Friday, May 22, 2009

Arizona Judge Prohibits Mormonism

Is it proper for a judge to prohibit a father from taking his children to the Mormon Church? I found myself asking this question after I read an article written by Sarah Fenske of the Phoenix New Times.

Fenske gives some background on the case. “Two years ago, Maricopa County Superior Court Judge Robert Budoff decreed that Richard Franco could not take his children to a Mormon church.”

“Never mind that Franco had been a Mormon his whole life. Or that on weekends when he had custody of his 14-year-old son and 10-year-old daughter, the extended Franco clan attended Sunday services together. Nope, Judge budoff ordered in writing that the Franco kids’ ‘only religious training shall be in the Catholic faith and that they not be taken to an LDs church or LDS church training.”

Judge “Budoff’s decision was upheld by the appellate court in December. More recently, this spring, the Arizona Supreme Court took a pass, refusing to give Franco so much as a hearing.”

Fenske continues “reading the court file, it’s clear that Judge Budoff found Franco abrasive, arrogant, and annoying. But Budoff never found Franco to be an unfit parent. The children’s parenting coordinator, in fact, described the kids as ‘thriving, intelligent, and articulate’ and said that they ‘remain bonded to both their parents,’ despite a difficult divorce.”

Mike McCormack, executive director of the Washington, D.C.-based American Coalition for Fathers and Children offered that “without a finding that he (Franco) was unfit, he was informed—make that, flat-out told—‘You can’t expose these children to your religious beliefs. That’s over the top. Do we want that micromanagement from our judiciary? From our perspective, this was a real over-reach. This is an area where judges are getting ahead of themselves, to say that children will or will not be raised a particular way…The religious training question should be left in the hands of the parents.”

Fenske raises a valid question: (religious) “plurality can make things rough once the kids reach school age. But it can also be awesome. How to better learn tolerance than to have relatives with whom you disagree? How better to sort out how you really feel about God than understanding that good people see Him in different ways?” I agree with Fenske that some of the best learning experiences I’ve had in life have come through sharing ideas with people who have different beliefs then I have. Also, growing up in Maricopa County these children are going to be exposed to Mormonism whether it’s through their father, class-mates, or friends.

Below I highlight the pertinent part of Judge Budoff’s ruling. (Read the Entire Ruling Here)

2. The Decree provided that the parties would share joint custody of the children and contained a parenting time schedule which provided that Mother would be the primary residential parent and that Father would have regularly scheduled parenting time with the children including alternating weekends.

7. Extensive testimony was presented at the September 6, 2007, hearing from the parties and others relative to the parties’ communication and cooperation with each other, the circumstances surrounding the incidences of April 13, May 27 and July 11, 2007, and the matter of the children’s religious upbringing, and from the testimony presented the following findings are made:

a. Father has been aggressive, abusive and intimidating to Mother in phone conversations, e-mails and in conference with the Parenting Coordinator.

b. Father has been rude and intimidating to Daughter’s dance director and teacher.

c. Father is controlling and dictatorial with Mother over parenting schedule issues as he does not discuss issues with her and merely dictates to her as to how issues should be resolved immediately after she refuses to accede to his wishes.

g. Father has failed to return the children on time from his parenting time periods. The Court considers this behavior to be an example of passive-aggressive behavior towards Mother which adds to the parties’ inability to trust each other and to work together with regard to co-parenting.

h. Notwithstanding that the Decree provides that the children would be raised in the Catholic faith and only attend the Mormon church if they desired to do so, it is clear that Father has intimidated and coerced the children to attend Mormon church services when they are in his care although Father has agreed that the children be raised in the Catholic religion and the children appear to be committed to this religion, Father apparently believes that regardless of the children’s wishes he should be able to take the children to his church and expose them to his religion when they are in his care. Parenting Coordinator, Dr. Waldman, believes that this is not generally in the children’s best interest. Waldman opined that the children should not be forced to choose between religions and must be directed towards one, and only one religion, during their childhood.

k. The children’s Best Interest Attorney reports that the children have a good relationship with and enjoy their time with both parents except for those times when Father forces them to go to the Mormon church.

Based upon the foregoing and having considered the relevant factors of A.R.S. 25-403 and 25-403.01, the Court finds that continuation of joint legal custody for the parents is not in the children’s best interest.

IT IS FURTHER ORDERED awarding Mother sole legal custody of the children with full final decision-making authority relative to all educational, medical and religious issues.

(the Mother) is most supportive of the children’s Catholic upbringing to which the parties previously agreed and which they affirmed in open Court

IT IS FURTHER ORDERED in accordance with the recommendations of Parenting Coordinator, Dr. Larry Waldman, and to avoid further confusion and conflict in the children’s lives, that their only religious training shall be in the Catholic faith and that they not be taken to an LDS church or LDS church training. In making this decision relative to the religious issue, a decision that this Court has, in the past, avoided when at all possible, the Court determines that the conflict between the parents over this issue and the need for the children to have consistency in this area requires that such an order be entered in their best interest.

Under ARS 25-410(A)- the parent with custody chooses the children’s religion but that is completely different than a total ban on Mormonism. When this Father has his children over the weekend is he supposed to leave them home alone while he goes to church or is he not supposed to attend church either?

Could this Court ordered ban on Mormonism be seen as an endorsement of Catholicism? Would that be a violation of the First Amendment?

Even if the situation were the same I can’t see Judge Budoff, ruling the same way if the father were a member of a different religion; he would not have banned this father from sharing his beliefs with them.


