People often say that they're afraid to come out of the broom closet -- what if their ex-spouse uses Wicca as a weapon in a divorce proceeding? What if a teacher singles out someone's child because mom and dad are Pagan? How do you find a balance that allows you to practice your faith, and yet still protect your rights as a parent?
Let’s talk first about child custody in divorce proceedings. There have been cases in which one spouse tries to remove children from the presence of the other in the belief that the parent might be practicing a religion that is harmful to the kids. In such cases, federal courts have been reluctant to get involved and have generally left decisions to state supreme courts, who tend to vary widely in their interpretations of law.
In New Hampshire, state courts will not examine any evidence concerning religion at all in a custody hearing, on the grounds that it would put the government into a position in which crosses the church-and-state barrier. In the State of Ohio, a 1992 ruling (Pater v. Pater) stated that custody "cannot be awarded solely on the basis of the parents' religious affiliations and that to do so violates the First Amendment to the United States Constitution." However, in some states, depending on what region of the country you are in, you may find yourself before a judge who proudly displays the Ten Commandments in his courtroom and who takes religious issues to be part of his domain. In ANY legal proceeding, you need to make sure you consult with an attorney.
In other cases, child welfare agencies have investigated complaints against Pagan or Wiccan families. Nearly universally, if a family has lost custody of a child to a government agency, it is because there was some other issue at play besides religion -- neglect, drug or alcohol abuse, or unsanitary living conditions. Bear in mind that unless there is an extreme situation taking place, it is rare for children to be removed from a home on the first visit by child welfare investigators.
If someone from a child protective agency comes to your home and asks to investigate, try to have a witness present. Learn ahead of time what your state's laws are regarding search and seizure. Find out if allowing law enforcement or child welfare agencies into your home without a warrant will waive your rights under illegal search. If it does, request that anyone who comes to your home have a warrant.
Finally, remember that there are ways you can help reduce the chance you'll face religious discrimination as a Pagan or Wiccan parent. Ultimately, education and communication are the key. Be sure to read How to Protect Your Legal Rights for additional information and tips. If you're ever in doubt, consult with an attorney. You may also want to pick up a copy of Pagans and the Law, by Dana Eilers.
Do you have concerns about protecting your Pagan student in school? Be sure to read up on Rights of Pagan and Wiccan Students!