Religious liberty

Are Mormons Christians?

Not for secular courts to judge, holds the Arizona Court of Appeals


From In re Ball v. Ball, decided yesterday by the Arizona Court of Appeals, in an opinion by Judge Paul J. McMurdie, joined by Judge Maria Elena Cruz joined:

Mother and Father married in November 1999 and have two minor children. In December 2017, Mother petitioned for dissolution. The parties represented themselves during the initial dissolution proceedings, and the court entered a default decree ("Decree"). Filed simultaneously with the Decree was a parenting plan, signed by both parents, that they prepared using a court-provided form ("Parenting Plan"). The court adopted the Parenting Plan's terms as part of the Decree. The Parenting Plan provisions relevant to this appeal are as follows:

Approximately one year after the divorce, Father joined The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints ("Father's Church"), and the children occasionally joined him at meetings. After Mother learned the children were accompanying Father to his church, she petitioned to enforce the Parenting Plan, claiming Father's Church is not Christian. Mother also asserted other violations of the Parenting Plan.

The superior court held two hearings on the enforcement petition. During the second hearing, Mother called a youth ministry leader from her church to testify that Father's Church is not Christian. After taking the matter under advisement, the superior court held that the Parenting Plan directs that "the Children shall only be instructed in the Christian faith" and that Father's Church was not "Christian" within the meaning of the Parenting Plan. For these reasons, the court held that Father could not take the children to Father's Church's services. The court also found that Father had violated other Parenting Plan provisions and granted Mother an award of attorney's fees….

Father appealed, and the court ruled in his favor. First, it concluded that the parenting plan didn't require the parents to raise their children Christian, but merely allowed it:

The first clause of the religious-education section of the Parenting Plan unambiguously states that "[e]ach parent may take the minor children to a church or place of worship of his or her choice during the time that the minor children is/are in his or her care." This language permits Father to take the children to any "place of worship," be it "Christian" or "non-Christian." Nothing in the second clause explicitly limits or narrows this authority…..

Adopting Mother's assertion that the second clause limits the parents' rights under the first clause would render the first meaningless because the parents could no longer take the children to a church or place of worship of their choice. Instead, the second clause is permissive and ensures that the "children may be instructed in the Christian faith." This interpretation gives effect to both clauses in the Parenting Plan's religious-education section.

But the court went on to add:

Even if the second clause might constrain Father's right under the first clause, we would nonetheless vacate the superior court's holding because the court violated the First Amendment of the United States Constitution when it ruled that Father's Church is not Christian or part of the Christian Faith…..

The Free Exercise and Establishment Clauses of the First Amendment … "preclude civil courts from inquiring into ecclesiastical matters." …. "[E]cclesiastical matters include 'a matter which concerns theological controversy, church discipline, ecclesiastical government, or the conformity of members of the church to the standard of morals required of them.'" …. "[D]epending on the circumstances, civil courts can resolve at least some church-related disputes through neutral principles of law so long as the case is resolved without inquiry into church doctrine or belief."

Here, the court dove into an ecclesiastical matter by addressing whether Father's Church is part of the Christian faith. That very question has long been a matter of theological debate in the United States. A secular court must avoid ruling on such issues to prevent the appearance that government favors one religious view over another.

Moreover, although the question was presented within the context of interpreting the Parenting Plan, the court did not resolve it through neutral principles of law but instead engaged in the exact type of inquiry into church doctrine or belief that the First Amendment prohibits. At the second evidentiary hearing, the court: (1) described the issue as "what is or is not within the definition of Christianity"; (2) allowed Mother to present testimony from a minister from her church claiming that Father's Church was not part of the Christian faith; and (3) admitted into evidence a chart purporting to compare the tenets of Father's Church with Christian beliefs. The court's order specifically found "that Mormonism does not fall within the confines of [the] Christian faith."

Courts are not the appropriate forum to assess whether someone who self-identifies as "Christian" qualifies to use that term. If the superior court's order could stand, the "harm of such a governmental intrusion into religious affairs would be irreparable." "Such a judgment could cause confusion, consternation, and dismay in religious circles." Accordingly, the ecclesiastical-abstention doctrine applies with full force in this case, and we vacate the superior court's order on that basis.

In so holding, we observe that a parenting plan's religious-education provision may be enforced without violating First Amendment principles if the dispute does not require a court to wade into matters of religious debate or dogma….. But parents who wish to address aspects of their children's religious education in a parenting plan should take great care to ensure those provisions are as specific and detailed as possible. Failure to do so may impermissibly entangle the court in religious matters should a dispute ever arise.

This case provides a potent example of this possibility made real. The ambiguities surrounding the phrase "the Christian faith" thrust the court directly into a matter of theological controversy in which it could not take part. Accordingly, we vacate the court's order regarding religious education also because the First Amendment precluded the court from addressing whether Father's Church is part of "the Christian Faith." …

Presiding Judge James B. Morse Jr. specially concurred, concluding that the court shouldn't opine on the constitutional questions.

NEXT: Today in Supreme Court History: December 11, 1922

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  1. Would it make a difference if a specific denomination, e.g. Catholic, Methodist, Pastafarianism, were specified? Assuming we can ignore the first part where “may” is interpreted as voluntary.

    1. Nope; the key word is “may” in the second clause.

      Now, if they had printed the form to say “shall”, it would be different. You know, like “shall not be infringed” in the second amendment.

