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

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1960s JEHOVAH'S WITNESS DIVORCE CASES
 

Generally, there is no such thing as a "national child custody law". Although similar, each state has established its own laws regarding child custody, and each state's courts interpret those laws using legal standards that may vary from those used by courts in other states. As site visitors will quickly see from reading the following summaries, state courts apply one of the following three different legal standards when deciding these cases:

1. Actual Or Substantial Harm: Existing actual or substantial harm to the child must be proven to have been caused by a parent's religious practices before the court will restrict that parent's constitutional rights. Such states include California, Colorado, Florida, Idaho, Indiana, Iowa, Maryland, Massachusetts, Montana, Nebraska, New Jersey, New York, North Dakota, Ohio, Rhode Island, Utah, Vermont and Washington.

2. Risk Of Harm. For a court to restrict a parent's constitutional rights, it only has to be proven that that a parent's religious practices pose a risk of harm to the child. Such states include Minnesota, Montana, North Carolina and Pennsylvania.

3. No Harm Required. In only a few states, such as Arkansas and Wisconsin, a parent who has sole legal custody also has the exclusive right to determine the child's religious education.

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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For those readers who are not looking for any specific DIVORCE case, but who are simply browsing our website for general education regarding Jehovah's Witness Marriages and Divorces, we have posted TWO JW WIFE AUTOBIOGRAPHIES which were submitted by real-world victimized husbands, which relate REAL WATCHTOWER WORLD behind-the-scenes accounts of two Jehovah's Witness marriages which the WatchTower Society hopes that no insiders nor outsiders ever learn. These two autobiographies are so controversial that most JW readers will deny their authenticity. Both autobiographies are authentic. We have confirm that.

This first posted autobiography relates to single Jehovah's Witnesses looking for marriage mates at District Conventions, Circuit events, and via the internet. Things are not always as they appear in "JW World".  JWs are marrying other JWs who live hundreds and even thousands of miles away, and often one or both parties eventually learn that they have married a stranger, or worse. Naive Jehovah's Witnesses are marrying JWs from other JW families who have serious ongoing problems which were hidden from them during the courtship. Bankrupt JW in-laws. Criminal JW in-laws. Incestuous JW in-laws. JWs with serious mental health and physical health problems are not fully disclosing their personal "baggage" to prospective marriage mates. In the following autobiography, JW Husband believes that he was deceived during the courtship period by his future JW Wife, by her JW Parents, by her Congregation Elders, and by other Members of JW Wife's congregation. CLICK ON LINK TO READ:

MY TEENAGE JEHOVAH'S WITNESS WIFE:

EXEMPLARY CONGREGATION PUBLISHER & SERIAL ADULTERESS

The second submitted autobiography relates the account of a recently married non-JW Wife who converted to the Jehovah's Witnesses, and soon thereafter disowned her loving and trusting Husband. JW Wife then began using her busy JW witnessing and meeting schedule and her morally-corrupt JW friends to hide serial "cheating", and eventually something so SHOCKING that you will have to read the autobiography to believe it. Readers are put on notice that this account contains some sexually explicit material which we have attempted to edit as tastefully as we could and still retain the info and image that the victimized husband wants readers to take away from his unbelievable REAL JW WORLD marriage. CLICK ON LINK TO READ:

MY BUSY-BUSY JEHOVAH'S WITNESS WIFE:

 REGULAR AUXILIARY PIONEER & PART-TIME BROTHEL PROSTITUTE

Visitors may also be interested in reading the "Real WatchTower World" account posted in our JW EMPLOYEES website of a JW Elderette who put on a "burlesque show" at her home during a business appointment with a lone out-of-town businessman. Foolish JW Elderette never even considered that the out-of-town businessman might possibly have JW connections.  

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DR. JOHN M. LEVITSKY v. BILLY JEAN LEVITSKY R.N. was a 1963 Maryland appellate court decision. Dr. John M. Levitsky and Billie Jean Levitsky were married in 1949 immediately after the Doctor's graduation from the Medical School of the University of Nebraska. The mother was a Registered Nurse. Thereafter, the couple moved to Chicago, where they had twin daughters in 1953, and a son in 1954. In 1959, Dr. Levitsky moved his family to Baltimore, where he had been appointed to a fellowship for advanced study at Johns Hopkins University Hospital.

When the Levitskys married in 1949, they both were members of the Roman Catholic faith. However, in 1956, Billie Jean Levitsky started studying with the Jehovah's Witnesses, and eventually converted.  Dr. Levitsky continued to attend the Catholic Church by himself on occasion.

IN RE NICHOLAS LEVITSKY. After living in Baltimore for only about six months, it appears that Dr. Levitsky took a new position in Alabama, and moved there by himself; thus separating from Billie Jean.  In March 1960, the Dr. Levitsky obtained a divorce in an Alabama court. The custody case was conducted in the Circuit Court for Baltimore County. In December 1961, in the midst of the divorce and custody contest, the youngest child, Nicholas Levitsky, age 7, was admitted to a hospital and was hemorrhaging internally due to ulceration in the intestinal tract. His hemoglobin count became critically low, and Nicholas needed a blood transfusion to survive. However, Nurse Levitsky refused to consent to a blood transfusion for Nicholas. Probably due only to Dr. Levitsky's prominence in the medical community, the Hospital knew where he was and contacted him to obtain consent. Blood transfusions were administered, and Nicholas Levitsky was spared from becoming another martyr for the WatchTower Society.

By a decree entered May 11th, 1962, custody of the three minor children was awarded to Billie Jean Levitsky, subject to the right of Dr. John M. Levitsky to visit his three children and to have them visit him "at all reasonable times." The custody decree provided that Billie Jean Levitsky, R.N. was required to "give immediate notice to this Court, in writing, in the event any of the said children shall be admitted to a hospital for care or treatment of any kind." The Circuit Court also retained continuing jurisdiction over the children, so that the Court might require periodic reports by competent pediatricians, periodic reports of school attendance, achievement and adjustment, and such other information as may be reasonably required, to keep the Court informed of the welfare and progress of the children.

Dr. Levitsky appealed the award of custody of the children to Billie Jean Levitsky, but also lost the appeal.  Unfortunately, I don't have access to what must have been an interesting decision. Commentary on the net indicates that the decision noted that it could not order Billie Jean Levitsky to consent to future transfusions due to her own right to religious freedom, but the court tightened the custody restrictions and made additional provisions to protect the children's lives in the event of any future need for blood transfusions.

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We are including here the following CANADIAN case due to the 2015 British non-JW religious magazine article which claimed that instances of Jehovah's Witness Parents kidnapping their own children were undocumented. There are other American JW kidnapping cases scattered in this section. Not only have such cases been documented, but it is an "unproven" FACT that in each and every instance that the WatchTower Society orchestrated the kidnapping, as well as orchestrated the necessary assistance from the underground network of congregations and individual Jehovah's Witnesses who conspired with the criminal JW Parent.

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CHRISTOS TRIANTAFYLLOU v. LISA HELEN TRIANTAFYLLOU (1969) and ONTARIO v. LISA HELEN KALICHUK (1983-84) were related Ontario, Canada civil DIVORCE and criminal CHILD ABDUCTION court cases.
 
