In a shocking judgement handed down by a family court in west London last year, but only just published now, a judge has denounced a father simply for exposing his children to basic information about the theory of evolution. The judgment, which concerns a family from the strictly Orthodox Charedi Jewish community, follows on from a dispute between a now separated husband and wife over the custody and schooling of their children. After the mother had alleged that the father, who has now left the community, acted ‘inappropriately’ in talking to his son about evolution, the judge criticised the father and described his actions as ‘unwise’ given that the theory is deemed ‘heretical’ amongst the Charedim. The British Humanist Association (BHA) has been working with the father for some time, and today expressed its outrage that a UK court could uphold such a complaint.
Dealing specifically with the mother’s accusation that her ex-husband had spoken to his children ‘about apes and men in a way suggestive of a discussion of the theory of evolution’, the judgment accuses the father of being ‘unwise’ in taking them to a museum which was likely to ‘depict aspects’ of evolution. Further criticising the father, the judge also said he had been ‘naive’ to think that pictures on the walls at such a museum would not ‘prompt these bright young children to ask questions which, if answered honestly, would involve some explanation of that theory’. The actions of the father, she ruled, ‘does not demonstrate his full acceptance of the principle that these children should only be exposed to experiences in his world at a slow and sensitive pace.’
The judgment was not only confined to evolution, as the mother also complained about the father talking inappropriately to his children about elements of sex education. Asked by his son where children come from, the father explained simply that ‘a mum and dad are needed to make babies’ and that ‘the baby grows in the mummy’s tummy’. Despite disclosing only this limited information, the judge again called the father ‘unwise’, stating that given the son is only five years old, he could ‘easily have been diverted with a more neutral answer to his questions’.
Much of the criticism targeted at the father during the case centres on the fact that he has exposed his son to information which the strictly Orthodox school he attends deems as inappropriate and contrary to Jewish law. Jewish schools with similarly strict policies have received significant attention over the past year.
Commenting on the judgment, BHA Campaigns Manager Richy Thompson said, ‘That a judge could criticise a father for seeking to educate his children in line with the established scientific consensus, information they would have received had they attended any state school in the country, and then defend the attempts of their mother and their school to withhold such information from them, is appalling.
‘Whilst on the face of it this seems to be an issue between mother and father, it speaks to a far wider problem. It remains the case that incidents like this simply wouldn’t arise if private schools were held to the same standards as state-funded schools, obliged to teach a broad and balanced curriculum that prepares children for life in the modern world, and barred from promoting pseudoscience and creationism. This father and his children were failed by the education system and now they’ve been failed by the legal system, and we will be working to ensure that reforms are introduced to ensure these kinds of situations are to be avoided in the future.’
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Read the judgment: http://www.bailii.org/ew/cases/EWFC/OJ/2015/B237.html
Read more about the BHA’s campaigns work on science, evolution and creationism: https://humanists.uk/campaigns/schools-and-education/school-curriculum/science-evolution-and-creationism/
Read more about the BHA’s campaigns work on ‘faith’ schools: http://www.humanists.uk/campaigns/religion-and-schools/faith-schools
The British Humanist Association is the national charity working on behalf of non-religious people who seek to live ethical and fulfilling lives on the basis of reason and humanity. It promotes a secular state and equal treatment in law and policy of everyone, regardless of religion or belief.