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Tennessee Mom Gets Children Baptized, Could Go to Jail

In a case that created a debate about the role of courts in families’ private religious decisions, a Tennessee woman faces jail time for having her kids baptized. The mother had her two children baptized without her former husband’s knowledge or consent despite a provision in a court order requiring the couple to make major decisions jointly regarding the children’s religious upbringing. She could face up to 20 days in jail and a $100 fine if convicted of criminal contempt for violating the court order.

At the time of their divorce, the Presbyterian mother and Methodist father were undecided about when their kids should be baptized. The father wanted to wait until the children were older and could understand baptism’s significance. The mother decided to have them baptized anyways, leading a lower court to find her in contempt of court.

Court of Appeals Ruling

She appealed, arguing that including religion in the court order violated her First Amendment rights; she also argued that the court showed a preference for her former husband’s religious views regarding baptism over her views, according to Global Post. The Tennessee Court of Appeals rejected both arguments, stating that the woman failed to follow a court order and therefore could be charged with criminal contempt.

Tennessee Parenting Plans

Religious clauses such as the joint decision-making provision in the former spouses’ parenting plan in this case are common in Tennessee. As the appeals court stated in this case, courts must maintain neutrality regarding religion. Even so, courts are not barred from enforcing or interpreting religious provisions in parenting agreements created during the divorce process.

Parenting plans allow divorcing parents to structure their future parenting in a way that ensures they act in the best interests of their children. Parenting plans also address how the parents will make education and medical care decisions for their kids, among other issues.

Spouses going through divorce should each contact a skilled divorce attorney to represent them and to protect the best interests of their children.