A judge is supposed to decide cases based on the law, not on his or her personal agenda or ideology. They are supposed to be impartial and fair.
But judges are human, and sometimes they allow their own biases to affect their decisions. Take, for example, the Alabama Chief Justice, Roy Moore, who in 2003 not only went against established case law and the Constitution, but even violated a federal appeals court’s ruling when he refused to remove a stone display of the Ten Commandments from his courtroom.
A more recent, and local example of how judges can sometimes allow their own religious beliefs to creep into their rulings came last year when a Marion County Superior Court judge, Cale J. Bradford, ruled that a divorced couple must not teach their son about Wicca, a pagan belief.
The father, Thomas Jones, has appealed the judge’s decree with the aid of the Indiana Civil Liberties Union. The story went public last week and has drawn nationwide attention.
Legal experts generally agree that the judge’s ruling will be overturned by the appeals court. But even so, the case is a striking example of how the judiciary can sometimes allow personal moral biases to affect cases.
Being moral is a plus for any judge, as long as he stays within the bounds of the law when making his rulings. But extremist judges often use morality as an excuse to direct their decisions to a point that is far outside the bounds of the law and the Constitution.
In the couple’s divorce decree, the judge let stand a clause that prohibits them from exposing their nine-year-old son to any “non-mainstream religious beliefs.” That, of course, begs the question of who decides what mainstream is.
The purpose of the ruling was to prohibit the parents from exposing their son to Wicca. But the language is so vague that it could be argued that Buddhism or even Islam is a non-mainstream religion.
Even more to the point, what gives any judge the right to tell a parent what religion they can or cannot expose their children to? The test is whether or not the child is being harmed.
In the cases where parents harm or even allow their children to die by withholding needed medical attention on religious grounds, the courts need to step in, because physical harm is obviously being caused. But Wicca is simply a natured-based religion that stresses the peaceful coexistence of humans and their environment.
Contrary to popular opinion, Wiccans are not Satanists. They are, however, pagans. Paganism is a religion that is even recognized by the U.S. Armed Forces. Ecumenical chaplains are taught its belief system.
It has been long held that parents have the constitutional right to direct the religious upbringing of their children. Generally, when the parents are divorced, the parent with custody can determine the religious upbringing.
In this case, the parents have joint custody, but the boy is living with his father. Both parents are Wiccans.
Legal experts say the ruling is extremely unusual. It is unheard of that a judge would prescribe a certain religious belief to the parents in a divorce decree, especially if the parents are in agreement about religion.
One positive thing that might come out of the case is that it may educate more people about other “non-mainstream” religions, including Wicca.
In a time when the President of the United States is pushing his nominations of extreme right-wing judges, and when there is a good chance that at least one of his future nominations will be for a Supreme Court justice, it is important for us to keep in mind that minority religions have just as much right to exist in this country.