      1. There were two parts to the decision. One concerned the use of “may” and that alone would do it. On that we and the court agree.

        But the decision went farther and declined to get involved in whether Mormons are Christians. What I’m interested in discussing is whether a specific denomination would make a difference for the second part.

        Two scenarios, removing the “may” language:

        A) “The children shall be instructed in the Christian faith.”
        B) The children shall be instructed in the Catholic faith.”

        I understand the courts reluctance to get involved in whether Mormons are Christians. But it would seem pretty obvious that they are not Catholic and that would seem to be within the realm of permissible if not actually simply stipulated by both parties..

        1. I’d guess that if that clause specified a church which is recognized by the Vatican, or the LDS elders, or the Methodist Council Of Methodilogical Methodists, or the Pastafarian Supremo …. then, and only then, could a secular court rule on whether the church was of the approved type.

        2. I mean …. there are offshoots of the “approved” Vatican church, right? Opus Dei, I think for one. Various monks (IANAC!) like Jesuits have occasionally gotten in trouble with various Popes; are there Jesuit churches, as opposed to, or as a subset of, the Catholic Church?

          I really think US courts could only rule as to whether a specific church was recognized by a specific headquarters or bureaucracy, not on the practices of the individual church.

          1. That would be “orders”, not “sects”. Not offshoots in the sense of not being part of the same church, just focusing on different things.

            1. The small town I live in has a Polish National Catholic Church. Very small, unrecognized, sect. Mostly it’s chief disagreement with the Vatican is married priests.

            2. There are a bunch of Catholic churches in full communion with the Roman Catholic (Latin) Church. Many of them are really old Near-Eastern churches (Coptic, Maronite, Syriac etc.) but there are also some Eastern churches that use the Byzantine rite, but are not big-O “Orthodox.” There is a list in this wiki:


          2. Well, you need to make a distinction between a hierarchical church such as the Catholic church, with it’s Pope, Cardinals, Bishops and such — and other Christian churches which are autonomous entities. For example, the members of the individual Congregational church vote to hire (and fire) the minister. Many belong to the left-leaning UCC (United Church of Christ), others are very clear that they don’t.

        3. I think when it comes down to enforcing contracts that invoke religion the government has to rely on self-identification

          Ask a typical Mormon if they are Christian and I’m sure they’ll say they are, ask if they are Catholic and I am equally sure they will say they are not

      2. “Now, if they had printed the form to say “shall”, it would be different. You know, like “shall not be infringed” in the second amendment.”

        You mean not like “shall make no law” in First? Where, of course, the courts have determined the meaning of “shall make no law” is “well, OK, maybe Congress can make SOME laws abridging freedom of speech, but only on things we don’t like, say, like obscenity.”

    2. I was thinking the same thing — where is the dividing line between the court defining what an apple is and merely recognizing the generally-accepted definition of what apples are.

      Enforcing a contract isn’t establishing a religion.

      1. Except some people believe Mormons aren’t apples, they are kumquats.

        1. Don’t be ridiculous, Mormons are eggplants.

        2. As long as they leave me alone, I’ll defend the right of Mormons to practice their LDS faith.

          I do that because it protects my right to practice my faith.

      2. There’s no actual definition of a Christian. Some sects say there is- e.g., the Nicene Creed- but tons of Christian sects, not just Mormons, don’t recite the Nicene Creed. And that includes a lot of “born again” evangelicals who it would be ridiculous to call non-Christians.

        So there’s no workable definition other than self-identification.

        Now, this is like any other contract- since it is ambiguous, if there was parol evidence (say, both parties had written at the time of the contract that they didn’t believe that Mormonism was a form of Christianity), maybe that could be used. But in the absence of that, the reality is that while this theological point pisses a lot of fervent Christians off, there’s no legal basis for excluding Mormons who self-define as Christians.

        1. To split hairs, there is a definition of ‘christian’.

          Meriam Webster provides the definition: “one who professes belief in the teachings of Jesus Christ.”

          Oxford Learners Dictionary provides: “based on or believing the teachings of Jesus Christ.”

          I think the argument here is more the disagreement on ‘what’ Jesus was teaching and what it meant rather than the definition of Christian.

          But, by those two provided definitions, Mormon’s would be defined as christian.

      3. That was my thought too. This was an agreement — a contract — between two divorcing parties. The issue is not whether Mormonism is Christianity in the abstract, but what the intention of the parties was when the signed that agreement. That is a secular determination.

        A big issue that divided the Jewish community in the 1950s and 60s was whether synagogues should have separate-gender prayer, and a wall or barrier between the genders. Long-standing tradition held it should, and Orthodox Jewish synagogues maintained that, while Conservative and Reform did not.

        There were court cases over this, for synagogues that want to change from the traditional way to the new way. IIRC, some courts held that the donors to the originally Orthodox synagogue expected their funds to support a traditional arrangment, not an innovative one, and it would in effect be cheating them to allow the synagogue to change. The courts justified this as a determination of the donors’ intent, not the “correct” version of Judaism.

        A collection of such cases (and related breach of contract cases) are here:

        1. There were similar cases involving racially segregated park grants. See Evans v. Newton; Evans v. Abney.

  2. What better way is there to teach Christianity than by getting a divorce!

    1. I never figured you for a clinger right-winger.


  3. The problem is obvious: The form says, “Check ONE”. Why did the court not return the form to them and tell them to make up their minds which it was? That’s what should have happened.

