Holly Salzman says she had sought help from the courts in co-parenting her 11-year-old sons with her ex-husband. The result was a court-order that sent Salzburg to a counselor named Mary Pepper. Once she got there, Salzburg realized something was definitely up when Pepper tried to open the session through prayer. When Salzman informed her new counselor that she was not religious and felt vastly uncomfortable with the directive to pray, the response she got from the counselor was basically a shrug and an eyeroll. When she decided to say nuts to that noise and forego the involuntary bible study, the court went ahead and took her kids, saying that she could have them back once she finished the sessions.
She did stay the course, but not before having to fill out questionnaires titled "What is God to Me?" and having the counselor insist that despite the fact that Holly didn't believe in God, she actually did and was just confused. And of course there's the small fact that Pepper chose to take cash literally under the table because her counseling racket, which she executes at the public library, is actually super-duper illegal. Truly, a Godly woman above reproach.
Video: KQRE News 13
This is not okay. If the state is going to require someone to attend counseling sessions, they better make sure that they aren't violating the person's religious belief—or lack thereof—in the process. There's a reason that we take great pains to separate church from state, and you would think that people might have learned their lesson after watching Kim Davis, the Kentucky clerk who would rather sit in jail than sign a piece of paper that allows gay people to get married, make a massive fool of herself and a mockery of her own religion.
Unfortunately, this kind of condescending, "you just need to come to Jesus" moment playing out in the courts isn't even new. It's a nifty little trick that's pulled — particularly in Bible Belt states — that stupidly conflates the law of the land with the personal beliefs of whatever zealot judge is passing out these mandates.
For instance, there was the case in 2012, where an Oklahoman judge told a transgender woman that she could not change her name — something that's perfectly legal in Oklahoma — because the Bible led him to conclude that "the DNA code shows God meant for them to stay male and female.”
Or a year before that, when a Houston judge gave nine defendants a Bible study book to read and then write a report on because he felt the situation "called" to do so.
Obviously, a big problem here is that this kind of stuff is massively unconstitutional. Of course, it's fabulous for the judges in these cases that they feel that their faith has shaped them into great people. However, it's simply irrelevant to the job they're doing.
You can also believe that ice-cold enemas shore up your moral fiber, but under no circumstances does that allow you to decree that someone else experience that frosty epiphany. Similarly, none of the judges in these scenarios has the right to let their own religions influence the way that they hand down potentially life-changing judgements. They have the literal opposite of that right. It's constitutionally cut-and-dry. Your right to religion stops where it impinges upon another's. Most kids learn this in middle school social studies, so it absolutely baffles the mind that these educated judges haven't sorted that out yet.
We don't live in a theocracy. Christianity — or any religion — is not a prerequisite to morality, or goodness, or good parenting, just as a lack of religion isn't evidence of the opposite. If you can't see the problem with requiring people to attend Jesus-themed activities in order to say, get their kids back, than flip it around in your mind: imagine what it would feel like if you were required as a Christian to attend a Mosque or Wiccan Samhain festival in order to renew your car's registration. That's called empathy, and it's another thing lots of kids learn early. If you're an adult and you can't muster some up, what's your excuse?
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