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Custody and religious freedom: A closer look at court orders

On Behalf of | Jun 27, 2024 | Child Custody |

When parents’ divorce, the question of religious upbringing can become a contentious issue. Courts grapple with balancing a parent’s First Amendment rights with the best interests of the child. In a recent case, the Indiana Court of Appeals upheld an order restricting a non-custodial parent’s ability take the child to their church.

The case involved a tumultuous post-decree relationship. The Mother was granted legal custody of Child, and the decree prohibited the Father from taking Child to church services at his chosen church. The decree allowed for social activities, provided church teachings were not the focus.

Father violated this restriction, prompting an order that barred Child from attending any events at the Father’s church. Father argued that this order infringed upon his First Amendment rights.

Did the order violate the parent’s First Amendment rights?

The Court of Appeals rejected Father’s argument because the order did not involve the Father’s free exercise of religion. He could attend any church at any time. The First Amendment protects religious freedom but does not grant carte blanche to involve children in religious activities against the custodial parent’s wishes. The court further explains Indiana law empowers custodial parents to determine a child’s church involvement.

The trial court’s order aligned with this legal framework. As a result, Mother’s exclusive authority allowed her to decide that Child would not participate in Father’s church.

What can other families learn from this case?

The balance between parental rights and a child’s best interests is a delicate one and courts strive to strike a balance. While the First Amendment remains sacrosanct, it does not override a custodial parent’s authority.

Bardonner v. Bardonner (March 12, 2024) (First Amendment Parenting Case)

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