? Colorado Judge Restricts Mom's 'Homophobia'

DENVER—The case of a mother ordered by a judge to shield her daughter from “homophobic” religious doctrine could have a chilling effect on religious freedom, legal experts close to the case say.

And, with the Nov. 18 Massachusetts court ruling ordering the state to allow homosexual marriage, the case presents a signal of what might become unacceptable if homosexual marriage is accepted nationwide.

“The implications on religious freedom are extreme,” said Amy Desai, an attorney for Dr. Cheryl Clark.

Clark, a Denver physician who left the homosexual lifestyle, was ordered in a custody decision to protect her daughter from religious teachings against homosexuality. The judge issued the order because Clark's ex-girlfriend, who is a practicing lesbian, expressed concerns that anti-homosexual teachings might turn the girl against her.

“In some ways this case is a reminder that we need to be careful about our living arrangements,” Desai said. “There are more than just biblical reasons to consider marriage over cohabitation.”

The case goes back to 1995, when Clark adopted an infant daughter. At the time, Clark was in a lesbian relationship with Elsey McLeod, a Denver psychologist.

“Dr. McLeod was not an applicant for the adoption,” Desai argued. “She agreed that Dr. Clark would be the only legal parent. Dr. McLeod told Dr. Clark that she did not want to have children. Dr. McLeod did not participate in the adoption application process nor the expenses.”

Years after the adoption, Clark returned to her Christian roots and decided to end her relationship with McLeod. But McLeod was not ready to end her relationship with Clark's adopted child. Though McLeod took no interest in the adoption, actively dissociating herself from it, she developed a relationship with the child and argued that she had court for joint custody and was awarded what Desai describes as “almost equal” custody of the girl April 28.

Although McLeod was granted joint custody, Denver District Judge John Coughlin assigned Clark full responsibility for the child's religious upbringing. McLeod, however, had expressed concerns to the court because Clark's mainline Protestant church contains brochures from Focus on the Family and Promise Keepers—two Colorado-based Christian ministries McLeod considers homophobic.

Responding to McLeod's concerns about the brochures, Coughlin inserted a caveat into the orders pertaining to religious education. He wrote that Clark must shield her daughter from any religious training that “could be considered homophobic.”

“This is so broad that we have no idea how Dr. Clark is to obey this order,” Desai said. “This could mean that the child can't even attend church. McLeod could argue that this order has been violated if Dr. Clark takes the child to a heterosexual wedding. What can Dr. Clark teach the child about marriage and dating without violating this order?”

Clark's legal team filed a 31-page appeal in November, and the Colorado Court of Appeals is expected to hear the case next spring. Her lawyers hope the appeals court will reduce or eliminate McLeod's custodial rights, and at the very least they want removal of parenting restrictions pertaining to homosexual education.

McLeod returned a call from the Register but said her lawyer has forbidden her from talking to the media because her answer to Clark's appeal has not been filed yet.

Ability to Teach

It's likely the custody orders will be overturned, Denver attorney and radio talk-show host Dan Caplis said.

But if it isn't, Coughlin's “homophobic” order might set a precedent that could ultimately cripple the ability of parents to instill values of any kind in their children without court interference, said Caplis, who is Catholic.

The Catechism of the Catholic Church teaches that parents have the “first responsibility for the education of their children” (Nos. 2223-2231).

“The home is well suited for education in the virtues,” it says, adding, “Parents have a grave responsibility to give good example to their children.”

The Catechism goes on to say that parents have the right to choose a school for their children that “corresponds to their own convictions.” Public authorities, it says, “have the duty of guaranteeing this parental right and of ensuring the concrete conditions for its exercise.”

Nevertheless, homosexual activists are applauding Coughlin's ruling as a breakthrough. Though the circumstances facing Clark and McLeod are unusual, homosexual parents say Coughlin's order will help in another, more common situation.

“The home is well suited for education in the virtues,” it says, adding, “Parents have a grave responsibility to give good example to their children.”

“It's very common for one party in a heterosexual marriage to discover his or her homosexuality,” said Angeline Acain, publisher of Gay Parent magazine in Forest Hills, N.Y. “After the breakup, it's common for the heterosexual parent to make disparaging remarks about homosexuality to a child caught in the middle. So this is a wonderful ruling for gay parents caught up in those situations. It could be very helpful to them and their children.”

Lee Inkmann says it goes even further than that, establishing legal intolerance for “homophobia.” Inkmann said she's a practicing Catholic who's a member of St. Mary's Parish in Eugene, Ore., but was “married” to a woman in a Unitarian Church before returning to her Catholic roots.

Inkmann is in a legal dispute with the parish elementary school, saying the principal and pastor denied her adopted preschool-aged daughter's enrollment because the girl has two mothers. Mediation begins this month.

“It's obvious that my daughter is going to hear all about how terrible her two mothers are because they're lesbians, and she'll hear that constantly in the course of her everyday life,” Inkmann said. “So it's wonderful that a judge has forbidden a parent to instill anti-homosexual sentiments in a child. This is in the child's best interest.”

Inkmann thinks children will get along better in society if they are not taught homosexuality is wrong. Although the Church and Scripture say homosexual acts are sinful, Inkmann refers to anti-homosexual sentiment as “hateful bigotry.”

That is wrong, said Allan Carlson, editor and publisher of The Family in America magazine and president of the Howard Center for Family Religion and Society in Rockford, Ill.

While he says nobody should be hateful of or bigoted toward homosexuals, Carlson argues it's perfectly normal and responsible for a parent to teach a child that homosexuality is abnormal and wrong.

He disputes that Judge Coughlin's order will help children at all, and if upheld he says it will only hinder the ability of parents to instill truth and values in children.

“This concept of the courts doing whatever is in the ‘best interest of the child’ sounds good on the surface, but really it's just something that's said in order to let judges do whatever they want,” Carlson said. “What's in the best interest of the child is that the parents teach the child right from wrong.”

It's difficult, Carlson said, for members of the modern judiciary to allow parents to teach their children morality because it's a concept the courts don't understand.

“This thing in Denver is an astounding decision, but it's one that shows the total collapse of morality in our judicial system,” Carlson said. “Our judiciary is incapable of understanding the difference between moral and immoral, normal and abnormal, right and wrong. Our legal system rests on the concept of moral order, and this judge openly embraces and flaunts a lack of moral order.”

Wayne Laugesen writes from Boulder, Colorado.