Christos Triantafyllou and Lisa Helen Pelicos, then of Ottawa, Ontario, were married in the Greek Orthodox Church in 1965. In September 1966, the couple had a daughter whom they named Arete Triantafyllou. In January 1969, Lisa Triantafyllou (typically) SECRETLY began to study the WatchTower Cult religion with Jehovah's Witnesses whom came knocking at her door, (typically) while her husband was away at work. In March 1969, Christos Triantafyllou discovered his wife's SECRET cache of WatchTower Cult literature. In that literature were the names and telephone numbers of the two Jehovah's Witnesses who were "studying" with Helen Triantafyllou. Christos Triantafyllou telephoned both JWs and told them to stay away from his house, his wife, and their daughter. Typically, the two JWs arranged to "study" with Lisa Triantafyllou SECRETLY -- supposedly away from the Triantafyllou home. When Christos Triantafyllou finally realized that his wife had not stopped "studying" with the Jehovah's Witnesses, and that she now had plans to convert to the WatchTower Cult, he kicked her out of the family home, and filed for divorce and legal custody of their then 3 year-old daughter, over whom he retained physical custody, and eventually obtained interim legal custody. (Reportedly, Lisa Helen Kalichuk was able to convince her mother, Lillian Pelicos, sister, Linda Parker, and brother John Pellicos, all of Ontario, to also join the WatchTower Cult.)
 
The Divorce proceedings began in October 1969. Chris Triantafyllou introduced into evidence three letters which had been written around March-May 1969 to Lisa Triantafyllou from an unidentified Jehovah's Witness, which Lisa Triantafyllou had failed to DESTROY as she had been instructed to do in those letters. Included in those letters were remarks suggesting that she needed "to get away for awhile", and remarks indicating that WATCHTOWER SOCIETY OF CANADA Attorney Glen How (a worthless POS whom is hopefully burning in HELL right now) had been, or was going to communicate with her. In late November 1969, during a period of temporary custody, Lisa Triantafyllou ABDUCTED Arete Triantafyllou, and never showed up for another court hearing.
 
Through the aid and assistance of the WATCHTOWER SOCIETY OF CANADA, the WATCHTOWER SOCIETY OF THE UNITED STATES, and Jehovah's Witnesses in both Canada and the United States, Lisa Triantafyllou was able to disappear, and avoid detection by both the Police and hired Private Detectives until September 1983, when 17 year-old Arete Triantafyllou, aka Gina T. Kalichuk, finally contacted her father. Lisa Triantafyllou later claimed that she had simply moved to Winnipeg, and had changed her name, and had gotten a job.
 
In May 1977, 31 year-old Lisa Helen Triantafyllou had married a (typically older) 44 year-old Jehovah's Witness named Leonard A. Kalichuk, who lived in Moncton, New Brunswick, and was employed as an Air Traffic Controller. Interestingly, the marriage occurred in the United States -- in the MEXICO bordertown of Brownsville, Texas. We are not even certain if or when there was a final Canadian Divorce from Christos Triantafyllou. (Interestingly, online sources indicate that a Lisa Helen Kalichuk graduated from Harrison Trimble High School, in Moncton, New Brunswick, in 1975.) It also appears that Leon Kalichuk somehow managed to "adopt" Gina T. Kalichuk at some point in time. One can only wonder how much of the aforementioned "legalities" were actually "legal", and whether such were affected under the supervision of POS Glen How and the Legal Department at the WATCHTOWER SOCIETY OF CANADA. In any event, Arete Triantafyllou, aka Gina Kalichuk, was not told that she had another father until January 1983.
 
In 1984, Lisa Helen Kalichuk was criminally charged and prosecuted for the CHILD ABDUCTION, but we have yet to locate the outcome. Lisa Helen Kalichuk had been convicted and sentenced in absentia, in 1970, on charges of contempt of court. However, a typically Canadian judge quashed that conviction in 1983, after she had begun serving the 30 day sentence. It is doubtful that Lisa Helen Kalichuk was convicted on the child abduction charges. In fact, a half-wit Canadian judge likely found some way to award her a medal.

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SINCLAIR v  SINCLAIR was a 1969 Kansas Supreme Court decision. Robert Eugene Sinclair and Hazel Marie Sinclair had been married for over twenty years when Robert Sinclair was granted a divorce in February 1968. Robert Sinclair sought this divorce only after Hazel instituted an action for separate maintenance.
 
Custody of their two children, Gary Sinclair and David Sinclair, ages 18 and 13, was granted to Robert Sinclair.  The trial court granted the divorce to Robert Sinclair on the grounds of gross neglect of duty and extreme cruelty, resulting from Hazel Sinclair's recent obsession with her new Jehovah's Witnesses religion and abandonment of her husband and children. Hazel Sinclair appealed. The Supreme Court of Kansas affirmed, stating in part:
The marriage was reasonably tranquil until 1966 when Hazel became interested in the teachings of Jehovah's Witnesses and began studying the Bible. As a result her interest in her husband and children gradually waned to the point where she told Robert and the boys her religion meant more to her than her family or anything else. Finally, after Robert told her he would not "live with the religion" any longer, Hazel departed the home in February 1967. Following a short sojourn to Montana, she returned to Kansas and lived apart from her family. Hazel maintained little or no contact with them and did not so much as attend Gary's graduation exercises in June 1967 ...
 
According to Robert, when his wife first started studying to be a Jehovah's Witness he "figured any religion was a good religion as long as they believe in God," but then she started asking him if he "would leave money to the clan if she were to die," and stated that "she would let her children die for lack of a blood transfusion and that the world was coming to an end in 1975." Hazel, in her husband's opinion, had undergone a complete personality change: her religion came before everything, she became inattentive to the children and lost interest in their school activities, she no longer believed in Christmas and refused to take part in any of the season's festivities, and she ceased to prepare regular meals for the family as she had done before. By the testimony of Robert, the two boys, and Hazel's own sister, the record leaves no doubt that Hazel had become so obsessed with her religious beliefs and activities that she completely neglected her duties as a wife and mother, and as a result, she and her husband could no longer live together.
 
The religious zeal of a spouse may be carried to such lengths that domestic harmony is completely disrupted and the legitimate ends of matrimony destroyed, with the result that the life of the complaining spouse is rendered intolerable. ... Such a course of conduct, we believe, characterizes behavior amounting to extreme cruelty within the purview of our divorce statute. ... Likewise, under the circumstances disclosed in this record, such conduct may constitute gross neglect of duty. ... The record discloses ample evidence to support the action of the district court in granting a divorce to Robert. ... ...
 
Finally, Hazel contends the lower court abused its discretion in granting custody of the boys to Robert. She urges that the court's decision was based solely on the ground of religion, which is impermissible under Jackson v. Jackson, ... The case is clearly distinguishable. The import of our holding in Jackson was that religious views alone afford no ground for depriving custody to a parent who is otherwise qualified. Here, the religious beliefs of Hazel precipitated a course of action on her part of utter disregard and indifference to her children and their activities. Several events have already been mentioned. In addition, we note that after Hazel left home in February 1967 she did not contact the boys for nearly six months, and thereafter no more than three times until the time of the divorce in February 1968. At the trial both boys expressed a strong desire to remain with their father. The paramount consideration of the court in custody cases between parents is always the welfare and best interests of the children. The trial court is in the most advantageous position to make the inquiry and determination, and in the absence of abuse of sound judicial discretion, its judgment will be upheld on appeal.... We find nothing in the record which would justify our disturbing the custody order of the lower court.

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RASMUSSEN v. RASMUSSEN (1969) and RASMUSSEN v. ELDERS OF SHELBY MONTANA CONGREGATION OF JEHOVAH'S WITNESSES and POLSON MONTANA CONGREGATION OF JEHOVAH'S WITNESSES were a 1969 Montana divorce court case and the related defamation lawsuit filed in 1971 that was not settled by the Montana Supreme Court until 1987. This is an OUTRAGEOUS case, which should be read slowly to make sure the reader understands the evolving details.

