Do you think judges should have the power to decide what religion your children must belong to and which churches they may be prohibited from attending? We have long suspected that family courts are the most dictatorial and biased of all U.S. courts, routinely depriving divorced fathers of due process rights and authority over their own children, but this December a Chicago judge went beyond the pale.
Cook County Circuit Judge Edward Jordan issued a restraining order to prohibit Joseph Reyes from taking his 3-year-old daughter to any non-Jewish religious activities because the ex-wife argued that would contribute to "the emotional detriment of the child." Mrs. Rebecca Reyes wants to raise her daughter in the Jewish religion, and the judge sided with the mother.
As Joseph Reyes' divorce attorney, Joel Brodsky, said when he saw the judge's restraining order: "I almost fell off my chair. I thought maybe we were in Afghanistan and this was the Taliban." The lawyer is appealing.
Doesn't the First Amendment extend to fathers? Apparently not, if they are divorced. This case sounds extreme, but it is a good illustration of how family courts, the lowest in the judicial hierarchy, have become the most dictatorial of all courts because of the tremendous number of families and amounts of private money they control and the lack of accountability for their decisions.
In another divorce case this year, a family court in New Hampshire (where the state motto is "Live Free or Die") ordered 10-year-old Amanda Kurowski to quit being homeschooled by her mother and instead to attend fifth grade in the local public school. Judge Lucinda V. Sadler approved the court-appointed expert's view that Amanda "appeared to reflect her mother's rigidity on questions of faith" and that Amanda "would be best served by exposure to multiple points of view."
Where did family court judges get the power to decide what church and what school the children of divorced parents must attend? Family court judges have amassed this extraordinary power by co-opting and changing the definition of a time-honored concept: "the best interest of the child."
This rule originally came from English common law as compiled by William Blackstone in 1765, and meant that parents are presumed to act in their own children's best interest. For centuries, English and American courts honored parents' rights by recognizing the legal presumption that the best interest of a child is whatever a fit parent says it is, and should not be second-guessed by a judge.
Phyllis Schlafly is a national leader of the pro-family movement, a nationally syndicated columnist and author of Feminist Fantasies.
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