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

Pre-1950s 1950s 1960s 1970s Early-80s Late-80s Early-90s Late-90s Early-2000s Late-2000s 2010s

 
1990 - 1995 JEHOVAH'S WITNESS DIVORCE CASES
 
Child custody court case decisions typically are lengthy and complex, and deal with a multitude of legal issues. The following case summaries will generally include only those issues in which religion was a factor. Some summaries may omit issues relevant to the court's decision, but not relevant to the theme of this website.

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UNINVESTIGATED DEATH OF NON-JW MINEL KINARD KOEHLER and KOEHLER v. KOEHLER. In April 1992, a 19 year-old Non-JW Mother of two infant daughters, named Minel K. Koehler, was permitted to bleed to death by two Wisconsin hospitals whose administrators seemingly failed to fully investigate Minel Koehler's background. Minel Koehler was RECENTLY DIVORCED, and was merely "studying" to become a Jehovah's Witness. Those two major life events probably were NOT coincidental. Interestingly, Minel Koehler, of Iowa City, Iowa, had only recently begun living with the Jehovah's Witness Couple who were "studying" with Koehler, James A. Hadar, age 45, and Bonnie Hadar, age 43, at their Coralville, Iowa home. (The then residence of Minel Koehler's two infant daughters, Jennesa Koehler and Christina Koehler, is unknown.)

On a Saturday in April 1992, Minel Koehler was riding with the Hadars to a WatchTower Assembly being held in Janesville, Wisconsin, when the FOUR MONTHS PREGNANT, RECENTLY DIVORCED Minel Koehler became ill near Beloit, Wisconsin. The Hadars took Minel Koehler to Beloit Memorial Hospital, where Koehler suffered a miscarriage and continued hemorrhaging. After Minel Koehler refused blood transfusions, she was air-flighted to St. Luke's Medical Center, in Milwaukee, Wisconsin. There, after 2+ days of ineffective "non-blood" treatments, 19 year-old Minel K. Koehler, was permitted to DIE by hospital administrators and staff -- apparently without contacting Minel Koehler's step-father and mother, David Schroder and Diana Schroder, also of Coralville, Iowa, any other family members, OR the mysterious recent father of Koehler's four-month-old mis-carried child.

Interestingly, while Elder James Hadar refused to speak publicly regarding Minel Koehler's pregnancy or other medical matters, the WatchTower Society rushed in Spokesperson, Marvin Krueger, from Janesville, Wisconsin, to bullshit the media. Marvin Kruegar told one reporter that the JW religion did not require members to refuse blood transfusions. "Each individual has their own conscience. Each one has to make their own decision," stated Marvin Krueger.

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DAVID SCOTT v. DONNA DUGAS was a lengthy 1989-96 Pennsylvania divorce/custody case which involved Donna K. Dugas and David M. Scott, both originally from Altoona, Pennsylvania, and their daughter, Ashley Scott (born circa 1985). After eight years of marriage, Donna Scott, whose mother's side of the family were JWs, finally converted to the Jehovah's Witnesses. The Scotts' marriage did not last long thereafter. (Interestingly, around the same time, Donna Scott's sister also converted to the Jehovah's Witnesses, and also sought a divorce from her husband. A similar divorce/custody battle with her non-JW ex-husband ensued.) Donna Scott's WatchTower religion became the focus of a seven years long heated custody battle, which Donna Scott eventually won with the help of FREE legal representation provided by local Pennsylvania JW Attorney Stephen Langton aided by lawyers from the WatchTower Society's Legal Department.

Initially, the local family court had ordered that Donna Scott receive primary custody, while David Scott received visitation privileges, along with Guardianship with respect to Ashley's medical care due to Donna Scott's admission that she would never consent to necessary life-saving blood transfusions. The family court also initially ordered that Ashley Scott not be taken in "field service" when she was younger. David Scott was reportedly an excellent father who did everything possible to stay in daughter Ashley Scott's life. He paid child support on time. He kept all visitation times. He took Ashley to doctor and dentist appointments. David Scott also continued to attempt to gain primary custody of Ashley.

Interestingly, in 1995, Donna Scott somehow become acquainted with and married a divorced/widowed Jehovah's Witness Minister living in Connecticut named DUGAS. The local Altoona family court then permitted Donna Dugas and Ashley Scott to relocate to Connecticut. David Scott fought the matter until he had exhausted all of his assets, but he finally lost. The WatchTower Cult initially cost David Scott his Wife, then his assets, and eventually his daughter.

David Scott was able to obtain a small amount of revenge by appearing in a television segment about JEHOVAH'S WITNESS DIVORCES featured on the 60 MINUTES television program back in 1992. Read the linked TRANSCRIPT to see how reporter Leslie Stahl caught JW Attorney Stephen Langton lying/deceiving on camera about an inconsequential matter.

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SHIRLEY STEVENSON v. EDWARD LEE STEVENSON was a 1992-4 Texas divorce case. Edward and Shirley Stevenson became acquainted as "penpals" while Edward was serving in Vietnam in the 1960s. In 1967, after returning from Vietnam, Edward traveled to Tampa, Florida to meet Shirley, and they were married four days later. Sheila Stevenson Lott was born in 1968. Around this same time, door-knocking Jehovah's Witnesses, with their message that Armageddon was going to occur in October 1975, got their hooks in Shirley, and soon thereafter, Edward. Both were baptized around 1968-9, while the couple resided in Florida.

Shelley Stevenson was born in 1971. A third daughter was born in 1975. A son was born in 1978. The family were true followers of WatchTower dictates -- paying more attention to their spiritual lives than their physical lives. Edward and occasionally Shirley worked low paying jobs. The family relocated frequently in attempts to stay ahead of the bill collectors, eventually to Edward's home state of Texas, according to Sheila Lott. In the early 1980s, Shirley began "home-schooling" the four children per the WatchTower Society's advocacy of such during the late 70s and early 80s, despite the fact that Shirley allegedly had went only to the 10th grade. (The WatchTower Society did a 180 turn regarding such after the negative effects of "home schooling" performed by its' JW members became evident in the 1990s.) The family did not associate with non-JWs, and the children were not permitted to associate or play with neighborhood children.

Sheila Lott alleged that her mother "ruled the roost", and particularly dominated over the two younger children, despite exhibiting signs of physical and mental illness. Lott alleged that her mother claimed to have multiple-personality disorder and various undiagnosed diseases, and did strange, neurotic things such as insist she was pregnant when it was obvious she was not. Sheila Lott also alleges that her JW Mother claimed to have multiple sclerosis, and was wheelchair bound, for about four years of the early 1980s. Shelley Stevenson, the second daughter, compared growing up in the Stevenson home to living in a "terrible prison". She blamed her father as much as her mother.

The Stevenson separated in June 1992, and the "contested" divorce was finalized in February 1994. When it came to the custody of the couple's youngest child, then age 16, that son testified that he would rather kill himself rather than be made to have "visitation" with his father, must less his father have custody.

TEXAS v. EDWARD LEE STEVENSON (1997-2001). In November 1996, Shirley Stevenson, accompanied by her then 21 year-old third daughter and her almost 18 year-old son, told Arlington, Texas police that Edward had groped that third daughter on multiple occasions, and masturbated in front of her on ten occasions, during the Spring of 1992. Three weeks later, that third daughter told police that she had just remembered also being raped by her father during the same time period.

At trial, that third daughter testified that her father had both vaginally and anally raped her. A nurse testified that the daughter's hymen was still intact. That daughter also testified, that when she was about 5 or 6, that Edward had molested both Shelley and her on multiple occasions. She even related one specific time that her father took her and Shelley to a library, where Shelley was taken by a strange man, while she (third daughter) was taken to a motel and raped by Edward. The rape charges were dropped mid-trial by the prosecutor.

