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Patti Wigington

Foster Parents Sue Over Religious Discrimination

By November 30, 2007

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An interesting bit of news out of Kentucky -- a London, KY, couple has lost their foster parenting privileges because they refused to stop attending a church in which snake-handling is part of the service. Now they're suing, saying their Constitutional rights were violated.

Jason and Tammy Barrett said through their attorney that they have never taken any of their children to the snake-handling services. However, that didn't stop Lifeway for Youth Kentucky from revoking their license, and removing foster children from their home. The agency had originally requested that the Barretts stop attending the services, but the couple refused.

Lifeway for Youth is a non-profit organization that helps find therapeutic foster care for troubled and disabled children in the Ohio, Indiana, and Kentucky area. Referrals come to them from state service agencies, social workers, and mental health professionals.

Now, depending on what sort of other things are at play here, this could have some powerful repercussions. If indeed the children were never exposed to snake-handlers, and thus never in any danger, then it will be interesting to see how Lifeway for Youth defends their position. Can a state-sanctioned foster agency revoke the license of foster parents based upon religious practices, if the children do not in fact participate? What will this mean for Pagans and Wiccans who wish to become foster parents, but have been unable to? Also, think about the effect this may have on custody issues involving Pagan and Wiccan parents who feel they've been unjustly discriminated against based upon their own spirituality.

Keep your eye on this one, folks. Despite the fact that it's about snake-handling churches and not Wiccans, it could set a very important precedent.
Comments
November 30, 2007 at 4:31 pm
(1) Jenn says:

just wondering, what harm would handling a snake do to the kid anyway?

November 30, 2007 at 5:09 pm
(2) Circe says:

Precisely — I know, as a young girl, I handled a large number of snakes, frogs, salamanders, and just about anything else I could get my hands on!
:)

November 30, 2007 at 5:30 pm
(3) paganwiccan says:

Well, in snake handling churches they typically use venomous snakes like rattlers. The people who do the “handling” are considered gifted, and believe God will keep them safe if they get bitten. I can see how it might make the foster agency uneasy to have kids going to such an activity… but the kids apparently weren’t attending, it was just the parents.

patti

November 30, 2007 at 5:58 pm
(4) Hannah says:

I think it’s ridiculous that they weren’t allowed to keep the foster kids based on their private religious practices. If they were putting the kids in danger it would be one thing, but it’s completely discriminatory otherwise. Do they think that the parents are going to be a bad influence based on their practices? There’s no way that would stick; I think (read: hope) that they’ll get the kids back.

December 1, 2007 at 9:47 am
(5) Nate says:

Agreed about the repressive nature of the ruling, but:

“Animals are not ours to eat, wear, experiment on, or use for entertainment!”

These kooks are potentially exposing the children to animal abuse. “Snake handling” is right up there with animal sacrifice and the likes. Actually, the whole lot of them should be brought up on charges!

December 2, 2007 at 11:21 am
(6) redhound says:

As long as the snakes are being well taken care of then its not a problem. And they are taken care of. But its not about the snakes, its about the religious discrimination. The agency had no right to pull the children. Plus, what about the trauma the kids were exposed to? Unfortunately, I don’t think the kids will be given back, though.

December 2, 2007 at 1:56 pm
(7) Kassiane says:

The law doesn’t say a blessed thing about animals for amusement or food. Nor were they sacrificing them.

Incidentally, Nate, you’ve just invited yourself to find me ketogenic vegetarian food. Good luck.

December 4, 2007 at 11:46 am
(8) James Pease says:

Hmm… Lifeway will have a pretty difficult time defending ANY position right now, no matter the situation seeing as they’re still in very hot water over the Marcus Fiesel incident (for those not from the area, a recent case involving the murder of a foster child and the subsequent cover up by the parents who were licensed by Lifeway). That and… are children even allowed at those snake handling services in the first place? I can recall seeing videos of the practice and never once saw a child in one.

December 5, 2007 at 3:22 am
(9) Kassiane says:

…oh, THIS is the same area as the Marcus Feisel thing? That was HORRIBLE.

Without a doubt, snake handling is less of an issue than what those foster parents did. Seriously, I don’t see how this is even an ISSUE–ESPECIALLY if it’s where a kid turned up dead in a closet.

