Divorce, Custody and Religion

What worries me about this case, as I see it, is that it prohibits the free exercise of religion. I don’t particularly like Mormonism, however, I would not want a just to tell me what I can or cannot teach my children about God. Granted, they agreed to the stipulation, but if the stipulation is illegal, then the agreement should be void. It also gives the judge in this case to decide what is and what is not a Protestant religion.

via NWAnews.com :: Northwest Arkansas’ News Source

A Benton County father found in contempt for violating a custody agreement that barred him from promoting Mormonism to his two sons lost his appeal at the Arkansas Court of Appeals on Wednesday.

Joel Mark Rownak and Lisa Monette Rownak agreed in their 2005 divorce to raise their children “in the Protestant faith.” The decree bars them from promoting another religion without the other’s consent.

In May 2007, Benton County Circuit Judge John R. Scott found Joel Rownak in contempt of that decree based on evidence that Rownak had “candidly acknowledged” promoting the Mormon faith to his sons.

Rownak led his sons in Scripture reading and daily prayer, involved one son in Boy Scouts at a local Mormon church and had one son baptized at the church, according to an opinion written by Judge Sam Bird and agreed to by Judges John Robbins and Robert J. Gladwin.

Rownak argued the contempt finding violated his First Amendment rights, particularly the establishment clause that prohibits the state from discriminating against religion.

Bird wrote that the decree was a valid contract between parties and didn’t violate Rownak’s constitutional rights. He noted that Joel Rownak had requested the language to be included in the decree.

Joel Rownak testified that the Church of Jesus Christ of Latterday Saints wasn’t a Protestant faith, and the court also considered evidence to that effect from the church’s Web site.

Lisa Rownak had objected to her ex-husband’s promoting Mormonism to their children.

In light of this evidence, Scott was correct in finding Joel Rownak in contempt of the divorce decree, Bird wrote.

At the appeals court, the case is CA 08-193, Joel Mark Rownak v. Lisa Monette Rownak.

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