Indiana Court of Appeals Deals Major Blow to Parental Rights

The Court of Appeals of Indiana recently affirmed a trial court decision removing a 16-year-old child from the custody of his parents because they could not, in good conscience, affirm his transgender ideology. This is a startling and chilling decision that could affect parental rights throughout Indiana and the country.

The headline result of the decision is this:

If a child in Indiana claims that he or she is transgender and Christian parents decline to affirm that child’s newfound gender, that child can be ripped from their parents and placed in foster care.

The parents in this matter are devout Christians that believe (1) God creates each of us as immutably male or female as an expression of the image and nature of God and (2) that embracing who God has created us to be will lead to our flourishing.

In June of 2021, their son claimed he was transgender and that he was not safe in their home because the parents would not affirm his transgender ideology. The trial court removed the child from the parents over their objections and placed the child in a foster home that affirmed the child’s transgender ideology. The trial court also limited visitation with their child to a few hours one day a week and barred them from speaking about the issue of transgenderism with their child except in a supervised setting.

DCS later entered an agreement with the parents to dismiss the allegations of abuse and neglect against them and to focus the case on the child’s eating disorder. Because all allegations against them were dismissed, the parents had every reason to believe their child would be quickly returned to their home. Instead, DCS and the trial court surprised the parents at the next hearing by stating that the disagreement over their religious beliefs remained an obstacle in returning the child to their home. This directly contradicted the agreement to dismiss the allegations against the parents, and the parents appealed.

To make matters worse, the Court of Appeals recently held that the removal of the child from the parents’ home over the issue of transgenderism did not impose a substantial burden on the parents’ free exercise of religion. Furthermore, in justifying the bar on the parents’ religious speech, the Court of Appeals compared the parents’ speech and beliefs about transgenderism to two parents yelling at or insulting one another in front of their child.

The DCS, the trial court, and the Court of Appeals have, of course, characterized this case as about something other than transgenderism. However, the plain facts of the matter speak for themselves. Despite fully participating in the case plan provided by the state and complying with every order of the trial court, the child remains placed in a transgender-affirming foster home that allowed the child to socially transition without the consent of the parents, the parents are barred by a court order from speaking to their child about their religious beliefs concerning transgenderism except in a supervised setting, the child remains out of their home almost 17 months after removal, and the parents are limited to a few hours of visitation one day per week.

The implications of this case are broad and chilling. If a child claims that he or she is transgender and Christian parents decline to affirm that child’s transgender ideology, the state can now use this case as precedent to remove that child from the parents’ custody, bar the parent from speaking to their child about their religious beliefs, and place the child in a home that teaches principles contrary to the parents’ deeply held religious beliefs.

The Indiana Court of Appeals Judges who ruled against parental rights in this case are: Judges Crone (2004), Viadik (2000) and Altice (2015). Judges Crone and Viakik were appointed by Democrat Governors (Kernan and O’Bannon respectively). Judge Altice was surprisingly appointed by Republican Governor Mike Pence in 2015. Once appointed, a justice or judge within the Indiana Supreme Court or Indiana Court of Appeals must stand for a retention election at the first statewide general election after the justice or judge had served for two full years and, if retained, every 10 years thereafter.

Judge Viadik is currently up for retention throughout Indiana. She will be on your ballot! A vote “No” on her retention would remove her from office and allow Governor Holcomb the opportunity to choose a replacement.

What else can you do?

Contact your State Representative and State Senator and let them know you want parental rights strengthened in Indiana. If the Indiana Courts fail to protect parental rights the Indiana General Assembly must step in. Outside of an in-person meeting, a piece of snail mail is the most impactful. After that would be a phone call or a personalized email. As we get closer to the legislative session we will have action alert emails available to you so you can easily email our legislators.

As tomorrow is election day, we recommend that you make sure you are prepared when you walk into the voting booth. We’ve partnered with iVoterGuide to give you a breakdown of where the candidates in your local races stand on the issues that matter to you and your family.