Wednesday, November 5, 2003

DENVER — A Christian mother is appealing a judge’s decision that prohibits her from teaching her daughter that homosexuality is wrong.

Cheryl Clark, who left a lesbian relationship in 2000 after converting to Christianity, was ordered by Denver County Circuit Judge John Coughlin to “make sure that there is nothing in the religious upbringing or teaching that the minor child is exposed to that can be considered homophobic.”

Dr. Clark filed her appeal with the Colorado Court of Appeals last week.

Her former lover, Elsey McLeod, was awarded joint custody of the child, an 8-year-old girl who is Dr. Clark’s daughter by adoption.

The case has raised red flags among some Christians, who say the decision infringes upon the mother’s right to freedom of expression and religion.

While custody cases involving homosexual parents are becoming more common, the Denver decision goes beyond previous court orders, said Mathew Staver, president of Liberty Counsel, a public-interest law firm based in Orlando, Fla.

“We’ve seen cases around the country where the court will order one parent not to say anything negative about the other spouse’s lifestyle, but this goes much further than anything we’ve seen,” said Mr. Staver, whose firm specializes in constitutional issues involving marriage.

Mr. Staver said he filed a friend-of-the-court brief last month with the Colorado Court of Appeals at the request of Dr. Clark’s attorney and that the order effectively prevents the mother from practicing her religion in her daughter’s presence.

“The mother is a Christian, and that’s a major part of her lifestyle,” he said. “She would be prohibited from reading her daughter Romans 1 or anything in the Bible on sexual fidelity in marriage, going to Bible study, or listening to a sermon on marriage or fidelity.”

Mr. Staver said he has acted as a spokesman for Dr. Clark, a physician, and her attorney, who have avoided speaking directly to the media. Miss McLeod’s attorney, Gina Weitzenkorn, said the case has been put under seal and would not comment.

A spokeswoman for the Lambda Legal Defense Fund, a homosexual rights advocacy group, declined to comment, saying she was unaware of the case.

Judge Coughlin, who issued his ruling April 28, did award Dr. Clark sole responsibility for the girl in the area of religion, although with the caveat about exposing the child to anything “homophobic.”

He also said the two women “will never be able to agree regarding the religious upbringing of the minor child.”

Mr. Staver pointed out that the judge gave no similar orders to Miss McLeod regarding remarks or teaching about Christianity or Christians. “It’s a real one-way street on this,” he said.

In his order, the judge said there was “a great deal of strife” between the two women. Dr. Clark had argued that Miss McLeod should not have joint custody because she was not interested in the adoption while it was taking place and that it was never their intention that she would act as a parent.

“Elsey never adopted this child. It’s an egregious situation because the court is giving custody to someone who is not related to the child and has not adopted the child,” Mr. Staver said.

The girl spent more than seven years as part of Miss McLeod’s life, however, prompting Judge Coughlin to rule it would be in the best interest of the child for joint parenting to continue.

If his ruling stands, it could affect Christian parents across the nation, said Mr. Staver. “These things progressively build on one another, so we’re trying to stop this before it goes any further.”

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