INDIANAPOLIS – A judge who ordered two Wicca believers to shield their son from their “non-mainstream” faith overstepped his authority, an appeals court said Wednesday in dismissing the order.
The Indiana Court of Appeals said state law gave a custodial parent the authority to determine a child’s upbringing, including religious training. A judge could find that certain limitations were needed to protect a child from physical or emotional harm.
The parents’ appeal, brought by the Indiana Civil Liberties Union, claimed among other issues that the decree was unconstitutionally vague because it did not define mainstream religion. But the appeals court based its ruling on state law.
Marion Superior Court Judge Cale Bradford added the religion language to a divorce decree granted in 2004 to Thomas E. Jones and Tammy Bristol of Indianapolis. Jones is a Wiccan activist who has coordinated Pagan Pride Day in the city.
The judge’s order followed a routine court report that said both parents are pagans who send their son, who is now 10 years old, to a Catholic school. In May, Jones said neither he nor his ex-wife had taken the boy to any Wiccan rituals since the order was issued.
The two parents do not have listed phone numbers and could not be located for comment Wednesday.
Wiccans consider themselves witches, pagans or neo-pagans, and say their religion is based on respect for the earth, nature and the cycle of the seasons. The parents’ appeal said there were about 1 million pagans worldwide in 2002, more than the numbers who practice Sikhism, Taoism and other established religions in the United States.