This story brings back a memory of when I was a carer and used to escort people to the church of their choice (including Russian Orthodox, Evangelical, C of E and the reform Synagogue!). Eventually I began to refuse to go to the Catholic Church after I had to sit through a sermon where the priest first of all piously praised himself and his congregation for allowing someone with a disability (in this case severe epilepsy) to attend his church and then launched in a lengthy and obviously well rehearsed screed about why you should not give children a choice in their religious education.
‘Steve’ has my sympathy
Church attendance requirement was imposed by Judge James Orrell during a hearing at an undisclosed county court in the Midlands By David Barrett, Home Affairs Correspondent 5:11PM GMT 19 Jan 2015
A judge has ordered a father to take his children to Roman Catholic mass as part of a divorce settlement, even though he is not Catholic.
The man, who can only be identified as “Steve” because of reporting restrictions on the case, faces possible contempt of court and a jail sentence if he fails to go to church when he has custody of the children.
The church attendance requirement was imposed by Judge James Orrell during a hearing at an undisclosed county court in the Midlands.
The judge has previously faced criticism for a hearing at Derby county court in which he ordered three children to be taken away from their parents after a hearing lasting just 15 minutes.
Court transcripts seen by The Telegraph show that Judge Orrell discussed his own Catholic faith during the course of the hearing into contact arrangements for Steve’s two sons.
The legal requirement to attend mass at Christmas applies only to Steve, who is not a Roman Catholic.
His ex-wife is Catholic but is not subject to the same conditions in the residence and contact order.
It reads: “If the children are with their father at Christmas he will undertake that they will attend the Christmas mass.”
Steve, a 51-year-old psychologist, said: “It’s all very bizarre. This aspect of the contact order was not requested by the other side in the case.
“The judge decided that I would commit to taking the children to mass and he put it in the court order.
“What I think is really concerning is that it does not allow me or my children any freedom of religious expression.
“I am definitely not Catholic. The last time I went to church was some time ago and it was a Unitarian church that I attended.
“My oldest son, who is now 10, has already expressed a clear lack of belief but legally I am required to take him to Roman Catholic mass at Christmas.
“Because my contact arrangements now give me the children on some weekends, I am concerned that I will now also be required to take them to mass on Sundays when they are with me, even though that is not part of the original order.”
A company run by Steve providing rehabilitation services to the criminal justice system has folded with the loss of 40 jobs as a result of stress arising from the case, he added.
The ruling has been subjected to a series of legal challenges since it was imposed in 2009 but the church attendance requirement remains in force.
Steve went to the Court of Appeal on the grounds that the order was a breach of his human rights under Article 9 of the European Convention on Human Rights, which protects freedom of thought, conscience and religion.
However, a ruling by appeal judges and a later judicial review in the High Court did not support his application.
Steve also complained to the Judicial Conduct Investigations Office which, he said, upheld other aspects of his application but declined to give a decision on the Article 9 points, claiming they were a matter for the legal appeal process.
Judge Orrell, now 70, was educated at the University of York and called to the Bar in 1968.
He became a judge in 1989 and is married with two sons.
In 2011, he ordered three children to be taken away from their parents after a 15 minute hearing, following evidence about bruising to one of the child’s ears.
His decision was later overturned and appeal Judge Lord Justice Thorpe said he was “aghast” at how the case had been handled.
“There is a point where a judge’s brisk conduct of business in his search for protection of a child is just not acceptable,” the appeal judge said.
A Judicial Communication Office spokesman confirmed a complaint was lodged in 2012 but no disciplinary action was taken against the judge.
An application was also made to the Court of Appeal in 2012 but this was refused in early 2013, he added.