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Another dominionist custody raiding incident

I've known for some time that single mothers who live non-traditional lifestyles often have to be careful about those lifestyles impacting their outside lives and custody of their children, but it's taken a disturbing new turn.

The tactic that I've seen developing over the past couple of years, which I've started to call "custody raiding", is most often used against single mothers in alternative or neopagan communities by dominionist relatives who use the children as a means of harassment, intimidation, and to some extent, coercion. It seems to be a very consistent strategy of filing custody suits strategically timed to force the mother to choose between a critical work or school related task and fighting for custody of the child in court, and centering on bizarre allegations such as "witchcraft" (a common thread with IRD takeovers of liberal/progressive churches by dominionist cell-church groups) or frivolous accusations of drug abuse, prostitution, and so on based on nothing more than the presence of piercings or tattoos or even the presence of insufficiently "Christian" posters or other items in the house. Usually the suits are backed up with outrageously punitive temporary restraining orders that make it almost impossible to comply with the terms of the order without sacrificing a career or a college degree in the process.

There are elements of this scam that put me in mind of the "Satanic Panic" in the 80's. This seems to be today's version of it .. low profile, out of the spotlight (they did at least learn that lesson), away from the media and focusing less on mass persuasion and more on taking out "rebellious" women one at a time, using the modern dominionist strategy of cutting the weakest and most vulnerable ones out of the herd and going after them in private, and hijacking the legal system to harass and "punish" them out of sight and behind the scenes.

And it's happening a lot, if I know of at least two specific instances firsthand .. and it's not reported at all, as far as I know, or if it is being reported, it's being grossly underreported, possibly out of fear of retaliation. So I'm being careful not to mention names or other identifying data, to protect people I very much care about. But I have to write about this because there are few things that fill me with more rage than this kind of cowardly bullshit and I do not take kindly to people messing with my friends' lives. And I will do everything I can to make sure it stops. You can count on that.


I imagine an organization (or just a couple of dedicated lawyers) could do well defending these cases and responding with a few well-placed countersuits; the Dominionist crowd will keep using custody challenges as long as it's a successful strategy for them.
I think if there isn't any such organization, one should exist, or at least an organization should exist that has that as a major focus. Getting funding for it would be a challenge, but it would be a noble endeavor, to be sure. (Which is one reason I didn't f-lock this post. :)
I doubt this particular issue is on the ACLU's radar, at least at present. (Sure wouldn't hurt to make them aware that it's probably happening a lot more than it's reported, but there's a lot of inertia to overcome.) It's possible NOW and/or NARAL could be persuated to jump on this, though, and possibly if it gets attention from other orgs, ACLU might then start paying closer attention to it, and it might also draw somewhat more serious coverage from the media.

I've been thinking for a long time that there needs to be an organization that specifically focuses on researching and educating people on the dominionist movement as well as providing legal aid and other assistance to people who are targeted by it ..
This is something that's been happening up here in Pennsylvania for years on end. I remember specifically in Lansdale, PA, a typical suburb of Philadelphia, this kind of thing went on at the expense of pagan married couples whose children were siezed by fundie-driven officials in a community that wasn't even especially fundamentalist.

It's old bad news getting much worse. :(
Well, as far as that angle goes, I also know of a poly-family with custody of children (locally, I think) that was unilaterally broken up under court order by a judge who placed stalker-style restraining orders on all of the adult partners forbidding any contact between any of them as long as the children were under 18, with the consequences of breaking the court order being immediate revocation of custody and placing all of the children in foster care subject to adoption. This was triggered by an anonymous CPS complaint, possibly from a neighbor, where the family's first hint that anything was wrong was a visit from a thoroughly morally outraged CPS caseworker and several sheriff's deputies. I don't remember if it happened in Austin or not, but I think it happened in a nearby county if memory serves.

I *do* remember the judge lecturing everyone involved on "moral responsibility" for some time in court, and it was very clear that he was doing this entirely on his own initiative to make a public example of them simply because he disapproved of their activities. As I recall, the case is either still in the appeals process or appeals were dropped because the family members ran out of money to pay legal fees to fight the decision (which is often a factor in these situations).