    That aside, for government purposes, Mormonism certainly IS a “Christian” church, even if it’s an outlier sect not recognized as Christian by the rest of Christianity. The government can’t get into these inter-sect disputes.

    1. That’s a good point, but probably irrelevant now. Whoever approved the decree and the plan should have raised the issue then. The parents aren’t going to agree on this now.

      The form itself is sort of silly, since even checking only the second box doesn’t keep ether parent from raising the children with whatever religious beliefs they want.

      My guess is that that the first item was read (by the parents) as “any Baptist, Methodist, etc. church,” possibly excluding even Roman Catholic churches, because some people think that way.

      1. I’m curious how the first item could be read that way, when on the face of it, it wouldn’t even exclude Eris worship or Hinduism.

        The second? I suppose there are some people who think the Roman Catholic Church isn’t “Christian”, people think all sorts of stupid things. I doubt it’s a lot of people.

        Anyway, it’s not totally irrelevant. The judge in this case could always have called out the earlier judge as the person who caused the mess. Sure, it wouldn’t be “collegial”, but it would have been deserved.

        1. I’m curious how the first item could be read that way, when on the face of it, it wouldn’t even exclude Eris worship or Hinduism.

          Me too, but that’s my guess as to what happened.

          As to the RC church, yeah, the idea seems really dumb, but I’ve seen it expressed by some evangelical types. There’s always been lots of anti-Catholic bigotry around, and that feeds it.

          1. There are some practices in the Catholic Church that protestants really want to avoid. This was a lot more prominent before the second Vatican council. Don’t forget, in our grandparents’ time, Catholics still conducted service in Latin, forbade local languages, and discouraged even reading the bible in a local tongue. Even now, they still promote praying to the saints and the idea of a divinely inspired priesthood, which other sects still claim are too close to idolatry for comfort.

            1. There are some practices in the Catholic Church that protestants really want to avoid.

              No doubt. But are there not also Protestant practices that Catholics, or at least the hierarchy, dislike?

              I don’t see why that sort of disagreement ought to give either group the right to declare the other not Christian.

              1. If you worship Jesus Christ as your savior, you’re a “Christian”. The Mormons worship Christ, they primarily disagree on the nature of the trinity, and some other stuff Joseph Smith came up with.

                Now, the Muslims recognize Christ, but only as a major prophet, not divine, so they don’t qualify as “Christians”.

        2. B&B — while Pope John Paul II put an end to much of it, there was an awful lot of animosity between Protestants & Catholics.

          What a lot of people don’t realize about _Trinity Lutheran_ is that the Blane Amendments were passed to prevent public funds from going to Catholic schools. In the 1950s, Catholics were told that it was a Mortal Sin to set foot inside a Protestant church, let alone get married in one.

          It’s different with younger people, but those over the age of 60 really don’t consider the other to be Christian.

          1. My first marriage was not recognized by the RC because it was performed by a Lutheran minister in the outdoors. Thus, I was able to get married in a full Catholic ceremony – in a Church of course.

          2. “B&B — while Pope John Paul II put an end to much of it, there was an awful lot of animosity between Protestants & Catholics.”

            Say, like in Ireland?

      2. The parents aren’t constrained to agree only to terms anticipated by the drafter of that fill-in-the-blanks divorce kit, that person is not a party to the agreement. The couple’s intent would have been clearer if they had struck out the “Choose one” instruction, but for better or for worse the court found that checking those two boxes did not create ambiguity.

    2. Actually the form says choose one, not check one. How quickly a quote can become not a quote.

      1. Sure, but the “ONE” was even capitalized.

      2. I would think in context checking = choosing, otherwise what are they restricted to choosing one of? It can’t be one religion as the first option allows them to take the children to “a church or place of worship of his or her choice” which could be a Christian church, a synagogue, a mosque, a Hindu or Buddhist temple, anything they might choose.

    3. Yeah, my first thought when I saw that snippet was that one or the other of the parents (and maybe both) should have a decent malpractice suit against whoever filled out and filed that form for them. The instructions very clearly predicted this confusion and attempted to preempt it by saying “Choose ONE.”

      1. Ah, I didn’t read closely enough. It looks like both parents were unrepresented when that form was filled out so they have only themselves to blame. But the initial judge (or at least his/her clerk) maybe deserves some blame for not telling the parents that they’d filled out the form incorrectly.

        1. The form represented their agreement as of the time it was completed, and therefore isn’t “wrong”, just “unenforceable”.

        2. Please be advised that the judge, and clerk are representatives of the government, and ergo, ipso facto, henceforth thereunto, cannot have made an error.

    4. That aside, for government purposes, Mormonism certainly IS a “Christian” church,

      On what basis do you assert that? What makes Mormons “Christian” when they disagree with effectively all “other” Christians ever on something as fundamental as to whether multiple gods exist?

      1. There is no truth of the matter on whether Mormonism is a form of Christianity or not. Most Mormons I know, or know anything about, regard themselves as Christians, Jesus Christ is a major figure in the religion, and it appears to have emerged among people previously generally recognized as Christians who developed distinctive doctrines. Many persons generally recognized as Christian do not accept Mormonism as a form of Christianity, just as some — and more than Brett seems to think — do not regard Roman Catholicism as a form of Christianity. There is no Christianity Central to which the contending parties can appeal (Roman Catholics have an advantage here*), no ascertainable fact about the world that can decide the question, and no mutually agreed-upon criteria that some neutral party can examine. Only historical and sociological facts about who did what and who believes what.

