Slandered “Wiccan” Denied Rehearing

Jason Pitzl-Waters —  November 20, 2008 — 8 Comments

Did talk of a mother’s (alleged) adherence to Wicca cause her to lose custody of her child? That is the allegation of Andrea Hicks, who said that Chicot County Circuit Judge Robert Vittitow improperly considered her religious views in his ruling.

“In her appeal of Chicot County Circuit Judge Robert Vittitow’s decision, the mother noted Vittitow described Wicca in his opinion letter as ‘a religion, movement, cult or whatever it that may be.’ The judge also wrote that while the mother testified she was only joking when she told the boy’s father that she was involved with Wicca, the ‘court believes she is much more involved than she would lead us to believe.'”

Hicks’ first appeal was denied, even though the two dissenting judges believed that the ruling ‘impermissibly considered’ her faith. You can read the opinions of the judges on the appeal court, here (Andrea Hicks v. Joshua A. Cook). Now, somewhat unsurprisingly, a motion to rehear the appeal has been denied with the same justices dissenting.

“In a dissenting opinion Wednesday, Hart said Circuit Judge Robert Vittitow interrogated the mother about the practice of Wicca and made an explicit finding that she was practicing Wicca in his written order. Even if the mother did practice Wicca, “there is absolutely no evidence that practicing Wicca was in an way harmful to the child,” Hart wrote. Hart also accused the child’s father of making “vile and slanderous” statements in his response to the petition for rehearing…”

It is becoming blatantly obvious that a miscarriage of justice is happening here. Why don’t a majority of the Appeals Court judges see it too? The Arkansas Blog has a possible theory.

“Judges Robert Gladwin, David Glover, Wendell Griffen and Pryce Marshall formed the all-male majority in favor of the mother losing custody. Judges Jo Hart and Sarah Heffley formed the all-female dissent.”

So a guy accuses his wife of being a witch in court to a male judge and wins custody, and when the decision is appealed, it, and a subsequent petition for a rehearing, are voted down across gender lines? I’m no patriarchy conspiracy theorist or anything, but this stinks to high heaven. Judge Jo Hart obviously thinks so too.

“As the appellant points out, this court committed a clear error by ignoring the obvious fact that the trial judge based his change-of-custody decision in large part on his finding that the appellant was a participant in some nefarious “cult.”

…As I stated in my dissent, even if it were proven that the appellant was a practicing Wiccan, that conclusion can have no bearing on the decision to change custody. The majority makes a clear mistake of fact because there is absolutely no evidence that practicing Wicca was in any way harmful to the child or even that there were any practices conducted in the child’s presence. Accordingly, this cannot be a reason for changing custody.

… Finally, I am compelled to mention that the appellee’s intemperate response to the appellant’s rehearing petition was not only inappropriate but was vile and slanderous. He argues, among other things, that the majority was correct to allow the trial court to make a custody decision based on his perception of the appellant’s religious beliefs because not all religions are worthy of constitutional protection. He denigrates Mormons, asserting that “Mormons practice incest and child marriages,” and proclaims that “Wicca is a cult, not a religious belief.” He admonishes that “this court is committing a grievous error if it allows cult activities to be protected” and that the “trial judge appropriately ruled in this case after carefully considering the facts.” In light of the appellee’s further illumination of this issue, I simply cannot say that the trial court’s decision was “appropriate.” I lament that this court has accepted the appellee’s invitation to embark on a grand inquisition.”

This case needs some national attention, and some serious legal muscle, immediately. If this is allowed to stand, you better not be a Pagan thinking of getting a divorce in Arkansas any time soon.

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Jason Pitzl-Waters

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  • Jag in AR

    Just one more reason to be ashamed of the state I live in.

  • Patti Wigington

    Now it appears that at least one of the justices is disputing what dissenting judges Hart and Heffley say. Judge Robert Galdwin says that Vittitow never asked the mother about her religion, and that the child was actually removed from the home due to concerns of neglect. There’s more on it here: http://www.nwanews.com/adg/News/239106/It will indeed be interesting to see what comes of this one.patti

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  • Pax

    Hey Jason!I’ve sent a link about this story to everyone I could possibly think of encouraging them to do …something…, not sure what else to do at the moment. Thank you, as always, for your work!Paxhttp://chrysalis1witchesjourney.wordpress.com/http://gaymarriageorsomethinglikeit.blogspot.com/

  • THE Michael

    ….and WHY isn’t this being brought to the attention of the ACLU? Seems to me this is right up their alley.