At the trial, Edward was denied free legal representation because he had been able to afford bail. However, unable to afford an attorney, the Texas court allowed Edward to represent himself -- and Edward did a terrible job, not even developing enough of a trial record on which a reasonable appeal could be lodged. Edward Stevenson was found guilty by a jury of fondling his daughter's breasts through her clothing, and exposing himself to her, and received a sentence of 18 years in prison. During the sentencing phase, Shelley Stevenson was finally called to testify, and she denied that she or anyone else in the family had ever been sexually abused by their father -- and Shelley did not even like her father. Given little record to appeal, a 2001 habeus corpus attempt was denied on the trial record, without a hearing. No other appeals could be located.

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I ran across an article which discusses a 1994 custody case in England involving Jehovah's Witnesses, which I believe readers of this webpage will find extremely interesting. A British divorcee, who had custody of her two children, joined the JWs around 1990. She died in November 1994 from complications from a brain tumor, which possibly was the source of her longtime mental health problems.

One week before she died, when she could barely put together a complete sentence, her Jehovah's Witness "friends" drove her 50 miles to an attorney they probably selected, so that she could make a new will. That will left the woman's home and custody of her two children to the JWs. The ex-husband was not even notified of her death until 5 days later. The father proceeded to snatch the children from the custody of the JWs, and began legal proceedings to get legal custody, which he eventually was granted.

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JAKAB v. JAKAB was a 1991-5 Vermont divorce case. Danny Jakab and Paula Jakab was married in 1976. The marriage produced four children, in addition to a daughter that Paula had from a previous marriage. Paula separated from Danny in 1991, and the divorce that she requested was final in 1993. During this time period, Paula Jakab also "divorced" the Jehovah's Witnesses.
 
The trial court found that the marriage was marred by Danny Jakab's extreme outbursts of rage and cruelty, which were often targeted directly at the couple's children or Paula. In 1992, the trial court issued a temporary order that gave Paula full parental rights over the minor children, and strictly limited Danny's visitation with his children. At trial, Paula Jakab and the step-daughter both testified at length as to quantity and quality of the abusive disciplinings from Danny Jakab. Both blamed much of the excess on the strict teachings of the WatchTower Society.
 
The trial court eventually awarded Paula sole physical and legal responsibility of the children, including the control over the children's religious upbringing. Danny Jakab appealed the case all the way to the Vermon Supreme Court, which affirmed the lower courts rulings, stating in part.
... We conclude, however, that the evidence supporting the allegations of physical abuse of the children by excessive discipline was overwhelming ... . Both plaintiff and her daughter from an earlier marriage testified at length, and in detail, to defendant's acts of abuse. An evaluation of the family was done by a psychiatrist ... . After the evaluation, the psychiatrist reported the case to SRS because he concluded that the children were at risk of physical abuse from defendant and that it would be dangerous to allow the children to reside with defendant. His opinion was based in part on a meeting with the children where:

They spoke of explicit events where they felt as though they'd been physically abused. [One child] ... spoke of having a coffee can thrown at her back. [Another] ... said a rock was thrown at her. They spoke of being hit with the hand, the strap, the belt, and a paddle. They were being spanked in the face.

It was also based on the fact that defendant admitted to him the conduct which the children characterized as physical abuse.

A social worker for SRS also testified about the family situation. She had a lengthy conversation with defendant about appropriate discipline, stating that SRS policy permitted spanking if done "with an open hand on clothed buttocks." She noted that in response to this policy, defendant expressed frustration. Defendant questioned how children could be adequately controlled, and stated that children need more discipline. SRS continued to maintain an open case on the family to protect the children.

In light of all the evidence, the trial court found that "[Danny] incredibly minimizes his over-discipline of the children." The court concluded that defendant was physically abusive to the children and to plaintiff. ...

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PERCLE v. PERCLE was a 1986-1994 Louisiana - Michigan - Tennessee custody case which appears to involve a Jehovah's Witness, named Mitzi Ramsden Percle Noll, who took her children on the run rather than comply with court orders. Limited details.  Lynn Percle and Mitzi Noll (then Mitzi Ramsden) were married in November 1981. Two children were born of the union: Kitra Percle (who was 10 years old at the time of trial) and Lindsey Percle (who was 7 1/2 years old at the time of trial). In late 1986, Mitzi Percle left the matrimonial domicile in Louisiana, with the two minor children, and moved to Michigan, where her family resided.  Lynn Percle immediately filed for divorce alleging his wife's "adultery", which was admitted in her own court filings.
 
Lynn Percle was granted a divorce in January 1987, and he also received sole custody of his two daughters. However, Mitzi Noll refused to turn over the children to Percle, and evidently none of Mitzi Noll's family nor friends would reveal their whereabouts. In 1992, Lynn Percle finally located his former wife and their children in Tennessee. The Percle children had been baptized Catholic.  However, they had been reared by Mitzi Noll and her new husband as Jehovah's Witnesses. In April 1992, he secured a court order from Tennessee wherein the children were ordered to be produced for a custody hearing in Louisiana. Mitzi Noll then sought sole custody. In October 1992, Lynn Percle filed a rule for child support. In November 1992, Mitzi Noll filed a rule seeking visitation. In January 1993, the Louisiana court awarded sole custody of Kitra and Lindsey to their father, with limited visitation to the mother. The Nolls appealed. Outcome unknown.
 
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DE LUCA v. DE LUCA was a 1994 New York appellate court decision.  Gregory De Luca and Lisa De Luca were the parents of two minor children.  The family had been Roman Catholic, and both children were baptized in the Roman Catholic Church.  In 1987, custody of the two children was granted to the mother, with visitation to the father.
 
Sometime in 1986, Lisa De Luca had started studying with the Jehovah's Witnesses, and she eventually converted in 1988.  In December 1988, Gregory De Luca petitioned for custody of the children. He was concerned that the WatchTower religion would not allow his children to receive proper medical attention and that the religion's prohibition against celebrating birthdays and holidays, including Christmas and Halloween, would have a negative effect on the children. He also wished to be consulted and to participate in decisions regarding the children's medical and educational needs. The specifics of the 1988 trial court order is unknown, but this appellate court ruled:
"Whether the subject matter is religion, health care, or education, absent an agreement, the court will not interfere with the custodial parent's decisions regarding the children's upbringing. ...  Only when moral, mental, and physical conditions are so bad that they seriously affect the health or morals of the children should the court be called upon to act with respect to a disagreement between the parents over the internal arrangements of family life. ...  Upon searching the record, we find no evidence that the children are being harmed by their moral, mental, or physical conditions.

"Finally, we note that the scheduled unsupervised visitation by the father poses no risk to the children and is not against their best interests. Moreover, the father should be permitted to expose the children to his [Catholic] religious beliefs and practices during his visitation periods.

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GAZIPURA v. GAZIPURA was a 1994 Alabama appellate court case which involved Shiraz N. Gazipura and Masoumeh G. Gazipura. The Gazipuras were apparently Pakistani Muslims who had immigrated to the United States. Once here, Masoumeh evidently started studying with the Jehovah's Witnesses, and she eventually decided to convert to the WatchTower religion. This quickly led to a divorce. Physical custody of the two minor children were awarded to the wife. However, the wife was apparently unhappy with the court's ruling on the various financial aspects, and appealed such. Outcome unknown.
 
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ALANIZ v. ALANIZ was a 1993 Texas appellate court decision.  Frank Alaniz and Irene Alaniz were married in 1976, and they had three sons. Frank Alaniz filed for divorce in 1991, when his wife informed him that she was going to start taking the boys to the Kingdom Hall of Jehovah's Witnesses, and that she felt it was her duty to have them converted to Jehovah's Witnesses.  Irene Alaniz had recently converted to the WatchTower religion, while her husband remained a member of the Roman Catholic Church.
 
Interestingly, at the January 1992 trial, Irene Alaniz testified that she had never tried to force the children to make a decision about joining the Jehovah's Witnesses. She did acknowledge that as a parent, she was obligated to teach her children good moral values. She said that she did not interfere with the children's activities at school where they celebrate Christmas, birthdays, and other holidays. She said she had an obligation to teach her children about her faith, just as her husband had an obligation to teach them about Catholicism.
 
There was no testimony seriously disputing either parent's ability to nurture the children. There was no dispute that both parties were conscientious and loving parents.
 