        *There have been cases involving prisoners claiming to be Jewish who want kosher food (I personally know one who said he was Jewish because the kosher food was better), and attempts to prove that he wasn’t actually Jewish, properly, went nowhere. One might argue, however, that if a prisoner complains that as a Roman Catholic he cannot eat beef, a court could determine as a matter of fact that he is mistaken about his own religion because Pope Francis could take the stand and say, yes, Catholics can eat beef. This wouldn’t be merely expert testimony, it would — given that this is the Pope, not just a theologian — be a performative utterance. His saying it would make it true. For excellent reasons, though, we don’t allow that.

        1. If you want to say that for governmental purposes that “Christian” cannot be defined, that’s fine.

          That isn’t the claim Brett Bellmore made; he said that Mormons are “certainly” Christian.

          1. They worship Christ, how much more does it require to be a “Christian”?

            1. So, you’re asserting that Sri Ramakrishna, the Hindu mystic and priest at the Dakshineswar Kali Temple, was a Christian, since he worshiped Christ (by burning incense before an icon of Christ as part of his daily religious practice)?

              And, presumably, since Jehovah’s Witnesses don’t worship Christ, they are not Christians?

              You’re the one who said this stuff was “clear”. Go ahead and clarify.

          2. If you look at the definition of Christian, they are such based on at least what they profess. There may be disagreement about whether or not that’s “really” what Jesus was teaching or meant between quite a great many divisions of churches. But Mormon’s claim to worship and follow the teachings of Jesus.

            1. If there were such a thing as “the definition of Christian,” there wouldn’t be a controversy. Various sects define “Christian” as best suits their purposes. No one is in charge and there is no truth of the matter, only more or less accurate accounts of how people self-identify.

        2. > Jesus Christ is a major figure in the religion,

          That also holds true for Islam, and yet very few people consider Islam to be a Christian heresy.

      2. “On what basis do you assert that? What makes Mormons “Christian” when they disagree with effectively all “other” Christians ever on something as fundamental as to whether multiple gods exist?”

        Do they believe that Jesus was Christ? It’s right in the name “Christian”.
        Christians believe that Jesus was Christ. Pick any other doctrinal point, and you can find some Christians who buy in on that point, and some Christians who reject it utterly. I think I could make a good point that “prosperity gospel” is decidedly unChristian, in the sense that it isn’t compatible with the actual teachings of Jesus, but the adherents to “prosperity gospel” would be deeply offended to have this pointed out for them since I am not a Christian. I also think the many, many nice people who keep demanding that the United States has, or should have, a “Christian government” aren’t actually Christians. just because Jesus said there was no such thing as Christian government when his followers asked if he couldn’t maybe do something about the Romans.

        1. Do they believe that Jesus was Christ? It’s right in the name “Christian”.

          Well, what do you mean by “Christ” here?

          If by “Christ” you simply mean the Greek translation of the Hebrew word “Messiah”, well, the the Quran explicitly says that Jesus was the Messiah, so by that literalist definition you’ve declared that every Muslim is a Christian.

          1. Apparently, it is offensive to both Christians AND Muslims if you point out that they’re both worshipping the same God and merely disagree about Earthly practices, so I won’t do that here.

            1. No complaints to pointing out that adherents of either of those two faiths often agree that everything that’s wrong can be attributed to the Jews, whose deity both have appropriated for their own use.

            2. Yes, well, you’ve defended Brett’s proposition that “for government purposes, Mormonism certainly IS a “Christian” church,” but only by also establishing that every Muslim and Baha’i congregation is also certainly a Christian church.

              Of course, you then claimed that Christians and Muslims worship the same God, a proposition that can only be held by someone who excludes the Latter-Day Saints from the definition of Christian. Because Mormons have more than one god; the god who created all human souls is a different god from Jehovah.

            3. Well, no, the Muslims regard Jesus as “a” Messiah. Basically they treat Him as a major prophet. Or such is my understanding.

              1. No, they call Jesus, and only Jesus, the Messiah. He’s also one of the major prophets, but prophethood and messiah status are independent.

            4. “Apparently, it is offensive to both Christians AND Muslims if you point out that they’re both worshipping the same God and merely disagree about Earthly practices,…”

              I am Christian, and have long found this to be a point of amusement for myself rather than it being offensive.

              Side note: I do not blame the Jews for ‘everything that’s wrong’. In fact I don’t blame Jews for much of anything at this point, all that stuff that happened was 2k years ago and the Christian faith has it’s fair share of history jacking things up for everyone. /shrug

            5. How many Muslims and Christians have you spoken to about this? And, your take, appropriation, in regard to Judaism, with how many Jews have you sat and discussed matters of faith? Or are these more assertions made with little or no factual basis, just a supposition?

        2. That standard just kicks the can down the road. What does it mean that Jesus was Christ? Is it enough to believe that He was, in some sense, “anointed”? Do they have to believe He is divine? Mormons believe both of those things, but Mother in this case almost certainly would hold that Mormons still aren’t Christian, and would (and in fact did) point to a different standard encompassing a wider range of theological points.

      3. effectively all “other” Christians ever on something as fundamental as to whether multiple gods exist?

        People who live in trinitarian houses shouldn’t throw stones.

    5. “The problem is obvious: The form says, “Check ONE”. Why did the court not return the form to them and tell them to make up their minds which it was? That’s what should have happened.”