December 7, 2007 at 10:12 am
(10) Melanie says:

Snake handlers get themsevles worked into a spiritual frenzy with dancing and singing, hand clapping, foot stomping and tamborines. The music almost has a hypnotic rock band rythm.

Then they bring out the COPPERHEADS and RATTLESNAKES. They are kept in a serpant box until the spirit is right.

People caress the snakes, drape them around their neck and dance around the church holding venemous snakes. Occassionally, someone gets bit and dies. Duh!!

Playing with poisonous snakes is part of the church ritual. They find it somewhere in the bible where they can drink poison and hold deadly serpants without harm.

At some point would the foster parents have decided to take the children to church to save them?

Snake handling is a serious safety. issue. I know my fundie s-i-l is always praying for her God to “bring me down.”

December 7, 2007 at 12:12 pm
(11) Crystal says:

Wouldn’t the whole ordeal of being taken from one foster home, seemingly safe, since they don’t take the children to the church, upset the children a lot more than continuing to live with the foster parents? And wouldn’t it be the child’s choice whether or not they wished to attend? I admit that dancing with poisonous snakes is a bit risky, but it does seem that from current evidence the children are no where near the danger. What’s the big deal? And Nate, the snakes are being used for religious, not entertainment purposes. They are not being harmed in any way, in fact, animals kept by humans often live far longer and healthier lives since they always have reliable food, water, and shelter, not to mention medical care!

December 7, 2007 at 1:24 pm
(12) Tab says:

If the children were not forced to attend and left in the care of a responsible adult, then I do not see why they were taken away. But, if there is more to it, and it just hasn’t been leaked yet, then maybe I can understand. What about the kids who attend this church with their parents, will the state take them away? Just saying.

December 7, 2007 at 1:32 pm
(13) Ashley says:

I would like to know that if this family took these childeren to the zoo every sunday and participated in the animal shows would that be clasified as the same thing or if these foster parents were vet’s or zoo keepers and alway’s handled these animale or even if they had a pet snake would it still result this way what is the big deal with what someone’s religion is…people in this world need to grow up..and realize that we are all human.

December 7, 2007 at 6:27 pm
(14) Gaedon says:

Although I think it is within the rights of the foster parents to practice their religion and express it as they desire, if there is any kind of danger to the “children” then the agency may have their safety in mind. However, Wiccans don’t usually perform any kind of dangerous or risky ritual practices. Thus, it may come down to how the agencies define danger. With that said if these individuals live in conservative states there will continue to be law suits of this sort. If conservatives define safety only in terms of Christianity then there will be many discrimination suits.

December 9, 2007 at 1:01 pm
(15) Megan says:

Religion or beliefs.. even seemingly dangerous ones, is not a fair determinate of weather a person is a safe parent or foster parent. These children were in no danger because of the snake church their foster parents attended. What matters is if the were in a nurturing, caring home free from neglect… where they were loved.

December 9, 2007 at 4:34 pm
(16) Lisa says:

What everyone seems to have overlooked here is that the foster parents were originally registered with this agency. The agency ALWAYS looks over everything, including religious practices. This does sound like a case of religious discrimination, where the agency is now trying to “back-track” in the “best interests of the child”. The foster parents will win this one.

December 18, 2007 at 11:55 am
(17) Pepper says:

This one hits home with me because of religious rights. I haven’t been able to see my granddaughters now for 6 months because their other grandparents whom they live with found out I was pagan. I’ve been pagan since they were born with never any issues. But the subject was never brought up until one of the girls told their other (Christian) grandmother that I was a Witch. I’ve never practiced my path in front of them, but the girls new what I was and thought it was fun. I don’t have the money to hire an attorny to fight them, so we can’t see the girls anymore. I know I would probably win the case, just don’t have the money to try. The only time we get to see the girls is when they bring them over to get presents for birthdays etc. We can’t be left alone with them anymore. The girls won’t even call me now because their afraid of me now. They were told that I’m an evil devil worshipper. Don’t get me started on that one. We keep hoping that they change theirs minds but it’s been 6 months now.

Pepper

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