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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.
CALVIN DODD v. PATRICIA DODD was a 1989-90 Florida divorce/custody case in which the WatchTower Society sent one of their own attorneys, Carolyn Wah, to the rescue -- unsuccessfully. Significantly, this LOSS was apparently not appealed because it bucked the recent trend of custody cases that were ignoring the plethora of harm caused to children by WatchTower beliefs and practices, and WatchTower Legal did not want to take a chance of setting precedent for future custody cases, plus WatchTower Legal no doubt hoped that this case would soon be long forgotten. It almost was, until now!!!
Calvin Dodd and Patricia Ogden were married in 1985, in Texas. A son, named Alexander George Dodd, was born in March 1988. The Dodds were a happy family until around the time of Patricia's pregnancy. After relocating to Florida, one of Calvin Dodd's Jehovah's Witness female co-workers began to talk to Patricia Dodd about her WatchTower religion. Being a non-practicing Lutheran, Calvin Dodd saw little harm in his non-practicing Catholic wife converting to the JWs, which occurred in mid-1988. However, in early 1989, Calvin Dodd discovered the WatchTower Society's NO BLOOD card in his wife's purse. It was then that Calvin Dodd learned that his wife had pledged to be a potential martyr for the WatchTower Cult, plus his own wife would not provide consent if he or his son needed a life-saving blood transfusion. After it was too late, Calvin Dodd also learned a lot more of the WatchTower Cult's beliefs and practices. Patricia Dodd attended WatchTower meetings on three days of the week, and went door-to-door preaching on the weekends. The Dodd's happy marriage was over, and Calvin Dodd filed for divorce and custody of his son in March 1989.
Patricia Dodd's own Catholic parents, Robert Ogden and Muriel Ogden, who lived in Colorado, advocated that the custody of their grandson, Alexander Dodd, go to their son-in-law, Calvin Dodd. The Ogdens testified that they wanted their grandson to have a "normal" childhood, rather than be reared according to WatchTower beliefs and practices. The Ogdens testified that their own daughter had isolated herself from them as soon as she had joined the WatchTower Cult. Patricia Ogden stopped sending her parents cards and gifts. Her letters were filled with JW malarky. Then, in December 1989, Patricia, who then had temporary custody of Alex Dodd, refused to send Alex to spend the holidays with them. Patricia's own parents were forced to obtain a court order to see their grandson.
Florida law constrained the trial judge from considering Patricia's WatchTower religion unless it presented a CLEAR AND PRESENT DANGER to the child. Only evidence relating to how WatchTower beliefs and practices were impacting how Alex was being reared, and would be reared in the future was allowed.
At trial, Calvin Dodd's attorney did not back away from "religion". Dodd told the court up front that most of his reasons for wanting his son to live with him related to his son's religious upbringing. The ex-wife's views against blood transfusions, against college education, against socializing with non-Jehovah`s Witnesses, and against celebrating holidays and birthdays were tackled head-on.
The judge did a nice job of making an appeal-proof decision.Calvin Dodd was granted primary custody, while Patricia was granted visitation on alternate weekends and on one weekday night of one of her WatchTower meetings, which would allow her to at least expose her son to her Cult's teachings. The judge stated, in part:
The husband is the parent who is more likely to provide for the child a continuously satisfactory and stable family environment in the future, ... . While the wife has estranged herself from both the husband`s family and her own, the husband has maintained close ties with all of them. The wife has not even seen her parents in several years, and were it not for a visit arranged and made available by the husband, the maternal grandparents would not, to this day, have seen their grandchild.
Recall that Carolyn Wah was co-counsel for Patricia Dodd, and no doubt prepped Patricia for cross-exam. Calvin Dodd's attorney told the courtroom that Patricia's testimony had more "waffles" than a Kiwanis breakfast. Sounding like Monica Harrison in the TAUHEED v. HARRISON case 20 years later, Patricia Dodd gave such prepped answers as that "she was not opposed to Alex being exposed to her ex-husband's religious beliefs", and regarding this and that, that "she would discuss such with Calvin", or "allow Alex to decide". Anyone familiar with JWs (and that excludes the 2011 Kansas Supreme Court) knows that such answers are total bunk, no matter which JW mouth they came out of.
When asked if she would provide consent if Alex needed a blood transfusion to save his life, Patricia Dodd testified that she would not consent to a blood transfusion for her son, but gave the scripted answer: "My consent is not necessary. All a doctor needs is one parent's consent. His father can do that." The Florida trial judge was intelligent enough to understand that this would cost the child his life in an emergency situation. (The 2011 Kansas Supreme Court justices could not foresee such.)
When asked if she would help Alex learn the Pledge of Allegiance, she also gave the prepped reply: "I would teach him to honor the law, the government, whoever president is in office at the time, but, no, I would not help him, because I feel that as a citizen, I have that right."
When asked if she would celebrate Alex's birthdays, Patrica Dodd said that she would not, because celebrating birthdays were a form of idol worship. She also said that she would not celebrate Thanksgiving and other holidays. College education was unnecessary because Armageddon was going to occur any day now.
Interestingly, at the first temporary custody hearing which had been held in January 1990, and at which she won, Patricia Dodd and her attorney both told that judge that she would consent to needed blood transfusions for Alex.