Karen Gold, Doctor of Clinical Psychology, had counseled with both the parents and the children. She was of the opinion that the father should be the managing conservator, but that the children should reside during the school week and on all nonreligious holidays with their mother. Gold described Mrs. Alaniz as "an excellent mother", who she said had "very definitely" done well by her children academically and otherwise. She also testified:  "I felt that the children should live with her through the school week and they should be with their father during the religious holidays. They should be with her during the holidays after the religious observance is made, and that she certainly should have vacation time from her teaching job with the children to spend at leisure, but that I also felt that their father should make decisions as far as their medical care."
 
Dr. Gold stated that Mr. Alaniz was better equipped to help the children understand and effectively use leisure time. She stated that her opinion was not based solely because of religious preferences but on "the children's oft-repeated comment that mom is very good at taking care of them, but dad is much better at playing with them, and that also, that mother asks them to do certain things that make them uncomfortable."
 
The court, in its charge, instructed the jury with regard to the question of religion as follows:  "The State cannot prefer the religious views of one parent over the other in deciding the best interest of a child."  Irene Alaniz's attorney objected to the inadequacy of that instruction.

Final judgment was entered in April 1993 based upon the jury findings that Frank Alaniz should have custody of all three boys.  Irene Alaniz appealed; claiming she lost custody because of her religious beliefs as a Jehovah's Witness.  The Texas appellate court agreed, reversed and remanded, stating in part:
"... The real issue in deciding what is in the best interest of a child or children is whether the religious beliefs, teachings, and practices of the parents constitutes relevant evidence and if so, how should the jury be instructed to consider that evidence without doing violence to a party's rights under the constitutional guarantees of religious freedom. The answer becomes more difficult if one recognizes that the particular beliefs, teachings, and practices are not part of the "main stream" religious practices where the case is tried. Certainly, the beliefs of Jehovah's Witnesses could not be classified as the beliefs of "main stream" religious denominations in El Paso County or even anywhere in the United States.
 
"The belief of the Jehovah's Witnesses that one should not salute the flag was an issue as to a father's custody of his daughter in Reynolds v. Rayborn, ...  Chief Justice Jackson wrote:
'The flag is emblematic of the justice, greatness, and power of the United States--these, together, guarantee the political liberty of the citizen, but the flag is no less symbolic of the justice, greatness, and power of our country when they guarantee to the citizen freedom of conscience in religion-- the right to worship his God according to the dictates of his conscience. Beyond my comprehension are the vagaries of people who claim and accept the protection of their government in order to worship God according to the dictates of their conscience, but refuse to salute their country's flag in recognization of such protection. Yet, however, reprehensible to us such conduct may be, their constitutional right must be held sacred; when this ceases, religious freedom ceases.'
In Salvaggio v. Barnett, ... the father was considered to be a fit and proper person to have the custody of his daughter, except that he proposed, based on his religious beliefs, to teach her that it is wrong to salute the American Flag, and that it is wrong to celebrate and exchange gifts at Christmas, and that it is wrong to kill in defense of one's country. The Court said:
'Under the American principle of separation of Church and State, the secular power is so shackled and restrained by our fundamental law that it is beyond the power of a court, in awarding the custody of the child, to prefer, as tending to promote the interest of the child or surround it with a more normal atmosphere, the religious views or teachings of either parent.'
"In citing those and other opinions by courts of this state, in Frantzen v. Frantzen, ... Justice Barrow said that one's religious beliefs, teachings, and practices are not grounds for depriving a parent of his or her children, so long as such teachings and practices are neither immoral nor illegal. That standard was reiterated in Matter of Marriage of Knighton, ... . In that case, Justice Boyd wrote:
'Thus, it is beyond the power of a court, in awarding the custody of a child or children to prefer the religious views or teachings of either parent, even though the beliefs and practices of one parent might be more 'normal' or more in accord with majority religious views or practices.'
"Accepting the principles set forth in the cited cases and recognizing that a parent's religious beliefs, teachings, and practices are not grounds for depriving a parent of custody of his or her children if those beliefs, teachings, and practices are not immoral or illegal, did the court's instruction in this case instruct the jury on that fundamental constitutional right to religious worship and practices which some jurors might consider unusual or abnormal? We conclude the answer is "NO."

"... The instruction should have dealt with the rights of the parties before the jury based upon the evidence which had been admitted. There was evidence about the religious beliefs of the mother, but no standard was given to the jury on how to consider those beliefs when considering what was in the best interest of the children. The requested instruction was substantially correct. [Irene Alaniz's attorney requested the following instruction: "A parent's religious beliefs, teaching, and practice are not grounds for depriving a parent of managing conservatorship unless the teaching or practice of the beliefs are illegal, immoral, or demonstrate to be harmful to the child or children."]  A parent's religious beliefs, teaching, and practice are not grounds for depriving a parent of managing conservatorship unless the teaching or practice of the beliefs are illegal, immoral, or demonstrate to be harmful to the child or children.The jury should have known that the beliefs which the jury might have considered unusual were not grounds for depriving her from being named managing conservator unless they concluded that her beliefs, teachings, or practices were illegal, immoral, or would be harmful to the children. If they concluded those beliefs, teachings, or practices were either illegal, immoral, or harmful rather than just unusual or abnormal, they would be considered, otherwise they would not. The holding in Frantzen v. Frantzen, ... which affirmed a judgment based upon special exceptions to the pleading, is that the religious beliefs, practices, and beliefs of Jehovah's Witnesses are not immoral or illegal. We conclude that what is immoral or harmful should be left to the jury to apply community standards. What one jury might consider immoral, i.e. gambling, playing a lottery, drinking to excess, homosexual conduct, or abortion,--another jury might not.
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"Upon retrial of the case, the trial court should give a substantially correct instruction to the jury concerning the manner in which they should consider any evidence of the party's religious beliefs, teachings, and practices. In order for a party to be able to appeal any adverse finding and have the appellate court evaluate the jury's findings, it seems advisable to submit a question which inquires if the jury recommendation as to who should be appointed as managing conservator is based in part upon the religious beliefs, teachings, and practices of the party not so recommend. And if so, a checklist inquiring as to whether the jury concluded that such the beliefs, teachings, or practices of the adversely affected party was either illegal, immoral, or harmful to the child. ... ...
 
"... Upon retrial, the court will be governed by the Family Code as amended by the last legislature. The new provisions in Section 14.02(b)(1)(A) provide that a parent appointed as a conservator of a child retains the rights, privileges, duties, and powers of a parent including the right "to direct the moral and religious training of the child". ...

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ASHLEY v. WOODARD was a 1993 Georgia custody case. Limited details. Sometime prior to November 1993, a Jehovah's Witness, named Willie Ashley and his ex-wife Mary [Ashley] Woodard had divorced. Mary Ashley had received physical custody of their son (born circa 1978), and Willie Ashley had received visitation rights. Apparently, Willie Ashley filed for additional custody rights, and his WatchTower religion became an issue, with Woodard claiming that the JW religion was "detrimental" to her son. Ashley withdrew his motion in November 1993. No further info.

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IN RE FITZPINA was an early 1990s Florida custody case, in which the limited details hint at what may have been a very interesting case. Sometime prior to 1993, the legal custody of the teenage daughter of Lino Fitzpina, 38, and Socerro Fitzpina, was taken by the state of Florida and placed with a Jehovah's Witness couple, who were probably relatives of either the husband or wife. In January 1993, Lino Fitzpina abducted at gunpoint his then 17 year-old daughter as she and her two foster parents exited services at a Fort Pierce area Kingdom Hall of Jehovah's Witnesses. The couple were eventually arrested and given an unknown sentence after pleading no-contest to charges of interfering with child custody.

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DELORES KENNEDY v. MICHAEL M. KRAEMER was one or more early 1990s paternity actions. Michael M. Kraemer was reared as a Jehovah's Witness in Toronto, Ohio, by his Jehovah's Witness Mother, Viola M. Haight, and his chiropractor step-father, Dr. Cliff R. Haight, D.C.