Ray and Violet Rasmussen were members of the Polson, Montana JW Congregation in Spring 1968, when Ray learned that Violet had committed adultery in 1967. In July 1968, Ray forgave Violet. However, in Spring 1969, Ray learned that there had been additional instances of adultery that he did not know about when he agreed to forgive Violet. In Summer 1969, Ray separated from Violet and moved to Shelby, Montana, where he became associated with the Shelby Congregation of Jehovah's Witnesses. In July 1969, Ray filed a petition for divorce, which was granted in October 1969.

In July 1969, Ray met Pauline Ferris at the Shelby Kingdom Hall, and Ray started inquiring with the "Servants", or "Elders", as to whether he would be "scripturally free to remarry" after his divorce was final. In October 1969, Servant Donald Whiting, on behalf of the Polson Congregation, wrote Ray a letter informing him there were "doubts" as to his scriptural freedom to remarry. Despite the "doubts" raised in the letter, Ray married Pauline Ferris in October 1969. The marriage was performed by Daniel James, who was a "Servant" in the Shelby Congregation of Jehovah's Witnesses. Later, at trial, the Rasmussen's alleged that the Shelby Congregation had told them that Ray was free to remarry, and only changed their minds after they received the 1970 letter from the WatchTower Society.

However, the Polson Congregation of Jehovah's Witnesses continued to investigate the additional acts of adultery committed by Violet Rasmussen. In December 1969, Ray wrote the Polson Congregation informing them that he had been told he was free to remarry, and that there seemed to be a misunderstanding on the matter.

In February 1970, Larry Bennett moved to Shelby, Montana to begin his duties as the new "Overseer" of the Shelby Congregation. Larry Bennett thereafter questioned Ray Rasmussen's scriptural freedom to remarry. The Shelby Congregation wrote to the Watchtower Bible and Tract Society for guidance on the matter. In March 1970, the Watchtower Society responded to the Shelby Congregations' inquiry, and stated that Ray was not scripturally free to remarry, and that Ray and Pauline Rasmussen should be disfellowshiped.

On March 18, 1970, Ray and Pauline Rasmussen were disfellowshipped from the Jehovah's Witnesses. At the next meeting of the Shelby congregation the Congregation was informed that Ray and Pauline had been disfellowshipped for adulterous "conduct unbecoming Christians", with the public proclamation, "We got the filth cleaned out of the congregation, now we will have God's spirit." The Rasmussens were thereafter "shunned" by the members of the Shelby Congregation in accordance with WatchTower doctrine.

In November 1971, Ray and Pauline Rasmussen filed a defamation lawsuit claiming that they had been wrongfully disfellowshipped by the Shelby Congregation. Due to a series of legal technicalities, the case did not significantly proceed until 1982. In 1982, the Rasmussens and the Shelby Congregation agreed to draft a letter to the Watchtower Society, asking the question: "Would forgiveness of one act of adultery forgive all other acts of adultery, known or unknown, committed prior to the time of forgiveness?"

The Watchtower Society responded in the affirmative, that in 1969, the position of the Society was that an act of forgiveness for one act of adultery forgave all previous acts of adultery, and the forgiving spouse was not scripturally free to remarry. Despite this response, Rasmussens proceeded with the litigation and requested a trial date. After another series of legal technicalities, the Congregation Elders were granted summary judgment in 1986. On appeal to the Supreme Court of Montana, that court ruled in favor of the Congregation Elders (No justice from the Congregations, the WatchTower Society, nor the Supreme Court), stating in part:

Rasmussens assert that defendants' statements that the Rasmussens were living in adultery and had been disfellowshipped for conduct unbecoming a Christian were defamatory. ...

We find the defendants' statements to be privileged ... . It is firmly established that statements of church members made in the course of disciplinary or expulsion proceedings, in the absence of malice, are protected by a qualified privilege. ... There is no dispute here that the statements complained of were delivered at the Jehovah's Witnesses congregational gathering in Shelby. The statements of disfellowship made by Churchleader Bennett were made to other Church members interested in the matter.

Rasmussens contend the congregational gathering included non-Church members thus the statements exceeded the scope of the privilege. We disagree. The incidental communication to non-Church members attending the service does not eliminate the privilege. ... Having established a qualified privilege on the part of defendants, the burden is upon Rasmussens to show the privilege has been abused by excessive publication, by use of the occasion for an improper purpose, or by lack of belief or grounds for belief in the truth of what was said. ... Rasmusssens allege malice on the part of defendants. Rasmussens contend defendants told them it was permissible under Church doctrine for Rasmussens to remarry, but defendants later changed their minds.

Defendants point out that Rasmussen received a letter prior to his remarriage which expressed doubts as to his scriptural freedom to remarry. [Yes, from the Polson Congregation -- not the Shelby Congregation.] To prove malice, Rasmussens must show that defendants' statements were made "with knowledge that it was false or with reckless disregard of whether it was false or not." ...

Rasmussens cite no evidence in this case which would raise a question of malice on the part of defendants. Defendants have asserted truth as a defense. Defendants disfellowshipped Rasmussens in accordance with Church doctrine. The Watchtower Society confirmed the fact that Ray Rasmussen was not scripturally free to remarry under the Jehovah's Witnesses doctrine. Even though Rasmussens believe defendant Bennett was motivated by animosity toward Ray Rasmussen this does not raise a question of malice. Malice is defined in defamation actions as reckless disregard for the truth but such malice does not include hatred, personal spite, ill-will, or a desire to injure. ...

Rasmussens contend defendants' statements were defamatory under state law and this Court need not delve into the religious affairs of the Jehovah's Witnesses. We disagree. Defendants' statements were made within the congregation and were based on ecclesiastical doctrine. Defendants are guaranteed the free exercise of religion under the First Amendment of the United States Constitution and ... the Montana Constitution. ... ... ...

In the present case, this Court would be violating defendants' right to free exercise of religion if we were to find defendants' statements actionable under state defamation law. The record is clear that the hierarchical church, the Watchtower Society, determined that Ray Rasmussen was not scripturally free to remarry in 1969. It is not within this Court's power to question the Watchtower Society's determination.

We find summary judgment in favor of defendants to be proper. Even assuming each allegation by Rasmussens to be true, Rasmussens' claim is barred by the free exercise of religion clause found in both the Federal Constitution and Montana Constitution.

The members of that Montana Supreme Court were clueless, in more ways than one. This clearly was a case of individual Jehovah's Witnesses being "damaged" by the Shelby and/or Polson Congregations failing to properly follow WatchTower organizational procedures and teachings, which is an issue that is addressable by the public Courts. If the Shelby Congregation did not approve the marriage, then why did one of its Servants perform the marriage? The Rasmussens had been messed over by the Shelby Congregation, and the WatchTower Society knew that they had been, yet, instead of acknowledging a mistake on the part of the Congregation, and making a fair and just decision that would not harm the innocents, Brooklyn directed that the Rasmussens be "executed" -- disfellowshipped. What about the Servant that perform the marriage, and the members of the Shelby Congregation who attended and publicly validated the wedding? The later public statements made by the Shelby Congregation members were clearly slanderous given the circumstances, and should have resulted in a large damages award against not only the Shelby Congregation, but also the WatchTower Society for directing the Rasmussens to be disfellowshipped, when the WatchTower Society knew that the problems was the fault of the Congregation(s) -- not the Rasmussens -- and clearly how the power and opportunity to make certain that justice was done. Just like all human bureaucracies, the first priority of the bureaucracy is to maintain the image and existance of the bureaucracy -- no matter the cost to the individual members of the Borg.

