Thursday, 16 August 2012

Children and Religious Upbringing. Who gets the final say?

A recent decision by a Judge in Romford County Court has ruled that a 10 year old Jewish girl can be baptised into the Anglican Church against her mother’s wishes.

Religious differences can often be a factor in the breakdown of a relationship.  Just look at Tom Cruise and Katie Holmes and their different views on Scientology.  When children are involved things rarely go as smoothly as they have done for TomKat, particularly if both parents have strong views on how the child should be raised.

So who should have the final say in the spiritual upbringing of children?

In the Romford case the mother argued that her daughter was too immature to make such a significant decision.  In Judaism, it is believed that intellectual maturity is not gained until a girl reaches bat mitzvah (usually at the age of 12).  The Judge did not share this view and his decision appeared to be largely influenced by the girl’s own reasons for wanting to be baptised, which she was allowed to explain directly to the Judge during the proceedings. The decision has not been well received by the Jewish community.

The mother was also concerned that the experience would be unsettling for the girl given her Jewish upbringing. The girl’s father had also been brought up as a Jew and only converted to Christianity after separating from the mother.  The Judge did consider this, explaining to the girl that she would not lose her Jewish heritage by being baptised and that she should be encouraged to be educated in both religions. This has further outraged members of the Jewish community as they see this as confusing the girl’s religious identity.

Was the Judge Right?

The issue of religious upbringing was dealt with in the High Court case of Re N in 2011 where it was confirmed that neither parent has a predominant right to choose a child’s religious upbringing and, where the parents follow different religions, the child should be allowed to learn about and experience both.  The mother in the Romford case did not object to the child being exposed to, and learning about, her father’s religion.  The father took the girl and her brother to church on a regular basis which the mother was aware of and had agreed to.  She had also acknowledged that, should her daughter wish to be baptised once she was older, she would be free to do so.

In light of the above, did the Judge go too far in saying that the 10 year old could be baptised? Or was he right to put the wishes of the child over those of the mother?

What do you think?

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