Conservative Christian Religious Beliefs, Use of Moderate Corporal Punishment, High Sex Drive, and Interest in Wife’s Private Areas Do Not Show Family Violence

From In re Wean (Tex. Ct. App. Aug. 31), which reversed a trial court finding that a father engaged in family violence against his children, and a protective order based on that finding. The opinion discussed many matters, and I can’t do full justice to it here. But I thought I’d quote a few passages:

1. Religious Beliefs:

Also at the hearings, there was evidence regarding Josh’s religious beliefs. According to Sarah, Josh believed that children were born sinful, wicked, and willful and needed their will to be broken in order for them to be obedient, and such message was preached at their church. Sarah testified that Josh believed spanking is mandated by the Bible and she needed to follow his directives regarding discipline because he was the head of the household. She alleged that Josh believed women were created for men, that their roles were unequal, and that women do not need education beyond high school because their “only role” is as wife and mother. According to Sarah, Josh pressured his boys to pray and read the Bible daily. Sarah alleged that Josh’s beliefs were evidenced by publications available from Vision Forum Ministries, the Christian company for which Josh was the chief financial officer. One of the many books available for purchase on the Vision Forum website, which was admitted into evidence, instructed parents to spank their children in the privacy of the home and stated that spanking a disobedient child is required by God and is an act of love. A handful of articles posted on the website were also admitted into evidence, which articles stated that the husband and father is head of the household and that man has headship over woman….

Regardless of whether Sarah’s description of Josh’s beliefs is accurate, … such beliefs would not constitute evidence of family violence. We recognize that concepts such as favoring male leadership or promoting corporal punishment could conceivably be manipulated to hide or justify family violence, support an unhealthy balance of control in a marital relationship, or repress a victim’s attempts to seek protection. However, there is no evidence in the record that the beliefs–by themselves–make the existence of family violence more likely. We cannot agree that the fact a parent believes that a person is born with a “sinful nature,” that spanking as a form of discipline is endorsed by the Bible, or that the husband is the “head” in a marital relationship is thereby evidencing to CPS or the judicial system that such parent engages, or is likely to engage, in violence or abuse against his or her children. We conclude that the trial court’s finding of family violence does not find support in the evidence regarding Josh’s or his employer’s religious beliefs.

2. Corporal Punishment: The court concluded that the father’s spanking of the children with a “wooden kitchen spoon” does not constitute abuse. “[T]he fact that a child is spanked, on its own, does not evidence family violence…. See In re A.S., 261 S.W.3d 76, 88 (Tex. App. 2008) (“[I]nfrequent spankings of a child that leave ‘marks’ or visible bruises 24 hours after the spanking do not constitute sufficient evidence to demonstrate that a parent has engaged in conduct that endangered a child’s physical or emotional well-being.”). A parent generally has discretion to use some amount of corporal punishment. Therefore, for corporal punishment to constitute family violence, there must be some evidence — such as severity of injury, type of instrument used, or mental or emotional state of the perpetrator — that would transcend a reasonable level of parental discretion regarding discipline.”

3. “High Sex Drive” and Supposedly Excessive Interest in One’s Wife’s Private Areas: The court expressed doubt about a Child Protective Services report that finds “that there was ‘risk’ of sexual abuse.” “[T]he stated basis for such risk was not the [Sexual Assault Nurse Examiner] exam results or the children’s interviews, but rather ‘the father’s high sex drive being unmet by his wife, his failure to participate in polygraph regarding these allegations, and his belief that his children and wife should submit to his will.'”

And the court also noted that “Sarah [the ex-wife] also found suspicious that during their marriage Josh was ‘very interested in my private areas,'” but concluded that neither this nor the other items the wife pointed constitutes “evidence to support Sarah’s suspicions or conjectures” that the ex-husband was sexually abusing their daughter.

In any case, if you’re interested in the case, read the whole opinion.