"Living in this society, [Rebecca] needs to adapt herself to the mainstream of culture. She is growing up, and it is not a country of Jehovah's Witnesses. If the majority of the country were Jehovah's Witnesses, we would not have any problem, except for physically, but, as far as -- I am not making the statement because she is a Jehovah's Witness per se -- but the philosophy of practicing the [WatchTower] religion does not allow Rebecca to benefit and be safeguarded in living in this culture. I believe that being raised a Jehovah's Witness would not be in the best interest of the child, given the fact that the principles, the way I understand them, do not fit in the Western way of life in this society. ... Not that I am making which one is better, but living in the Western society, the part and parcel of the emotional health is the ability of the individual to adapt to a particular culture. ... Bringing her up Catholic would allow her to adapt to our society and have the freedom that Catholic children have in the society, rather than take the chance and possibility and create a definite [problem] in raising her as a Jehovah's Witness. ... The point I am making is that my recommendation, they can bring her up nonreligiously, but, where it comes to being raised as a Jehovah's Witness, I can see that becoming a block for her healthy development and healthy adaptation to this culture."
"The record in this case does not support [Rita Mendez's] contention that the trial court made the father the primary residential parent of the parties' minor child solely because the mother is a practicing Jehovah's Witness. Instead, the record reflects that the trial court, after considering the testimony of numerous experts, the parties and their relatives and friends, and guardian ad litem appointed to represent the minor, considered, as it had a right to do, ... the effect on the child caused by the conflicting religious beliefs of the parents and, in ruling, conscientiously avoided any interference with the right of the non-custodial parent to practice her religion and avoided the imposition on her of an obligation to enforce the religious beliefs of the father. Although the evidence is in conflict on the issue of whether the best interests of the child would be better served with the father or with the mother as primary residential parent, there is more than ample competent evidence to support the decision of the trial court in placing that responsibility upon the father and giving extensive visitation rights to the mother."
"... All three of the expert witnesses, two psychologists and one psychiatrist, concluded that the child belongs with the mother; ... The court-appointed guardian ad litem shared the experts' views and was of the opinion that the child would be devastated if she were compelled to cease living with her mother.
"The experts agreed, however, that contact with the mother's Jehovah's Witness religion is not in the best interest of the child, who needs 'to adapt herself to the mainstream of culture.' They stated that a Catholic upbringing 'would allow her to adapt to society and have the freedom that Catholic children have in the society ... .' In response, the mother testified that she would comply with a court order permitting the father to make all decisions regarding the child's religious education and medical welfare; she merely wished to read bible stories to her daughter and to explain her own beliefs when the child was mature enough to understand them. She testified:'I know my husband does not agree with all of these things and, of course, my daughter can do a lot of things I would not do; but, that does not mean she cannot do them. She can do them, if my husband allows her to do those things, like saluting the flag and all of those things. My husband allows her and she can do it, but I would explain to her the reason why I don't do it, when she is old enough to understand. I would not want to confuse her or anything like that."Nevertheless, with neither a finding that the best interests of the child require such a result, nor an explanation for rejecting the favored parent, the court ruled the father primary residential parent and precluded the mother from exposing the child to any religious practices, teachings, or events in any way inconsistent with the Catholic religion."My finding that the trial court abused its discretion is based on a review of the record and its disclosure that the child, exposed to the religious views of both parents for two years, showed no evidence of emotional or psychological harm. What does emerge from the record is a demonstration of the experts' personal biases against the mother's religion. Their disdain for the mother's religion induced them to speculate as to the possibility of harm to the child in the future even though no evidence of harm existed. The trial court was obviously persuaded by their less-than-objective considerations for removing the child from the custody of her natural mother, and its judgment should not stand. ... ... ..."Even though Dr. Greenbaum, Dr. Levy, Dr. Greenfield, and the guardian ad litem were all in agreement that the child should be with her mother, the experts advised the trial court to reject the mother as primary custodian and influenced the court to award custody to the father because, in their view, the mother's religion is considered by society as inferior to the father's religion. ... ... ..."No testimony contradicted the unanimous opinions of the doctors that the child should be with her mother, and no evidence demonstrated harm to the child from the parents' conflicting religious views. Thus, it is clear from the record that the mother's religious preference deprived her of her child. ... ... ..."[During the trial], Mrs. Mendez ... complained that the trial court refused to hear testimony about Catholicism and the husband's nonconforming religious practices but entertained testimony critical of the Jehovah's Witness religion. The record demonstrates the trial court's limited focus and makes clear that the trial court decided custody, not on the parents' relative qualifications, but on their religious views.
"If, as Judge Baskin's dissent suggests, the child custody issue in this case was decided on a preference for one religion over another, it is likely that we would all agree that the case would present a question of great public importance or a question of exceptional importance. But the child custody issue was not so decided, and, the rhetoric in the dissent aside, this case involves nothing more than the quite ordinary question of whether the trial court abused its discretion in resolving conflicting testimony unrelated to the religious practices of the parties about how the best interests of the child would be served. .. The record contains evidence, for example, that the child had difficulties beyond normal sibling rivalry with the mother's other child, an older stepbrother who resides with the mother; that the stepbrother may have been physically abusive towards the child; that the paternal grandmother was a good caretaker and the maternal grandmother was not; and that, to the child's detriment, the mother was absent from the house several nights each week [attending Jehovah's Witness meetings].