HAIGHT v. ALDRIDGE ELECTRIC CO was a 1986-92 Illinois auto accident case which reveals some of the details of the paternity actions. Although reared as a devout, door-knocking Jehovah's Witness, while in his mid 20s, and while living in the greater Chicago area, Michael Kraemer fathered Adam Kennedy and Shiloh Kennedy without benefit of marrying their mother, Delores Kennedy. Those paternity actions were still pending in 1991. This auto accident case also delved into the effect of Kraemer's Jehovah's Witness Mother's multiple "divorces" on Michael Kraemer during his formative years, and Kraemer's treatment for depression during his high school years.

According to his 2003 obituary, Michael Kraemer, then age 43, died in Louisiana "as a result of an automobile accident"  (denied blood transfusion???). Kraemer was living with a grandmother, Phyllis Howard, and was a FULL-TIME REGULAR PIONEER at the Amite Louisiana Kingdom Hall of Jehovah's Witnesses at the time of his death. Apparently, this was an extended JW Family.

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HETRICK v. LANEY was a 1990-2 Pennsylvania divorce/custody court case, in which WatchTower Society attorney Carolyn Wah represented the Jehovah's Witness Mother, named Joyce Laney. A February 1992 court hearing apparently related to the attempt of the father, Kurth Hetrick, 26, to prevent his ex-wife from rearing their 3 year-old son, Tyler Hetrick as a JW.

The issue of JWs forbidding children to be administered blood transfusions was a heated issue in which Carolyn Wah received disgusted media attention by her lame attempts to equate the administering of a blood transfusion to a child with a "rape" of the child.

Kurth Hetrick failed in his efforts to prevent his ex-wife from rearing his son as a JW, but the court did give Kurth Hetrick oversight of Tyler Hetrick's medical care. Hetrick had been reared as a Methodist. It is unclear whether Joyce Laney had been reared as a JW, or had converted after the marriage.

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PATER v. PATER was a 1992 Ohio Supreme Court split decision.  [Readers should compare/contrast this decision with that of VARNUM (1990) and Mendez (1987).]  In January 1988, Robert Pater filed an action to divorce Jennifer Pater. His complaint included a request for custody of the couple's son, who was born on July 9, 1985, and was three years old when the trial court awarded custody to Robert Pater.  Well-known former-Jehovah's-Witness Dr. Gerald Bergman, Ph.D. testified on behalf of Robert Pater, while well-known WatchTower Society attorney Carolyn R. Wah was on Jennifer Pater's legal team.
 
The major issue that eventually permeated the custody hearing was the affect that Jennifer's religious practices would have on the child if the court granted custody to her. Jennifer had recently converted to the Jehovah's Witnesses religion, while her husband remained a member of the Catholic church.  Robert Pater's counsel called Jennifer Pater as a hostile witness, and questioned her at great length about whether Jehovah's Witnesses celebrate holidays, associate with non-members, participate in extracurricular activities and social organizations, salute the flag, and sing the national anthem.   Robert Pater testified that on one occasion his young son said that "church is bad," then cried and said that he was confused.  Robert Pater's counsel also called two expert witnesses to prove that the child would be harmed if he were raised as a Jehovah's Witness.  Dr. Gerald Bergman, Ph.D., a former Jehovah's Witness, testified about religious doctrine and his experiences growing up as a Jehovah's Witness. He also concluded, on the basis of his dissertation, that mental illness occurs more frequently among the Jehovah's Witnesses than it does in the general population. Dr. Cynthia Denber, a clinical psychologist, who had not interviewed [child], stated that extracurricular activities and
exposure to different cultural and religious beliefs are beneficial to a child's development. She stated that conflict between the parents' religious beliefs can upset a child.  In addition to the extensive discussion of Jennifer Pater's religion in her own and Dr. Bergman's testimony, other witnesses made repeated references to the fact that she no longer celebrated holidays or attended the Catholic church. During closing argument, Robert Pater's counsel frequently read from WatchTower Society publications and interjected his own interpretation of the text.

Jennifer Pater's defense team willingly participated in the examination of Jennifer Pater's WatchTower beliefs and practices.  Jennifer Pater's counsel called several of Jennifer's relatives and Jehovah's Witnesses associates to testify on her behalf. In addition to testifying about Jennifer's close relationship with [child], these "witnesses" [pun intended] rebutted Robert Pater's case by testifying in detail about the Jehovah's Witnesses. Donald Swartley, an Elder at the Kingdom Hall of Jehovah's Witnesses where Jennifer attended services, testified exclusively about the Witnesses' beliefs, and he was also questioned briefly by the court about those beliefs on two other occasions. Steve Lambers, the son of a Roman Catholic father and a Jehovah's Witness mother, testified about his experiences growing up with parents of different religions. On cross-examination, Robert Pater's counsel asked each Jehovah's Witness who testified whether he believed that all information in the Witnesses' publications was absolutely true [how dare he!].

The majority of this Ohio Supreme Court (two justices dissented) felt that the trial judge's decision was biased against Jennifer solely due to her new-found Jehovah's Witnesses faith.  However, the majority's opinion is every bit as biased in the opposite direction.  It is clear that the majority of this court felt that the trial court should have awarded custody to Jennifer Pater.  Evidence presented during the hearing indicated that both parties were conscientious and loving parents. Both parties worked, but both also had family members who lived nearby and would babysit. The only real difference between the parties were their sex and their religion.  The case was remanded for reconsideration.  Outcome unknown.  Here are excerpts of law for edification of readers.  See if you can spot the majority's own ignorance and bias:
"Today we reaffirm that a domestic relations court may consider the religious practices of the parents in order to protect the best interests of a child. ... However, the United States Constitution flatly prohibits a trial court from ever evaluating the merits of religious doctrine or defining the contents of that doctrine. ... Furthermore, custody may not be denied to a parent solely because she will not encourage her child to salute the flag, celebrate holidays, or participate in extracurricular activities. We reverse the trial court's custody and visitation orders because these decisions were improperly based on Jennifer Pater's religious beliefs.
 
"...  'The discretion which a trial court enjoys in custody matters should be accorded the utmost respect, given the nature of the proceeding and the impact the court's determination will have on the lives of the parties concerned. The knowledge a trial court gains through observing the witnesses and the parties in a custody proceeding cannot be conveyed to a reviewing court by a printed record.'  ... A reviewing court will not overturn a custody determination unless the trial court has acted in a manner that is arbitrary, unreasonable, or capricious. 

"It is against this standard of broad discretion that we must review the scope of a trial court's inquiry into the parents' religious practices. The other starting point for our analysis is that a court may well violate the parent's constitutional rights if its decision is improperly based on religious bias. ... The United States Constitution and the Ohio Constitution forbid state action which interferes with the religious freedom of its citizens or prefers one religion over another.  To the extent that a court refuses to award custody to a parent because of her religious beliefs, the court burdens her choice of a religion in violation of the Free Exercise Clause ...
 
"In addition to their free exercise rights, parents have a fundamental right to educate their children, including the right to communicate their moral and religious values. ... In a custody dispute, the parents' rights must be balanced against the state's need to determine the best interests of the child. ... This balancing requires more than a rote recitation that a domestic relations judge may consider any factor relevant to the best interests of a child, especially if the best-interests test is read broadly to encompass all aspects of childrearing. ...
 
"Courts have repeatedly held that custody cannot be awarded solely on the basis of the parents' religious affiliations and that to do so violates the First Amendment ...
 
"On the other hand, a parent's actions are not insulated from the domestic relations court's inquiry just because they are based on religious beliefs, especially actions that will harm the child's mental or physical health. ...
Now that the law is laid out, let's see which court exhibited "bias" in making their decision:
"... Robert and Jennifer Pater are both loving parents, and no testimony seriously disputed either parent's ability to nurture [child]. This case requires us to decide whether courts may deny a parent custody based on beliefs that do not pose a direct threat to the child's mental or physical welfare. Given the undisputed fact that both parents would meet Bobby's basic needs, the question is whether the intrusion into Jennifer's rights was justified by appellee's claims that if awarded custody, Jennifer would not allow Bobby to participate in certain extracurricular activities, celebrate holidays, or salute the flag.

