Christian mom appeals judge's ban on teaching homophobia
November 15 2003 1:00 AM ET
A woman who left a lesbian relationship after converting to Christianity is fighting a judge's order barring her from teaching her adopted daughter that homosexuality is wrong. The case involves Cheryl Clark and her former partner, Elsey McLeod. The couple split after Clark converted to Christianity in 2000. In April, Denver district judge John Coughlin gave the women shared custody and equal parenting time, but he gave Clark sole responsibility for the child's religious upbringing. Coughlin, however, ordered Clark to "make sure that there is nothing in the religious upbringing or teaching that the minor child is exposed to that can be considered homophobic." Clark has appealed the order to the Colorado Court of Appeals, challenging the prohibition on homophobic teachings as well as McLeod's legal status as a parent.
"Religious conservatives are not typically homophobic in their behavior, even if they view homosexual activity as morally wrong," Clark's attorney, James Rouse, wrote in a brief. "While Clark has no intentions of exposing her child to anything inappropriate, the order itself is a breathtakingly broad restriction on the fundamental rights of Clark and her daughter," he said. Rouse said the judge's order violates Clark's First Amendment rights to free speech and religion as well as her Fourteenth Amendment right to direct the religious upbringing of her child. Briefs from McLeod's attorneys aren't due until December.
According to Mathew Staver, president and general counsel of Liberty Counsel, Clark can't practice her conservative Christian faith and abide by the judge's ruling, which is vague and unconstitutional, he said. The Florida-based Liberty Counsel provides legal support for Christian causes. Julie Tolleson, a Denver attorney and spokeswoman for Equal Rights Colorado, a gay advocacy group, said the focus on the homophobia ban in the judge's ruling misses the point: "It's really stock family law stuff that one parent doesn't get to disparage or interfere in a child's relationship with another parent," Tolleson said. "Prohibitions on bad-mouthing, prohibitions on encouraging a child to judge or avoid the other parent are extremely common, and a parent's right to gay-bash isn't entitled to immunity from that kind of doctrine."