The WatchTower Society backed legal team UNSUCCESSFULLY attempted to appeal this decision to the Supreme Court of Florida and even the Supreme Court of the United States, which denied cert.
As the Family Court observed, the psychiatrist's report noted that the child was placed under such emotional strain by the parents' conflict, which centers around religion, that it inhibited her ability to talk to either one of them. In addition, the court found the child's telephone call to the psychiatrist made from the father's home, an "unmistakable indication of [the father's] overreaching" which "[took] advantage of her youth and lack of insight, by subjecting her to undue pressure". The record amply supports the court's conclusion that any more participation in the father's religion than that permitted by the order appealed from could lead to strain and conflict and would be harmful to the child. ...
To a great extent the court's findings turned on its assessment of the parties' credibility, with which we should not interfere. The order struck a proper balance between the custodial parent's right to determine the religious training of the child ... and the First Amendment rights of the noncustodial parent. ... Moreover, the order was mindful of the child's wishes and of the value of teaching the child to respect the religion of the noncustodial parent ... .
"J.W.'s petition for modification of custody, brought less than a year had elapsed since the judgment of divorce, is a thinly disguised ploy to obtain leverage with respect to his demands for visitation. Since his petition is utterly lacking in merit it is dismissed."We next turn to a consideration of not only the amount of visitation that should be awarded J.W., but also what restrictions, if any, should be placed upon his ability to expose his daughter to his religion.
"We shall do so by focusing on the following issues: (1) What are the rights and responsibilities of the custodial parent with respect to a child's religious training? (2) To what extent are those rights and responsibilities abridged by a noncustodial parent's First Amendment right to the free exercise of his or her religion when enjoying visitation with his or her child?"The court will attempt to resolve these salutary, and oft-times conflicting objectives in the context of the best interests of the child." ... ..."New York law has consistently held that the custodial parent has the right to determine a child's religious upbringing and training. ... ... ..."The right to free exercise of religion guarantees that a court ill not make, inter alia, a custody decision, based on its view of the respective merits of two religions. It further guarantees that a noncustodial parent's right to practice his or her religion will not be abrogated when the child visits except to the extent necessary to prevent any harm to the child. ... ..."In Matter of Bentley v Bentley ... The Family Court had determined that the custodial parent was the proper regulator of the child's religion, that the court would not generally interfere unless mandated by a clear need to protect a child, that the child's best interest dictated that the child be reared in one religion, and absent agreement that determination must be left to the custodial parent.
"The Appellate Division noted that the Family Court's order prohibiting a Jehovah's Witness father from instructing the child in Jehovah's Witness teaching, and taking him to Jehovah's Witness religious and social activities was proper because there had been demonstrated harm to the child. It noted that it would be improper in the absence of such demonstrated harm.
"The harm found to exist emanated from the children being emotionally strained and torn because of the parties' conflicting religious beliefs, and not from any judicial evaluation of the relative merits of Jehovah's Witness doctrine, and that of the custodial parent's Catholic faith.
"The basis of this decision is grounded not in any assessment of the respective worth of Catholicism vis-a-vis Jehovah's Witness, but because the conflict which arose from differing religious beliefs had an adverse impact on the children, and the court wished to ameliorate it.
"The purpose of the prohibition was to avoid conflict which had rendered the children emotionally strained and torn, and not on any judicial denigration of the validity of Jehovah's Witnesses teachings. The only way that this harmful situation could be obviated was to allow the custodial parent to determine the religious upbringing."Bentley (supra) is the only case in New York which has focused on the interplay of the noncustodial parent's First Amendment rights, and those of the custodial parent to determine the child's religion. It did not involve a separation agreement.
"... both dealt with separation agreements, and held that such agreements were entitled to enforcement by the courts. They further held that if a party wished to avoid or modify such an agreement he or she bore the burden of proving that enforcement would not be in the children's best interests.
"A synthesis of these holdings leads to the conclusion that J.W. has the burden of proving that denying him the right to expose Natalie to Jehovah's Witness training would not be in her best interests.
"That burden falls upon him because of the procedural posture in which the matter comes before this court. J.W. agreed in the stipulation of settlement, incorporated but not merged into the divorce judgment, that S.E.L. would have absolute custody and exclusive supervision, control and care of Natalie. ... ...
"Since J.W. now wishes to abrogate this agreement he bears the burden of showing that enforcing it will not be in Natalie's best interests.
"While the court is sensitive to J.W.'s First Amendment claim, the situation is further complicated because rights of constitutional dimension can be freely waived. When J.W. agreed S.E.L. should have 'exclusive supervision, control and care' of Natalie he waived his right to the 'free exercise' of his religion when Natalie visited with him. He assumed the onus of demonstrating that allowing him to expose Natalie to his religion would not be harmful to her.
"After considering the evidence the court concludes that J.W. will be permitted to take Natalie to Jehovah's Witness services on Sunday but shall not involve her any further except that he may answer casual questions which she might ask him. No other exposure to Jehovah's Witness doctrine and activities will be permitted because it has, and could lead to the kind of strain and conflict enjoined in Bentley v Bentley (supra).
"The conclusion that any more extensive participation would be harmful to Natalie turned almost entirely on an evaluation of the parties' credibility.
