the JW Mother would leave the daughter home alone at all hours of the night and day while the JW Mother did the same without the daughter.
 
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KAUFMANN v. KAUFMANN was a 1952-3 Pennsylvania trial court decision. In 1952, Edward Kaufmann, of Perkasie, sued to divorce his Jehovah's Witness Wife, Margaret Kaufmann, of Lansdale, plus sought custody of their five year-old daughter, Barbara Kaufmann, who had remained in the custody of the mother.
 
Edward Kaufmann alleged that his wife and he lived a normal life unlil June 1950, when his wife joined the Jehovah's Witnesses. Since then, Margaret Kaufmann allegedly spent five days a week performing various WatchTower activities. Kaufmann stated that his wife would leave their house at 9:00 AM and push doorbells until as late as 5:00 PM. Two nights every week, she attended meetings at the Kingdom Hall, where she sometimes stayed until midnight. On occasion, Mrs. Kaufmann would stand on street corners and hand out WatchTower literature, and on some of such occasions, she would take her 5-year-old daughter along. As a result of these and other activities, Kaufmann alleged that his wife had failed to properly care for Barbara Kaufmann.
 
The trial court agreed that Margaret Kaufmann had neglected Barbara Kaufmann in a habeas corpus action that granted custody to Edward Kaufmann, with Margaret Kaufmann receiving visitation on Saturdays. The judge specifically stated that his decision was not due to Margaret Kaufmann's WatchTower beliefs, but rather were due to her choice of activities which resulted in her neglecting the family, her household, and her daughter. Outcome of other proceedings unknown. 
 
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SALVAGGIO v. BARNETT was a 1952 Texas appellate court decision. Lee Salvaggio and Betty James Barnett were divorced circa 1950. Lee Salvaggio was granted custody of their two year old daughter, because the trial court thought that such was in the best interests of the child. Lee Salvaggio was then living with his parents, who would care for the child while he was at work. Betty James Barnett was forced by the divorce to work long hours simply to make ends meet. No other "unfitness" about Barnett was found by the court.
 
Subsequently, both Salvaggio and Barnett had remarried.  Salvaggio and his new wife had moved into their own home.  Barnett and her new husband  also had moved into their own home.  Barnett had had a second child, and she was now a stay-at-home mom. Under these "changed circumstances", Barnett petitioned the court for custody of her daughter, Judy Suzzan Salvaggio.  Barnett's petition was granted.  That trial court stated, in part:
"During all the time Lee Salvaggio has had the custody of the child he has cared for her with kindness and attention, and has provided a home for the child and also has adequately provided for all her physical needs.  Both Lee Salvaggio and his present wife are devoted to the child and have given it love and care.  Lee Salvaggio has only the one child who lives with him and his wife in their own home separate and apart from that of Lee Salvaggio's parents. ...

"Lee Salvaggio is a fit and proper person to have the custody of his child except that he and his present wife, because of their belief that the Bible requires it, propose to teach Judy Suzzan Salvaggio that it is wrong to salute the American Flag, and that it is wrong to celebrate and exchange gifts at Christmas and that it is wrong to kill others even in defense of the United States.  Lee Salvaggio did not formerly follow such beliefs and was in the late war during which time he was in several battles and saluted the flag. ... ...
 
"The Court is of the opinion that conditions affecting the welfare of Judy Suzzan Slavaggio since the rendition of the decree of divorce have materially changed so that it is now to the best interests of said child that her natural mother, Betty James Barnett, should have the custody of said child.  (The father of said child, Lee Salvaggio, should have the right to visit said child.) ... The changes of condition affecting the welfare of such child include the change in the financial circumstances of Betty James Barnett and her ability to provide a suitable home for her child.  However, in arriving at its conclusions, the Court is primarily influenced by the proposed teachings of Lee Salvaggio and his present wife with reference to saluting the flag, fighting in defense of the United States and celebration of Christmas.  The Court judicially knows that the overwhelming majority of other children in this state and in the community where Judy Suzzan Salvaggio will reside and go to school will be taught to salute the American Flag, to defend the country against enemies, and will exchange gifts and celebrate Christmas.  The Court concludes that such fact would produce problems and conflicts adversely affecting the welfare of such child.  Without in any way infringing upon the right of Lee Salvaggio and his present wife to interpret the Bible as they see fit, the Court is of the opinion that as between the natural parents of such child, the best interests of the child would be served by her being placed in the custody of the parent who will rear her in the normal atmosphere of an American home."
Lee Salvaggio appealed, alleging in part that:
"1.  That the court's order depriving appellant of the custody of his child is illegal in that the changed conditions relied upon by the court for ordering the change of the custody to appellee relate primarily to the adoption by appellant of certain religious beliefs disapproved of by the court as being harmful to the child.

"2.  That the court's order is illegal in that it denies the father, having legal custody of his child, of the right to raise the child according to the tenets of his faith primarily because the court disapproves of the same as being bad for the child, contrary to the First and Fourteenth Amendments to the Constitution of the United States.
In response, this Texas appellate court stated, in part:
"In choosing between parents who are contending for the custody of the child, a magistrate has only such powers as the law has conferred upon him to determine whose custody would best promote the interest and welfare of the child.  Under the American principle of separation of Church and State, the secular power is so shackled and restrained by our fundamental law that it is beyond the power of a court, in awarding the custody of the child, to prefer, as tending to promote the interest of the child or surround it with a more normal atmosphere, the religious views or teachings of either parent. ... It is in no way contended that appellant's religious teachings to his child would be immoral or illegal, but merely that they would be unpopular.

"However, insofar as the court's order giving the custody to the mother is based on his discretion that a mother's care and attention for a young female child is for that child's best interest, the court's order finds ample legal support. The court committed no reversible error, and the judgment is ordered affirmed."

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