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Some Churches Aren't "main line"
August 4th 1999 10:13 A.M. EDT
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 denominations."

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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