Friday, August 03, 2012

British Court Says 10-Year Old Can Change Religions Over Objection of Her Mother

The Telegraph yesterday reported on an interesting decision by a British trial court judge on whether the 10 year old daughter of divorced parents may convert from Judaism to Christianity (her father's current religion) over the objection of her mother. Both parents were Jewish during the marriage, but after the breakdown of the marriage the father became a member of the Anglican Church.  The two children from the marriage attended church with the father on alternate weeks when the children were with him under a shared parenting arrangement. The daughter decided she wished to convert after attending the "New Wine" festival with her father.  In In the Matter of C a Child, (Romford Co., May 11, 2012), the court refused to prohibit the father from presenting the child for baptism. The judge wrote, in part:
I accept the evidence of the mother that in her eyes the baptism of a child has much greater significance in that it can be seen as demonstrating a rejection of her Jewish faith.... but it is very clear to me that neither the mother nor the grandparents have made any real effort to see this from the point of view of what is best for the child....
It may be some comfort both to the mother and to the grandparents if I set out my understanding of Jewish law on this topic although I stress that since I have received no expert evidence on this issue what follows has played no part in my decision making process. My understanding of Jewish law is that a person who is born a Jew cannot deprive himself of his Jewish status. Christian baptism does not have any effect on that status. The purported act of conversion to Christianity simply has no legal effect and C would therefore be free to resume her Jewish faith at any time if she wished to do so....
While the mother has the care of C she receives no instruction in the Jewish faith, she does not attend the synagogue on any regular basis and only experiences minimal exposure to Jewish religious practises in the home. I fully accept that by virtue of being born of as Jewish mother C has acquired a Jewish heritage which she will never lose, but that is fundamentally different to her acquiring a Jewish faith. I do not accept the implied assertion in the letter from Rabbi Brandon that these are one and the same thing.
In another interesting twist, the court barred the parents from showing a copy of the court's opinion to their child and instead required that the explanation given to the child take the form of a letter that the judge wrote to the child and attached to the decision.