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.