Eugene Volokh has just written a law article (PDF file here) on how atheist fathers and mothers are routinely discriminated against in child custody cases. He cites over 70 recent cases across the country - and these were only the ones which were appealed, so they probably represent a fraction of the actual cases. Volokh recalls how Percy Byshe Shelley was the first father to be denied custody because of his atheism - but his dilemma doesn't belong to a different time and place:
"That time and place, it turns out, is 2005 Michigan, where a modern Shelley might be denied custody based partly on his 'not regularly attend[ing] church and present[ing] no evidence demonstrating any willingness or capacity to attend to religion with [his children],' or having a 'lack of religious observation.' It's 1992 South Dakota, where Shelley might have been given custody but only on condition that he 'will agree to present a plan to the Court of how [he] is going to commence providing some sort of spiritual opportunity for the [children] to learn about God while in [his] custody.' It's 2005 Arkansas, 2002 Georgia, 2005 Louisiana, 2004 Minnesota, 2005 Mississippi, 1992 New York, 2005 North Carolina, 1996 Pennsylvania, 2004 South Carolina, 1997 Tennessee, 2000 Texas, and, going back to the 1970s and 1980s, Alabama, Connecticut, the District of Columbia, Iowa, Montana, and Nebraska. In 2000, the Mississippi Supreme Court ordered a mother to take her child to church each week, reasoning that 'it is certainly to the best interests of [the child] to receive regular and systematic spiritual training'; in 1996, the Arkansas Supreme Court did the same, partly on the grounds that weekly church attendance, rather than just the once-every-two-weeks attendance that the child would have had if he went only with the other parent, provides superior 'moral instruction.'"
Of course, this is an outrageous attack on religious liberty. Imagine if Christian parents were denied custody because of their faith. O'Reilly would have weeks of programming. But atheists? Naah. When Christianists declare that they are fighting for religious freedom, bring this issue up. It will determine whether they are in good faith, so to speak, or not.
We want to hear what you think about this article. Submit a letter to the editor or write to firstname.lastname@example.org.