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WINKELMAN v. WINKELMAN was a 1969 Michigan Court of Appeals decision. Although this divorcing couple did not have children, the memorialization of events and attitudes found in this scenario are educational and informative for those not thoroughly familiar with Jehovah's Witnesses. Verner Winkelman and Helen Winkelman were married in January, 1948, and separated in January 1966, when Helen Winkelman moved to Florida, to live with her mother.  Parties were 58 and 59 years of age, respectively, and there were no children of this marriage.  In 1968, Verner Winkelman sued Helen Winkelman for absolute divorce.  Divorce was granted, but Helen Winkelman appealed.
 
At trial, Verner Winkelman testified that after Helen Winkelman joined the Jehovah's Witnesses, she became unbearable to live with.  There was excessive criticism and accusations.  Helen called Verner dumb and lazy, and she repeatedly stated that she hated him - sometimes in front of other people.  In Fall 1965, Helen threw a sugar bowl at Verner.  Helen Winkelman's conduct and the false accusations brought on Verner's ulcers and ill health.  In January 1966, she left the marital home in Michigan to live with her mother in Florida.

Interestingly, at trial, Helen Winkelman denied all the allegations, except for one occasion when she stated she hated Verner in front of a third party, who testified to such. In granting Verner Winkelman's petition, the trial court stated:  "After sizing up the parties, the plaintiff is a rather subdued quiet type, and the defendant a forceful aggressive personality; the court is inclined to hold that the situation exceeds that of normal marital bickering, and that the plaintiff had made out a case justifying a judgment for absolute divorce. The appellate court affirmed the trial court's decision, stating:  "We find nothing in the record which would allow us to discount the plaintiff's credibility or the trial court's reliance thereon."

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McDANIEL v. McDANIEL was a 1968 Ohio appellate court decision. James McDaniel and Deloris McDaniel were divorced in the early 1960s.  Deloris McDaniel received custody of their daughter, Jolene Kay McDaniel. At some point, James McDaniel both remarried and converted to the Jehovah's Witnesses. James McDaniel then sought custody of Jolene McDaniel. At the 1967 hearing, James McDaniel attacked Deloris McDaniel's fitness as a parent, while Deloris McDaniel made much ado about James McDaniel's new religion. James McDaniel's petition for custody was denied at the local trial and local appellate levels, and then denied at the interim appellate level. Further appeals and outcome unknown.

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 MEREDITH v. MEREDITH was a 1967 Idaho Supreme Court decision. Full opinion is available, but even such contains only limited - but extremely revealing - details.  In February 1962, Clair H. Meredith filed for divorce against his then wife, Marilyn D. Meredith. The wife countered with her own request for divorce. Both parties alleged extreme cruelty, and requested custody of the three minors produced by this marriage. Clair H. Meredith had children by a previous marriage.  It is unclear whether Marilyn D. Meredith had been previously married.
 
The judgment was entered in August 1962.  The trial court granted a joint divorce, in that both parties were guilty of extreme cruelty to the other.  Custody of the three minors was awarded to Marilyn Meredith despite prior unfit conduct on her behalf. The trial court decided that her conduct was less unfit than the unfit conduct of Clair Meredith, and less likely to repeat itself.  Part of the findings against Clair Meredith was this:
"[Clair Meredith] is teaching his boys in accordance with the tenets of his [Jehovah's Witnesses] religion not to salute the flag, and that it is better to go to jail than to serve the country or participate in elections and support the country's institutions."
Clair Meredith appealed the trial court decision.  Amongst other issues, Clair Meredith thought that the above "finding" violated his constitutional rights. Clair Meredith should have left well enough alone, rather than risk having other trial court findings memorialized in a Supreme Court opinion. But, first things first.
 
Testimony at trial indicated that Clair Meredith had joined the Jehovah's Witnesses subsequent to his marriage to Marilyn Meredith, which was not dated, but was probably around 1953-4.  The trial court found that Clair Meredith thereafter subordinated the interests of his family to his religious beliefs to the extent that family activities and outings nearly ceased altogether; that [Clair Meredith] spent nearly all his time in the study of religious books, tracts and pamphlets and in the missionary work of said religious sect, and his whole life was bound up in Jehovah's
Witnesses.
 
Testimony at trial indicated that Marilyn Meredith remonstrated with Clair Meredith about this to no avail and that subsequently she left the home at various times, stayed out late at night occasionally, and finally left appellant completely and went to live with another man from whom she had since separated. On the basis of this mutual misconduct the trial court concluded that the conduct of Clair Meredith justified Marilyn Meredith in leaving him, but her subsequent actions in living with another man were not justified and that the parties should be divorced, the bonds of matrimony terminated by a divorce.
 
Clair Meredith appealed. He assigned nineteen separate assignments of error, but his principal contention was that the trial court erred in awarding custody of the minor children to Marilyn Meredith for the reason that he was not a fit and proper person for the custody of such children because he taught his boys in accordance with the tenets of his Jehovah's Witnesses religion, not to salute the flag and that it was better to go to jail than to serve the country or participate in elections and support the country's institutions. Clair Meredith urged that this constituted interference with, and an infringement upon, a parent's constitutional right to attempt religious training and indoctrination of his children. The Supreme Court of Idaho agreed with Clair Meredith, in part, but affirmed the trial court decision, stating in part:
"If this were the only ground upon which the trial court had found and concluded appellant was an unfit party for the custody of his minor children, it appears the great weight of authority in other jurisdictions would require reversal of the trial court's decree and a new trial. ...
 
"However, there was competent evidence in the record before us that appellant was guilty of incestuous conduct with an older daughter from a prior marriage who had been living with appellant and the two boys of this marriage during the separation of the parties hereto. The record also contains competent evidence that appellant requested and desired having anal intercourse with respondent. Additionally the evidence discloses that this older daughter by the prior marriage who for years served as a baby sitter for appellant with the two boys, the custody of whom are involved here was married and had left the home some six months prior to the date of the trial. The record fails to disclose what care appellant would provide for the two minor boys when he absented himself from the home in his religious endeavors. It is true that the abnormal sexual habits of appellant were denied, but it has long been the rule of this court that where the findings of fact of the trial court are supported by substantial, competent, though conflicting, evidence such findings will not be disturbed on appeal. ... ... ...
 
"While respondent's conduct left much to be desired, still the trial court found, and the record amply supports the finding, that her misconduct was caused by appellant's complete devotion to his religion to the exclusion of his family and that at the time of the trial respondent had reformed. Also it is to be noted that the misconduct on the part of the respondent, relied upon by appellant, was from months to years prior to the date of the hearing; and there was no showing of her unfitness as a mother at the time of the trial.

"Thus there is no showing of an abuse of discretion on the part of the trial judge in awarding custody of these minor children of tender years to respondent-mother. ... ...
 
