A Solomonic Decision

Nine years ago, Jeffrey Kendall—a nominal Catholic—married Barbara Zeitler, a Reformed Jew. The couple had three children, whom they agreed to raise as Jews. But then Jeffrey Kendall joined a Christian church—and that’s when he found out that he did not have the right to witness to his own children. In 1991 Kendall joined the Boston Church of Christ. This church teaches that its members alone will be saved from eternal damnation. People familiar with the church criticize its coercive evangelistic methods. Three years after Kendall joined the church, his wife converted to Orthodox Judaism and began raising the couple’s children to observe the rites of her faith. The couple’s religious conflicts led them to divorce, and Zeitler began complaining that Kendall’s religious teachings were frightening the children. A family court judge, Christina L. Harms, appointed a guardian ad litem to investigate the allegations. The guardian found that two of the children had indeed suffered stress over the conflict. Harms then ordered Kendall not to take the children to church, citing the possibility of substantial harm. And she ordered Kendall to stop talking about those aspects of his religion that "substantially harmed" the children—specifically, the belief that those who reject Jesus Christ are damned. The Massachusetts Supreme Court, the Supreme Judicial Court, affirmed Harms’s order, emphasizing that its ruling was limited to the unusual facts of the case. Justice Neil Lynch wrote that, in this case, "promoting the best interests of the children is an interest sufficiently compelling to impose a burden on the father’s right… to determine the religious upbringing of his children." Now, I’m sure the trial judge and the Supreme Judicial Court were acting in good faith. The problem lies in Justice Lynch’s use of the phrase "an interest sufficiently compelling." You see, last summer, the Supreme Court invalidated the Religious Freedom Restoration Act (RFRA), arguing in effect, that government does not even need a "compelling interest" to impose a burden on the exercise of religion. As a result, there’s now no practical way to limit the effect of the Supreme Judicial Court, despite the justices’ best efforts. You see, without the compelling state interest test, the next time a case like this comes along, a judge won’t even be required to find substantial harm before restricting a parent’s right to raise his child in his faith. And if history is any guide, precedents like these come back to haunt us. Admittedly, there are unusual circumstances here. But look at what this decision says: Kendall may not tell his children that, apart from Christ, one is damned. But that is biblical teaching! Is the court really saying we can’t share our faith with our kids? This can be a very chilling precedent, especially with the repeal of RFRA. And it’s a decision that could certainly force serious Christians to disobey the law. That’s why you and I must urge our lawmakers to reenact RFRA. It’s the only way to ensure that the right of parents to raise their children in their faith is not undermined. Otherwise, we may one day find ourselves living in a country in which bringing up a child in the way he should go is not only difficult—but illegal.


Chuck Colson


  • Facebook Icon in Gold
  • Twitter Icon in Gold
  • LinkedIn Icon in Gold

Sign up for the Daily Commentary