"The court finds J.W. less than credible. This conclusion is based on observation of his demeanor, his denial to Dr. Dudley of the violent incidents toward S.E.L. which furnished her grounds for divorce because of his cruel and inhuman treatment, and Dr. Dudley's finding that J.W. was less credible than S.E.L.
"It is highly significant that although J.W. testified that he was amenable to Natalie being exposed to both faiths, Natalie revealed that he told her that he 'doesn't want her studying Catholicism, but wishes her to study what he's studying'.
"Dr. Dudley further noted that Natalie was placed under such strain by her parents' conflict (which centers around religion) that it inhibited her ability to talk to either of them.
"Finally, Dr. Dudley reported that subsequent to their meeting, Natalie called him twice. The first call, made from her mother's home, was for the purpose of reaffirming her position that she wished to study the religions of both her parents.
"The second call was made from J.W.'s home. She stated that she wished to study the Jehovah's Witness religion, and that the only way she could do this would be to move in with her father, and accept their faith.
"I find this an unmistakable indication of J.W.'s overreaching. It reinforced Natalie's interest in the Jehovah's Witness religion by taking advantage of her youth and lack of insight, by subjecting her to undue pressure.
"J.W.'s counsel (Carolyn Wah) has presented a resourceful well-written and comprehensive brief. Its thoroughgoing analysis of First Amendment principles has meager relevance to the factual context of this proceeding. The court has little or no disagreement with the cases cited and the principles expounded; but they are generally inapposite. Although there is an exhaustive analysis of the law of other jurisdictions and Federal law, there is too little reliance on the common law of this State. This court, as a court of original jurisdiction, is bound to follow the precedents of the higher courts of this State. And to the extent that they compel results different than the cases, treatises and articles cited in the petitioner's brief, New York common law will control.
"Moreover, this proceeding involves an existing custody order which was based on the parties' agreement. The original determination in Rockland County Supreme Court was devoid of any consideration of the relative merits of the parties' religions. Nor has that issue been presented, let alone considered, in this forum.
"This decision is based on Natalie's best interests. It would have been the same if J.W. were the custodial parent. His right to bring up Natalie as a Jehovah's Witness would have been honored, and S.E.L. would have shouldered the burden of demonstrating that it would not be harmful to Natalie for her to be exposed to Catholicism. ... ... ...
"The right to free exercise of religion requires that a custody decision will not be made because a court has determined the respective merits of two religions. It further guarantees that no limitation will be placed on a noncustodial parent's right to practice his or her religion when the child visits except to the extent necessary to prevent any harm to the child.
"It is one thing to grant the custodial parent the right to determine Natalie's religion. It is quite another to allow her, in furtherance of that right, to prohibit any exposure to her father's faith."While S.E.L. has the right to determine Natalie's religion, that right does not permit her to enjoin the child from having the limited exposure to her father's religion permitted under this decision.
"Our review of the record reveals support for Family Court's determination that the child's best interest will be served by custody with [Robert Kennedy]. Although [Robert Kennedy] was arrested for drug use several years ago, he received a conditional discharge, successfully participated in drug treatment and is currently drug free. He has participated in the infant's care from her birth and has made plans for her daily care while he is working and her education. He has a stable employment record and is an active minister in the Jehovah's Witnesses. [Robert Kennedy's] mother and sister live near him and indicate a willingness to assist in the infant's care. [Vicki Kennedy], on the other hand, has a criminal record, as do her mother and brothers, whose convictions include drug crimes and burglary. In light of [Vicki Kennedy's] testimony that these relatives would be in close contact with the infant during the formative years, Family Court's reluctance to award custody to her is reasonable.
"Contrary to [Vicki Kennedy's] testimony, [Robert Kennedy] denied harming [Vicki Kennedy's] three-year-old daughter during a spanking and Family Court found [Robert Kennedy's] testimony more credible than that of [Vicki Kennedy]. Thus, this episode does not provide a reason to deny custody to [Robert Kennedy], especially since there is testimony that [Vicki Kennedy] also administered similar spankings to the same child. Also contrary to [Vicki Kennedy's] claim, there is no evidence that the change in custody will disrupt the infant's well-being. [Vicki Kennedy] has no prima facie right to custody as the infant's mother or primary care giver, ... especially since the record makes clear that the parties shared in the primary care of the infant since her birth. Finally, close familial ties with the infant's stepsiblings are provided for in the visitation schedule provided for by Family Court."
DEIERLING v. DEIERLING was a 1988 Iowa appellate court decision. Michael Deierling and Carrie Deierling were married in 1978; divorced in 1980; and remarried in 1981. They have three minor children. In the second divorce, the court ordered joint custody, with Carrie Deierling having physical custody of the children. Michael Deierling was allowed regular visitation, including six weeks continuous visitation in the summer. Michael Deierling appealed the custody award, etc. This appellate court affirmed; stating in part:
"We see no reason to disturb the trial court's custody decision. The record shows Carrie to be a very capable mother. The social workers speak highly of her parenting abilities. She manages money very well. She also has been the children's primary caretaker since their birth.
