New Mexico Court Forced a Mother To Take Religious Classes Or Face Losing Her Kids

Holly Salzman

When Kim Davis was sent to jail because she defied a court order to issue marriage licenses to same sex couples, Republicans seized the moment to claim Davis was a victim of judicial tyranny by a court that violated her right to freedom of religion.

If Davis and her defenders want to know what a violation religious freedom looks like, they should look at what happened to Holly Salzman, a single mother in New Mexico.

Holly Salzman went to a New Mexico District court for help co-parenting her children with her ex-husband.  The court ordered Salzman to attend 10 counselling classes for parents.  The order included a referral to Mary Pepper, who describes herself as an educator, mentor and teacher.

Salzman thought she was going to counselling sessions.  Little did she know that the counselling really amounted to classes on religion.

The first thing Pepper said to Salzman when they met for their first session is that she begins every counselling session with a prayer.  Salzman told Pepper she doesn’t pray.  Pepper responded to Salzman’s concerns saying “well it’s what I do” and proceeded with the prayer.

After that meeting, Salzman complained about the religious undertones of the sessions in a message to the Court.  The Court did not respond to her concerns.   Pepper opened the second session with another prayer.

Salzman went back to court and expressed her concerns about the religious overtones in her counselling sessions with Pepper.  According to Salzman, the court said they hadn’t heard any problems regarding Mary Pepper with religion.

Offended and disgusted, Salzman stopped going to the court-ordered sessions.  The court took Salzman’s kids away.

The only way Salzman could get her kids back was to finish the classes.

In other words, Holly Salzman was ordered to attended counselling sessions.  Based on the available facts, the Court ignored Salzman’s objections to the religious undertones of the counselling sessions.  The court presumably found her in contempt when Salzman refused to complete the ordered sessions.  That was when she lost custody of her children.  Getting them back meant attending court ordered religion classes – in violation of Holly Salzman’s first amendment rights. KRQE went undercover to video and audio tape the final three classes between Salzman and Pepper.  There were several references to religion.

Watch KRQE’s report here:

In one of the meetings Pepper told Salzman,

“The meaning in my life is to know and serve God. If you want to explore how God was in your past, how God was in your life and not in your life …. I know you don’t believe in God which is fine but I now (sic) at some points he was in your life in some way.”

Pepper gave Salzman handouts with religious quotes.  As a homework assignment Salzman had to write an essay titled “who is God to me?”

Pepper told KRQE she doesn’t think it should matter that she mentions religion in a court-ordered program. ”I’m a private business that people decide to come through or not. The particular person there was interested in analyzing her belief system.,”

The court refused to comment on this story.

Certainly, if an individual seeks Pepper out of their own volition, it would be one thing.  But Salzman went to court ordered councilling and the court ordered her to attend sessions with Mary Pepper.  When someone fails to comply with a court order, they are in contempt of court.  In this context, there was nothing voluntary about Salzman’s participation in the sessions.  The religious undertone of these sessions is obvious to anyone with a functioning brain.

When Salzman defied the order, the court took her kids which means Holly Salzman was punished for her religious beliefs.

The only way Salzman could get her kids back was to comply with the court order.

Unlike Kim Davis, the Family Court violated Holly Salzman’s first amendment right to freedom of religion. Unlike Kim Davis, Holly Salzman was punished – with loss of her children, for her beliefs on religion.  The only way she could regain custody of her children was to violate her beliefs on religion.

Pepper,says she gets about ten court-ordered clients a week.  Even though she opened Salzman’s sessions with a prayer, ignored Salzman’s concerns the inclusion of prayer, gave Salzman handouts of religious quotes and Psalms and assigned Salzman the task of writing an essay on the topic “who is God to me”,  Pepper claims she leaves the spirituality out of her program.

There is still more to this story.  In the name of keeping her costs down, Pepper holds her meetings inside public libraries. She isn’t supposed to work in public libraries, and City policy forbids the sale of products and services on library property.

According to Holly Salzman, Pepper knows that and she gets around the rules by having her clients pay cash and book the rooms.

She had actually explained to me that you need to be discrete about it because I’m not allowed to exchange money in the public library. So I had to kind of hide the money and then literally pass the money under the table, Salzman said.

When KRZE asked Pepper about the payments, she ended the interview.

I think that this interview needs to be ended,” Pepper said. “If you’d like to know more in private, I’d explain a lot about my business but to do this on the air is not appropriate.

Holly Salzman finished the counselling sessions and she got her children back.

However, as Pepper points out, she gets 10 court referrals every week for her “non-spiritual” counselling sessions that begin with prayer, that include handouts of religious quotes and require clients to write essays about God. She also violates the law every time she collects cash payments for sessions held in public libraries.

Conservatives take note. This is what being forced to violate your closely held religious beliefs really looks like.

25 Replies to “New Mexico Court Forced a Mother To Take Religious Classes Or Face Losing Her Kids”

  1. …Teahadists hypocrisy knows no bounds…that so-called judge and that “councillor” need to take a tour through a rope factory…

  2. BS,the mom should sue the state. That is a blatant violation of the mom’s freedom, and the children who were taken away from her.

  3. ‘Faith based initiative’ funding by Bush insinuated these predators across our contractor operated government.

    We need to bring government back under Civil Service where Federal law can be enforced.
    It’s obvious the States have no desire or intention of shielding their residents from violations of their Federal Constitutional rights.

    In fact, the States would prefer that constitutional rights be granted or withheld by the Governor.

  4. Yes, I agree Salzman should sue, but, I don’t understand why she just didn’t petition the court for another counseling referral?

    Also, there is no mention of any involvement of an attorney or any state agency staff who actually made home visits and determined that counseling would mend/keep the family together…that’s the goal of government regulated Family Intervention Programs, is it not?

