A New York appellate court has threatened a mother with losing custody of her multiracial child unless she gets rid of a "small" rock near her driveway that is painted with a Confederate flag.
What are the details?
The Albany Times-Union reported that a panel of five judges in the state's second-highest court ruled unanimously that the white woman and the black father of her elementary-age child could retain joint custody of their daughter — but that if the mother did not remove the rock, she could face a "change of circumstances" in the custody battle.
Justice Stanley Pritzker, who authored the court's decision, wrote that during a fact-finding hearing, "the mother testified that she has never used any racial slurs in front of the child or at all," but noted that neither the judge who presided over a prior 2018 ruling nor the child's law guardian address the mother's possession of a "small Confederate flag painted rock near her driveway."
"Given that the child is of mixed race, it would seem apparent that the presence of the flag is not in the child's best interests, as the mother must encourage and teach the child to embrace her mixed race identity, rather than thrust her into a world that only makes sense through the tortured lens of cognitive dissonance," Pritzker wrote.
"Further, and viewed pragmatically, the presence of the Confederate flag is a symbol inflaming the already strained relationship between the parties," the judge continued. "As such, while recognizing that the First Amendment protects the mother's right to display the flag if it is not removed by June 1, 2021, its continued presence shall constitute a change in circumstances and Family Court shall factor this into any future best interests analysis."
According to The Washington Post, the court's decision was clear: "The rock puts the woman's child custody at risk." The newspaper noted that the mother was not represented by an attorney.
Jason Leifer, the attorney serving as the child's law guardian, told the Times-Union that while he agrees the rock needs to go, he's concerned about the precedent the court's ruling could set for future custody battles between parents.
"I think parties will now raise objections to many symbols and opinions held by the other party, including some that the majority of society does not find offensive," Leifer told the outlet. "What's going to have to happen is this — if the issue is raised the court will need to hear evidence of the child how the child's well-being is negatively affected by a parent's views and opinions. In some cases this will be easy, such as if a child is being indoctrinated into a hate group, but in many cases it won't be so easy."
Leifer told the Associated Press, "I just think that this thing opens a door to litigating... someone's personal opinions on something."