"Michael argues Carrie's family background is unwholesome and the children would encounter improper role models if left in her custody. We give little credit to this argument. There is no evidence in the record that Carrie is an immoral or unwholesome person. We are confident she will raise her children to be well-adjusted, productive members of society. Furthermore, the children during visitation periods will be able to interact with Michael's family and be introduced to different experiences and role models.
"Michael also contends Carrie is unstable because of her 'sudden conversion' to the Jehovah's Witnesses. The religions of the parties have been a stumbling block in this marriage. Michael is a Quaker and Carrie is a Jehovah's Witness. Michael would have this court believe that the children will be adversely affected because of Carrie's religious beliefs and practices. He claims their cultural and educational development will be hindered.
"An individual has the right to choose his or her own religion, and parents together have the freedom of religious expression and practice which enters into their liberty to manage the familial relationships. ... Courts should not rule on the comparative merits of particular religions. ... A parent should not be denied physical custody simply because he or she holds religious beliefs in opposition to the other parent or the American mainstream. ...
"A child can benefit by being introduced to diverse religious doctrines; but ultimately, the particular religious education and training the child receives will be determined by the parents. This has been a difficult issue for Michael and Carrie. Neither is willing, particularly Michael, to fully accept the other's religious beliefs as the best for their children. Michael and Carrie will have to begin cooperating and allow the children free access to the other's religion.
"We reject Michael's argument that Carrie is unstable because of her 'sudden conversion'. The record reveals Carrie's conversion was not sudden but, in reality, evolved over an eighteen-month period. We do not know of any reason for concluding a 'sudden conversion' is evidence of instability. It would also be improper for us to label Carrie unstable because she has chosen this particular faith.
"Michael also contends the trial court may have considered some gender bias in its decision on physical custody and child support. He points specifically to the following statement: 'The Court does not understand why it is regarded by the males of this world that the spending of 44 percent of the take-home pay of the petitioner for the support of three children and the babysitting services of their mother is unjust or inequitable.'
"This statement is disturbing. Both the Iowa Supreme Court and this court have indicated that gender bias is inappropriate in custody determinations. ...
"Physical custody decisions should be made on the merits of the parental abilities of the respective parents. We conclude that is what the trial court did here. The court, after hearing all the evidence, determined that Carrie showed superior parenting abilities. We agree with this decision after our de novo review of the record."
Q. Now, during Christmas - you don't celebrate Christmas, do you? A. No, sir, I don't.
Q. Why not? A. Christmas comes from Saturnalia which is pagan.
Q. So we can shorten it, then, and say it is pagan ritual? A. If you would like to.
Q. You don't celebrate birthdays, either, do you? A. No.
Q. Why not? A. Because of the ones that have been recorded in the Bible, the birthday of pharaoh and the birthday of Herod, the one who had all the babies killed - Herod had John the Baptist beheaded on his birthday. Pharaoh had his baker hung on his birthday, and being that the only two birthday celebrations are recorded in the Bible and since those birthdays were enjoyed by only pagans, to me and to Jehovah's Witnesses it is evidence that Jehovah God does not approve of birthday celebrations.
Q. So I guess what we could say now is that if Nicholas were to celebrate his birthday with his father, his natural father, Larry, it would be involved in a p[a]gan ritual? Is that a fair statement? A. Its - I guess. I'd say that's fair.
Q. Are you concerned about how these two children might react when you take something that their daddy has given them and throw it away? Does that concern you ma'am? A. If I were to throw something away they would have been given a reason. They know I don't allow military toys in the house.
Q. Why don't you? A. Because it is against scriptural principles.
Q. How about that flag? What if Larry gave them that flag, do you have that in the house, that American flag right behind you? A. I couldn't say. He's never sent them one.
Q. Well let's hypothesize. Could they have that? A. I'd have to give it some serious thought.
Q. I want you to tell this Jury what you have told to 5 and 6 year old children of yours what would happen if they went to live with their daddy. A. That if they went to live with their daddy, he could provide very abundantly in a material way, but as far as spiritual things, there wouldn't be that much. However, if they were to stay with us, and I'm speaking of by choice, if they were to stay with us, then we cannot provide as much as Mr. Rutland can, however, we can provide abundantly in a spiritual way and they stand a good chance of passing through Armageddon and living forever in a paradise.
Q. You're telling your natural children, this man's children, that if they go live with him they are going to go to hell? A. No sir.
Q. Well, what did you just tell this jury what you're telling them then?
A. I said if they go by choice and want to live with a man who does not serve Jehovah, then.
Q. They are going to hell? A. Then Jehovah can hold them accountable.
Q. That's not what you said Mrs. Chaisson. A. That's what I mean, Mr. Irwin.
A. I can recall [putting hot pepper juice on the children's tongues] doing Nicholas one time because he lied and Brian maybe twice, maybe three times. I don't recall.
Q. Now, listen to me very carefully. Have you ever told the children - let's just break it up. Have you ever told the children that you'll put hot peppers on their mouth if they prayed to daddy's God?
A. No, sir. I cannot make my children serve Jehovah.
Q. Are the children allowed to participate in any extra-curricular activities? A. Not at this time.
Q. Why not? A. We devote time to more important things.
Q. I think that's where we left off a moment ago. What is more important? A. Certainly preparing for the meetings we have.
