A.J.H. v J.K.H. 2020 BCPC 74: This case looked at the issue of decision making about the religious and spiritual upbringing of the parties’ three very young children (ages 2, 4 and 5 years).

The father holds extreme fundamentalist Christian views, which he wishes to pass on to his children, and claimed that preventing him from doing so would be a violation of his right to freedom of expression. The mother, also a Christian, does not hold such extreme views and does not wish the children to be exposed to them.

Judge Mundstock’s decision is focused on the best interests of the children:

“This application is not about the respondent’s individual rights. The application concerns only the best interests of the children and how the respondent’s participation in such decision making will impact the best interests of the children.”

The interim order in place at the time of the application about religious and spiritual decision making granted the father time with the children for two hours every Monday in a public place in the presence of the mother. The mother sought to have this arrangement continued, with parental responsibilities shared between her and the father, with the exception of decision making related to the religious and spiritual upbringing of the children, for which she sought sole responsibility. The father wanted parenting time with the children in his home, but agreed they should remain primarily resident with the mother. He wanted to be involved in the religious and spiritual upbringing of the children.

While the parents initially attended church together and shared similar religious views and interpretations of scripture, over the course of the marriage – and ultimately leading to the end of the marriage – the father began to hold extreme views on such issues as homosexuality, abortion and the Holocaust, following the views of American Fundamentalist Baptist religious leaders.

The mother did not follow this direction and took issue with the father’s literal interpretation of the bible; in particular, those verses which ostensibly tell Christians to hate certain people and acts. The father acknowledged that he believes Canada should reinstate the death penalty and homosexuals should be put to death. He also testified that he believes women have a duty to obey their husbands.

In making her decision to grant sole decision making with respect to the religious and spiritual upbringing of the children to the mother, Judge Mondstock stressed that the father has the right to practice his religion and to hold any religious beliefs he wishes. She noted:

“J’s religious views separate him from many people he meets and cause him to feel that he cannot get along with people.  . . . He will not compromise his religious views and he sees this as a strength. He further sees this as a strength that he must teach his children. . . . It would be confusing to the children, at their young ages and stages of development, to be taught religious views by J. that are so diametrically opposed to the views of their primary caregiver. . . . If J. is at liberty to teach the children his religious views, I am concerned the children will not be able to get along with people they must interact with on a daily basis. . . .

“I am concerned for the physical, psychological and emotional safety, security and well-being of the children if J. were to participate in their religious and spiritual upbringing. . . .

“For these reasons, I find it would not be in the best interests of the children for J. to make decisions respecting their religious and spiritual upbringing.”

Judge Mundstock also ruled that the father could not have parenting time with the children in his home, because there was no way to ensure he would not share his religious and spiritual beliefs and ideas with them in that circumstance.

“I conclude that J. has chosen to live his life according to his fundamentalist views and there is no room for compromise, even if this means his parenting time will be once per week outside of his home.”