Civil rights groups urge reversal
of judge's definition of 'main line' church
By Jeremy Leaming
First Amendment Center
Civil rights groups are seeking
reversal of a judge's ruling that barred a divorced mother from taking
her daughter to a church that ministers to gays.
Last year a divorcing couple from
Wichita Falls, Texas, agreed to mutually decide the religious training
their 5-year-old daughter would receive. Lisa Michelle Goldberg, a Christian,
started taking her daughter to services and social activities at a Metropolitan
Community Church, a Protestant church that welcomes and ministers to gay
and lesbian Christians. Gary Michael Goldberg objected to the church and
asked a state judge to bar the mother from taking the child to its services.
In late April, District Court Judge
Keith Nelson ruled that the mother could not attend the Metropolitan church
with her daughter because it was not a "main line" church.
"The Court finds that it was the
intent of the parties at the time of the Mediation Agreement and the entry
of the Agreed Decree of Divorce that main line churches would be utilized
by the parties for the religious training of the child … and that such
main line churches would include the Catholic church, churches of the Protestant
faith, such as Presbyterian, Methodist, Baptist, Christian, Episcopalian,
and the like, as well as the Jewish Synagogue would be included," Nelson
wrote. "The Court finds that the Metropolitan Church at Wichita Falls does
not fall within this category."
On Sept. 1, several national civil
rights groups, including the American Civil Liberties Union, People for
the American Way and Americans United for Separation of Church and State,
filed a friend-of-the-court brief with the 2nd District Texas Court of
Appeals urging it to reverse Nelson's order on religious-liberty grounds.
The groups argue that the judge's
ruling violated the establishment clause of the First Amendment and the
mother's free exercise of religion.
"In judging certain churches to
be 'main line,' or orthodox, and ruling that the Metropolitan Community
Church did not deserve this governmental imprimatur, the trial court violated
the Establishment Clause," the groups argued in their 27-page brief. The
establishment clause they said, "requires absolute government neutrality
toward all religious denominations, prevents the state from favoring or
disfavoring any religion, and prohibits government evaluation of religious
Determining which religions are
mainstream leaves a court far from being neutral toward religion, the groups
argued. "Instead, determining whether a church is 'main line' requires
religiously value-laden judgments about the propriety and orthodoxy of
church doctrine, the extent to which church teachings reflect those embraced
by religious majorities in our culture, and the historical pedigree of
the church in question."
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