Q. What meetings? A. The meetings at the Kingdom Hall of Jehovah's Witnesses. I'm speaking of spiritual things.
Q. How often do they have to prepare for that? A. We have three meetings, three different times a week, excuse me.
Q. Well, would you let them play in the band?
A. Well, perhaps. If I felt it was not taking away from their school work or spiritual activities.
Q. Well, if they played in the band and it came time to play "God Bless America", would you let them do it?
A. They would be silent.
Q. I'm sorry. They would be what? A. Silent. I have no objections to bands.
Q. What do you mean they would be silent? A. They would not participate in the song.
Q. Why not? A. It is a patriotic song.
Q. What's wrong with that? A. We are not patriotic.
Q. What is the most important thing in your life, Mrs. Chaisson? A. I would say my service to Jehovah.
Q. Even if that is detrimental to your children? A. It is not detrimental.
Q. Well, they know, when the two children receive presents from their father and you're teaching them that if they worship in the way that their father does and if they celebrate Christmas and birthdays and if they're patriotic and all those things that you don't agree with religiously, isn't that teaching the children through their emotions that any relationship they have with their father is a demon-type relationship, and therefore, repulsive?
Q. Have you ever discussed with your children - well, you said yesterday that you had, discussed with your children the saying of prayers when they're with their daddy. You recall us talking about that yesterday, don't you?
A. I don't recall. I'm not sure.
Q. Well, have you discussed with your children the saying of prayers when they're with their father? A. Yes.
Q. Tell the Jury what you said about telling them that? A. Well they - their father does not pray to Jehovah, so pray to -
Q. Who is Jehovah? A. Jehovah is God.
Q. Who are you telling your children when they visit with their daddy who they're praying to, then?
A. The Trinity, that's who they pray to.
Q. And that's - is that repulsive? A. To pray to a false God is repulsive, yes.
Q. So, you teach your children that if they go visit their daddy and pray that something they're doing is repulsive; is that right? A. Not exactly.
Q. Well, what exactly is right?
A. I teach them to pray to Jehovah is what is pleasing to Jehovah. To pray to another God is not pleasing to Jehovah, that they can still pray to Jehovah no matter where they are.
Q. Well, don't you think, Mrs. Chaisson, that when you tell your children these kind of things when they come back from being with their daddy, that that's causing them some emotional turmoil within themselves?
A. I don't believe so.
Q. You don't think so? A. No, sir.
Q. Because you don't think so, Mrs. Chaisson, you're going to continue to teach them just as you have been since your marriage to Mr. Chaisson, aren't you? A. I don't intend to change my teachings about Jehovah.
Q. And how it affects your children and their relationship with their natural father emotionally is of no concern to you, is it?
A. My children's emotional welfare is of concern to me.
A. Well, Mr. Irwin, you're not bringing out the fact that a parent has the responsibility to teach their children the truth, and considering myself Christian, I take seriously that responsibility, so we teach them what the Bible says, that there is only one true God and to worship anyone else would be doing yourself and God a disservice.
So I am one of Jehovah's Witnesses because I believe I have the truth (sic) faith, and to teach someone that it would be okay to engage in things that are unscriptural, I would be a hypocrite and I cannot do that. We encourage the children, you know, to tell your daddy what you've learned, tell him about the paradise after Armageddon, tell him - be obedient to him, that you are required to be obedient to your parents except when they, what - what we require conflicts with God's law if they are obedient to him. They are well-behaved children, they love their daddy, and they know we expect them to behave themselves over there. We expect them to tell the truth no matter what the consequences might be to the best of their ability. We have a very loving environment, but we have not discouraged love for their father. We've not told them, as you have stated on several occasions, we have not told them that to go over to their father's house they would die. (No, but you insinuate such. This testimony probably occurred the second day, and after the first day's testimony, Chaisson has probably been coached by her attorney to do damage control.)
Armageddon does not mean the end of the world, as you have said, and hell is not a burning place of torment, as I am assuming many people believe, so when we speak of hell, when we speak of Armageddon, these aren't frightening things to them. They know that Armageddon is not aimed at those serving Jehovah but those who are wicked, so they know that they are not going to be the object of Jehovah's war if they remain faithful to Jehovah.
But being youngsters, I don't know at what age Jehovah will hold them accountable. It's between them and Jehovah, I cannot force them serve any god. I can just train them with what I know, with the Bible, and with what I have and that's the best that I can do. We teach them that you need to love your father. Perhaps if you would tell your father about paradise, maybe he would understand what it is, you know, that we're teaching, that after Armageddon, it doesn't mean destruction of the earth, it means a paradise of the earth (which to Jehovah's Witnesses means everyone but them was killed by God at Armageddon) according to what the Bible says, so what we're teaching them is not frightening. Instead it is something to look forward to and we put in terms they can understand and no matter how young they are they're not too young to know the difference between right and wrong, the difference in telling the truth and telling an untruth.
Q. Did you talk to the children about Christmas this year? A. Yes, we did.
Q. What did they tell you?
A. We started talking about making a list for Santa Claus and talking about putting up a Christmas tree and things like that, Christmas presents and they just both [5 and 6 years old] looked at me and Nicholas looked at me and said they didn't want any Christmas presents and they didn't want anything to do with a Christmas tree and that they didn't want to celebrate Christmas and -
Q. Did you take them to church Sunday when you had them? A. Yes, we did.
Q. Did you discuss going to church with them? A. I certainly did.
Q. Did they intimate any fears to you, and if so, what were they?
A. They both were very nervous when I was - after I gave them a bath and was putting clothes on them. And it was a look I really - I just had not seen on either of their faces before. They said that mommy had told them that if they go to my church, that they won't survive Armageddon and that, I would go downstairs.
