A B.C. judge says a fundamentalist Baptist father who believes homosexuals should be executed shouldn’t have any say in the religious upbringing of his children.
Chilliwack Provincial Court Judge Kristen Mundstock made it clear she didn’t want to limit the religious freedom of the father, who is known in court documents as JKH.
But she said she feared his three young children — who live with their mother, AJH — would become social outcasts if they adopted their father’s extreme views.
“J believes the Bible directs him to teach the word of God to his children. In other words, J will teach his children that homosexuals should be put to death,” Mundstock wrote in a decision released last week.
“If J is at liberty to teach the children his religious views, I am concerned the children will not be able to get along with people they must interact with on a daily basis.”
“He acknowledges he has hateful beliefs but he says they are based on good faith,” Mundstock wrote. “He states there are certain people that God commands us to hate.”
Online videos of hateful U.S. preachers
The case highlights one of the most contentious problems judges face in balancing the rights of parents with the interests of their children when it comes to child custody.
“The issue of religious freedom and how the kids should be raised through what religion or whether they should not be raised with any religion at all is one of the most disputed, hotly contested issues when it comes to custody,” said Leena Yousefi, a Vancouver-area family lawyer.
“Religion is obviously extremely close to the religious person’s heart, and they truly believe that that’s the way to go to heaven or be on the good side of God, and that’s how kids should be raised.”
Yousefi, who was not involved in the battle between JKH and AJH, said parents who remain together are free to raise their children however they want. But it’s different for parents who split up.
Precedent that goes all the way to the Supreme Court of Canada has led judges to place what they consider to be the best interests of children over what some parents may claim as an absolute right.
The B.C. case portrays a marriage riven by religious discord.
JKH and AJH separated in October 2018.
The father’s parenting time is limited to two hours per week on Monday afternoons at a McDonald’s Play Place in the Fraser Valley while AJH sits elsewhere.
JKH asked the court for the ability to bring the children to his home, while the mother asked Mundstock to order that she be given sole responsibility for the religious and spiritual upbringing of the children, aged two, four and five.
Both parents are practicing Christians. AJH said their relationship fell apart when JKH started watching online videos of two American religious leaders known for extreme and hateful views on abortion, homosexuality and the Holocaust.
Pastor Roger Jimenez gained international notoriety in 2016 after he praised the fatal shooting of 49 people at a gay nightclub in Florida.
Reverend Steven Anderson has been denied entry to several countries — including, he says, Canada — because of sermons calling for the execution of homosexuals.
AJH claimed that JKH asked her to watch their videos, but “she found [the] teachings to be hateful.”
‘But that’s, that’s Bible’
JKH, who calls himself a fundamentalist Baptist and attends a church in Surrey, says he believes “what is written in the Bible is the truth.”
“He states the beliefs espoused in his church are similar to those of Reverend Anderson and Pastor Jiminez but that his church exhibits more tact,” the judge wrote.
“He states his church does not believe in promoting violence.”
JKH also has some very rigid beliefs about women, who he says are not “lesser” but are subject to the authority of their husbands and shouldn’t speak or teach in church.
“He described other Christians as selling out,” Mundstock wrote.
“J wants to teach his children his views of the Bible so they can thrive by having the same firm foundation and stability. He believes A’s religious instruction is harmful to the children and not in their best interests.”
The father claimed his ex-partner’s bid to limit his participation in the religious upbringing of his children was an attack on his right to religious freedom.
But the judge rejected that argument, saying that as an adult, JKH was free to practise his beliefs.
“My only concern is for the best interests of the children,” she said.
And she said it was clear from his direct testimony that his uncompromising views place him at odds with most people.
“It says [homosexuals] are brute beasts, meaning dumb animals, which is extremely offensive,” JKH testified at one point. “But that’s, that’s Bible.”
‘The children are vulnerable’
The Supreme Court of Canada weighed in on religion and child custody in 1993 with a battle between a mother who wanted her children raised in the United Church and a father who was ordered not to discuss his Jehovah’s Witness faith with his children or to take them to meetings.
The judges said the courts weren’t there to adjudicate a “war of religion” between parents of different faiths.
“Rather, it is the manner in which such beliefs are practised together with the impact and effect they have on the child which must be considered,” the Supreme Court decision says.
“In all cases where the effects of religious practices are at issue, the best interests of the child must prevail.”
Practically speaking, Yousefi says that means courts usually tend to lean toward the more secular parent.
“In a way, the [Supreme Court] said that it would be limiting to contain the children in a certain religion when the other parent is not adhering to it,” she said.
AJH told the court she believes that not all parts of the Bible are still relevant today.
She feels society is more diverse and said she doesn’t want her ex-partner to teach the children to hate homosexuals.
The judge agreed that it would be confusing to the children to be taught views from their father that are “diametrically opposed” to the views of their primary caregiver.
“The children are vulnerable and unable, at their young ages, to discern what is true and what is false,” Mundstock wrote.
“They are also unable to weigh and balance what they are taught by one parent as opposed to the other on such advanced notions of morality and spirituality.”
Father admitted he would ignore court order
Both parents were self-represented.
In cases involving lawyers, Yousefi said the court might be inclined to issue an order for the father to refrain from discussing the specifics of his beliefs.
As it is, Mundstock ordered both parties to put the best interests of the children ahead of their own and to refrain from any “negative or hostile criticism, communication or argument in front of the children.
The father’s uncompromising nature also led the judge to reject his application to have the children at his house during his parenting time. JKH admitted that he wouldn’t comply with an order prohibiting him from teaching his children the Bible even if the judge made one.
“I conclude J has chosen to live his life according to his fundamentalist views and there is no room for compromise, even if this means his parenting time will be once a week outside of his home,” Mundstock wrote.
The COVID-19 pandemic means the McDonald’s Play Place where the visits happen is now closed.
The judge left it to the parents to decide what is best for the children in the meantime.