A British judge is capturing attention for reportedly mandating in a 2009 divorce ruling that a father, who is not Roman Catholic, must take his children to Mass at Christmastime each year — and while the dad has apparently challenged the measure, the requirement remains in place.
According to the Telegraph, Judge James Orrell imposed an order that would lead to potential jail time and contempt of court if the man, identified only as "Steve," fails to take the kids to church.
The legal requirement reportedly only applies to the father and not the mother, though she is identified as a Catholic and he is not. Text of the order reads, "If the children are with their father at Christmas he will undertake that they will attend the Christmas mass."
Steve, a 51-year-old psychologist, told the Telegraph that the contact order was not requested by his ex-wife, calling Orrell's choice to impose it "bizarre." The outlet also reported that court transcripts showed Orrell discussing his own Catholic faith during the hearing.
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"The judge decided that I would commit to taking the children to mass and he put it in the court order. What I think is really concerning is that it does not allow me or my children any freedom of religious expression," he said. "My oldest son, who is now 10, has already expressed a clear lack of belief but legally I am required to take him to Roman Catholic Mass at Christmas."
Steve, who has unsuccessfully appealed the ruling, said he also has concerns that he will be forced to take the children to Mass on weekends when he has custody as well, though that is not mentioned or mandated in the original order.
He even took the case to appeal, claiming that the Mass mandate was a breach of his human rights under the European Convention on Human Rights, though he was unsuccessful.
Atheist blogger Jonathan MS Pearce penned a post this week claiming that the man, whom he called "Anonymous Steve," is his colleague on a secular-themed podcast, defending the father in his battle against the Mass mandate.
"Steve chooses not to take his children to mass, thereby leaving himself open to a charge of Contempt of Court and a prison sentence," Pearce wrote, noting that the man chooses to remain anonymous in an effort to protect his kids' identities.
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