Discriminatory Decree: Indiana Judge Excommunicates 'Non-Mainstream' Religions

A judge in Indiana apparently believes the First Amendment's religious liberty clauses only protect majority faiths.

Marion County Superior Court Chief Judge Cale J. Bradford has drawn press attention for refusing to lift an order from a divorce decree barring Thomas E. Jones Jr. and his ex-wife Tammie U. Bristol from exposing their 9-year-old son to "non-mainstream" religious beliefs and rituals. Bradford's obstinance has prompted the Indiana Civil Liberties Union to ask the Indiana Court of Appeals to nullify Bradford's action.

Both parents, according to The Indianapolis Star, strenuously objected to Bradford's order that neither of them expose their son to Wicca, a Pagan religion that focuses on nature. Nonetheless, earlier this year Bradford refused to change the decree. According to the Star, Bradford based his action on a report from the state's Domestic Relations Counseling Bureau, which noted that the child attends a Catholic school. The report claimed the couple had displayed "little insight into the confusion these divergent belief systems will have upon (the boy) as he ages."

It's stunning that a judge, even one who deals in domestic law rather than constitutional issues, would either callously ignore the First Amendment or willfully flout the protection it offers to all religions, not just those celebrated by majorities.

In a highly pluralistic society such as ours, a narrow governmental definition of religion is unworkable. Indeed, constitutional scholars, as well as federal judges, have concluded as much.

The U.S. Supreme Court in 1925 ruled in Pierce v. Society of Sisters that a state law barring parents from sending their children to private religious schools violated the parents' liberties to worship God and to raise their children without unreasonable interference from the state.

In its 1961 Torcaso v. Watkins decision, the high court invalidated a portion of Maryland's Constitution requiring appointees to public office to declare a belief in God. Writing for the majority, Justice Hugo Black said that government can neither "aid all religions as against non-believers, and neither can aid those religions based on a belief in the existence of God as against those religions founded on different beliefs."

In a 1984 University of California Law Review article, Professor Kent Greenawalt wrote that, "No specification of essential conditions will capture all and only the beliefs, practices, and organizations that are regarded as religious in modern culture and should not be treated as such under the Constitution."

Bradford's action is contemptuous of the Constitution and based in bigotry. The Indiana Court of Appeals should quickly rectify the situation.