Dear Judge John Platt,
This is an open letter to you about a recent ruling that you have made concerning the child of two Jewish parents in Essex, England, who divorced in 2010. Apparently, the divorce was rather acrimonious and the father had suddenly decided to convert to Christianity. The father then started taking his daughter to church, and as the father alleges, “against his will” the daughter approached a pastor to become baptized herself.
The mother alleges that the father had forbidden the daughter from practicing Judaism. The mother argued that the decision as to whether to convert should only be made with the acquiescence of both custodial parents, or when the child herself has reached the age of sixteen, but not at the age of ten.
Judge Platt, Let us consider this case if both parents were born to Christianity and had raised their child as a Christian. And now after a divorce, the father had suddenly converted to Islam within two years after his acrimonious divorce.
I have no doubt that an Islamic court in a Muslim country would rule that the father would be in his rights. But I also would suggest that in western countries, a wise judge would rule that the best interests of a child are not to be a pawn in the machinations of a broken marriage. A western jurist would question the stability of someone who converted so soon after a divorce and then somehow managed to bring a child along in the conversion alleging that it all happened “against his will.”
Sir, although Great Britain is predominantly a Christian country, justice herself must appeal to her inner sense of fair play and integrity. Let us ask ourselves honestly: Would we have ruled the same way if the father had suddenly adopted the Mormon religion or had become a Hare Krishna?
Sir, the papers now report that you have written this young girl a letter. I have taken the liberty of changing four words in this letter.
“My job is to decide simply what is best for you and I have decided that the best thing for you is that you are allowed to start your Islamic classes as soon as they can be arranged and that you are confirmed as a Muslim as soon as your Imam feels you are ready.”
Such a letter would have caused a storm of protest in the Christian world.
If another judge would have ruled that a father who recently made a drastic change in his religious affiliation now worshipping something quite foreign to Christianity, riots would have broken out.
Alas, this child’s religion was only that of Judaism, a minor religion in Great Britain.
You further write that at the age of ten, this young girl is old enough to decide such weighty issues. Judge Pratt, I ask you to consider, are you not letting your own religious beliefs cloud your judgment in this are? To state that a ten year old child is old enough to make such decisions would be unheard of in any other forum. We would not allow a ten year old to decide other issues, of citizenship, joining the army, entering into a contract, why now?
Rabbi Yair Hoffman
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