 "[Robert Pater] claims that Jennifer will not allow their son to celebrate birthdays and holidays, sing the national anthem, salute the flag, participate in extracurricular activities, socialize with non-[Jehovah's]Witnesses, or attend college.  [Robert Pater] is concerned that the child will be socially ostracized and not adequately exposed to ideas other than those endorsed by the Jehovah's Witnesses. We can sympathize with his parental concern for his child, but are concerned that the state not exceed its proper role in resolving what is essentially a dispute between the parents' religious beliefs. Although the listed activities are those that most people may consider important to the socialization of children, we need to separate the value judgments implicit in the so-called norm from any actual harm caused by these practices. ...
 
"Even if we accept the premise that Jennifer will actively forbid Bobby to celebrate holidays, (SEE FOOTNOTE #4) be involved in extracurricular activities, or salute the flag, these practices do not appear to directly endanger the child's physical or mental health. A showing that a child's mental health will be adversely affected requires more than proof that a child will not share all of the beliefs or social activities of the majority of his or her peers. A child's social adjustment is very difficult to measure, and the relative importance of various social activities is an extremely subjective matter. (SEE FOOTNOTE #5) ... For these reasons, a court must base its decision that a particular religious practice will harm the mental health of a child on more than the fact that the child will not participate in certain social activities.  A parent may not be denied custody on the basis of his or her religious practices unless there is probative evidence that those practices will adversely affect the mental or physical health of the child.  Evidence that the child will not be permitted to participate in certain social or patriotic activities is not sufficient to prove possible harm.

"The evidence offered by "[Robert Pater] to prove that these practices would harm Bobby consisted of two expert witnesses. Dr. Bergman testified, on the basis of a dissertation he had written, that mental illness was more common among Jehovah's Witnesses than among the general population. This testimony was a blatant attempt to stereotype an entire religion. Regardless of the rate of mental illness among an entire group, that evidence does not prove that the religion in question will negatively affect a particular individual. Furthermore, this one piece of statistical evidence is meaningless. To follow this evidence to its "logical" conclusion, a court would need to compare this rate to the same rate for all faiths and for people who are not associated with any particular religion. If the latter group has the lowest incidence of mental illness, then under this reasoning we would have to forbid all parents from exposing their children to their religious beliefs.

"Dr. Denber testified that generally extracurricular activities are beneficial to a child's socialization. Neither Dr. Denber nor Dr. Bergman had interviewed Bobby. No proof was offered that this particular child was suffering or would suffer any ill effects from being exposed to his mother's religious practices. In the absence of any probative evidence that a child will be harmed by a parent's religious practices regarding social activities, the court may not use those beliefs to disqualify the parent as the custodial parent.

"We feel it is appropriate to question a parent about her general philosophy of childrearing. However, the scope of this inquiry into the religious beliefs and practices, not just of the mother, but of an entire religion was improper and an abuse of discretion.
The isolated statements of the trial judge that he would not decide custody on the basis of the mother's religious beliefs will not insulate the court's decision from review.

"The trial court appears to have awarded custody to Robert because of Jennifer's religious affiliation. There is no dispute that both parents are excellent parents and we must begin from the assumption that both are equally competent to care for this child. However, at the time of the hearing, Jennifer had been Bobby's primary caretaker for the first three years of his life. She also testified that she would have more time during the week to devote to the child because she worked on only one or two weekdays. Jennifer deserves a custody hearing free from religious bias.

"The visitation order in this case also indicates that the court's decision was based on Jennifer's religion. The order demands that Jennifer 'shall not teach or expose the child to the Jehovah[']s Witnesses' beliefs in any form." This order is so broad that it could be construed as forbidding any discussion of the Bible. It is equally unclear whether Jennifer is permitted to discuss moral values because these values are influenced by religious beliefs.
 
"[T]he rule appears to be well established that the courts should maintain an attitude of strict impartiality between religions and should not disqualify any applicant for custody or restrain any person having custody or visitation rights from taking the children to a particular church, except where there is a clear and affirmative showing that the conflicting religious beliefs affect the general welfare of the child."  ... This rule has been adopted to protect both parents' right to expose their children to their religious beliefs, a right that does not automatically end when they are divorced. The courts should not interfere with this relationship between parent and child unless a child is exhibiting genuine symptoms of distress that are caused by the differences in the parents' religious beliefs. Today, we adopt the majority rule that a court may not restrict a non-custodial parent's right to expose his or her child to religious beliefs, unless the conflict between the parents' religious beliefs is affecting the child's general welfare. Because a divorce is a stressful event for a child, a court must carefully separate the distress caused by that event from any distress allegedly caused by religious conflict."

"FOOTNOTE#4:  This very well may be an assumption that we [MORONS] are not entitled to make. Jennifer testified that she was willing to allow Bobby to choose his own religion when he reached a suitable age. She also testified that she would not encourage him to celebrate holidays or salute the flag, and wished to explain to him why she did not do these things. She further testified that Bobby would be allowed to form friendships with other children so long as they were not a bad influence on him and that he could participate in suitable extracurricular activities. The evidence that she would do otherwise is based on the testimony of other Jehovah's Witnesses and religious publications. ...
 
"FOOTNOTE#5:  (DID THESE MORONS STOP TO CONSIDER THAT THEY ARE MAKING A DECISION ABOUT A CHILD'S LIFE?) Not only is an evaluation of the merits of different social activities subjective, but it is also of limited relevance to the best interests of a child. This can be easily demonstrated by considering plaintiff's claims that the child will be harmed if he does not participate in particular activities. For example, we first consider plaintiff's allegation that the child will suffer socially if he is not permitted to display patriotism, by saluting the flag or singing the national anthem. As important as these activities are personally to those of us who honor our country in these ways, these activities are just that, personal expressions, which a court should not force upon parents or their children. It seems obvious that this sort of personal decision that affects only the expression of political or religious beliefs should not be the basis for a custody decision. ... The plaintiff is particularly concerned that Jennifer will not permit the child to join various social organizations and invokes the image of a child without friends or social contacts. Despite this painful image, the parties actually are disagreeing not about whether a child should have social interactions, but about what type of social activities are appropriate for the child.  Whatever their position may be regarding contact with people who are not members of the religion, Jehovah's Witnesses have an active social life among themselves. Even if a Witness did not allow her child to participate in extracurricular activities or maintain close friendships with persons outside the religion, the child would still participate in social activities and have friends. (WHAT A BUNCH OF IGNORAMUSES)

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DEININGER v. DEININGER was a 1992 Alaska Supreme Court decision, which involved James Deininger and Vivien Deininger. The Deiningers were married in August 1977, and they had three children: Jeremy, born in 1979; Jenny, born in 1982; and Johanna, born in 1985.  In 1985 (lifestyle changes are common for conversions), the family converted to the Jehovah's Witnesses. However, in 1990, James, a trained geologist, decided that JWs were not what he once believed them to be. Vivien decided she would continue to follow the WatchTower Society, so James filed for divorce. Both parties sought interim custody of the children.
 
At the close of trial, Judge Steinkruger (female) granted the parties joint legal custody. For the first two years following the  divorce, she awarded Vivien primary physical custody and James visitation on alternating four-day weekends during the school  year, and in alternating two-week blocks during the summer, despite the fact that as a geologist, James often spent significant amounts of time away from home during the summer months. Starting in August 1993, the court ordered Vivien and James to share physical custody equally on an alternating week basis.
 
Judge Steinkruger also ordered James' mother, who sometimes lived with him, to undergo counseling due to testimony from the child custody investigator that James' mother had occasionally made disparaging remarks about the Jehovah's Witnesses in front of the children. (I'm surprised that the investigator and Judge didn't want her tongue cut out.) The Alaska Supreme Court was practically giddy as it praised and affirmed everything Judge Steinkruger said and did.
 
