A Texas judge violated the First Amendment when he ruled that a divorced woman could not take her child to a predominantly gay Christian church because the congregation is not "main line," says Americans United for Separation of Church and State.
In a friend-of-the-court brief filed jointly with three other organizations, Americans United argues that the 78th District Court Judge Keith Nelson of Wichita County erred by ruling that the mother could not take her child to services at the Metropolitan Community Church. The brief was filed before the Texas Court of Appeals, Second District.
"A court-imposed ranking of religions and determination as to which are sufficiently 'main line,' or orthodox, constitutes impermissible state assessment of ecclesiastical matters and partiality concerning religious denominations," observes the brief. "The trial court's order also violates the mother's free exercise rights because the court made a determination concerning the mother's visitation rights based on an evaluation of her religious beliefs and the church she attends."
The case centers on a divorce involving a Christian mother and a Jewish father. In the decree, both parents agreed to provide religious training for their 5-year-old daughter. When the mother began taking her daughter to services at the MCC congregation in Wichita Falls, the father objected and asked Judge Nelson to intervene.
Nelson ruled that only "main line churches would be utilized by the parties for the religious training of the child.." The court listed a number of houses of worship that would qualify as "main line," including Methodist, Baptist, Episcopalian and Catholic congregations as well as Jewish synagogues but added "the Metropolitan Community Church does not fall within the category."
Americans United Executive Director Barry W. Lynn said courts have no business deciding which churches qualify as "main line" and which do not.
"It is not the job of any branch of government to rank denominations in a type of 'Top Ten' list with those failing to make the cut being assigned second-class status," said Lynn. "In the eyes of the government, all religions should be considered equal."
In addition to Americans United, other groups filing the brief in the case include the American Civil Liberties Union, the ACLU of Texas, People For the American Way and the Southern Poverty Law Center.
Americans United is a religious liberty watchdog group based in Washington, D.C. Founded in 1947, the organization educates Americans about the importance of church-state separation in safeguarding religious freedom.