Agnostic? Then you shouldn’t have children.

An Indiana judge has issued a ruling stripping a father of joint custody of his three children. One of the reasons cited by the judge was the lack of religion of the father.

[Judge] Pancol’s order says [Craig] Scarberry “did not participate in the same religious training that the (mother) exercised and that (Scarberry) was agnostic.” Scarberry has until Dec. 1 to appeal the ruling, which has reduced his custody to visitation with his children four hours per week and on alternating weekends.

Watch this short news report.

Of course, there’s certainly more to the story, but all that’s out there right now is that Scarberry’s lack of Christianity is a contributing factor in why he is not allowed to retain joint custody of his children. There is no evidence of neglect or abuse, nor any accusations of any sort of thing.

The main issue for the ruling (and then affirming) judge is this:

The order severing joint custody was issued by Pancol on Nov. 1 and affirmed by Newman on Nov. 8. It said that when Scarberry had been a Christian, “the parties were able to communicate relatively effectively.”

So why give benefit to the mother? Both parents were given joint custody; that communication is difficult due to religious differences does not mean the Christian therefore wins the legal battle. There is no reason to presume the Christian is better – in any way – than the agnostic. Besides, the ruling is blatantly unconstitutional.

A secondary issue in all this is the right of the father to have a fair hearing in these cases. In the past, the father was considered the bread winner and there were financial and practical reasons for granting more rights to the mother. Except we aren’t living in a dysfunctional episode of The Dick Van Dyke Show anymore. For that reason, Scarberry has this planned:

A Navy veteran and health-care worker, Scarberry has obtained a permit for a demonstration in support of fathers’ rights for Dec. 16 at the Madison County Courthouse.

Scarberry, of course, will also be addressing his (non)religious liberty, or lack thereof. His case is a good one and his fight is for all the right reasons. I’m just worried about all the inherent and undeserved respect religion is getting in all this.

“I wasn’t interfering in their right to be brought up in a Christian environment,” [Scarberry] said, noting that the children still attend Christian school and church services as they have done in the four years that he has had joint custody.

It’s bad enough that both the ruling and affirming judges are letting their personal and cultural biases seep into the court room, but Scarberry doesn’t need to do it too. Or maybe he does. After all, the man is fighting for his children; what it takes, it takes. But ideally, he should not need to let undue respect squeeze its way in: children don’t have a “right” to be brought up in a particular religious environment. That sort of right goes to the parent. There is no such thing as a Christian (or Muslim or Jewish or…) child, much less one that wants to exercise its right to be brought up in a particular religion. Saying otherwise is like saying there are Democratic and Republican children. There aren’t. And to compound the whole mess, Scarberry cites the attendance of a Christian school and church services by his children. Again, the man is fighting for the children, so he has no higher concern, but the indoctrination of his children should not be looked upon as a good thing.

Maybe if the judges just read the first and final chapter of The God Delusion, they would get it.

Thought of the day

What if the Tea Party were black?

Vatican shifts on condoms

The Vatican has finally started to move in the right direction concerning condom use.

In a seismic shift on one of the most profound — and profoundly contentious — Roman Catholic teachings, the Vatican said Tuesday that condoms are the lesser of two evils when used to curb the spread of AIDS, even if their use prevents a pregnancy.

The position was an acknowledgment that the church’s long-held anti-birth control stance against condoms doesn’t justify putting lives at risk.

“This is a game-changer,” declared the Rev. James Martin, a prominent Jesuit writer and editor.

The new stance was staked out as the Vatican explained Pope Benedict XVI’s comments on condoms and HIV in a book that came out Tuesday based on his interview with a German journalist.

The Vatican still holds that condom use is immoral and that church doctrine forbidding artificial birth control remains unchanged. Still, the reassessment on condom use to help prevent disease carries profound significance, particularly in Africa where AIDS is rampant.

It would be nice if the next time I go to Africa, my travel doctor doesn’t specifically tell me, “Don’t have sex with the locals.” That’s a long way from happening, but at least the Vatican is doing less to make that dream stay so distant.