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ESTES v. ESTES was a 1990-1 Kansas trial court case which received atypical media coverage  On February 9, 1992, the front page of the Kansas City Star carried an article entitled, "A Matter of Faith, Hope and Custody", written by Rick Montgomery.  That two page article started:
"The temperature on Dec. 22, 1989, hit 23 degrees below zero, the lowest ever recorded in Kansas City. Raymond Estes answered the phone that morning in his Johnson County apartment and heard his 6-year-old son sobbing. "Daddy, please don't let Momma take me," the boy pleaded. "Take you where?" Just before the line clicked dead, his son replied: "Door to door."
When this custody case went to trial, the Jehovah's Witness Mother, named Joni Estes, had temporary custody of Scott Estes, who had been born in 1983.  Although the domestic court services investigation recommended that custody be awarded to the mother, the judge awarded custody to the father, Raymond Estes, stating in part:  "... because of the absolute conflict between the parents with reference to the Jehovah's Witness religion, and for good cause shown, sole custody of said minor child be granted to the respondent father".  With respect to the mother, this court stated, in part, that she was:
"... enjoined and restrained from exposing said minor child to any activities in which she participates as a member of the Jehovah's Witness religion, and is to restrain form indoctrinating or attempting to indoctrinate the minor child in the restrictions and prohibitions of that religion; the petitioner is specifically ordered restrained from teaching said child or exposing said child to teachings that his father, grandmother, or other paternal relatives are 'of the Devil' or are 'of Satan' or that his relatives including his father and grandmother are 'going to die' and will be just 'dust' … ."
The judge's reasoning included the potential threat of the child's health because of the Watchtower prohibition on blood transfusions, their disparagement of all higher education, their teaching that all non-Witnesses including the child's father are in bonds of Satan and will be destroyed soon at Armageddon, and the fact that "the behavior of the minor child, Scotty, reflects that he is becoming more and more alienated from his father and from his extended family, believing that 'Christmas persons' (those who celebrate Christmas as opposed to … the Jehovah's Witnesses who do not) … are going to die … and should be shunned". The Judge was also concerned that the six year-old "talked often about death, at times singing, 'If I tell a lie, then I will surely die.'"
 
Raymond Estes also introduced as evidence at trial a booklet prepared by the WatchTower Society entitled, "Preparing for Child Custody Cases".  This booklet was written by staff at the WatchTower's world headquarters (including being co-authored by Carolyn Wah, WatchTower attorney and child custody specialist), in 1986, as a response to the approximately 1000 requests per year that the WatchTower's Legal Department was receiving for assistance with JW related child custody cases.   After reviewing this WatchTower trial preparation booklet, the judge concluded that the booklet was designed, and encourages, the Jehovah’s Witness to cover up some of their true beliefs and mislead the court as to what their beliefs and practices are with reference to children.” He further stated that the Watchtower Society teaches that, "There is nothing wrong under the religion, as I understand it, in misleading or even lying to somebody that is not a Jehovah’s Witness.  The later newspaper article also addressed this booklet stating that the WatchTower Society "encourages its faithful to fudge their testimony”.
 
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KOSTYK v. KOSTYK was a 1990 California divorce case. Limited details. In December 1985, 28 year-old Cynthia E. Swink, of Palmdale, California, who had been reared as a JW, married a fellow Jehovah's Witness with the surname Kostyk.
 
In her 1990 divorce complaint, Cynthia E. Kostyk alleged that within weeks of their wedding, her husband started hitting her. The next four years allegedly was a cycle of violent outbursts, extreme remorse, extravagant gift-giving, followed by violent outbursts, etc. In her request for spousal support, Cynthia Kostyk stated: "I have been battered ... at least 15 to 20 times since December 1985. I suffered injuries ... including a twisted pelvis and hip, and a sprained back and neck. Due to my severe emotional and physical disabilities at this time, I am unable to support myself." JW Husband denied such.
 
Rather than reporting these repeated incidents to police, Cynthia Kostyk alleged that she had obeyed WatchTower teachings and practices that required her to deal with the problem within the confines of the marriage, and with the aid and counsel of the Elders at the Reseda Kingdom Hall of Jehovah's Witnesses. A 1990 Los Angeles Times article states, in part:

... Shortly after the first incident, Cynthia and her husband appealed to elders of their Reseda congregation for help, and would do so over the next few years.

She says the elders gave her a variety of advice on how to make things better: "Everyone agreed something was wrong. But they said these things happen in every marriage. One of the elders suggested I try making some different recipes and he told me some that his wife had made that he really liked."

She was reminded in one letter from the Watchtower Bible and Tract Society of New York, the church headquarters, that "fellow Christians should not take one another to court."

She was also told not to discuss her problems with friends.

Steadily, she says, the abuse worsened.

When she continued to complain to the elders, she says, they told her it would be in her interest -- and scripturally correct-- to be submissive.

Finally, she says, they conceded she probably had married the wrong man, but that there was nothing to be done.

"I said, 'What do I do with my pain?' And they said, 'You must forget.' I decided I wanted to do God's will, so I stayed with him. I tried to do what was right. So I prayed to Jehovah to fix my brain."  ... ... ...

Four years into the marriage, Kostyk says, she was depressed, unable to work and suffering a variety of spinal problems related to whiplashes and blows administered by her husband. (He blames her spinal injuries on a 1981 car accident.)

Still, she did not identify her experience as abuse until after he moved out in December, 1989. A friend suggested she call a battered women's hot line.

Six months into intensive counseling at Lancaster's Desert Oasis shelter, her rage boiled to the surface and she began writing long letters to church elders: "I would never have stayed with (my husband) if you had not threatened to take action against me," she wrote. "But because of your counsel, I actually thought that Christian wives stay with their husbands until death, even if this death is inflicted by their own husbands." ... ... ... ...

Kostyk felt that, as part of her healing process, it was important to talk. So she broke the silence imposed by church elders and began telling her friends -- most of whom are Witnesses -- what had happened during the marriage. Elders warned her to stop.

She did not stop, though, and was "disfellowshiped" by her congregation, a practice also known as "shunning." To be reinstated, she must show repentance.

But Kostyk feels she was wronged. And she believes that God knows it and will help her win reinstatement. "In biblical times, terrible things happened," she says. "People abused their powers. I know that the terrible, disabling things that happened to me weren't from God."

Merton Campbell, a Jehovah's Witness spokesman in New York, said that Kostyk's case was very carefully considered: "I can assure you that all of these cases are very thoroughly and very compassionately handled by those who deal with them. This matter was given a very thorough hearing."

As for the church's position on domestic violence, he said, "We're absolutely convinced that if individuals follow Bible principles in their lives, these problems will not occur. And it takes two to have a fight, as it were."

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VARNUM v. VARNUM was a 1990 Vermont Supreme Court decision.  The marriage of Larry James Varnum and Christine Carol Varnum was fraught with difficulty, and the parties separated twice before seeking a divorce. They last lived together in 1985, when Larry James Varnum filed for divorce. The parties were divorced in May 1987. The merits hearing took the better part of five days to conclude. The transcript runs to over eight hundred pages. The proceedings in this case were charged with emotion and anger. The trial court awarded legal and physical custody of the two minor children to Larry James Varnum.  Christine Carol Varnum appealed that award.
 
Among Christine Carol Varnum's arguments was her assertion that the trial court's custody decision impermissibly considered her Jehovah's Witnesses religious beliefs and activities, in violation of the United States and the Vermont Constitutions. This Supreme Court affirmed, stating in part:
"In considering religion and religious practices in child custody cases, the state and federal right to the free exercise of religion may be implicated; therefore, in balancing the relevant interests, the supreme court must minimize the degree of interference with religious liberty and use the least restrictive means to accomplish the legitimate objectives that warrant the interference. ... ...
 
"In order for a religious practice to be considered in determining child custody, the practice must have a direct and immediate negative impact on the physical or mental health of the child. ...
 
"On appeal by [Christine Carol Varnum], a strict Jehovah's Witness, from award to [Larry James Varnum] of custody of children in divorce action on basis that the trial court's consideration of her religious practices violated her right to the free exercise of religion, no miscarriage of justice requiring reversal was found where physical discipline and other practices of [Christine Carol Varnum], which may have been religiously motivated, rose to the level of "abuse" or were practices which would otherwise directly and immediately negatively impact on the mental and physical well-being of the children and where many of the factors supporting the trial court's decision were wholly unrelated to [Christine Carol Varnum's] religious beliefs. ... ...
 
