Dad Says He Lost Custody Due to His Agnostic Beliefs

I thought I’d seen everything when it comes to depriving fathers of their children and children of their fathers.  The litany of those laws and practices is long and pretty well-known.

When it comes to family courts, denial of equal parenting and the refusal to enforce fathers’ visitation rights are two of the major ways in which fathers lose contact with their children and vice versa.  Then there are adoptions that proceed without the consent or knowledge of the father.  That’s actually the purpose of putative father registries despite the pious intonations of state legislatures to the contrary.

And then there are mothers who unilaterally decide that dads shall have no knowledge of or contact with their children.  Everything from paternity fraud to child abduction to move-aways to concealing a pregnancy are all tried and true methods with which readers of this blog are well acquainted.

Not to be outdone, child welfare agencies have been found by the Urban Institute to routinely ignore fathers when attempting to place children whose mothers have proven unfit.  This preference for foster care over father care is one of the great, albeit under-the-radar, scandals of our laws and practices concerning fathers and children.

As I said, all of this is well enough known.  But this is new (Fox59, 11/22/10).

It seems that Craig Scarberry and his ex-wife had a reasonably amicable post-divorce relationship.  That included a 50-50 split of parenting time of their three children for about four years.  Scarberry claims that he’s known to be a good and loving dad.

“Anybody who’s been around me and my children for five or 10  minutes can see the love and the bond that’s there,” Scarberry told Fox59 News.

That 50-50 split lasted for four years, but it came to an end recently courtesy of Indiana Superior Court Judge George Pancol.  In a ruling two weeks ago, he cut Scarberry’s parenting time back to four hours a week plus alternate weekends.

Why?  According to Scarberry, it’s because he’s become an agnostic.  Apparently he used to consider himself a Christian and now no longer does.  He says that, in his findings of fact

Judge George Pancol wrote, “the father did not participate in the same religious training as the mother, and noted that the father was agnostic. It goes on to say that when the father considered himself a Christian, the parties were able to communicate relatively effectively.

Well, I suppose I don’t need to point out that the First Amendment to the U.S. Constitution prohibits the establishment of religion.  If, as seems likely, Judge Pancol used the father’s lack of Christian belief to limit his access to his children, his order looks like it violates that clause of the First Amendment.

That said, I haven’t seen the order and my guess is that the judge wasn’t that dumb.  I wouldn’t be surprised to learn that, even if he mentioned Scarberry’s agnosticism, he protected himself against reversal by including other legitimate concerns that would warrant a change of custody.

Still, it’s worth watching this case to see what happens.  Scarberry has announced his intention to appeal the order and when he does, all will be revealed.

It wasn’t too long ago that a couple in Illinois with competing religious preferences were ruled to each have the right to teach their doctrine to their children.  Of course agnosticism is not a religion, but Christianity is and, in Scarberry’s case, that raises that ticklish First Amendment establishment issue again.

But whatever the outcome of the Scarberry case, the fact that a judge placed importance on the agnosticism of one parent in denying him equal association with his kids will surely be a caution to other parents.  So, if you’re thinking of divorce, you’d better get yourself to a place of worship regularly or it may be held against you by the judge.  And not just any place of worship, but one that meets with the approval of the judge in your divorce case.

It’s exactly that process of state power being used to channel citizens toward certain religions that the First Amendment was written to prevent.  Ironically, constitutional rights like those contained in the First Amendment, are what Craig Scarberry fought to protect while serving in the United States Navy.

Stay tuned.

Thanks to John for the heads-up.

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