There are very definitely risks of religious bigotry when things like this get into the court system. (There wouldn't have been a TRO in this case without the judge signing off on it, and if the grounds for the restraining order were given as "witchcraft", that's a huge red flag that she's not dealing with a rational or sympathetic judge here, because a rational judge would have requested that plaintiff's counsel show some sort of statutory basis for using "witchcraft" as grounds for a restraining order. That's where the Satanic Panic comment came in.)

And as I said, there are probably thousands of incidents like this for every one that comes to light because the people involved happened to have a network of friends with the right resources to get the word out about it. I know most pagan orgs have to watch out very carefully for this on behalf of their members, and it's no accident that most have very strict privacy rules including rules against photographing people without their permission ..
And yes, in some cases it's CPS or judges acting on "anonymous complaints" and the like who pretty much unilaterally take away children and hand out punitive court orders, even in cases of stable relationships between consenting adults, if there's any hint of a nontraditional activity involving either of the parents. (For a mother, being seen topless at a pagan event, or being in the presence of naked men, with children anywhere within sight, is often enough to trigger these kinds of raids, even if *both* parents are there and all parties have secured informed mutual consent to all activities.) There are lines I know some people can't cross at pagan or alternative events because of people in their past who are data-stalking them, if not physically stalking them, combing photo sites and blogs on the Internet for any compromising images they can use against them, whether those stalkers are dominionist ex-husbands, grandparents/aunts/uncles, moralistic neighbors, or ministers.

To a certain extent, I wish I didn't have to live in a world where such stalking was acceptable behavior, but it's a fact of life for a lot of people I know and they deal with it as best they can, and people who know them know what precautions they need to take to participate fully in the events they go to. But as I said, this is a largely underreported or even unreported class of behavior that doesn't get a whole lot of media attention because most people in the media can't differentiate it from ordinary custody disputes if they're not actively taking the dominionist side in the matter.
While it might not be on their radar, it is the type of case that they would support.

The person in question can contact them and ask for assistance, especially if they acn't afford legal counsel.

It is indeed quite possible. She says she's already set up for a legal consultation, but I'll suggest the local ACLU chapter just in case. We also have some contacts in the org she and I belong to that might help out as well, and I have a few irons in the fire among my dark_christian contacts as well. One or more of those is almost certain to get her connected with pro bono counsel. :)

It *is* Harris County, unfortunately, so there are a few more neocon maverick judges around there than there are here, but at least it isn't BFEgypt, TX where the judge and most of the police and jury pool go to the church that's pushing the custody suit. She did luck out there. (In the other case I know of, not only was the whole town in on the game including the police, but they got a signature from the governor to extradite her from TX to AR just in time to miss a critical final exam for a course she had to pass to get her degree, and one that would set her back at least a couple of years if she failed it. These people play truly fscking nasty.)
*popping over from d_c, sees Harris County comment*

Seriously? Damn. All my best to your friend. I hate when it hits close to home.
I might want to intern for such an organization; increasing awareness of Dominionist shenanigans like this have been pushing me rather firmly in the law-school direction lately.
"has", not "have".
Ah, "awareness -> has" rather than "shenanigans -> have" .. :)

Well, I have some ideas for how to set up such an organization. For what it's worth. Not sure how I'd get enough people together in any one place to do it, but still have ideas waiting for execution ..
I've alluded to this before, but it is precisely *this* sort of "custodial steeplejacking" why I have vowed not to have kids--too much risk of it in my own family.

That said--and I know we discussed this privately last night--a few suggestions:

a) Immediately contact a woman's shelter, they can put her in contact with pro bono counsel.
b) Failing this, contact state or local bar association and/or local law schools who can put her in contact with pro bono counsel.
c) IMMEDIATELY file request with family court judge to stay order on grounds of necessary discovery.
d) Contact employer, note that they have been summoned to court (they cannot legally fire her for this).
e) Have attorney begin research on past track record of family judge in this case; if s/he shows history of bias against non-dominionists or pagans, have attorney file motion to have judge recuse him/herself or move to a different court.
f) Immediately contact, or have attorney contact, expert witnesses. These include psychologists/psychiatrists; experts on coercive religious groups (this is especially noteworthy if ex is in neopente dominionist group), etc.
g) Have attorney review ISAC's information on custodial proceedings with parents in coercive religious groups (yes, they provide a lot of good paperwork on this).
h) Have attorney begin *immediate* discovery on ex, with special focuses on potential promotion of acts generally considered child abuse (the works of the Ezzos and Pearls in particular would come to focus here), as well as other activities that have specific court precedent against them in Texas (for example, Deanna Laney and Laura Schubert cases in TX involving Assemblies churches).
Update -- some good news for a change:

