Christian and Muslim parents should be very concerned by a judge’s decision to remove a seven-year-old boy from his mother over her Jehovah’s Witness beliefs, a commentator has said.
Frank Furedi said the ruling was not simply about the mother’s actions, but her beliefs.
“More specifically it raised questions about the rights of a parent to bring up a child in accordance with their beliefs”, he added.
Simon Calvert, The Christian Institute’s Deputy Director for Public Affairs, said people did not have to agree with the family’s religion to see it was wrong for a judge to place a child in foster care simply because of the views of his parents.
“Many people would think removing a child in these circumstances is extreme, and this judge’s decision should cause unease for anyone trying to bring up a child in accordance with their beliefs”, he said.
The case centred on a boy known only as N and his separated parents. At one point in the legal proceedings his mother promised not to talk about religion to her son, although she later asked to go back on that pledge.
Judge Clifford Bellamy said previously that he was “satisfied that I have the power to regulate the mother’s exposure of N to her religious practice and beliefs”.
In the latest ruling Judge Bellamy explained that child N should be placed into foster care because of the “emotional harm” he had suffered, in part caused by “immersion in his mother’s religious beliefs and practices”.
Writing on the Huffington Post website, Frank Furedi, an atheist, noted that while it is “always difficult to be certain what is in the best interest of a child”, N’s mother was on trial for her beliefs, rather than her behaviour.
“In this case the right of a mother to rear her child in accordance with her moral outlook is trumped” by a court’s decision to “determine the religious parameters of the boy’s socialisation”, he said.
Furedi, an author and former university professor, continued: “If exposing a child to religion causes emotional harm why not to secular moral education?
“Once the ideals or ideas of parents become associated with emotional damage they become in effect both medicalised and delegitimised.
“In effect the authority of parents to determine the values that underpin their children’s socialisation is called into question because of the damage that they can allegedly inflict on their offspring”, he commented.
He added that the ruling “is frightening news for parents with orthodox Christian, Muslim or Jewish beliefs” and that even he as an atheist could not “let off a sigh of relief” because his views could be seen by the courts as indoctrination.
Reflecting on the case, Simon Calvert called for the judiciary to better understand the “fundamental freedom every family has to bring up children in accordance with their beliefs.
“For a judge to think he can ‘regulate’ how much religion a parent teaches their child shows something has gone seriously wrong.
“This case will bring to mind the example of the King family – they disagreed with the treatment their son Ashya was getting on the NHS.
“Their decision to remove their own son from hospital sparked an extraordinary international man hunt.
“It must be up to the parents to decide how they raise their children. We cannot have draconian state-approved parenting in this country.”