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Close Encounter with the Religious Right

Deborah Arias
I had always been somewhat aware of the radical right and the political power they were gaining locally. I did what I could to support pro-choice (voting for candidates that supported a woman's right to choose, and making donations to pro-choice groups) because this was the only area of my life that I felt the radical right threatened. I was wrong.

In 1990, I separated from my husband because of repeated physical abuse. My son was just a few months old at the time and my husband had already put him in great danger several times. Imagine the horror I felt when I learned he has filed papers in the Family Court to get custody of my son. When I met with my attorney, I asked her if their was any chance that I could lose custody. "It all depends on what judge we get," she said. She went on to explain that each judge comes from a different place, politically speaking. A few judges work hard at impartiality, and the others...

The others were like Judge Hall, who was assigned to decide our case. Judge Bromley Hall was elected to the bench on the Right to Life ticket. He has been elected by the radical right and those who support their views. It became very clear during the course of my case, that this Judge had his own agenda, and that "fairness" and "impartiality" were secondary to that agenda.

Throughout the entire case, my husband expressed to me and to the court his interest in reconciling our marriage. We had separated and reconciled several times in the past. Each time I took him back his acts of violence became more extreme. I knew that my life would be in danger if I took him back another time. This time I would not even consider taking him back and I made that clear.

This was a mistake. You do not make it clear to a judge, whose ideals are those of the radical right, that you refuse to consider reconciling you marriage. To him, the family must be preserved at all costs, and it was perhaps even more my duty to make efforts toward reconciliation because I was a woman. He refused to take into consideration documented instances of my husband's violence that had endangered both my son and myself. These, he considered irrelevant and, according to New York State law, he was not obligated to take my husband's violent behavior into consideration when ruling on custody.

The Judge ordered "forensics," which my lawyer later explained meant that I would undergo a series of psychological tests and that my home would be visited by social workers, etc. In the mean time, my husband would be allowed weekly visitation with my son. The Judge had ignored my request for supervised visitation. A court appointed guardian was assigned to investigate the case and represent the interests of my son.

During the years that this case dragged on, I began to date someone. That too, became an issue to the Judge, even though at that point, my husband I had been separated for years. According to the Judge my "immoral lifestyle" might negatively affect my son. (However, the fact that my son was forced to witness his father's violence toward his mother was not an issue or concern). At the end of one hearing the Judge had asked, "Off the record, who can tell me the date the 10 Commandments were repealed as law?" The court was silent. "I'll tell you when—never. The 10 Commandments were never repealed. That's the problem with people today—they don't abide by the 10 Commandments." I have no doubt that everyone in that court knew that the Judge was referring to me and my alleged infidelity. I was infuriated that he had the gall to make such a statement in open court. On this and other occasions, he went out of his way to show his defiance of the Supreme Court's rulings regarding a separation of church and state.

My husband's violent behavior continued during this period of time, despite of my order of protection. When he tried to punch me in the face, as I spoke to him through a partially open window at my home. He caused the glass to shatter and cover me and my son. Luckily, our injuries were minor. But he had violated the order of protection and was arrested.

We went back to Family Court before Judge Hall. The court appointed guardian of my son was concerned that my son's hand had been cut by a piece of flying glass. She recommended that visitation with my husband should continue and that she felt it was my fault that my son had been cut. "Why did she have the child at her side when her husband had a history of being violent with her?" The Judge agreed strongly with the guardian's argument that I was to blame.

Luckily, my husband's violation of the order of protection was now a criminal matter, and he was to be tried in criminal court. He faced up to a year in jail. At the next hearing in the Family Court, the two attorneys met with the Judge in his chambers. When they returned the Judge stated that I was being allowed to keep custody of my son in exchange for dropping criminal charges against my husband. I took my lawyer's advice and agreed. If it had not been for the criminal court's serious attitude toward domestic violence I may have lost custody of my son.

I later went on to testify before a New York State subcommittee on Domestic Violence in an attempt to spread awareness of the atrocities that go on in our Family Courts.

I now take the radical right very seriously, and know that they are a threat to much more than a woman's right to choose.

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