An Interesting Twist in a Child Custody Case

By Richard E. Kelly

Although a bit apprehensive at first, I was recently asked to help a non-JW mom in a child custody hearing. Due to the story of my own childhood, Growing Up in Mama’s Club – A Childhood Perspective of Jehovah’s Witnesses, she believed I could help convince the court that her three school-aged children should not be baptized as JWs, if that was their choice, until they were 18 years old.

She’d married a disfellowshipped JW and early on made a non-binding verbal agreement with her husband that their kids would not be raised as JWs. After their divorce, the dad had a change of heart. He was reinstated and began attending meetings sporadically. Several months ago, he started taking the kids to the Kingdom Hall on the Sundays he had custody. As soon as the mom found out, she filed a complaint.

The mom did her homework and provided good documentation to the court to support her concerns. Then she petitioned for me and another ex-Bethelite to be her expert witnesses. The questions and our testimony were to be as follows:

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Opinion: Raising kids as Witnesses

I can speak from experience: being raised in a Jehovah’s Witness family can be tough for many children and downright disastrous for others.Normal kids playing ball at the park

I was fortunate enough to grow up in a JW family in the 1950s when many of the Watchtower’s restrictive rules had not yet been fine-tuned nor enforced the way they are today. I also had the good fortune to have a father who loved sports and wanted my brother and me to participate in organized athletics such as Little League and high school teams. Dad would often want to play catch and even join us when we’d play in pickup games with our neighborhood friends.

My father was an exception to the JW rule by letting us play on Little League and other sports teams. Even back in the 1950s and 1960s, most of the other JW kids were not allowed by their parents to participate in team sports or to join in on other school activities. JW children were supposed to be spending their spare time at home studying the Watchtower or out “in the field service,” knocking on doors trying to “place” the Watchtower Society’s magazines and books.

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