Howard Friedman’s excellent Religion Clause blog links to this decision of a Florida appeals court, confirming that the father should be given decision-making authority over the child’s medical care, in no small part because of the mother’s unusual religious beliefs:
Mother is a chiropractor and a proponent of holistic medicine. A tenet of her religious beliefs is that God has provided the human body with an innate immune system that enables the body to heal itself. Mother believes that anything introduced into the body to prevent disease or treat illness is against the will of God. Specifically, Mother opposes vaccinations. Accordingly, pursuant to section 1003.22(5)(a), Florida Statutes (2007), Mother obtained an exemption for the minor child from the immunization requirement to attend public school.
Conversely, Father desires that the minor child receive traditional medical care, including well baby exams, blood draws, urinalysis, and vaccinations. The court held three hearings to determine responsibility for the minor child’s health care where multiple experts testified concerning the effectiveness of vaccinations. Mother also testified – 2 -regarding her religious beliefs, medical care of the minor child, and their parent-child relationship.
A trial court’s determination as to which parent is to have the ultimate authority over a minor child’s immunizations will be upheld if it is supported by competent, substantial evidence…
While courts have consistently overturned restrictions on exposing a child to a parent’s religious beliefs and practices, they make an exception where there is “a clear, affirmative showing that these religious activities will be harmful to the child.”…
Following conflicting expert testimony1, the court determined that it was in the best interests of the minor child to award Father ultimate responsibility to make decisions regarding the minor child’s health care and vaccinations. We affirm the trial court’s decision because it was supported by competent, substantial evidence…
(The court also held that, considering all of the evidence, it was in the child’s best interests to be vaccinated – interesting, in light of recent revelations about “vaccines cause autism” quackery.)
A woman who is now married to a Hasidic Jew accuses her ex-husband of not following their custody agreement to support her religion.
Margolina accuses her ex-husband of not following their 2007 child custody agreement, in which she is to lead the religious directives. Debrigny said he’s fine with reasonably accommodating his son’s Jewish upbringing, but thinks his ex-wife is now too religiously extreme.
Testimony over the past two days has centered on a psychologist’s report paid for by Margolina that says the child’s best interests are served by growing up in a strict Jewish setting. She is now remarried to a Hasidic Jew and accuses Debrigny of undermining their religious beliefs.
“I was never told I couldn’t feed him bacon. There’s no restriction on what I can feed him,” said Debrigny.
Thursday’s court hearing on shared custody was about who is the better decision-making parent.
“She is absolutely entitled to her beliefs, but her religious beliefs almost require her to marginalize dad. And we are going to show that to the court,” said Brodsky.
In Nova Scotia, the best interests of the child is always the court’s primary concern in determining custody and access, and the parents’ religious practices and beliefs may be taken into consideration. For example, in the fascinating case of Turple v. Grover, 2008 NSFC 20, a Family Court Judge ruled that a father’s unyielding, strict religious beliefs caused continuing conflict with the mother, his employers and his neighbours:
 The issues he addressed may well have been proper ones to be addressed within the context of his faith. When he sees something that is wrong, whether it be the permissive attitudes regarding oral sex, or the lack of attention to the plight of Britney Spears, he feels compelled to correct it. When he does so, people seem to respond badly.
 That applies as well to [his daughter] and his relationship with [the mother] and others. He told the court how on one occasion, [the child] had taken a proneposition and repeated the work “spank”. He was understandably concerned. He did not spank [the child] and was worried that she had seen something at the babysitter’s house. He was rebuffed when he called the babysitter, who like the pastor, seemed to haveinexplicably turned on him. She “cursed him out” without ever addressing the issue.
 [The father] is simply not willing to sit back and “take it” when he seessomething wrong. There appears to be a pattern of people failing to understand, orfailing to deal with, these issues in a way that meet [the father’s] standards and expectations. That applies to the public school system, employers, church leaders,doctors and [the mother].
 [The father] appears to have some difficulties in interacting with others, or others have a problem interacting with him. He sees his actions and his wishes as being based on principle. Departing from them is to depart from principle. Those who disagree are not so much people with different views, ideas or perceptions of theworld, but people who lack his certain grounding in principle. That may be a sign of a man of great depth of conviction. It may be laudable in some circumstances. As a method for dealing with a five year old child and her soon to be even more complicated interaction with the rest of the word, it leaves much to be desired.
Needless to say, the Judge could not rule that one parent’s beliefs were more valid than the other’s, but he did consider the way each parent’s faith affected his or her relationships with others in the community.
The mother was found to have a more conciliatory, open-minded attitude, and was more likely to consider the opinions of professionals and other family members – including the father – in making major decisions for the child. Sole custody was awarded to the mother, though she was expected to engage in meaningful consultation with the father. The child could be exposed to each parent’s religious beliefs, “provided that it does not in any way denigrate or devalue [the child’s] respect for herself, both of her parents or other people.”