      They did check one. (sorry, I mean they checked ONE) The problem here isn’t an unchecked box. The parents followed the instructions, which did not say “once you check one, don’t check any of the others.”

  4. The special concurrence seems a little bit strained. The rest of the panel provided a second reason to reach the same judgment, and their exposition of that reasoning serves as a rebuke to the lower court about the bounds of American governments.

    The paragraphs in which he did not join thus provide a fallback rationale, should further appeals reject the primary argument. In this sense, they don’t represent a ruling on constitutional issues when non-constitutional arguments reach the same result. And they are a reminder that US courts are courts of law, not religious hypotheses.

  5. I really need to start reading the by lines before I start reading the long, tedious and often pointless posts that Eugene seems to love making.

  6. I’d say it’s sound to say that courts should not decide what counts or does not count “objectively” as Christianity. But do they need this here? This is a contract, what matters are what the parties believed at the point of signing it. And for that, evidence of “what were the beliefs in their wider social environment then” or “did the groups they were both members of then think of Mormons as Christians” seems an problematic investigation of facts, not a doctrinal claim

    1. That seems to be the issue. The parties have a contract with a disagreement on the definition of a critical word.

      The general, widely-held definition of Christian does not include Mormonism. The only group that holds Mormons are Christian are Mormons themselves. The fact that they hold other gods exist (and indeed, the end goal of life is to ascend to godhood) is considered anathema to all other sects of all the Abrahamic religions.

      Now, I will agree with the appeals court that admitting a Christian minister without allowing a Mormon counterpoint was wrong of the court. However, no witnesses should be necessary. A simple religious dictionary should have sufficed to establish that there was a dispute, and then they should have fought it out what definition to use going forward. Declaring that Mormons aren’t Christian and we are going with the wife’s interpretation only isn’t the place of the courts.

      1. The general, widely-held definition of Christian does not include Mormonism.

        This is not true at all. The widely held definition of Christian is probably belief in the divinity of Jesus and his role as a savior. And Mormons DO believe in that.

        When you get into narrower definitions, like reciting the Nicene Creed, you exclude a bunch of other people (other than Mormons) who nobody doubts to be Christians. Many “born again” groups do not recite the Nicene Creed, for instance.

        The reality is that Orthodox Christians include a lot of people who are bigoted against Mormons, and part of the prejudice is that they don’t like the way Mormons “hijacked” their religion. (Of course, their own religion “hijacked” Judaism in the same way, but that was longer ago so it doesn’t count. 🙂 ) So they would LIKE to call this particular sect non-Christian. But they don’t have an actual principle that excludes Mormons while including all Orthodox Christian faiths. All they have is a prejudice.

        1. ” All they have is a prejudice.”

          And a powerful ally it is.
          –Attributed to Yoda, a known Jeedai.

      2. The general, widely-held definition of Christian does not include Mormonism. The only group that holds Mormons are Christian are Mormons themselves. The fact that they hold other gods exist (and indeed, the end goal of life is to ascend to godhood) is considered anathema to all other sects of all the Abrahamic religions.

        I want to point out what a whopper this is. First of all, there are Trinitarian Christians who believe in three gods, rather than one “Godhead” with three forms.

        And second of all, devout Jews would tell you that all that stuff about Jesus (and Muhammad, for that matter) is anathmatic to Abrahamic religion. And as the original Abrahamic religion, their argument would be no less valid than yours.

        As I allude to upthread, it’s particularly ironic that Christians, who themselves hitched their wagon onto another preexisting religious faith, would harbor prejudice against Mormons who did the exact same thing.

        1. “As I allude to upthread, it’s particularly ironic that Christians, who themselves hitched their wagon onto another preexisting religious faith, would harbor prejudice against Mormons who did the exact same thing.”

          At least they’re consistent, since they don’t like the LDS church OR the Muslims, who did the exact same thing as you define it.

          1. Yes, Muslims did the exact same thing. And there are other examples of this throughout human history.

            I don’t think there’s anything disreputable about it. Why wouldn’t a group of people say “we think this old religion gets some stuff right and some stuff wrong, so we are going to keep the stuff we like”? What I find funny is Christians thinking there is anything disreputable about it.

            1. These aren’t sects within the same tradition that disagree on the details, all the religions contain those, even the LDS church has multiple groups who claim to be the true inheritors of Joseph Smith. They are a progression of religions who teach that God has sent a new prophet and now the old rules are augmented and sometimes superseded by new ones. Each parent religion finds this disreputable because they also teach that they are the final word. Some Moslems find Bahá’í disreputable for the same reason.

              1. I think there’s more to it than what they teach.

                I think there’s a psychological thing here as well. If you are a true believer, it’s particularly more offensive for someone to tell you “you got your own religion wrong” than to just start a new religion. Many Christians may not think much of Buddhists, but they don’t get offended by Buddhists the same way they get offended at people they see as heretics to Christianity.

                Also, there isn’t a bright line between sects and offshoots. Plenty of Christian sects have beliefs that are pretty far afield from Catholicism, Eastern Orthodox, and Anglicanism (which probably have the best argument to be considered “Mother Churches”).

                1. I was trying, not very successfully I guess, to distinguish a new sect/offshoot, who argues that the old sect is wrong about something, from a new religion that teaches the old one used to be correct but no longer is because of some intervening revelation. Both situations involve an accusation of error so are different from unrelated religions like your Buddhism/Christianity example.