"The court made extensive findings relating to the ability of each parent to raise the children and serve as primary custodian. It found that both parties had secure jobs and sufficient income to raise the children. It found that [Larry James Varnum] had on one occasion slapped [Christine Carol Varnum] on the face but had otherwise not been physically or sexually abusive toward her. It rejected as not credible [Christine Carol Varnum's] other allegations that [Larry James Varnum] sexually and physically abused her.

"Each party alleged that the other physically abused the children. The court found that [Larry James Varnum] had used a belt to administer discipline to [Christine Carol Varnum's] daughter [by a previous marriage], and on one occasion used the belt on his son. It found, however, that such discipline was not occurring at the time of the hearing and that [Larry James Varnum] did not use physical discipline on a regular basis. It found that [Christine Carol Varnum] physically abused the two children and that she believes:
'... strict discipline is essential to install a conditioned response in the children to certain demands imposed upon them by her. When the children fail to respond to her, she believes that it is appropriate and she does administer physical punishment to the children and has done so with various implements which includes a spoon, a ladle and a paddle.

'[Christine Carol Varnum] has punished the children by striking them about the face and body using both her hands and other implements with sufficient force to leave red marks on the children's skin. The court finds that that physical discipline does amount to physical abuse.'

"[Christine Carol Varnum's] [older] daughter [by a previous marriage] alleged that [Larry James Varnum] had sexually abused her when she was living with the parties in Vermont. The court found this accusation not credible.

"Both parties have abused alcohol, and [Christine Carol Varnum] twice attempted suicide while under the influence of alcohol.
Although [Christine Carol Varnum] has been told she should not consume alcohol, she continues to be a moderate drinker.

"Both parties spend a great deal of their free time with the children. The findings detail activities in which each party participates with the children to show, with respect to each parent, a supportive relationship. Each parent has a residence and can provide safe and suitable care for the children. If she obtained custody, [Christine Carol Varnum] intended to return to California with the children.

"The trial court made a number of findings that relate to [Christine Carol Varnum's] religious beliefs.  [Christine Carol Varnum] is a Jehovah's Witness and is a strict disciple of her faith. Her belief in physical punishment to discipline the children was apparently related to her religion. Because of her religious belief, she forbade the children to have close relationships with children who were not members of her faith, and would not allow the children to celebrate birthdays or holidays although the children traditionally celebrated holidays and found it enjoyable. [Christine Carol Varnum] would not permit blood transfusions even if told by a doctor that the children needed the procedure. There was, however, no evidence of health problems in the children that would create the need for a transfusion. [Christine Carol Varnum] deferred to church elders for help in making decisions. The court found that allowing others to assist in decision making hampered her ability to determine the best interests of the children.

"The court ordered a psychological evaluation of the parties and the children. The psychologist's evaluation recommended that custody be awarded to [Larry James Varnum]. Although the psychologist's conclusions were based on numerous factors, the most important were that: (1) if [Christine Carol Varnum] obtained custody, she intended to severely limit [Larry James Varnum's] access to the children and move from the state as soon as possible; (2) plaintiff had "a better attitude and concept of what children need to be raised in a normal fashion"; and (3) [Christine Carol Varnum] admitted "to hitting the children and leaving marks on their body, a sign of physical abuse." Based on the evaluation, which the court found was fair to both parties, and the extensive evidence, the court concluded that it would be in the best interests of the children to award parental rights and responsibilities primarily to [Larry James Varnum].
... ...
 
"[Christine Carol Varnum] ... argues that because the court made findings of fact that touched upon her religious beliefs and because the
issue of religion permeated the trial [SEE PATER (1992) and MENDEZ(1987)]
, the court violated the free exercise clauses of the Vermont and United States Constitutions.
 
"... Although there was extensive evidence about the religion and religious practices of each party, with an emphasis on the religious practices of [Christine Carol Varnum], neither party objected to the introduction of the evidence or its use in arriving at a custody determination. Both parties submitted evidence pertaining to religion. ... ...

"Consideration of religion and religious practices in custody determinations may implicate the right to free exercise of religion ...  It is often said, as a result, that the courts must be neutral in matters of religion. ... While neutrality is a worthy goal, it is rarely achievable in a contested custody matter where the actions of the parents bearing directly on the best interest of the children are attributed to religious beliefs. More often, the courts must engage in a form of balancing of the relevant interests, ...  In such a balance, we must be careful to minimize the degree of interference with religious liberty and use the "least restrictive means" to accomplish the legitimate objectives that warrant the interference. ...

"There is no question that the societal interest in protecting and nurturing children is great. ... Thus, in appropriate cases, this interest must override the freedom of the parent to engage in religious practices. ... The challenge for the courts is to accommodate the differing interests where possible and protect the best interest of children while minimizing the interference with religious liberty. ... To do so, the courts have developed tests that require a religious practice to have a direct and immediate negative impact on the physical or mental health of the child before the practice can be considered in determining the custody of the child. ...

"In applying these principles to this case, we are mindful that defendant's religion, and numerous practices dictated or motivated by her religion, permeated the trial. We are also mindful that defendant's beliefs may appear peculiar and foreign to many. Indeed, many of the cases involving the impact of religion of a parent on the custody determination of a child have involved Jehovah's Witnesses and the courts, and the larger society, have found it difficult to accept, or ignore, their religious practices even when the impact on the children is speculative or insufficient to allow an impairment of religious freedom. ... ...

"Finally, we must accept that the trial court made findings and considered aspects of defendant's religious practices even though it did not find the required impact on the well-being of the children. On this record, we place in that category findings with respect to restrictions defendant imposed on the ability of the children to associate with peers who are not Jehovah's Witnesses and her prohibition on the celebration of holidays and birthdays. We are also concerned about the use of the finding that defendant would not allow her children to have blood transfusions even if medically necessary, in the absence of any evidence that such an eventuality is likely and cannot be resolved in ways other than depriving defendant of custody. ...
 
"It is not surprising that the trial court's findings and conclusions do not show a careful consideration of the constitutional standard and the arguments defendant makes in this Court, since the issue was never presented to the trial court. Also, with respect to some facts, the deficiency may have been in failing to make complete enough findings, although such findings would have been supported by the evidence. For example, the evidence may have allowed the trial court to find that the prohibition on the celebration of birthdays or holidays has a direct and immediate negative effect on the emotional health of the children, but the court was not requested to make a finding on this issue.

"Nevertheless, we cannot find that there has been a miscarriage of justice in the custody award to plaintiff. In reaching this decision, we are motivated by the following considerations.

"First, the primary reason for the psychologist's custody recommendation was the physical discipline imposed regularly by the mother. This also appears to be the primary reason for the trial court's custody determination. While defendant's practices may have had some religious motivation, the evidence clearly supported the conclusion that the physical discipline had a direct and immediate negative impact on the physical and mental well-being of the children. We do not mean to suggest that all physical discipline by parents is prohibited or that, when religiously motivated, it has no First Amendment protection. However, the discipline here was sufficiently severe for the court to characterize it as "physical abuse." The trial court could heavily weigh the use of this physical discipline against defendant.

"Second, there was extensive analysis, both by the expert and in the evidence, of all aspects of the strengths and weaknesses of the parties as prospective custodial parents. In fact, many of the factors that supported the court's decision were wholly unrelated to the religious beliefs of defendant. ... Thus, the expert found that plaintiff had a better attitude and concept of the needs of the children. An important part of the psychologist's recommendation was based on observations of the interaction between the children and each parent, and the court made findings about these interactions.

"Third, although the trial court made no findings in this area, the evidence showed also that defendant intended to minimize plaintiff's access to the children. The psychologist recounted defendant's statements that plaintiff had little to offer the children in large part because he was not a Jehovah's Witness and thus did not possess the "truth" about life. The psychologist found that defendant's "attitude of indifference to the children's right to appreciate both parent's views will cause the children emotional harm." Even though the trial court made no findings on this subject, we believe it bears on whether there was a miscarriage of justice in this case.