Q. If they [the children] were with you, I suppose you would celebrate Christmas and birthdays and that sort of thing?
A. Yes, sir, I certainly would.
Q. Now, I believe you previously mentioned, your feelings about where you viewpoint on Marianne's religious beliefs.
A. Yes, I have.
Q. And what are those viewpoints again?
A. I don't like it. I'm very unhappy as to what it's doing to my children and the effects it's having on them.
Q. Now, considering emotional blackmail and knowing what is good in your expert opinion for children and so forth which you've been shown to be qualified as being . . . how do you feel about someone who would tell their children that if you go live with your father, you're not going to survive Armageddon and go to paradise, but you've got to come and stay with me in order to go paradise? Do you think that's - A. I think -
Q. Let me finish the question. Do you think that's appropriate behavior for an adult to tell their children?
A. I think if that was their religious views it would be.
Q. You think that's appropriate? A. It wouldn't be my views.
Q. I'm not asking about views, Dr. Price. I'm asking you if you think that's an appropriate behavior?
A. For a person who has a certain belief, yes, I would. For someone who didn't have a certain belief, no. [What a Moron!]
Q. ... on Halloween do y'all have a kind of a - I remember when I was in school we had kind of a Halloween party there in class . . . Do you still do that?
A. We have activities that, you know, we correlate into our class work that are fun activities for them, and then they do have a party on that day itself.Q. I'm just interested in knowing what does Nicholas do during that party, or what did he do?
A. His mother came and picked him up from school.
Q. Took him out of there so he was not allowed to participate in the party? A. Yes, sir.
Q. And also when I was in school we use to have - of course, I don't know if they do this any more or not, but we used to say the pledge of allegiance. Do ya'll do that any more or is that against the law?
A. We do but we do not do it everyday. In our building it does not come up through an intercom system. It's up to each teacher to do it at her discretion.Q. Does Nicholas say the pledge of allegiance? A. No, sir.
Q. Why not? A. As I understand, this is part of their belief that they do not salute the flag.
Q. What does he do? Is that when he just says at his desk?
A. He just stands there by his desk. Generally, when I do it, it would be just before the children got ready to go home and they would have, you know, all of their things ready to go home and we would just stand up and say the pledge just before going home.
Q. Now, Christmas is coming up. Again, when I was in school we had kind of a Christmas party where people exchanged gifts. Do y'all still do that? A. Yes, sir.
Q. ... do you know what's going to happen when that party comes around? A. I can only assume he won't attend.
Q. So he won't receive a gift with the other children? A. No, sir.
Q. ... If Larry were telling your grandchildren that if they went to live with your daughter they would go to hell, how would you feel about that? A. I wouldn't feel very good about that.
Q. Would you think that's a horrible thing to say to your grandchildren?
A. I think there are ways of saying things that might not be horrible.
Q. Well, saying it that way, would you think that would be a horrible thing to say to a six and five year old? A. Yes.
Q. Would you think it would be damaging to them?
A. I'm not sure that the children would fully understand the implication of the words.
Q. ... Would it surprise you to learn that your daughter has admitted saying the same thing except in reverse? Would that surprise you? A. Well, no it wouldn't surprise me.
Q. Well, you just testified a moment ago that you thought she was - went through a long, I think, 3 or 4 minutes about that she was wonderful, caring, a great mother and everything else. Why wouldn't that surprise you that she would say such a thing? A. Because it's a - what they believe, and -
Q. Who is they? A. The Jehovah's Witnesses.
ARNOLD v. GOUVITSA was a 1987 Tennessee appellate court decision. This case was related to a series of legal actions and court cases, all of which I do not have access. This summary is my best attempt to extract relevant information from the resources to which I have access.
Gus Konstantine Gouvitsa and Joy Huntton Gouvitsa Arnold were divorced in September, 1983. Their agreement dealing with custody and property was approved by the trial court and incorporated into the final decree which awarded Mother a divorce on the ground of irreconcilable differences. Mother and Father were given joint custody of their two minor daughters. Joy Huntton Gouvitsa had joined the Jehovah's Witnesses only months prior to the divorce. A few months after the divorce, she married a Jehovah's Witness named Arnold.
In July 1984, Father was found in contempt of court for a second time for failure to comply with previous orders of the court, and he was sentenced to the workhouse. At that time full and permanent custody of the children was awarded to Mother. Following a hearing on Father's petition for contempt and to modify, the trial court ruled that custody of the children should remain with Mother. That same order provided that the minor child "A" should be seen by a psychiatrist for an evaluation and a report filed with the court.
In November 1984, following a weekend visitation, "A" and "B" first reported being sexually abused by Father. Mother immediately reported the incident to TDHS, who caused the children to be examined by a physician as well as a psychological counselor. As a result, the circuit court required that the children's visit with Father during the Christmas holidays be supervised. Following the Christmas 1984 visit with Father, both "A" and "B" reported to Mother that they had again been sexually abused by Father. In March, 1985 "A" reported further sexual abuse at the hands of Father. Mother again caused "A" to be examined by a medical doctor.