  7. In principle, I agree, but the judge’s decision may go a little far.

    Let’s say, for example, the divorce agreement said the child would be educated in the Christian faith (and perhaps only the Christian faith).

    And then the mother decided to educate the child in the Hindu faith. The Father disagreed, saying it wasn’t a Christian faith. But the mother said it was a Christian faith, it was just Hindu too.

    Could the Court say “well, we can’t judge religious doctrine” in such a situation, and rule for the mother?

    1. “Could the Court say”

      Depends on the court. Some of those judges have peculiar ideas of religious faith that leak into their decision-making from time to time.

    2. As I commented elsewhere I think it would have to come down to self-identification. Does the priest of the Hindu temple they attend consider the faith he is instructing people in to be Christian? If he says no then the contract is plainly broken

  8. Read the instructions: “Choose one”

    Anywhere else in life, gradeschool quiz, SAT/ACT, election ballot, it gets tossed, zero credit. Parents should have not gone pro se litigants. Also perhaps, the court provided document could be much better written, particularly the word ‘may’ defines almost nothing.

    1. “Read the instructions: “Choose one”

      Anywhere else in life, gradeschool quiz, SAT/ACT, election ballot, it gets tossed, zero credit.”

      You score zero for reading today. The instructions say “check ONE” and do not go on to say “and once you check one, don’t check any of the others.”

      The parents did, in fact check one. The problem here is not an unchecked box. the problem is, after they checked one, they checked another.

      1. When the boxes are mutually exclusive, as they are in this case, the “and once you check one, don’t check any of the others” part is implied, as anyone who’s so much as taken a grade school quiz can tell you

  9. More evidence that if you are serious about ensuring the children are raised in a particular religion, your agreement needs to identify a religious arbitrator who will resolve disputes about the religious aspects of the agreement and decide exactly these sorts of questions about whether the other parent is following it or not.

    You can’t leave these matters up to courts. It doesn’t work like an ordinary contract.

    1. You don’t need to have an arbitrator. You need to have the choice of religion assigned to you and not to your former spouse, which is how contested divorces usually end… with one parent having custody, and choices of religious upbringing reserved to only the custodial parent. Co-parenting is great when the parents agree as to how their child should be raised, and shared or split custody works in those cases.

  10. “Parents should have not gone pro se litigants.”

    You know what? Sometimes people just want to be divorced. Not divorced AND bankrupt.

    1. Seconded. Although had they gone to lawyers the entire thing would be boged down with 20 years of procedure and instead of having this boring establishment clause thing we would have had a lively discussion about the implications of 101-5b on timely filings for divorce proceedings! At which point, everyone involved would be dead and the child would have graduated and two estates would keep arguing over someone you can’t legally have custody over …

      1. You are overly optimistic. If lawyers were involved, the great grandchildren’s estates would still be arguing over it.

    2. They could have – depending on the laws of the relevant state – have used paralegals. In WI, this is allowed. My first divorce cost me only $200 for filing fees, paperwork and instructions on how to fill out. They were very careful not to provide legal counsel, just to show what info was required on what part of the forms.

  11. That doesn’t seem … I mean, obviously that line is in there to mandate that the child be raised Christian. The intent, which was understood by both parties, was to mandate that the child be raised Christian.

    Yeah its a weirdly written contract, but still. What is the point of the clause if not a command? Isn’t it also a rule that you shouldn’t read clauses to be irrelevant?

    And they arent separate clauses, the thing says choose one. So what if the people did as told and only choose the second? Is that irrelevant because of the “may”?

    As with the establishment clause preventing a declaration that mormonism isn’t Christianity … I dont know if the court wants to go there. What if he became a Sikh and adopted the “all religions are one, therefore everything is Christianity!”. Is no one allowed to draw lines?

    And doesn’t the government have to make these sorts of decisions when say designing a census form? Why not just defer to that?

    Or you can say it is a contract between two individuals, one of whom did not regard Mormonism as Christianity, and we should defer to that? Both parties must agree to the bounds of what constitutes Christianity? I think that’s fair. When resolving a contractual dispute shouldn’t it be enough that both parties agree to the bounds of the text?

    Either way, the establishment clause argument seems wrong. Maybe because it’s a court form they signed, but still.

    1. “Or you can say it is a contract between two individuals, one of whom did not regard Mormonism as Christianity, and we should defer to that?”

      When people form a contract using different definition for terms used in the contract, they haven’t actually formed a contract. the terms aren’t enforceable using either party’s definition. This is covered in first-year Contracts class, stewing chickens and frying chickens not being interchangeable and all.

    2. I would agree that the court shouldn’t be handing out forms that encourage the creation of agreements that the court can’t enforce.

  12. Seems the parenting plan should have been more specific, although if it had said Protestant Christian Faith, I’m not sure that would have been much help. I’m not sure if Mormons consider themselves Protestants or not – having been formed based on divine revelation long after most Protestant traditions were established. Some people see the various sects of Anabaptists as Protestants but they don’t see themselves that way.

    1. A common Mormon self-mythology is that Mormonism is sort of a culmination of the Reformation–that the “true Church” was lost shortly after Jesus’s time, the world lived in “darkness” during Catholic supremacy, and the Reformation set the stage for God’s “true church” aka Mormonism. Between that and the fact that Mormons don’t really hold to any of the main three principles of Protestantism–they don’t believe the Bible is the sole source of authority, they differ on the idea of salvation through faith alone, and they have a formal priesthood–I don’t think most Mormons consider themselves ‘Protestant.’

