Recent Developments

Issues that affect ministers and churches
Can a court force a mother to take her son to church?
The state may not require any citizen to attend religious services.

Does a civil court have the authority to order a mother to take her 7-year-old son to church? That was the issue before a Virginia appeals court. A trial court awarded custody of a 7-year-old boy to his father following the parents' divorce. The mother was granted visitation rights on every other weekend, holidays, and during the summer months. However, the trial court stipulated that on weekends when the mother had custody she would either take the child to church on Sunday, or permit the father to do so. The trial court concluded that this was a reasonable accommodation given the fact that the child had been raised in a very religious home and always had gone to church. The mother had regularly attended church during the marriage, but she said she did so because of the her husband's insistence, and that she never agreed with the church's teachings and found the atmosphere "intolerable." A state appeals court ruled that the trial court erred in requiring the mother to take her son to church. The court observed: "She is required to attend church with her son or suffer the penalty of losing a portion of her visitation time. Regardless of the trial judge's motivation, the state may not require a citizen to attend any religious worship." Carrico v. Blevins, 402 S.E.2d 235 (Va. App. 1991).

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Posted: March 2, 1992
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