Well, the matter has been settled.
Parents can share Wicca with son
Indianapolis Star, August 18, 2005 - An Indianapolis father can share his Wiccan beliefs and rituals with his 10-year-old son, a state appeals court ruled Wednesday in a unanimous decision upholding parents' rights to share their religion with their children.
The court declared that a Marion County judge erred in approving a divorce decree last year that also directed the man and his ex-wife to shelter their son from "non-mainstream religious beliefs and rituals."
Thomas E. Jones Jr., a practicing Wiccan who waged the court battle, said he's relieved that his life can return to normal.
"Because of this, I think a lot of education has gone on about religious freedoms," said Jones, who planned to tell his son the good news when he got home from school Wednesday, his first day of fourth grade.
The case involved the divorce of Jones and Tammie U. Bristol, both practicing Wiccans. The Indianapolis residents married in February 1995, and their divorce was final in February 2004. Bristol and Jones have joint custody, and the boy lives with his father on the Northside.
Both parents united in their fight to have the religious restriction removed. Wiccan beliefs center on the balance of nature and a reverence for the Earth. Wiccans do not worship Satan, a common misperception.
Judge Patricia A. Riley, writing on behalf of the three-judge appeals court panel in a decision released Wednesday, said trial courts can limit parents' authority if it's necessary to prevent endangerment to a child's physical health or significant impairment of the child's emotional health.
However, there was no evidence of endangerment in this case, the judges ruled. They struck part of paragraph 10 from the decree but let the rest of the divorce stand, signaling the end of the legal battle.
Marion Superior Court Judge Cale J. Bradford, who approved the divorce decree after a court commissioner made the initial decision, agreed with the appeals court decision.
"This case was never about freedom of religion," Bradford said. "I support freedom of religion, and not just mine, either. That includes the Wiccans."
Bradford said he gave the case a brief review before approving it last year, indicating there were initial concerns that some of the Wiccan rituals may have endangered the boy's health. Later, after a more thorough review of the court record, he discovered that wasn't the case, Bradford said.
"I have nothing against the Wiccans of the world," Bradford said. "I wish them all the best."
The Indiana Civil Liberties Union argued the case for Jones on constitutional grounds -- that the decree trampled on parents' rights to expose their children to the religion of their choice.
But the appeals court didn't rule on the constitutional question. Instead, it relied on state law, which prohibits courts from limiting parents' authority unless a child is at risk of physical danger or significant emotional impairment.
"I think this serves as a reminder that there are areas the state has no business getting involved (in)," said Ken Falk, an attorney with the ICLU.