Shortly thereafter, Mother, Stepfather and the two children moved to California. On May 21, 1985 an order to show cause was issued by the court calling upon Mother to show cause why she should not be held in contempt of court for violating orders of the court. A June 10, 1985 order found Mother in contempt, changed custody of both children from Mother to Father, with Mother's visitation rights to be subsequently determined. Armed with this order, Father went to California and through court proceedings there obtained physical custody of the children. He returned them to Tennessee. In August, 1985 Mother filed a motion for specific visitation, a motion to set aside the court's order of June 10, 1985, and a petition to modify custody so as to place custody in her. The case was initially set for October 4, 1985 but was continued upon motion of Father, being reset for January, 1986.
In September, 1985 following the restoration of Father's custody, "B" reported additional acts of sexual molestation by Father. Mother reported this to TDHS. On November 11, 1985, TDHS filed its petition in this case. On the same day, the juvenile court granted temporary custody to TDHS. A guardian ad litem was appointed for the children shortly thereafter.
A hearing was held in January and February, 1986 on Mother's petition to modify custody and to set aside the trial court's order of June 10, 1985. On March 7, 1986 the trial court ordered that the custody of the children should remain with Father subject to visitation rights of Mother. In May and August, 1986 the juvenile court heard testimony on the TDHS' petition. On August 19, 1986 that court found "A" and "B" to be dependent and neglected children and placed them in the custody of TDHS. Physical custody was granted to Mother, with Father having limited, supervised visitation. The eventual outcome of TDHS's custody case, the parents' custody case, and any other legal actions are not known. The truthfulness of the sexual abuse allegations against Father is not known.
SEEMANN v. SEEMANN was a 1981-7 Virginia divorce case which is a textbook case as HOW NOT TO BEHAVE if your spouse converts to the Jehovah's Witnesses, and then begins converting your children.
Carolyn Seemann converted to the JWs in the latter 1970s, and also began converting her daughter. Carl Seemann, husband, "became so ill-tempered that he resorted to violent acts. Once Carl threw a plate at Carolyn; another time he pointed a knife at her and threatened to put it 'right through' her. On several occasions he spat upon Carolyn and deliberately stepped on her toes. On another occasion when Carolyn was reading Bible stories to her daughter, Carl grabbed Carolyn, told her to 'get the hell out of here', pushed her out of the house, and locked the door. During the two years preceding the separation, Carolyn became fearful for her physical safety. She became so emotional that she sought psychological assistance. Carl's final violent act occurred on July 26, 1981. When Carolyn returned home from a meeting of the Jehovah's Witnesses, she asked Carl to look at some literature she had obtained at the meeting. Carl took the literature and tore it up. Carl then grabbed Carolyn, threw her against a sideboard, and knocked her onto a sofa. Thereupon, he turned her over and spanked her 'very hard' on her buttocks. Carolyn left the house, never to return, and went to the hospital for medical assistance for the injuries she received."
After a series of legal maneuvering in which each party sought divorce on various grounds, Carolyn Seemann was granted her divorce on the grounds of one-year separation. The court denied Carl's quest to have his JW Wife branded as an "adulteress", and ruled that her separation was justified.
This SEEMANN court case now is best known for the failure of the husband to PROVE the alleged adultery committed by the wife in a divorce proceeding. While the divorce was still in progress, Carolyn Seemann, an active JW, began "dating" a U.S. Army Lt. Colonel, named John Gendron. Carl Seemann hired a private detective to gather evidence of ongoing adultery. In August 1983, Carolyn and Gendron went to Texas, accompanied by Gendron's children. The children remained in Texas, and Carolyn and Gendron returned to Virginia by automobile. On their return trip, the couple made four overnight stops at hotels. Each night they occupied the same bedroom. They returned to Alexandria on August 12, and went to Gendron's apartment, where they spent the weekend. The detective testified that she placed her ear against the apartment door and heard Gendron say, "Uh, sex later." Carolyn and Gendron spent another weekend together in Philadelphia. They also spent two nights in the same hotel room in Virginia Beach. At trial, Carolyn Seemann denied engaging in sex with Gendron on all those occasions. Carolyn cited her adamant Jehovah's Witness beliefs and practices. Colonel Gendron also testified and completely denied engaging in sex with Carolyn on those occasions. It was her moral fortitude that made Gendron love her so much. The trial and appellate courts agreed.
BIRDSALL v. BIRDSALL was a 1985 California court decision. Gregory Birdsall and Linda Birdsall had been married in 1976. Shaun Birdsall was born in 1979. In 1985, Greg Birdsall, who had been disfellowshipped from the family's Jehovah's Witnesses religion due to his admitted homosexuality, filed for divorce from Linda Birdsall. Linda was eventually awarded physical custody of Shaun. Greg was awarded visitation consisting of one weekend per month, Mondays after school, alternate legal holidays, and two weeks during the summer. In addition, Greg was prohibited from exercising his overnight visitation in the presence of anyone known to be homosexual. Greg challenged the last restriction, and in 1988, in IN RE MARRIAGE OF BIRDSALL, a California appellate court vacated that part of the original court order.
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