"Finally, the failure of defendant to make a proper record in the trial court causes her difficulty in making out a free exercise claim for a first time in this Court. While there is a general sense that many of the defendant's practices are tied in some general way to her religion, there is no specificity on the exact nature of her religious belief and the extent to which it commands the practices. Thus, we can only evaluate in a rough way the extent to which forgoing some of the practices would burden defendant's religious expression, an essential aspect of the balancing equation for First Amendment purposes. ... Two examples will suffice. Although there was a general assertion that physical discipline is associated with the child-rearing practices of a Jehovah's Witness, there was no specific testimony that defendant's religious beliefs required defendant to hit the children with instruments like the butter paddle and spoon. Similarly, the court pointed to the fact that defendant appeared to routinely turn important decisions in her life over to church elders and concluded that her ability to determine "the best interests of the children is hampered by her need to have other people make her decisions." The evidence does not show whether the involvement of the elders in parental decision-making is required by defendant's religious beliefs.

"In conclusion, we are satisfied that the trial court's custody award was justified, even though the court did not examine specifically the aspects of defendant's religious beliefs and practices that do not directly and immediately impact on the mental and physical well-being of the children. The consideration of defendant's religion did not cause a miscarriage of justice, and we decline to reverse on that basis.

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LeDOUX v. LeDOUX was a 1990 Nebraska Supreme Court decision.  Carolyn R. Wah submitted an amicus curiae brief on behalf of the Watchtower Bible & Tract Society of New York, Inc., the parent corporation of the Jehovah's Witnesses. Edward LeDoux and Diane LeDoux were married in July 1977 at a Catholic Church. Two sons were born during the marriage; in 1981 and 1985.  Both sons were baptized into the Catholic faith.  By the time of trial, the older son had started attending a Catholic parochial school. In July 1985, Edward LeDoux converted to the Jehovah's Witnesses religion.  Diane LeDoux and Edward LeDoux separated on April 1, 1986.  In April 1987, Diane LeDoux filed a petition for legal separation, requesting custody of the two children. She moved that Edward LeDoux's visitation rights with the parties' children be restricted and structured. Following a hearing on Diane LeDoux's motion, the trial court entered a temporary order on April 29, 1987, granting Edward LeDoux reasonable rights of visitation. He was ordered not to involve the minor children in any of his WatchTower religious activities. A subsequent motion filed by Edward LeDoux requesting that his minor children be allowed to accompany him to his Kingdom Hall of Jehovah's Witnesses was denied by the trial court. Edward LeDoux in a cross-petition asked for dissolution of the marriage.
 
In the divorce decree entered December 17, 1987, the trial court  placed custody of the parties' two minor children with Diane LeDoux.  After establishing a specific visitation schedule, Edward LeDoux was ordered to refrain from exposing or permitting any other person to expose his minor children to any religious practices or teachings inconsistent with the Catholic religion. The court further ordered that while visiting their father, Edward LeDoux  could not prevent or preclude the minor children from engaging in activities normally permitted by the Catholic religion. On appeal, LeDoux contends that the dissolution decree is contrary to law and the evidence.  The Nebraska Supreme Court affirmed, stating in part:
"At trial, the principal contested issue dealt with visitation rights and specific restrictions Diane LeDoux wished to permanently impose upon [Edward LeDoux] with regard to his religious activities with the minor children. Evidence was adduced concerning [Edward LeDoux's] religious beliefs and their effect on the minor children. Diane LeDoux testified to various incidents in the family home brought on by the beliefs of [Edward LeDoux]. Prior to the parties' separation, Edward LeDoux asked Andrew to say grace. The boy started to recite the 'Hail Mary', a Catholic prayer.  [Diane LeDoux] testified, 'Ed got so mad and told him, `How dare you, how dare you say that.' He got up and he dumped his chair over, and he went into the living room and . . . stared into space for 45 minutes.'  On Valentine's Day of 1986, Edward LeDoux refused to do anything with his family, and on Christmas of 1986, [Edward LeDoux] 'said he was going to rip up all the Christmas stuff and . . . throw it out.'   [Diane LeDoux] further recounted an incident on Easter of 1987, when 'Ed wanted to come into the house and take the kids to a [WatchTower] memorial service.  He came into the house and went up to Andy's room and grabbed him by the arm and wouldn't let him go.  We had an argument.  I finally had to call the police, and they came and talked him home.'

"Scott S. McQuin, an elder in the Jehovah's Witnesses church, agreed that there were differences between the Jehovah's Witnesses faith and other religions. McQuin stated the following differences: Jehovah's Witnesses go door to door carrying on religious conversations with people to encourage interest in the Bible. Members of the Jehovah's Witnesses religion are counseled strongly against allowing their children to participate in sports activities with people outside the congregation, and the children are discouraged from participation in organizations such as Cub Scouts or Boy Scouts. Parents would be strongly counseled about the dangers involved in being in those kinds of organizations. Jehovah's Witnesses encourage higher education for vocational purposes only, not to advance philosophical teachings. In addition, McQuin stated that Jehovah's Witnesses observe only one holiday, that being the memorial of the death of Jesus Christ, and they believe that patriotism is divisive.

"Dr. Joseph L. Rizzo, a certified clinical psychologist who had counseled [older son], was called to testify by the appellee. He indicated that conflicts in the Catholic and Jehovah's Witnesses religions were an obvious contributing factor to the stress felt and manifested by [older son]. Dr. Rizzo testified that [older son] was quite uncomfortable and fearful about visits with his father.  '[older son] spoke very strongly about the father trying to get him - trying to read him religious stories and trying to get him to pray, and things of this nature.'


"Dr. Rizzo said he became concerned when he learned that [older son] had voluntarily skipped visits with the appellant. 'Andy was angry, and Andy stated that he basically didn't want to be with Dad . . . .'   Dr. Rizzo said that [older son's] specific concerns with regard to his father would come and go throughout the period of several months, 'the concerns of whether or not the father would play with [older son], whether or not the father would pray, would do religious things that [older son] felt he was not supposed to do." ... ...

"The trial court found that there were numerous beliefs and practices of Jehovah's Witnesses which were in contravention of those of the Catholic religion. In addition, the trial court noted that Edward LeDoux wants to take his children with him when he goes door to door to have Bible discussions with other people. Edward LeDoux stated that he wants his children to believe the way that he does. The trial court did not pass judgment on these or any other beliefs of the Jehovah's Witnesses, but did not ignore that these beliefs were still contrary to the way that Diane LeDoux, the custodial parent, wants to raise the children. Taking note of the stress that [older son] was already experiencing, the trial court concluded that exposing the minor children to more than one religious practice would have a deleterious effect upon the minor children. The court found that exposing the children to two religions would not only affect the relationship between Edward LeDoux and the minor children, but also would affect the well-being of the minor children themselves.
... ...
 
"A de novo review of the record discloses no abuse of discretion on the part of the trial court. There is ample evidence to conclude that the stress [older son] was experiencing posed an immediate and substantial threat to his well-being. The stress that [older son] was experiencing was neither hypothetical nor tenuous. In Dr. Rizzo's words, [older son's] stress is serious. The fact that the involuntary exposure to disparate religions was but one factor in the source of [older son's ]stress does not detract from the trial court's conclusion that these religious differences have and will continue to have a deleterious effect on [older son] and, likewise, the other minor child, ... .

"The order of the trial court is narrowly tailored in that it imposes the least possible intrusion upon Edward LeDoux's right of free exercise of religion and the custodial mother's right to control the religious training of a child. The custodial parent normally has the right to control the religious training of the child. ... The dissolution decree merely forecloses the exposure of the LeDoux children to those practices and teachings which are inconsistent with the Catholic religion. The appellant is free to discuss beliefs of the Jehovah's Witnesses with his children so long as they are consistent with the Catholic religion. Because appellant has had previous exposure to the Catholic religion, he should not have difficulty in recognizing those beliefs of the Jehovah's Witnesses and Catholic religions which are conflicting."

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