My other friend, the one who's been fighting the custody-raiding battle from hell with the church in AR, just emailed letting us know she won!! If the other side doesn't file for remand within 18 days, or if they do and the court doesn't grant the motion, she's free to come back to TX with her son .. and this win is one of those slamdunks that pretty much has no downside and may in fact be a good source of case law if I'm not very much mistaken. (Considering everyone up to and including Gov. Huckabee was involved in that one, it's a stunning victory indeed, and should go a long way toward making the dommies think twice about pulling this kind of business again anytime soon. Which may help the TX case quite a bit. :D )

It's very encouraging to me, because it does prove these cases can be won .. :)
'Tis sad what ignorance and bigotry can drive people to do. As a single mom, this concerns me greatly.
I worry about just about everyone I know who's a single mother when I read about this sort of thing, and the more I hear about the kind of data-stalking some of these people do, the more outraged I am. Especially when I read posts like this .. yeah, it's worth being careful what you post online because it's theoretically possible for it to be used against you in court, but JESUS FUCKING CHRIST, PEOPLE, this is a totally unreasonable standard for anyone to be held to. The people who do this kind of data-stalking looking for salacious bullshit like this as an excuse to go off on a witch hunt need to be held accountable for the consequences of THEIR actions. Giving moralistic dominionist jerks like these people far-reaching censorship powers over personal web pages is going way too far. I don't care how easily offended they are, these people should *not* be in the driver's seat making decisions about who gets to keep their kids and who gets them taken away based on their own screwed up prejudices about "devil worship". I could rant all night on that one, but I'll spare my flist the rest of it ..
I just went to the link you posted. Seriously, that pisses me off. I may have to post this in my own journal and rant.
Yeah, I'm right with you there.

The thing that really gets to me is that people's reaction to this is just to be even more defensive and batten down the hatches even more, as if it's their responsibility to cover their asses even more carefully than they already are. WE SHOULD NOT HAVE TO COVER OUR ASSES OVER THIS SHIT. We should not have to fear for our families, our jobs, or our *lives*, just for being who and what we are and posting truths about ourselves online or anywhere else. I'm safer than most people, because I don't have custody of any minor children to worry about and thus I can speak my mind .. and speak on behalf of friends who can't. But nobody should have to fear these lynch mobs .. if anything, these people should have to fear *us* enough to leave our freedom of speech alone. If respect is too much to ask, then I'll settle for scaring the piss out of them ..
It's happening, right now, to a good friend of mine. I'm making plans to travel to Denver in December to help fight it... and yes, such cases can turn expensive very quickly. :-(
Keep me posted on the details of it, OK to send via email off-LJ if you don't want to post them publicly. Recommendations given in above comments appear quite relevant to your friend's case as well.
I just popped over here from dark_christian. I can't comment there as I'm not a member yet. I wanted to say that I appreciated your comments in recent threads and thank you for bringing some attention to this "custody raiding" phenomenon.
Thanks for replying. I'm trying to bring as much attention to it as I can because it seems to be something that's easily mistaken for isolated occurrences without some comparing of notes. (I interpreted the first occurrence I came across as an isolated event for exactly that reason, because the church in question was engaging in some crazy behavior far above and beyond the normal level of dominionist-style tactics, and it took the second one in a completely separate community from the first to really get my attention and tell me there seemed to be some coordination going on behind the scenes, and then the incident happened that I posted on DC following much the same pattern..)

My thoughts on this are best described as the feeling that "my survival should not have to depend on my obedience to a religion I don't believe in". And I think custody-raiding and other such tactics are only the thin end of the wedge and not countering this behavior head-on will only escalate the danger to the rest of us in the future, starting at the margins and working in toward the center ..