As an onlooker, I love stories like this one about divorce and religion and child custody and the legal system because I can imagine all these different ways of the people involved getting huffy and feeling justified in their moral outrage. I can only enjoy this because I'm an onlooker, though, and even then only to the point where I consider that the three-year old kid at the center of it is going to suffer for something stupid, and then I get upset as well. The arguments are fun in the abstract, but kids don't exist in the abstract.

Here's the story: Jewish woman and Catholic man get married, he converts. They have a kid, and get divorced. Judge gives her primary custody and they agree to raise the child Jewish. Husband decides to renege on the deal later and has her baptized. Wife gets a restraining order. Husband takes the kid to church and gets news cameras to come along, loudly proclaiming that his rights to worship as he chooses have been violated. Ex-wife's lawyers demand he be held in contempt and spend the next six months in jail over this outrage.

See what I mean about all sorts of opportunities for outrage here? This story is complicated by the fact that both religions involved have traditions that strongly dissuade marriage outside their faith--my former religion has a similar tradition--and proponents of that tradition can point to this case as an example of why breaking that tradition is a bad idea. And they'd be perfectly justified in doing so.

People who argue that forcing children into a faith from such a young age is tantamount to child abuse could point out that the real victim in this case is the child, who's being torn between two sides of her family over an issue she can't possibly understand, nor will she be able to for years. And it's hard to argue against the basis of that conclusion, given that disagreements over faith are at the heart of this fight, and that she is no doubt suffering some mental anguish over this disagreement between her parents.

People who argue for the rights of people to express their faith without governmental interference but with governmental protection (how that works in practice is a mystery to me) can find themselves on either side of this debate. The mother says her religion tells her she has to raise her child in her faith, and that she had a deal with the father. The father says he has the same obligation, and that he only converted and then later agreed to the deal under duress, which should nullify the deal. Whose religion gets primacy here? No answer will satisfy both parties, at least not if both sides are devout.

And then there are the personal stories, the ones that aren't really mentioned here. Why the marriage? Why the divorce? Why the conversion? Why the insistence later on exposing the child to a second religion? How much of this is based in the anger between two people who couldn't stay married wounding each other through the only avenue of contact they have left? So many opportunities for outrage. So many chances for spin. And all perfectly justified, if you've chosen a side.

But it's all going to end tragically unless the parents back off their entrenched positions on their child's faith. One or both will find their relationship with the child irrevocably damaged, and there's a good chance that half the extended family will find themselves shut out of the child's life at some point. To the mother who's concerned that her daughter will be confused by going both to a Jewish school and a Catholic Mass, I say your child will grow up in a multi-religious world. Get over it. To the father who's calling a press conference to bring his daughter to church I say stop being a damn douche and think about how this is going to affect your daughter. And to both of them I say this: you're grownups. Solve your differences accordingly.

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