U.K. Judge James Orrell has instructed an atheist man to attend Roman Catholic mass with his kids when he has custody of them on Christmas, as part of the divorce settlement with his wife.
The man, only identified as “Steve” due to restrictions on the case, is a 51-year-old psychologist who faces a potential jail sentence if he does not follow the court's order. Steve has chosen to stay anonymous to protect the identities of his children.
In this very odd situation, it must be noted that Steve’s ex-wife, who did not request this, is not required to attend mass with the two kids. This ruling applies until the kids are 18, and would still hold even if the kids grew up to be atheists like their father, as explained by Patheos.
Judge Orrell had also referred to “his Roman Catholicism in court and mentioned that it might be better if Steve had the children for the 'pagan' festival of New Year rather than Christmas itself. “
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The attention and scrutiny has been on Judge Orrell as this decision has been gaining traction in the U.K. This is not the first time one of his rulings has sparked controversy. In 2011, Orell made a highly criticized decision to take three children away from their family in a case that lasted just 15 minutes.
The British Humanist Association weighed in on the situation on Facebook, saying that, “This strange judgment deserves to be overturn [sic], and shows some seriously wrongheaded thinking on the part of the judge about how the religious views of a parent, or a judge for that matter, should weigh against a young person's own inalienable right to determine for themselves what they believe.”
By law, the children must now attend mass when they are with their atheist father, but are not required by the ruling to attend mass when they are with their Roman Catholic mother.
Steve appealed the decision but the higher courts refused to address the issue. Steve claimed that being forced to attend mass is a violation of his human rights, but was unsuccessful in the matter.
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Steve has been working on increasing awareness of this injustice through regular podcasts posted on Skepticule, where he is going by the name "Anonymous Steve."