  13. I also agree that a court-created fill-in-the blank form should never include language that courts cannot actually enforce. The parties relied on this form to their disadvantage. Courts should not do that.

    As has been pointed out, the “may” language in the form is essentially meaningless because parents generally “may” do anything not provided for anyway. This document appears very poorly drafted and should be changed.

    If parents want to enforce a religious upbringing for their child, a court-provided form should include language that will be effective in enabling them to do that. If the languange isn’t effective, it shouldn’t be there at all.

    Including misleadingly ineffective language is itself something of an establishment of religion. By thwarting unsuspecting parents who want to raise their parents in a particular religon and are duped into thinking that they have effectively done so, the form puts a thumb on the scales of parents who want to reneg on their agreement, effectively favoring not having such agreements over having them. This is effectively taking a position on how children should be raised religiously.

    Better that the state and its forms say nothing than that they issue forms tending to dupe and mislead the unsuspecting and thwart them from achieving their intentions, especially if the duping and thawarting works in only one direction.

    1. The form says “may” but also does not exclude other faiths.

      1. But that’s exactly my point. Including the language is no different from not including it. The language doesn’t acrually do anytjing

        Private lawyers are entitled to try to trap the unwary by including language that looks like it’s saying something that gives the other side something it wants, but actually does nothing. But states and theie courts should not engage in such practices, especially when religion is involved. Court-form religion selection clauses should use language that results in a valid and enforcible religion selection. Otherwise, they shouldn’t be there at all, and people should be on notice that if they want to effect a religion selection, they will have to come up with their own language.

        Here, as in other ethical situations, it is more ethical to do nothing than to do something that results in harm.

        For example, the form could simply add warning language explaining that civil courts generally cannot resolve disputes about religious practices and hence religious upbringing choices may not be enforcible. Or it could provide fuller support by including an additional line asking people if they want to appoint a person or organization who will resolve religious disputes and decide religious questions related to the children’s religious upbringing, and provide another form in which the proposed arbitrator agrees to the role. Or it could remove the language about religious choice entirely. Any of these changes woild be an improvement.

        1. “The language doesn’t actually do anything” is not how I read the opinion. The court found that the first and second options in the form are not contradictory, and cited a precedent that upheld an agreement that a child could attend Jewish services but not be instructed in the faith. By that logic the first option allows attendance at any service, but the second has the additional effect of limiting instruction to Christian teachings.
          I agree though that the Arizona court that provided this form should be embarrassed.

    2. “If parents want to enforce a religious upbringing for their child, a court-provided form should include language that will be effective in enabling them to do that.”

      You do that by allowing one of the parents, and only one of the parents, to direct the religious upbringing of the child. and even if you do that, a timid court can decide that such-and-such and this-and-that aren’t really religious activities.

  14. The word “Mormon” comes from the name of the Angel who sent the divine message to Joseph Smith. The name is “Moroni”. So Mormons really ought to be called…..

    1. This seemed wrong, and a five second Wikipedia search reveals: Moroni is Mormon’s son. Different people:

      So who’s the Moroni now?

  15. This seems like the court is a bit chicken.
    resolving the question of “is (religious faith) Christian?” is not difficult to resolve. The answer to the question is the same as “does the doctrine of (religious faith) teach that Jesus was and is the Christ?” This is just about the only issue of religious doctrine on which Christians universally agree, except that all the other religions are wrong.

    1. Unitarians have a somewhat different view.

      1. “Unitarians have a somewhat different view.”

        Not Christian though.

        1. To clarify, Unitarians used to be Christian [John Adams was one] but gradually stopped.

    2. I would argue that even going as far as defining a Christian faith as one that teaches “that Jesus was and is the Christ” is still a violation of the establishment clause, since I would say the establishment clause prohibits the government from defining any aspect of religious doctrine, even one that is essentially universally accepted

      Besides, as someone else pointed out, “christ” simply means “messiah” and Muslims also believe Jesus was the prophesied messiah, as do many Rastafari. Both groups would likely be offended by being included in your definition of Christianity

  16. If I were the judge, seeing the form that says “choose one” having two boxes checked I would have told them they are idiots, and told them to do what they each want, and throw it out.

    Mormons are Christians, of course, if for no other reason than that they claim to be.

    BTW, I see tons of Christians wishing jews Happy Hanukkah on FaceBook, but in the past have seen near zero jews wishing Christians Merry Christmas. Why is that?

    1. I’m not on Facebook, but I routinely wish Christians – religious and nominal – “Merry Christmas.” I see nothing wrong with a Jew doing this, for at least two reasons.

      First, it’s their holiday. I wish you a Happy Birthday on your birthday, not mine.

      Second, Dec. 25 is Christmas, after all, whether I celebrate it as a religious holiday or not. Even in England, July 4 is American Independence Day. So why not wish someone a merry day?

      Merry Friday, Publius.

      1. Thank you, Bernard, and Happy Hanukkah!

      2. As a christian I actually really enjoy wishing happiness to those of other religions on their holidays.

        Hanukkah Sameach!

    2. “BTW, I see tons of Christians wishing jews Happy Hanukkah on FaceBook, but in the past have seen near zero jews wishing Christians Merry Christmas. Why is that?”

      Confirmation bias.