"Next, appellant contends the court erred in permitting evidence concerning appellant's religion to be introduced on the questions (1) of determining his fitness for custody of the children, and (2) in considering respondent's grounds for divorce, claiming in each instance that appellant's constitutional rights were infringed under the First Amendment of the Constitution of the United States and Article 1, section 4 of the Constitution of the State of Idaho. There was no reversible error committed by the admission of such evidence in determining appellant's fitness for custody of the children because, as previously pointed out in this opinion, the evidence supports the trial court's findings and conclusions in this respect on other grounds. There was no error in the admission of such evidence in support of respondent's grounds for divorce because, as she testified, and as the court found, it was appellant's total absorption with his religion that primarily caused the disruption of the parties' marriage."
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ROMANO v. ROMANO was a 1967 New York court decision. The names are fictitious. Husband and wife were Italian immigrants, who were baptized and reared in the Catholic Church.  They had three children, who were all baptized and being reared in the Catholic Church.  In 1964, the wife converted to the Jehovah's Witnesses.  At some point, the husband divorced his wife, although they continued to live in the same house. The husband flipped out, and continuing physical violence had to be dealt with by the court. In 1966, the husband was ordered to move out of his house. He sold the house, and his former wife and children were forced to move.
 
Thereafter, the husband sought sole custody of the three children on the basis "that the wife has become a Jehovah's Witness and that she is trying to bring the children up as such, their right to be brought up as Catholics is being affected and that if the children remain with the mother, they cannot be reared or taught as Catholics, and that it is in the best interest of the children to be raised in the father's religious environment."
 
The wife countered that "the court lacks jurisdiction to interfere with the petitioner-mother's right to direct the children's religious education and training and that if an award of custody is made solely on religious grounds it would invade her constitutional rights contrary to the freedom of religion and separation of church and state clauses of the state and federal constitution". The court reasoned and ruled as follows: 
"The basic issue, in the view of this court, is whether the children are being so adversely affected by their continued education in a Catholic school while continuing to live with a mother, who is a Jehovah's Witness, that they should be removed from the custody and care of their mother. The facts are clear that the mother is a good mother, providing a good and clean home and that the father is a devoted father, equally concerned about the welfare of the children. Were there no difference in the religion of the parents, the likelihood of a fairly stable, normal family relationship might have been good.

"The difficulty seems to be compounded by the fact that the mother, aged 31, born in Italy and raised in the Catholic faith, who married her husband in the Catholic Church, has only within the last three years become a practicing Jehovah's Witness. The children had all been baptized in the Catholic Church and the older two children now attend a Catholic school, although the oldest child did attend a public school in the first grade and the second child attended kindergarten in a public school.

"The mother admits that she would prefer to bring her children up as Jehovah's Witnesses but did testify that she felt, as a Jehovah's Witness, that the father did have the right to decide what kind of education the children should have. Thus she agrees that, if the father wishes the children to attend a Catholic school and to attend Catholic Church, she will allow them to do so. She states that she tries to help her children with their lessons in all but their religious subjects. Yet she feels she has the right to express to the children her feelings, as a Jehovah's Witness, that the Catholic religion 'is not based on the Bible'.
She admits taking the children at times to Kingdom Hall, the headquarters and meeting room of Jehovah's Witnesses, once in spite of the court's oral admonition not to do so.

"It is also true that when the court, in chambers, discussed the situation with the oldest child, aged 9, in the presence of counsel for both parties, he indicated he wishes to be brought up as a Catholic and that he was somewhat confused by the fact that his mother practiced another religion. I do not feel, however, that this is all-controlling in view of the age of the boy and in view of the boy's statement that he and his father had discussed the expected interview with me. (He did say he had been told to tell the truth). ...
 
"There is no question that the mother had the right to change her religion and to practice her religion. Nor is there any question that Jehovah's Witnesses have a moral and legal right to bear children and to raise them in the precepts of their religion. Those who are not Jehovah's Witnesses will, of course, not agree with their beliefs and practices. They may be appalled, as is the father in this case, by their attitudes toward such matters as refusing to salute the flag, to hold public office, to serve in the armed forces or even to permit blood transfusion. But no one would suggest that where the spouses are both Jehovah's Witnesses that they should be denied the right to bring up their children as Jehovah's Witnesses, even if their beliefs are distasteful to us. Thus, a mother's being a Jehovah's Witness is no bar, in and of itself, to having custody of her children. And in this case, there is no evidence to suggest her unfitness as a mother.

"The question does arise about the effect upon the children of the conflict presented by their continuing to attend Catholic school and being brought up as Catholics in spite of the mother's difference in religion. The general rule is that the parent having custody will, absent special circumstances, be allowed to raise the children in his or her own religion. In this case the mother has agreed that the children may continue to attend Catholic school and may go to Catholic Church. There are many instances of intermarriage in which the children are brought up in a faith other than that of one of the parents, in which the relationship remains a good, healthy one. This is dependent largely upon the willingness and understanding of each parent to respect the right of the other parent to be what he or she wishes to be. It is helpful if the child is taught to respect the religious difference of the other parent and to recognize that, regardless of differences, there may be good in the heart and soul and deeds of those who believe differently than we do. This is particularly so where it is one's mother or father whose faith is different, as is her or his right in our democratic way of life.

"This does not imply that we do not recognize the inherent difficulties in a situation such as this. It will not be easy for the children to reconcile the teachings of the Catholic Church with the attitude of their mother. The mother should try to understand that this is so and should attempt to treat with respect the religious differences of the father and her children, especially since she agrees that the father has the right to determine the nature of their schooling.

"Yet I feel that the choice must be in favor of allowing the children to remain with their mother. The alternative of having them live with their father's brother and sister-in-law, the very same people who initiated the eviction action against the mother, is not a good one. Nor is there any other better plan available. ...
 
"Custody is awarded to the mother under the following conditions, violation of any one of which may be a basis for reconsideration of this determination:
 
"(1) The father may visit with children on Sundays from 8:30 A.M. to 12 noon, for the purpose of taking them to Catholic Church.

"(2) The father may visit with the children, in or out of the mother's home, on Saturdays from 9:00 A.M. to 1:00 P.M.

"(3) The father may take the children of school age to Catholic school every morning and he shall return them to the mother's home directly after school.

"(4) The mother shall not take the children to any headquarters or meeting hall of Jehovah's Witnesses nor shall she instruct them in any teachings of Jehovah's Witnesses.

"Mutual order of protection for one year to incorporate above conditions.

"Referred to Probation Department to discuss with the parents the possible referral for counselling around the above problems in relation to the attitudes of the parents and for any help which the children may need.
If this decision was not appealed, it likely was not due to any lack of effort on the part of the WatchTower Society's Legal Department.
 
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HAGEN v. FLOYD was a 1966 New York court decision. Robert Hagen and Shirley Hagen Floyd (Mrs John H. Floyd) were a divorced couple who were the parents of Laurinda Hagen, who was born in 1958. Robert Hagen was a Methodist, and 8 year-old Laurinda Hagen wanted to spend Christmas Day with her father, since her mother, Shirley Floyd, who had primary custody, had converted to the Jehovah's Witnesses, and did not celebrate the holiday. Both parents had re-married, and Robert Hagen's visitation was on Saturdays only. Shirley Floyd refused the requests of both Robert and Laurinda, because she said that celebrating Xmas was against her own WatchTower beliefs. Robert sought and received a court order which permitted Laurinda to spend only Xmas afternoon with Robert's family.
 
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REAGAN v. REAGAN was a 1966 Georgia Supreme Court decision, which involved William Alfred Reagan and Esther Naoma Reagan, and their multi-years long divorce battle. This was the parties' third trip before the Georgia Supreme Court, and the court ruled in the JW wife's favor:
 
(1.) There was sufficient evidence to support the verdict and judgment granting the wife a divorce and alimony.
 
