North America - United States
In custody battle involving Satanist, law plays devil's advocate
By Manya A. Brachear ("Chicago Tribune," July 9, 2008)
Rochester, USA - The T in Satan's name inked on Jamie Meyer's left leg is drawn to look like an upside-down cross. The crucifix suspended above his bed hangs upside down too.
Meyer's ex-wives say he also has turned their children's lives upside down since he joined the Church of Satan—an organization that eschews spirituality and celebrates man's selfish desires.
One of Meyer's ex-wives is citing his religious affiliation as the main reason an Indiana judge should restrict his visitation time to allow his three youngest daughters to attend Christian church. A Fulton County judge could decide the case Wednesday.
"My children are my legacy," said Meyer, 30, a factory worker. "It is because of them that I am still here today. I will always fight for my rights as a father."
Across the nation, child-custody disputes involving religion are on the rise as the frequency of interfaith marriages and religious conversions increases and fathers become more active in their kids' upbringing. Judges risk crossing the line between church and state, experts say, if they try to choose the religion in which a child should be raised.
"People continue to bring it up even though the judge tells them they won't consider a belief system," said Ronald Nelson, chairman of the American Bar Association's custody committee. "Judges are people. They are swayed by their emotions and biases just like everyone else. . . . What better bias than religion? It's a visceral thing."
Experts said the burden is on the ex-wife to show that the religion was harmful to the children.
Gaetano Ferro, immediate past president of the American Academy of Matrimonial Lawyers, said the U.S. Constitution prevents judges from showing a religious preference. But the burden of proof might be on Meyer to prove the Church of Satan is an authentic faith.
"If Satanism is treated as religion, that's strike one to her case," Ferro said.
Indeed, the Internal Revenue Service defines the Church of Satan as a religion. Furthermore, that's how it defines itself.
"Satanism is the world's first carnal religion," said Peter Gilmore, high priest of the Manhattan-based organization founded four decades ago. "Satanists are thus atheists—not devil worshipers—and we see Satan as being a symbol of pride, liberty and individualism, not a deity."
Meyer embraced the Church of Satan when an ex-girlfriend introduced him to the "The Satanic Bible" shortly after his second divorce about two years ago. The book, written by the Church of Satan's founder, Anton LaVey, spoke to Meyer more than any scripture ever had. It proclaimed no God, no heaven and no hell. It said Satanism had nothing to do with the devil.
"We take it on as a name because Satan means adversary or opposite," Meyer said. "We are the opposite of spiritual religions."
The mother of Meyer's three youngest children, Kristie Meyer, said her ex-husband's public expression of satanic beliefs subjects the children to embarrassment. Her lawyer, Pat Roberts, defended his client's right to shape the religious upbringing of the children. He also said Meyer owes back child support.
Roberts wants the judge to order Meyer to drop off the children at his ex-wife's Christian church so that they can attend with her.
"Frankly, [it] can be emotionally damaging or confusing to children when they're faced with these two different forms of worship," Roberts said. "Allowing them to go to church for a couple hours on a Sunday morning is . . . not unreasonable."
Jamie Meyer's first ex-wife, Misty Hoff, said he already has alienated his oldest daughter by calling her a hypocrite for her Christian beliefs. She considers his encounter with the Church of Satan nothing but a phase.
"This character is right now one of many that he has done," she said. "Whether he believes in this or not—that's between him and God."