Monday, October 24, 2022

State's Removal of 16-Year-Old Transgender Child from Parents' Home Did Not Violate Their Free Exercise Rights

In In re A.C. (Minor Child), (IN App., Oct. 21, 2022), an Indiana state appeals court upheld a trial court's order removing from the home a 16-year old transgender child who suffered from an untreated eating disorder and who was emotionally abused because of their parent's unwillingness to accept their transgender identity. The parents testified that they could not affirm their child's transgender identity or use the child's preferred pronouns because of their religious beliefs.  In rejecting the parents' Free Exercise claims, the court said in part:

[T]he Dispositional Order was based on Child’s medical and psychological needs and not on the Parents’ disagreement with Child’s transgender identity....

Even if the Parents were able to demonstrate that the Dispositional Order imposes a substantial burden on their religious freedom, their claim that Child’s continued removal from the home violates the Free Exercise Clause would fail....  [P]rotecting a child’s health and welfare is well recognized as a compelling interest justifying state action that is contrary to a parent’s religious beliefs.

The court also held that the trial court's order requiring the parents to refrain from discussing Child’s transgender identity during visitation does not violate the parents' free speech rights.