(2.) The trial court did not err in admitting the testimony of the wife that she intended to leave all her property to her children upon her death since it tended to refute certain testimony by the husband, appellant, and was relevant to the issues of the case., stating in part:
The appellant, William Alfred Reagan, filed a petition for divorce against his wife, Ester Naoma Reagan, in October, 1963, alleging as ground for divorce that she had wilfully deserted him in December, 1960, and has continued such desertion since that time. The defendant wife, appellee here, filed an answer and cross action which, as amended, denied the desertion of appellant by her and alleged wilful desertion of her on the part of appellant since January, 1961, and prayed for alimony and for a divorce. This action has been tried once before and this is the third appearance of this case before this court. On the first trial the jury returned a verdict granting both parties a divorce and awarding alimony to Mrs. Reagan. In Reagan v. Reagan [1] ... this court held that such verdict was inconsistent in view of the pleadings and evidence and ordered a retrial of the case. In Reagan v. Reagan [2] ... this court held that the new trial previously ordered by the court rendered defendant's motion for judgment notwithstanding the verdict a nullity and ordered the court to dismiss the motion.
 
On the retrial of the case, the jury returned a verdict in favor of the appellee for divorce and awarded her alimony. The trial court entered judgment and decree on the verdict and also awarded appellee $750 as attorney's fees. The appeal is from that judgment on assignments of error stated hereafter. ... ...
 
We hold that there was evidence to support the verdict in favor of the wife on the question of desertion by her husband. It appears from the evidence that a controversy over religion between the parties had led to their separation. The wife had become a follower of a religious group known as the Jehovah's Witnesses. Her husband had long been a member of the Methodist Church in Rome, Ga. The wife testified as to the events immediately preceding the alleged abandonment and desertion of her by the appellant as follows: "Well, we had a wonderful dinner. He had gone to the Methodist Church, and our meetings are in the afternoon; and I had dinner ready for him when he came in, and we ate dinner. And I always study my Bible before I go to church, to the meetings. And he was playing solitaire in the living room, and I went in there and took my Bible down, and he began, 'Why are you reading that stuff,' and so on, and 'You are going crazy.' And finally he got so mad, he said if I ever went again that he would be gone when I got home. So I calmly said, 'Well I'm going this afternoon.' So when I got home he was gone, and has been gone ever since." She testified that he left on a Sunday late in January of 1961; that appellant moved back in to the upstairs apartment in their house after about three months; that during this time he did not communicate with her or make an attempt at reconciliation but that be came and got his clothes from her on two occasions. She further testified that she left the home of the parties on November 13, 1961 to take a job helping an elderly woman in her home with the intention of staying there only until Christmas, but that she has remained at this job ever since and appellant rented the apartment she had vacated after she left. She testified and appellant confirmed the fact that she had left a considerable amount of her clothes and personal items in the apartment which was rented to others by her husband with these clothes and items still there as she had left them.
 
The husband testified that he had left Mrs. Reagan and stayed in a hotel for about six to eight weeks "Because I was about to go crazy. She was running me crazy talking about that Jehovah thing to me all night long. I couldn't sleep--I couldn't sleep, and I had to get somewhere where I could rest a little, so I could work." He stated that he had never left her with the intention of staying away forever. It appeared that when he moved back home into the upstairs apartment, Mrs. Reagan had the key to the downstairs apartment where she was staying and kept it locked most of the time. There was further testimony by him to the effect that he tried to effect a reconciliation and get Mrs. Reagan to come back to him. This was contradicted by Mrs. Reagan and by testimony of a married daughter of the parties, Mrs. Buck Ransom. Another married daughter, Mrs. Tom Sumerour, testified that Mr. Reagan had never asked her for Mrs. Reagan's address and this directly refuted the testimony of the appellant.
 
In conclusion, there is evidence which, although in conflict in some particulars, is sufficient to support the verdict in favor of the wife. The jury was authorized under the evidence to find that appellant left Mrs. Reagan, that he intended to desert her, that he acted without justification and that cohabitation was not resumed and that the desertion continued for a period of at least one year. Furthermore, even if the jury believed that appellant had offered to resume marital relations and that appellee had refused to do so, the verdict would be proper under the ruling in Born v. Born, ... that "the questions of good faith on the part of the husband in making the offer and whether the refusal of the wife to resume marital relations was justified or not under the circumstances and the period of time when the desertion began, are all for the determination of the jury and cannot be resolved on demurrer."
 
2. The second assignment of error is upon the admission by the court, over the objection of the appellant, of the testimony of the wife that she had a will leaving all she had to her children, and that it was her intention on her death to leave what she had to her children. It appears that the court sustained appellant's objection to the wife's reference to her will on the ground that the will itself was the highest and best evidence of its contents, but permitted her to testify as to what her intention was with reference to disposing of her property upon her death. She then testified that she intended to leave it to her children. The husband had testified earlier to the effect that she had asked him and tried to persuade him to make a will leaving their house to the Jehovah's Witnesses. The court did not err in admitting the testimony of the appellee since it was relevant to the question as to what disposition appellee would want Mr. Reagan to make of his property at his death and would tend to rebut his testimony that she tried to influence him to give the home to the Jehovah's Witnesses. This question would bear not only upon the credibility of appellant but upon the broader issue of the degree of his wife's involvement with the Jehovah's Witnesses. Such involvement, depending upon its degree, would bear upon the question whether the husband was justified in leaving her when he did and whether she would be justified in refusing to resume marital relations with him, if it is believed that he had tried to get them back together. Thus, its relevancy bears directly upon the main issues of the case and the testimony of appellee was properly admitted.
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JOHNSON v. JOHNSON was a 1966 Washington D.C. divorce case. In August 1966, Helen M. Johnson filed for divorce from Carl D. Johnson Jr. Helen Johnson alleged that, subsequent to the marriage her husband joined the Jehovah's Witnesses and thereafter unsuccessfully tried to convert her and the couple's three children -- two sons and a daughter -- to the WatchTower Cult. Helen Johnson alleged that when the couple's oldest son refused to become a Jehovah's Witness, Carl Johnson beat him until he moved out. Carl Johnson allegedly then abused their second son because he too refused to be a Jehovah's Witness. Helen Johnson thereafter sued for divorce on the grounds of cruelty. Carl Johnson denied and contested his wife's allegations. Outcome unknown.
 
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HOPPES v. HOPPES was a 1965 Ohio appellate court decision. Famous WatchTower attorney Victor F. Schmidt represented the defendant Wendell N. Hoppes. In 1963, Lola B. Hoppes filed a divorce action against her husband, Wendell N. Hoppes, alleging that his constant preaching and obsession with his new Jehovah's Witnesses religion constituted "extreme cruelty", and that such had resulted in the marital bonds being broken. After hearings in October and November 1963, the trial court granted the divorce on grounds of "extreme cruelty" in January 1964.  Custody the the couple's four children was granted to Lola Hoppes, with Wendell Hoppes receiving rights of visitation. The trial court's decision was affirmed by the Ohio Court of Appeals in February 1965.
 
Wendell and Lola Hoppes lived on a 525 acre farm in Fayette County, Ohio.  They had four children.  The family had a good relationship with relatives on both sides of the family.  However, at some point, Wendell Hoppes became interested in the Jehovah's Witnesses, and subsequently became an obsessed member of such.  At trial, Wendell Hoppes not only was represented by one of the WatchTower Society's more prominent attorneys, Victor Schmidt, but Anthony Belegante, a Circuit Servant (District Sales Manager) of the WatchTower Society also testified in Hoppes behalf.
 