  1. I can’t see Judge Budoff, ruling the same way if the father were a member of a different religion; he would not have banned this father from sharing his beliefs with them..
    How do you know that besides you own ipse dixit?

    And would you hold the same opinion on the law if the facts were actually different -- if the mother, who seems to have primary custody, were raising the children in the LDS church and that were their preference, but the father compelled them to attend mass and take communion?

    (BTW, I am not an expert in domestic relations law, so I have no opinion about whether the judge is correct as a matter of law. I suspect that such parental rights commonly are cabined by divorce decrees. I would be interested to read knowledgeable commentary.)

  2. JaO of course I don't know for sure how the Judge would have ruled if the Father had not been Mormon (and maybe I'm just hyper sensitive to these situations) but for example when several Muslims are pulled off an airplane for "acting suspicious" there is wide spread outrage and much media attention. Compare that to this situation which has received no national media exposure that I'm aware of.

  3. These family issues can be difficult to understand in a court decision, and, based on my experience with abused spouses, I would not be surprised if there is more going on here than we can read in the judge's decision. It does not look like it has much to do with religion, but much to do with an abusive father and kids that would rather be Catholic. It sounds as if the father is using religion as a tool against the mother, rather than for the benefit of the children. I agree that the order will not keep the children from learning about Mormonism, but it may keep the father from using it as a weapon against his ex-wife.

  4. Clint Dunaway,

    I find your Muslims-on-airplanes comment to be an utter non sequitur and a too-obvious hip shot. But more importantly I suggest that the interesting questions your raise are best approached first by what many lawyers quaintly call "research," and only later by outraged blogging.

    Here, for example is a post about an Alabama case. It is not exactly on-point, but it confirms my suspicion that divorce decrees sometimes encompass religious training of children of other denominations. I am pretty sure LDS parents are not the only people who take their children's religious exposure seriously. (Even in your example, the mother's side of the controversy took Catholicism seriously.)

    Here is a layman's survey of the state of the law on that point. It came up first in my Google search. Here is the second such article retrieved, from Both articles say this is a fairly common matter, unresolved by SCOTUS.

    So it is an interesting question, if asked correctly and fairly. Obviously, we should expect the law to be neutral vis a vis the LDS church. I also would expect that we temper our own opinions by that standard.

  5. I don't blame the judge for doing this. I was taught as a little Mormon boy in Sunday School that Catholics were people who worshiped Satan, that the Catholic Church is "the whore of all the earth," and that the Catholic Church was created by the devil to lead mankind away from the truth, which had to be restored by Joseph Smith. Later I saw the endowment ceremony, in which Lucifer is paying a Priest to be his partner.

    I can only imagine the damaging self-hatred which has been pounded into these poor childrens' minds as a result of the false teachings in this regard.

    As a Mormon I look forward to the day when the church makes a full and complete atonement for this psychotic bigotry and hatred.

  6. Interestingly, I am acquainted with Judge Budoff's family (at least, I've met his son on a few occasions). I don't know if the Budoff family is Christian, but I do know several of their friends, and each are very strong Born Again Christians.

    Although neither of us have the evidence to back it up, I believe that your suspicions of religious prejudice may have some merit.

  7. Or not...I just learned that the good Judge is a non-practicing Jew.

  8. I don't see what the fuss is about. The parties expressly stipulated in the Divorce Decree that the kids were to be brought up in the Catholic faith. That was their determination, not the court's. If the dad didn't want that, he shouldn't have signed off on it. If the Best Interest Attorney is to be believed, the kids don't enjoy going to LDS Church services -- and at 3 hours, who would at that age? I just see a judge enforcing the parties prior Decree. Where's the scandal?

    The only part I might take issue with is the Parenting Coordinator's decision that the kids would be better off exposed to only one religion. That sounds bogus to me. As long as the kids have two living parents, they will be exposed to contrasting viewpoints and beliefs. Attempting to isolate one seems futile, but that's essentially what the parents agreed to in the Decree, so it doesn't seem improper.

  9. how does this one work with your constitution? know it says congress shall make no laws- but how does a judge make a ruling that voids a part of your constitution?

    also I am sure if anyone dug they could find the judge could have an exposure to a church/ group that are opposed to the "mormon" church in any way- prejudiced/ disqualify

    sounds an easy appeal- but we know the cost involved

    at the end o the day its whats best for the kids i guess, and so harmony might say go to one church only, and hope when tyhey older the kids investigate for themselves (provided they havent been poisoned)

  10. While the couple did agree to raise the children in the Catholic Church that is much different the Judge completely banning someone from attending an LDS Church. The ban on Mormonism was not agreed to.

  11. We had a similar case in California a number of years ago. It was a reported appellate opinion, In re Marriage of Mentry, 142 Cal. App. 3d 260. It is almost precisely on point except that the mother was a former LDS. The prevailing view in the states is that clear harm to the child must be shown to trample on the religious rights of the parents.

    All that said, there are judges who feel that teaching a child any religion is doing harm.

  12. Going through something extremely similar myself, I can say that the judge is simply doing what is best for the children. As adults we are able to understand and appreciate religious differences. As children, two completely different ideologies will only confuse the children who have been through enough already. The father signed the decree agreeing to raise them Catholic. When they are older, they can do as they please. I am sure he can find a babysitter for them if he chooses to practice his faith while they are with him. It's not about banning Mormonism as so incorrectly stated. It' about raising Catholic as stated in the decree. You can't do both at the same time.