    3. Perhaps it’s just local, I’ve had a Jewish friend wish me Merry Christmas on occasion.

      1. I wish people Merry Christmas all the time, though I’m in an irreligious Jew. Maybe I might feel different if I were a religious Jew, but I don’t see why: I’m not saying Jesus is Lord, I’m just wishing people a happy time on an occasion that I think is meaningful to them (whether it’s meaningful as a religious holiday to them or as a secular holiday).

    4. I don’t use Facebook, but none of the jews I know are reluctant in any way to wish people who celebrate Christmas a merry one.

  17. If indeed the first amendment does “…preclude civil courts from inquiring into ecclesiastical matters,” then perhaps “Religious Education Arrangements” should not be included in the parenting plan of the divorce decree, which the court may be called upon to enforce.

  18. When I taught World Geography to ninth graders about 10 years ago, I was required to teach about world religions as a part of the cultural geography unit. I had a parent come to school, pastor in tow, to object to my teaching that Catholics are Christians because popes and saints made them a pagan faith. The discussion ultimately devolved to the pastor insisting that I was damning my students to Hell if I taught that anything other than their particular brand of Pentecostalism was Christian. I demurred, and told him that I would continue to follow the state standards.

    Ultimately, the LDS Church has sufficient connection with the tenets of Christianity as to fall within the broad category of “Christian”, though tinged with beliefs and teachings that fall far outside the historical definition of small-o orthodoxy. It seems that what the mother wanted was for the government to establish a line of demarcation more restrictive than being based upon the life and teachings of Jesus and the acceptance of the Bible (the exact canon of which varies between different groups).

  19. Nicene Creed or GTFO.

    But seriously, the extra credit question here is how you draft an agreement that requires a Christian upbringing (however defined) and that is actually binding in some way. Upthread I’ve heard the suggestion of religious arbiter, although that assumes that such a person can be agreed upon. Any other suggestions?

    Personally, coming from a jurisdiction where pretty much any external evidence is permitted when arguing over the meaning of a contract, at least something like an argument about whether Hindus are Christians seems like something a court should be able to take sides in.

    1. Nicene Creed doesn’t work. Numerous undeniably Christian groups do not recite it.

      1. Either Apostles’ Creed or Nicene Creed.

        1. Numerous undeniably Christian groups (especially among the “born again”) do not recite either of them.

    2. Nicene Creed or GTFO? Seriously? Okay, then say goodbye to Matthew, Mark, Luke, John, Paul, etc.

  20. Mormons, Christians, Muslims are all Jewish heretics in any event.

    1. Bob, and the Jewish religion is an heretical offshoot of the Akkadian religion.

      1. One could think that if there was a true religion that there wouldn’t be offshoots and sects and splits.

        1. I’m far from all of these debates as an agnostic, but I would defend organized religion to this extent. Human beings are interpreting the supposed actions of deities. There are going to be differences in interpretation, as well as theological disagreements (i.e., differences as to what message is intended by events once agreed upon). As Aquinas observed, even if there is natural law, there are going to be errors as humans interpret it.

          So there could absolutely be a “true religion”, but still be offshoots and sects and splits due to human disagreement about its tenets and God’s actions.

        2. “there wouldn’t be offshoots and sects and splits”

          Why? Man makes errors. Anyway, not everyone need be a Jew, so long as one observes the 7 Noahide Laws, its fine. That covers the heretics, mostly.

      2. “Akkadian”

        Worshiped multiple gods so no, sorry.

        1. Ever wonder why god refers to himself as “we” and “us” so many times in Genesis? Or why one of the Jewish names for god, Elohim, is etymologically plural?

  21. why not just call Mormon’s “heterodox Christians” and leave the details for them who really want to dig into it?

  22. An interesting parallel is the status of Ahmadiyya Islam. Ahmaddis consider themselves Muslims, and they have good reason to do so since their faith clearly comes out of Islam and they share most of their beliefs and practices with (other) Muslims. Most (other) Muslims, however, do not consider Ahmaddis to be Muslims because the Ahmaddis believe that there was a prophet after Mohammad, which violates what (other) Muslims consider a fundamental doctrine of Islam. In Pakistan, where most Ahmaddis live and where the sect arose, Ahmaddis are persecuted, and the legal issue is settled by the declaration in the Second Amendment to the Constitution, that Ahmaddiya Islam is not Islam. Abdus Salam, who received the Nobel Prize in Physics, was an Ahmadi. His tombstone was inscribed “First Muslim Nobel Laureate”. The inscription was removed by the government on the grounds that he was, legally, not a Muslim.

    1. of course, the government of western countries do not proclaim the Bible as their constitution, etc…
      at least a minor difference.

  23. Ostensible adults arguing about superstition . . . always charming, especially so when childhood indoctrination is sprinkled atop.

  24. There’s a broader issue here: Try not to make babies with someone you’re not going to spend the rest of your life with. I know it’s not always predictable, but having a child is a life altering event, so be very, very careful whom you do it with.

  25. Don’t you hate these upstart religions with the temerity to add an entirely new testament to The Bible!

    All originalists clearly recognize Yaweh was just one of many in his pantheon. He even had a girlfriend!

    1. Oops I hope misspellings don’t get a bolt!

      1. Actually, you’re not supposed to spell the ineffable name of G_d at all. Maybe it doesn’t count if you mis-spell it.

        1. He’s in no danger. Yaweh is a title. Like Christ or Lord. It’s not his secret or real name. Utterance of which would result in stoning as per Monty Python

  26. You know what they say:


    more problems.


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