Interestingly, at trial, Wendell Hoppes own father, brother, and sister provided much of the testimony which substantiated Lola Hoppes allegations. S.W. Hoppes, father of the defendant, testified that when his son and Lola Hoppes were separated, the son, for a short time, made his home with his father, but that the father ordered his son from his home, because Wendell talked constantly about Jehovah's Witnesses beliefs, and the father did not want his home to be "Jehovah's Witnesses Headquarters".  The father also testified that Lola once came to his home crying, and stayed there all one day, because of the trouble in their home.
 
Wilbur Hoppes testified that his brother, Wendell, was engrossed in the Jehovah's Wtinesses to the extent that it was "number one before family or anything else".  Wilbur stated that his brother offered WatchTower literature to him, but he refused to accept such.  Wilbur also testified that Lola was "a little edgy" the last few months. Mrs. Winifred Dellinger, Wendell's sister, testified that Wendell had talked to her three or four times about Jehovah's Witnesses in the past ten months or so, and that he would be reading WatchTower literature when she visited in his home.  She testified that when she and her husband told Wendell that they would not accept his religion that Wendell had become aggravated about it a couple of times.  She also testified that Lola was was unhappy, nervous, and upset.
 
Lola Hoppes' sister, Julia Wilson, testified that when she and her husband visited the Hoppes in their home, the defendant would lecture and read to them Jehovah's Witnesses materials.  When Wendell and Lola came to visit them in their home at Columbus, that she told him to leave and not come back, "if that's all he could talk about", and that he left and had not come back since.  Even on the telephone, long distance, Wendell started preaching to her.  As a consequence, her sister was sad, upset and on occasion would cry because her husband would lecture to her all the time.  On some of the Wednesday nights that Wendell would spend studying with a Jehovah's Witnesses preacher in their home, Lola would go to her sister's home in Columbus to get away from them. Lola Hoppes testified that:
 
1. That the defendant tried to force his religion on plaintiff and the children.  That the defendant spent "all his spare time" in the home reading Jehovah's Witnesses' literature and lecturing to the plaintiff and their children as to its merits. That even when she asked her husband to refrain from reading and lecturing to the plaintiff he would continue anyway.

2. That the children would have to go to their rooms because they couldn't concentrate upon their school studies while defendant would read and lecture to them and their mother. That the husband's teaching to the children Jehovah's Witnesses' beliefs regarding not voting and not saluting the flag created dissension between him and his wife.

3. That defendant, many times, called plaintiff, and anyone not a member of his church, hypocrites. That the defendant would leave company who were visiting in the home to attend his church meetings.  That his actions brought about by his beliefs affected their social life so that their friends and family didn't "come around very often."

4. That because of the persistence of the actions of her husband she became very nervous and upset and she maintained that
it "made her life unbearable" and that "he ceased to be a companion" to her.

5. That the defendant told the plaintiff if he could come back he would give her and the children one night a week or one Sunday a month, otherwise the rest of his spare time was to be used in the work of Jehovah's Witnesses.

Even Anthony Belegante, a witness for the defendant and a Special Representative of the Watchtower Society, Circuit Servant, when questioned as to how far a mate should go in trying to win his spouse to his belief in Jehovah's Witnesses, testified that by continually talking to people who were vehemently opposed to their beliefs, they eventually "wear them down to the point where they would appreciate the things that were being spoken of."
 
In granting Lola Hoppes petition for divorce, on the ground of "extreme cruelty", the court stated, in part:
"... the court thus finds sufficient evidence to substantiate plaintiff's grounds for extreme cruelty and hereby grants to the plaintiff a divorce. ... ...
 
"... it appears to this court from a careful analysis of the testimony elicited from the witnesses testifying in this case that even though the defendant's motives may have been good, nevertheless if his conduct destroys 'the legitimate ends and objects of matrimony', then his actions have constituted extreme cruelty. ... ...
 
"The court further finds, that because of the tender age of the children and because there is no testimony to controvert the fact that the plaintiff is a fit, proper and suitable person to have custody and control of the said children, that the plaintiff is therefore awarded exclusive custody and control of the children of said parties until further order of the court.

"The court also feels that there should be reasonable visitation rights on the part of the defendant to see his children at such times as are mutually agreed between the parties."

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DOROTHY M. SCOTT v. DONALD L. SCOTT. In 1963, 27 year-old Dorothy Scott, of Maryland, filed for legal separation from her 32 year-old husband, Don L. Scott. Dorothy gave as her basis the facts that Don Scott had converted to the Jehovah's Witnesses, and was now forcing her to attend his local Kingdom Hall, and Donald Scott was prohibiting her from having their 4 year-old daughter inoculated. Don Scott was also indoctrinating the daughter with WatchTower Cult beliefs and practices. Outcome unknown.

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ESPOSITO v. ESPOSITO was a 1963 New Jersey Supreme Court decision. Limited details.  Famous WatchTower attorney, and onetime WatchTower Vice President, Hayden C. Covington co-represented Mary Esposito. Dominick Esposito and Mary Esposito were married in 1953. Dominick Esposito was a nominal Catholic, and Mary Esposito was an occasionally observant Protestant.  In September 1960, Mary Esposito joined the Jehovah's Witnesses. Thereafter, serious marital discord arose turning mostly on Dominick Esposito's objections to his wife's new religious affiliation, and her training of their infant son as a Jehovah's Witness. The son was born in 1956, and had been baptized in the husband's Catholic Church. At some unidentified point in 1961, the couple divorced, although they both continued to live in the same apartment.  In October 1961, Dominick Esposito petitioned for sole custody of the child. In October 1962, an order of joint custody was entered.
 
On November 16, 1962, Dominick Esposito filed an appeal. On November 20, 1962, a further order was entered which provided that the child was to spend each weekday evening with his father, and all day Saturday. It provided further that "on Sunday the child may attend church services with his father, if the child so desires." Mary Esposito appealed the both orders, and particularly had a problem with the provision allowing the father to take the son to Catholic Church on Sunday.  Covington evidently advised Mary Esposito to move out of the apartment she shared with her former husband, and to pursue sole custody, which would give her the authority to control the son's religious upbringing.  The appellate decision essentially put things on hold pending future legalities.

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HAM v. CAVETTE was a 1962 Texas appellate court decision. Claudie A. Ham and Karlita Cavette Ham were married in June 1951, and divorced in July 1957.  Custody of their two children, Kathy, who was born November in 1953, and Claudie Allin, Jr., who was born in 1954, was awarded to Karlita Ham.  Karlita Ham died in March 1958. In April 1958, Claudie A. Ham, who had remarried, petitioned the court for custody of his two children. The hearing was held in June 1958.

Ham admitted at the trial that prior to being divorced by Karlita, he lived a wild and dissolute life, associating with gamblers and prostitutes, entertaining in night clubs and beer joints in many places, and working only periodically without any steady employment for any length of time, except for several years as an entertainer at the Imperial Club in Galveston.  Appellant admitted that he had been arrested on certain charges involving morals but had not been prosecuted or convicted.  He admitted other derelictions and improper conduct.
 
However, Ham asserted that a week before the trial he had been converted to the Jehovah's Witnesses.  ham claimed that the Jehovah's Witnesses would not permit him to return to the entertainment field.  Ham stated that although he had previously believed what the WatchTower Society taught, it was only a week before the trial that he had been baptized, and had changed his manner of life.  He no longer gambled, smoked or drank.
 
