2016-06-30
SOUTH ROYALTON, Vt., April 3 (RNS) -- The Vermont Supreme Court will decide whether a divorced father may share his religion with his daughters during limited periods of visitation.

Last August, a lower court said Lee Meyer of Chittenden County could no longer raise his 9- and 11-year-old daughters as Jehovah's Witnesses or bring them to the group's meetings. The restriction was part of a larger decision to give his ex-wife, Erika Meyer, sole parental rights in determining numerous factors from travel to education.

Last week, Lee Meyer called on the high court to restore his equal parental rights, including the right to shape religious formation. But his ex-wife warned against the harm that could ensue.

Erika Meyer believes the Jehovah's Witnesses' teachings have contributed to her daughters' anxiety and nightmares, according to her attorney, Amber L. Barber.

"The kids feared their mother would be destroyed when Armageddon comes because she's not a Jehovah's Witness," Barber said. Erika Meyer had been a member of the group but was "disfellowshipped" years ago for reasons Barber did not cite.

Lee Meyer's appeal of the Chittenden County Family Court ruling rested on the grounds that the court had no basis for imposing its restrictions. His lawyers argued that no evidence existed to say religious teachings had caused anxiety or other harm.

The mother "just didn't want the daughters raised as Jehovah's Witnesses," said Catherine E. Clark, attorney for Lee Meyer. "She focused on the beliefs, not the practices. We don't feel that she proved there were any practices causing harm."

Jehovah's Witnesses, known officially as the Watchtower Bible and Tract Society, claim 3.5 million members in more than 200 countries. They're known particularly for door-to-door distribution of religious literature and their refusal to accept blood transfusions under any circumstances. They reject certain Christian teachings, such as the doctrine of the Trinity, but aim to live according to a strict interpretation of the Old and New Testaments.

Barber said the case is not about anyone's right to practice a religion.

"This is not a religious issue, this is a custody issue," Barber said. The parents "became unable to communicate. One of the many things that these people couldn't agree on was religion."

Lawyers in the case expect a ruling in the coming weeks.

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