Parent-Child Jihadist Speech:

I have an L.A. Times op-ed this morning about a fascinating parent-child speech case — one that to my knowledge no media outlet has yet discussed (probably because the facts were discussed in an unpublished opinion that likely no-one but the parties and I had read). Here are the opening paragraphs:

Meet Daniel P. and Allison B. and their children, Mujahid Daniel and Mujahid David, ages 13 and 11.... During their marriage, according to court documents, Daniel and Allison followed a "quasi-Muslim philosophy." They also "amassed a large quantity of weapons," and Daniel was imprisoned for illegal weapons possession and for making threats. Allison testified that Daniel abused her and that she went along with his actions only because she was afraid of him. The couple divorced in 1997, when Daniel was in prison.

Daniel, now out on parole, wants to see his children. Allison objects, based on Daniel's "violent felony conviction record ... domestic violence ... extremist views regarding religion, including ... jihad; and the letters written to the children while he was incarcerated, lecturing about religion and reminding the children that their names are Mujahid." ("Mujahid" means a soldier fighting for Islam; "mujahedin" is the plural.)

In December, a New York appellate court held that Daniel should be allowed supervised visitation after his parole expires this summer. But the court also upheld, in the name of "the best interest of the children," the trial court's order that Daniel not discuss with the children "any issues pertaining to his religion." ...

In the rest of the op-ed, I discuss the First Amendment implications of such orders, and point out that similar speech restrictions can arise in a wide range of other cases, involving racist speech, anti-gay speech, pro-gay speech, the teaching of religious intolerance, decisions not to teach religion at all, and more. Last year, I wrote an NYU Law Review article (Parent-Child Speech and Child Custody Speech Restriction) on this general subject.

For those who are interested, I also report the opinions below:

[New York family court decision, Oct. 28, 2005:]

The Petitioner, DANIEL [P.] (hereinafter, “father” or “Petitioner”) having filed a petition, pursuant to Family Court Act, Article 6, for an order, inter alia, granting him “visitation” with the children, MUJAHID DANIEL [P.], born October 30, 1993; and MUJAHID DAVID [P.], born June 1, 1995 (hereinafter “Daniel” and “David” or “the children”); and the Respondent, ALLISON [B.] (hereinafter “mother” or “Respondent”) having opposed such petition; and these matters, having come on before me for a trial, and the Petitioner having appeared via telephone testimony and by his attorney, John Zenir; and the Respondent having appeared in person and by her attorney, Steven A. Meisner, and the Law Guardian, Gail Jacobs, Esq., having appeared on behalf of the children; and the parties having presented witnesses, and exhibits to this Court; and upon all of the prior proceedings and pleadings had herein; and the parties having consented to this matter being heard and determined by Special Referee Dorothy A. Phillips; the petition is decided as follows:

Parent-Child Speech and Child Custody Speech Restrictions:

My post on the jihadist father case led to various responses about what the right result should be, and more broadly about what the right First Amendment rule should be. Let me ask you folks this: Keep in mind the following (real) cases -- for citations and more details, see my NYU Law Review article on the subject -- and think about what First Amendment rule you would advocate, not just for the jihadist case but for those cases as well. Would it be "judges may impose whatever speech restrictions they think are in the best interests of the child, and allocate custody in whatever way they think best serves the interest of the child" (pretty much the current family law rule)? Would it be something else?

I'm not just asking which conceptual lines can be drawn; I'm asking which rule you think is likely to operate in our legal system, in which judges will often have different views from you, and will often apply fuzzy rules in ways differently than you would. (Of course, some judges will evade even clear rules, but let's assume that rules have at least some power to constrain judges in some cases.)

Here is the test suite:

  1. A parent is denied custody based partly on his “not regularly attend[ing] church and present[ing] no evidence demonstrating any willingness or capacity to attend to religion with [his children],” or having a “lack of religious observation.” Another parent is given custody but only on condition that he “will agree to present a plan to the Court of how [he] is going to commence providing some sort of spiritual opportunity for the [children] to learn about God while in [his] custody.” A court orders a mother to take her child to church each week, reasoning that “it is certainly to the best interests of [the child] to receive regular and systematic spiritual training.” Another court does the same, partly on the grounds that weekly church attendance, rather than just the once-every-two-weeks attendance that the child would have had if he went only with the other parent, provides superior “moral instruction.”

  2. Parents have custody rights limited or denied based on racist speech.

  3. ... based on advocacy of Communism (during the 1930s and 1950s).

  4. ... based on advocacy of polygamy (we're back to today, as we are on all the examples that don't have dates labeled).

  5. ... based on their defense of the propriety of homosexuality.

  6. ... based on their advocacy of (or inadequate condemnation of) nonmarital sex.

  7. ... based on their teaching of fundamentalism.

  8. ... based on their teaching of “non-mainstream” religions.

  9. ... based on their teaching of religious intolerance.

  10. ... based on their exposing their children to R-rated movies.

  11. ... based on their allowing their children unfiltered Internet access.

  12. ... based on their exposing their children to photos of men in women’s clothing.

  13. ... based on their exposing their children to music with vulgar sexual content.

  14. Parents are ordered not to say bad things about the other parent generally.

  15. When the other parent is homosexual, a parent is ordered 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."

  16. When the parents are of different religions, a parent is ordered not to say that people who don't share the speaker's religion are damned to hell.

  17. When the other parent is a racist, a parent is ordered to "make sure that there is nothing in the religious upbringing or teaching that the minor child is exposed to that can be considered harshly condemning of racists" (this is the one pure hypothetical in the whole list).

  18. When the parents are of different religions, a court orders “that each party will impress upon the children the need for religious tolerance and not permit any third party to attempt to teach them otherwise."

It's a long list, so don't feel obligated to discuss in detail each item -- but think about which rule you think would reach the right results not just in one case but in the whole range of cases.

NPR Weekend Edition on the Jihadist Father Gag Order Case:

Hear Scott Simon's mellifluous voice, plus my voice, here. It's about 4.5 minutes, which is an eternity in national radio time; I was delighted that NPR was interested in the story.

The Peninsula On-line:

My op-ed on the jihadist father gag order was rerun in "The Peninsula On-line." Question (no fair googling): Which peninsula? Hint below.

My Finger Is Well Off the Pulse of the Blogosphere:

I've been quite pleased by the mainstream media reception of my Parent-Child Jihadist Speech op-ed; it ran originally in the L.A. Times, but it's been reprinted in the Atlanta and St. Petersburg newspapers, as well as a couple of others (including this one); NPR Weekend Edition and a local NPR affiliate did something on this, too, as did a Philadelphia radio station and the conservative syndicated Lars Larson radio show.

On the other hand, I had expected there'd be more attention from various blogs and radio programs that often cover radical Islam and the law. I figured the case that my story had uncovered had it all: The First Amendment; jihadism; parental rights; child welfare. Yet I've had much less original posts yield much more interest among blogs and radio programs, especially conservative ones.

I'm not trying either to brag or to complain here; I'm pleased with the attention the story has gotten, and while I think it's interesting, I never expected it to cause a huge stir. Still, I wonder: Did I misjudge the likely interest? Did I just not publicize the story enough? Should I have taken heroic measures to keep Anna Nicole Smith alive for several more days? What can I do in the future to try to draw more attention to such matters? I'd love to hear any speculation or advice that people might have.