Religion is a sensitive topic for many people, and people with opposing beliefs can sometimes find themselves at an impasse when it comes to reconciling differences in religious beliefs. For parents who find themselves working through a divorce or separation, religious differences can lead to litigation, even if both parents share the same faith on some level. This was the situation in a recent decision from the Provincial Court of British Columbia.

Father’s religious beliefs begin to cause problems in marriage

The parties involved have three children under the age of six and were separated on October 24, 2018. They appeared before the court to determine who between them would have the authority to make decisions in respect to religious and spiritual upbringing of their children.

Both of the parents are practicing Christians. During the early part of their marriage, the mother said her and the father shared religious views and interpretations of scriptures, and they attended the same church.

At some point in early 2015, the father began to watch online videos by two pastors the court referred to as “American Fundamentalist Baptists.” After being asked by the father to watch one of their videos, she did so and found the pastor’s teachings to be hateful.

Eventually, the father began to attend a different church than the mother. The couple started to argue about religion, and they ultimately separated. The children live with the mother, and visited the father once a week. The main issue at trial concerned whether the father would be able to teach his religious beliefs to the children.

Mother is concerned about children’s exposure to father’s religious beliefs

The mother told the court that her overarching issue is the father’s literal interpretation of the bible, which includes following verses in the book which direct people to hate certain groups, including homosexuals.

The father did not challenge this, admitting that his beliefs include following the words of the bible literally and that the meaning of the words should not change with the passage of time and changes in society. He said his hateful beliefs are based in good faith.

Best interests of the children are the issue, not religious freedom

The father argued that the mother’s application was an effort to restrict his religious practices. The court said this is not the case, and that the issue is not about the fathers right to religious freedom, but about the best interests of the children.

The court listened to the father’s beliefs on issues such as sexuality and found that his views separate him from many people he meets, and that while he doesn’t physically fight with people, his children are exposed to his beliefs which may cause them to feel the same say, writing the father “will teach his children that homosexuals should be put to death and he will teach them to keep their views about homosexuality to themselves while exhibiting peace and love.”

The court found these views to be anti-social and would cause the children to be unable to get along with a large number of people they will meet through their lives. For these reasons, the court found that the father should not be in a position to make religious decisions about their children.  

Contrary to popular belief, “custody” does not refer just to where a child lives. It includes a parent’s responsibility to make decisions about their child’s care, including religion. If you are contemplating a separation, or are already in the process, and there are children involved, your first step should be to consult with a family lawyer who has experience with custody and access matters. NULaw and its predecessors have been helping clients in Toronto since 1953. We provide clear, practical advice so that clients can make informed decisions about their parental rights. Contact us online or at 416-481-5604 to book a consultation.

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