HARRISBURG, Pa. – A mother cannot be barred from having her minor daughter baptized simply because her former husband – the girl’s father – objects to the sacrament being administered in a Russian Orthodox church, a Pennsylvania appellate court has ruled.
A three-judge panel of the Superior Court overturned a judge in Mercer County, on the Pennsylvania-Ohio border, saying there was not sufficient evidence that a baptism would harm the child to warrant the court’s intrusion into the dispute.
"It is quite the leap of logic to convert (the father’s) ire … at the prospects of (his daughter) receiving the sacrament of baptism to proof of a `substantial risk’ of harm," Senior Judge Zoran Popovich wrote on behalf of the panel in a ruling issued Monday.
David and Jana Hicks were married in a Presbyterian church in 1987 and later attended evangelical and Pentecostal churches in Ohio and Pennsylvania. They divorced in 1998, according to court papers.
The parents have since shared custody of the girl, who was not identified in the court documents. She attended Roman Catholic services – and, since 2001, Russian Orthodox services – when she was with her mother and continued going to an Assembly of God church in Hermitage, Pa., when with her father.
Neither parent objected to the multidenominational religious training until the father learned that the mother planned last year to have the girl baptized at a Russian Orthodox church in Cleveland. The mother also was engaged to a Russian Orthodox man and has since married him, according to her attorney, Stephen Mirizio.
After the father contested the planned baptism in court, Mercer County Common Pleas Judge Thomas R. Dobson ruled in June that the girl could not be baptized in any church without her parents’ mutual consent but that she could decide for herself when she turns 13. The judge said he picked the age somewhat arbitrarily, but that, "13-year-olds, as a rule, are mature enough to make that decision."
Dobson said the girl, who is now 9, would be harmed by stress resulting from her parents’ religious differences.
"The choice of which religion to have their daughter baptized into is viewed by the parties as a battle for the immortal soul of the child," he said. "Neither party appears willing to lose to the other party. … No good can come to any child placed into such an emotional situation." [Source]
I wonder what David Hick’s view on baptism is. If he sees it only as a sign with no real meaning as many Protestants do then I wonder what his theological difficulty would be? Assemblies of God mainly concentrates on the Baptism of the Holy Spirit as evidenced by speaking in tongues. They don’t see water baptism as regenerative, but do require full immersion for a "valid" baptism so maybe he sees this as problematic. To claim harm from a baptism, even if you consider it an invalid baptism, seems rather strange.