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1999 NCC News Archives

NCC, American Jewish Congress File Brief in Church-State Case

July 13,1999, NEW YORK – Can a court forbid a parent from taking her child to a church affiliated with the Universal Fellowship of Metropolitan Community Churches (UFMCC) and restrict the child's attendance to what the court referred to as "mainline" churches?

A Texas district court decision to that effect is now on appeal to the Texas Court of Appeals. The appeal has "friend of the court" support from the National Council of Churches and the American Jewish Congress.

The appeal contends that the 78th District Court of Wichita County, Texas, violated church-state separation by deciding that a child of a marriage ending in divorce could attend only a "mainline" church with her mother. The lower court found that the UFMCC, with a particular ministry among gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgendered persons, did "not fall within the category" of mainline churches.

In their amicus brief filed in the child custody case of "In the Interest of WKG, a Minor Child," the two organizations said that "a loosely worded divorce agreement has led to an improper judicial intrusion into the sacred domain of religious belief," thus requiring reversal.

A Christian mother and Jewish father divorced, with each promising as part of their divorce to provide religious training to their daughter. The mother took her daughter to the Metropolitan Community Church at Wichita Falls.

When the father objected to the mother's choice of church, the court found that only "mainline churches would be utilized by the parties for the religious training of the child the subject of this suit." The court listed a number of mainline Protestant churches such as Methodist, Baptist and Episcopalian; the Catholic church, and a "Jewish synagogue" but specifically excluded the UFMCC.

"For decades, the National Council of Churches has been an advocate of both freedom of religion and non-discrimination," said the Rev. Oliver Thomas, NCC Special Counsel for Religious and Civil Liberties. "There may be reasons why a court could order a parent not to take his or her child to a particular church, but none appear in the record.

"Moreover," he continued, "the judge's attempt to limit religious participation to so-called mainline churches is an unconstitutional intrusion into what is essentially an ecclesiastical question. Absent proof that a particular religious practice would be harmful to a child, parents should be free to attend the church of their choice. In particular, judges should not be permitted to inject their theological biases into what does or does not constitute an acceptable church. In this case, the court went so far as to construct a list of acceptable churches."

The NCC/AJC brief declares that "the morality of homosexual behavior is very much a subject of debate" in the United States today, and that parents should make child-rearing decisions without threat of loss of custody because a court agrees or disagrees with their moral views on this contentious issue.

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