Saturday, August 04, 2007

Pagan (etc*) divorced mother denied custody of children

*Most of the stink being raised orbits the fact that the woman in question is some flavor of neo-pagan, most expressions of which involve libertine ritual (sometimes symbolic, sometimes actual) sex.

The level of discourse I've observed has for the most part been higher--at least a little--than what one normally expects from the Internet, especially on such topics as religion, morality, and politics. Still, for the most part, the discussion seems to glide over the most damning factor in the court's custody decision. From Volokh's excerpt of the decision:

[Mother] has undertaken to engage in a lifestyle that is extreme by normal social standards and [mother] testified that she is a devotee of sado-masochism; that she is bisexual; that she engages in paganism; that she has used illicit drugs on a semi-regular basis; and that she spends a great deal of time online where she has two to four websites of so-called "blogs."

Now, the mother has the right to raise her child as she sees fit, short of exposing the daughter to disproportionate harm by doing so (however the magnitude and type might be defined by legal minds), including raising her as a neo-pagan. One of the commenters at Volokh even points out that any number of legally permissible things can be considered in a custody hearing that push a judgment to disfavor one party or the other, since the question isn't about legality, or just about what's good for the child as what's best for the child within the court's purview.

So the mom has weird sex with a guy she hasn't quite married yet, and worships some sort of abstracted natural forces, and spends a lot of time online, probably writing about these activities.

However, they're all dodging--and perhaps it's because the decision doesn't emphasize it more, but the judge did write that it appears unlikely the mother and her fiance (not the father) will be able to adequately protect the daughter from her practices (like sadomasochism in the bedroom) that are, shall we say, difficult to explain to children. I think blogging is the slightest hazard of these three, but maybe the fear was that the mother spent too much time on the Internet relative to her working and parenting responsibilities, and that the daughter might find out about her mother's activities from exploring her mother's online activities.

Why is the judge fearful of these likely turns of events, and not just of the mother's fringe interests themselves?

For one thing, the mother also "has used illicit drugs on a semi-regular basis." Remember that bit from the ruling?

Stop the presses, people. I don't care what religion or orientation you are or what fetish you indulge or refrain from indulging. If you're a drug user, a big black mark goes into your "not fit for custody" column. You can pretend you're a victim of Christian heteronormative narrow-mindedness, but don't think for a second that your propensity to flout the law and use chemicals that are demonstrably harmful to users, people close to them, and society in general is merely the repressive work of some "sex-negative" people who can hardly help but violate your First Amendment rights with glee. No; first you have to step back and explain why lighting or shooting up or whatever is your reasonably harmless entitlement. Then we'll discuss if it's really a medieval/fundamentalist judge that has the chip on his shoulder.


Anonymous said...

If the mother has "used illicit drugs" on any kind of basis, she should not be allowed to raiser her kids, period!


Ed Pie said...

All I can figure is the people I noticed making the biggest stink are pot-smoking Wiccans; if they didn't approve of recreational drug use, they'd be more eager to place blame on bongs and joints and less on the idea that the mother's behavior is strange enough to appear dangerous (by common estimation) to her child. Instead, though, they take a first amendment tack and ignore the objectively illegal stuff.

I don't want to group all her supporters together, the religious angle's worth debating by itself as a principle, but this case was lost on completely different grounds.