INDIANAPOLIS – A Wiccan activist and his ex-wife are challenging a court's order that they must protect their 9-year-old son from what it calls their "non-mainstream religious beliefs and rituals."
The Indiana Civil Liberties Union (search) has appealed the stipulation written into the couple's divorce order, saying it is unconstitutionally vague because it does not define mainstream religion.
Thomas Jones, a Wiccan (search) activist who has coordinated Pagan Pride Day (search) in Indianapolis for six years, said he and his ex-wife, Tammy Bristol, were stunned by the order. Neither parent has taken their son to any Wiccan rituals since it was issued, he said.
"We both had an instant resolve to challenge it. We could not accept it," Jones said Thursday. "I'm afraid I'll lose my son if I let him around when I practice my religion."
A court commissioner wrote the unusual order after a routine report by the court's Domestic Relations Counseling Bureau noted that both Jones and his ex-wife are pagans who send their son, Archer, to a Catholic elementary school.
In the order, the parents were "directed to take such steps as are needed to shelter Archer from involvement and observation of these non-mainstream religious beliefs and rituals." The judge let the wording stand.
The order has been criticized by various religious and advocacy groups.
Barry Lynn, executive director of the Washington, D.C.-based Americans United for Separation of Church and State (search), said judges cannot substitute their religious judgment for that of parents in regard to the upbringing of children.
"This is an absurd result, because in the eyes of the law being a pagan should be no different from being a Presbyterian," he said.
Wiccans contend their religion is becoming more mainstream. The parents' appeal says there were about 1 million pagans worldwide in 2002, more than the numbers who practice Sikhism, Taoism and other established religions in the United States.
Wiccans consider themselves witches, pagans or neo-pagans, and say their religion is based on respect for the earth, nature and the cycle of the seasons.
"There continues to be misunderstanding and prejudice and discrimination, not only against Wicca but against any religion that is not centered on monotheism," said the Rev. Elena Fox, high priestess and senior minister of Circle Sanctuary (search), a Wiccan church and pagan resource center near Madison, Wis.
The head of a conservative Christian group also sided with the Wiccans.
"The parents have the right to raise their child in that faith, just as I have the right to raise my child in the Christian faith," said Micah Clark, executive director of the American Family Association of Indiana (search).