In December 1958, the court awarded temporary custody of Ham's two children to Karlita's mother and step-father, Ernest E. Cavette and Elizabeth Cavette, who had had custody of the children since Karlita died, and who had cared for the children for much of the time prior to Karlita's death. In December 1959, Claudie Ham again petitioned for custody, but in August 1961, judgment was entered giving custody of the children to the Cavettes.  Claudie Ham appealed.
 
The December 1958 order permitted Ham to visit the children each Sunday afternoon. There was testimony to the effect that when the children returned from such visits with their father, they were highly nervous and upset, had nightmares and frequently vomited.  The testimony also indicates that the children did not want to go with their father and preferred staying home with the Cavettes.  Although both Cavettes were employed, they had a maid to look after the children when both were at work.  The children had been baptized in the Catholic church in accordance with the desire of their mother expressed shortly before her death, and at the time of the trial Kathy was in the first grade and Claudie in kindergarten at Sacred Heart School. The Cavettes denied that they were doing anything to alienate the affections of the children for their father, although Mrs. Cavette admitted that at one time she had told the children that their mother's death was caused from the treatment their father gave her.

Two employees from the State Department of Public Welfare had testified in 1958 to the effect that the children were not ready for the gruesome WatchTower Society explanations of life apparently expounded by their father during the times that he had them with him.  They recommended  that the children be left with the Cavettes, with the right of reasonable and controlled visitation by the father in the Cavette's home, at least until the end of the school term and then that they by permitted to spend the summer with their father with the Cavette's having the right to see them.

There was much testimony to the effect that the Cavettes were suitable and proper persons to have custody of the children; that they were financially capable of taking care of them and rearing them in a proper manner, and that their home was a suitable one in which to rear such children.  There was also much testimony to the effect that the visitations of the children with their father resulted in their becoming highly nervous and manifesting ill effects, and that the father possessed no financial security.

On appeal, it was Ham's contention that since the trial court did not expressly find that he was an unfit person to have the custody and control of said children, he was entitled to their custody as a matter of law since he was their father and natural guardian. 
 
The appellate court affirmed the trial court decision that it was in the best interest of Ham's two children that their custody be continued and vested in the Cavettes, stating in part:  "Since no express findings and conclusions of law were filed by the [trial] court, we are required to review the evidence in the light most favorable to appellees, the prevailing parties. ...  In so doing we have concluded that there is in the record evidence sufficient to rebut such presumption and to support the court's findings expressed in his decree that it is in the best interest of said minors that their custody be continued and vested in appellees and not in appellant."

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SMITH v. SMITH was a 1961 Supreme Court of Arizona decision. In September 1957, Betty Jean Smith was granted a divorce from John Paul Smith after she converted to the Jehovah's Witnesses. Custody of their child, Mark Smith, was granted to Betty Jean Smith, with reasonable visitation rights given to John Smith.  Mark, then six years old, was enrolled in the first grade in the public schools in Phoenix, Arizona.

In August 1958, just prior to the start of the child's second year in school, John Paul Smith petitioned the superior court for a change of custody, alleging that the child was not receiving proper care, teaching and education. Following a hearing, which focused on Mark Smith being forbidden by Betty Smith to salute the American Flag, reciting the Pledge of Allegiance, and participating in school holiday festivities, an order was entered switching custody from Betty Jean Smith to John Paul Smith. The Superior Court record stated, in part:

"... I think I must recognize that any deviation from the normal school routine brings a certain amount of ridicule and criticism to the child which is, of course, the basis of implanting neuroses in the child. ...

"... unless the court is satisfied that Mrs. Smith is willing to forego those beliefs as far as her child is concerned, I certainly feel that there is some justification for a change of custody in this case. ...

"It is the judgment of the court Mrs. Smith that your attitude in that respect tends to bring ridicule upon your son. It tends to implant into his mind intolerance for his father's beliefs; and as long as that attitude prevails, I feel in all fairness you are not a fit and proper person to have his care and custody. ...
"You don't love him enough Mrs. Smith - although the court has repeatedly put this question to you - to forego your religious beliefs to the extent of letting him acquire some of the religious beliefs and the normal activities that children enjoy and participate in in the public schools."
Betty Jean Smith appealed. The Arizona Supreme Court reversed the trial court's decision in amateurish reasoning that was long on Betty Smith's constitutional right to freedom of religion and nearly devoid of reasoning as to what was in the best interests of the child.
 
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FRANTZEN v. FRANTZEN was a 1961 Texas appellate court decision, which involved Reinhardt L. Frantzen and Betti Rose Frantzen. The Frantzens were married in 1953, and two sons were born in 1955 and 1957.  Until "the development of the controversy culminating in this suit, they lived in harmony and worked enthusiastically in their determination to provide security for the family and most especially to give the boys such education and training advantages as were calculated to develop them as moral, substantial and patriotic citizens. Accordingly, both parties joined the same Church, the Junior Chamber of Commerce, participated in political affairs, [Betti Rose Frantzen] becoming the Woman Chairman of the Women's County Republican Organization, and [Reinhardt L. Frantzen ] -- especially with a view of impressing the sons with the importance of the organization -- became a Boy Scout Leader. Thus, by both precept and example, the parties were engaged in doing their utmost to encourage the children to become intelligent, patriotic citizens, taking part in the affairs of Government and ever ready to defend the Nation from attack by those who would destroy it from within or without. ..."

"The first challenge to the aspirations of the family presented itself to [Reinhardt L. Frantzen] on a night in April, 1958, when upon his return from a Scout Meeting, he found [Betti Rose Frantzen] in company with--apparently engaged in a conference, known as a 'Study Session' -- with three members of the local Jehovah Witness Organization. As soon as the parties to the cause were alone, [Reinhardt L. Frantzen] expressed his apprehension to [Betti Rose Frantzen] and requested her to desist in further studying with the group. [Betti Rose Frantzen] refused, claiming [Reinhardt L. Frantzen's] apprehension unfounded and insisted that [Reinhardt L. Frantzen] meet with [Betti Rose Frantzen] and the local Jehovah Witness leader -- 'Pioneer' --so as to become informed of the true purposes of the Jehovah Witnesses. ... In this meeting, the [Reinhardt L. Frantzen] was informed by the Pioneer, Jehovah Witnesses believe and advocate that: (a) 'All world governments are ruled by the devil', (b) for such reason Jehovah Witnesses refuse to take part in any governmental activities such as voting, offering for public office, service on juries, refuse to salute the Flag and to pledge allegiance to any Nation; ... ."  Reinhardt L. Frantzen filed for divorce and custody of his two boys in January 1959. His case was dismissed in January 1961. Outcome of appeal unknown.

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In 1965, Leo Gerhardt, age 48, of Albuquerque, New Mexico, made the national news when he began to protest at the Albuquerque Kingdom Hall of Jehovah's Witnesses attended by his wife and children. Leo Gerhardt, a military veteran and member of the Naval Reserve, was upset about the WatchTower Cult beliefs and practices with which his children were being indoctrinated. Gerhardt installed a sign on his truck which said, "Jehovah's Witnesses are un-American. They teach draft dodging. They don't salute he flag. They don't vote -- but many are on welfare." Gerhardt was also marching in front of the Kingdom Hall with a sign that stated, "I want a Wife not a preacher in my home." and "Don't send your boys to prison." Gerhardt was particularly concerned that his 15 year-old son would choose to go to prison rather than even perform non-combatant service in the military when he became an adult.

Gerhard's wife embarrassingly told a reporter that, "I understand my husband. He is a Navy man. If he wants to picket, that's his business. I still love him." The Congregation Servant told reporters that Gerhardt "had an 'obsession' against the Jehovah's Witnessess' teachings."

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