The political debate over displaying the Confederate flag has found its way into a dispute over child custody in Tompkins County, New York.
A state-level appeals court was involved because the parents of a mixed-race child are fighting over custody arrangements that were ordered in 2018 after the two parents went to Tompkins County Family Court.
The judges wrote in their decision that the mother “acknowledged that she had a rock with a confederate flag painted on it at her home. In response to questioning, the mother testified that she has never used any racial slurs in front of the child or at all.”
An attorney for the father told the New York Post that he and his client “certainly … felt that the issue was important and needed to be raised.”
Although most of the decision focused on the relationship of the parents to one another, the ruling closed with a section about the rock.
“Finally, although not addressed by Family Court or the attorney for the child, the mother’s testimony at the hearing, as well as an exhibit admitted into evidence, reveal that she has a small confederate flag painted on a rock near her driveway,” the judges wrote.
“Given that the child is of mixed race, it would seem apparent that the presence of the flag is not in the child’s best interests, as the mother must encourage and teach the child to embrace her mixed race identity, rather than thrust her into a world that only makes sense through the tortured lens of cognitive dissonance.
“Further, and viewed pragmatically, the presence of the confederate flag is a symbol inflaming the already strained relationship between the parties. As such, while recognizing that the First Amendment protects the mother’s right to display the flag … if it is not removed by June 1, 2021, its continued presence shall constitute a change in circumstances and Family Court shall factor this into any future best interests analysis.”
Jason Leifer, the lawyer representing the child, claimed the parents had not argued over the rock, saying the judges “pulled something out of a hat.”
“Bringing politics into the family court is probably the worst possible thing you could do, and it seems like that’s what the appellate division has opened the door to,” Leifer told the Post.
“I just think that this thing opens a door to litigating … someone’s personal opinions on something,” Leifer said, according to The Associated Press.
Michael Stutman, an attorney and chair of the New York City Bar Association’s Matrimonial Law Committee, said the judges made “a very dangerous statement.”
“I think that it is a rather astonishing extension of wokeness in now that the door seems to be opening that someone’s political viewpoint reflects on their fitness as a parent,” Stutman told the Post.
“It is one of the clearest infringements on someone’s free speech by the state to have a court threaten to restrict a parents’ rights to their child based upon … the propriety of a person’s political beliefs. I don’t think that such a decision would ever stand constitutional challenge,” he added.
“You could easily find a conservative court saying that a person who flies a rainbow pride flag on their front door is an unfit parent because that judge does not believe in sexual choices, say, that are beyond that of just males and females.
“I think it was a real error.”
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