    I understand Salzman’s rights were violated, I understand “follow the money” and, it is horrendous that a TV crew had to catch that ugly little con-artist cretin Pepper before anyone listen to Salzman…but, something is missing…

  5. The court “had not heard’ of other complaints either because of willful ignorance, favortism for the court appointed counselors, or because the parents in the middle of court ordered counseling fear reprisal if they complain.

    Most petitions to the court would involve a lawyer, as it is beyond most laypeople, incurring financial penalties on the petitioner. The judge, in most cases would just assign another counselor, unless there is another motivation for keeping the same counselor in play (which I suspect).

    This was another religious cram session, and one that needed to be exposed by an independent and powerful third party.

  6. I’d like to know the possible relationships between this Pepper and court officials. My guess is there is some connection somewhere… This sounds like a set up.

  7. If this court-order violating the right of Holly Salzman to her personal right to freedom from religion came from a single judge, that judge should be impeached and removed for such an obvious violation. If it came from more than one judge, whoever signed off on it should be impeached and removed. This is despicable and should not be allowed to continue there or anywhere else in this country.

  8. I believe she should contact the ACLU on this. I’m sure they would be glad to help out with this issue. It looks as though she did not have very good representation if she had any at all.

  9. I was just playing my 50 year old (but still in great shape) vinyl album of “TW3” a few weeks ago! “Bow your head with great respect and…genuflect, genuflect, genuflect!” Or as we used to say as kids,
    “jenny-flecked.”

  10. Another indicator of just how unfair and out of touch our government is out of step with the people, at all levels. It is not reasonable to expect perfection within a bureaucracy, but competence is another matter. I would find it difficult to believe this situation could have this type of relationship without someone in a position of authority and ability to prevent not being a party to and responsible for this type of situation occurring.

  11. Not having a specific religion IS your First Amendment right on freedom of religion. If you don’t get that, you’re deliberately choosing to make this a nation where no First Amendment rights exist save for those who choose as YOU demand.

    She violated the court requirement because she had HER rights violated – they received her complaint and did not give her an alternative. She was directed back to this hypocrite who abuses public funding – like Davis – and did not go, not because she did not respect the process, but because HER VIEWS on religion were being trampled.

  12. The article doesn’t say whether Salzman actually asked Pepper to STOP the proselytizing. It’ll strengthen her case.

    WARNING: Personal anecdote follows.

    My psychotherapist is also a Presbyterian minister. I didn’t know that when my GP referred me.

    I told the therapist of my disinclination for his faith-based counseling. The preaching stopped. The counseling continues. (I’m doing better, in case you’re wondering.)

    BTW. Get ready to gasp: Moderate Republicans aren’t extinct. My therapist, a staunch Republican, nevertheless supports Planned Parenthood and voting rights restoration; wants a purge of every element of plutocracy and theocracy from our governments; and opposes the death penalty. He may even be coming around on the JCPOA.

    So we get along great. I just can’t mention President Obama around him.

  13. The only think county clerk Kim Davis is trying to accomplish is to bring back the doctrine of divine rights, using the phrase “sincerely held religious beliefs.”

    The New Mexico court is trying to do the same thing. They are all saying, “My religious beliefs are higher than yours. Therefore, you have to submit to my higher authority e.g., divine right.

    This country was settled to get away from that kind of religious tyranny.

  14. It’s amazing how the Christian court appointed “counselor” can lie about not pushing the Bible and Christianity when it’s on the video of her doing exactly that.

    I think a great way to weaken the “revealed”/hearsay religions and their ability to cause problems is to take the advice of Thomas Paine who wrote in The Age of Reason (http://deism.com/theageofreason.htm) that we need a revolution in religion based on our innate God-given reason and Deism.

    Progress! Bob Johnson
    http://www.deism.com

  15. I’d like to know more about Pepper’s relationship with the IRS. It sounds to me as if she sees about 20 clients a week. The story doesn’t tell us what her services cost but even if they are a measley $25/session that’s starting to look like real money. And why, again, does it have to be paid in cash? Why couldn’t a client slip a check under the table? Likely, because that leaves a trail the IRS can follow to taxable income. This woman is not only a totally inappropriate counselor, I’m willing to bet she’s a tax cheat, too.

  16. The court wasn’t paying for the counseling. Salzman paid.

    I’m surprised Salzmam isn’t angrier after having to pay for that crap.

  17. YOU Drue are a complete IDIOT! The COURT defied the SEPERATION OF CHURCH AND STATE! Holly Salzman HAD EVERY RIGHT to exercise her RIGHTS NOT to have or be religious. People like you are what’s wrong with this nation.

  18. (1) Pepper states that Salzman “was interested in analyzing her belief system.” Seems to me that revealing that information is a violation of confidentiality. Salzman needs to put that in her lawsuit, too.

    (2) Pepper may actually believe what she’s shoveling: people like that have a whole different reality. If she does believe it, she really doesn’t have the emotional intelligence to be counseling anyone. She’d have to be completely clueless to miss Salzman’s resentment. So she’s either stupid or lying. Maybe both.

    (3) What kind of counselor operates out of a library? Plus she made Salzman complicit in violating the library’s rule. Salzman would probably love to be a witness for the prosecution if there’s a city ordinance involved.

    (4) There’s something off about the way Pepper does business. I hope Salzman got receipts for those cash payments. Cash is key for people who want to hide income from the IRS. And for kickbacks.

  19. Most stories note that she knew that the proselytizing was incorrect. She told Ms. Pepper that she does not pray, and Ms. Pepper shrugged and went on. Other efforts were met with shrugs, dismissiveness, and eyerolls.

    And this bullshit:
    ‘I know you don’t believe in God which is fine but I know at some points he was in your life in some way.’

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