10 year old decides her own religious faith against mother’s wishes

13 Aug 2012

Judges are often asked to make the most difficult of decisions in cases where warring parents are unable to agree how their children are to be raised.

In a recent case, a Judge was asked by a Jewish mother to prevent the father, who had converted from Judaism to Christianity following their separation and divorce, from baptising or confirming their 10 year old daughter.

The religious upbringing of a child is an element of parental responsibility that should, where possible, be agreed between the parents.  It is understood that the parents in this case had agreed that, although they were non-practising Jews, the children could attend Christian church services with the father when they were with him.  The daughter then decided that she wanted to be baptised into the Christian faith.

The Court's paramount consideration when determining any application concerning a child is the child's welfare.  It is not the role or responsibility of the Court to determine whether one religion is more appropriate than another, providing that religion is legally and socially acceptable.  It is the impact that the beliefs or practices of a particular religion has or is likely to have on the child that the Court must consider and these must be supported by firm evidence rather than suspicions or assertions.

The European Convention on Human Rights provides parents and children alike with the right to freedom of thought, conscience and religion and where possible, therefore, children should have the right to choose for themselves which religion, if any, they wish to follow.

The Judge in this case was fully informed as to the wishes of the 10 year old girl who had expressed a clear wish to be baptised into the Christian faith now.  Having heard evidence from both parents, the Judge confirmed that he had no power to Order that the girl should be baptised, but he did have the power to refuse to make an Order that prevented the baptism. 

He therefore ruled that the child should be allowed to enrol in baptism classes and present herself for baptism when she was ready to do so but that, unless her mother agreed, she should not be confirmed until she was 16.  The Judge made it clear in his ruling that the girl was still free to change her mind about her faith when she was older.