Catholic Ex Wife looking rather holy.
The players:

Dad. David Ryan, atheist. Plaintiff, represented by Ed Kagin of American Atheists.

Mom. Susin Bisig, Catholic (That’s her in the photo, wrapping herself around the cross, it would appear.)

Kid. Michael.

The question: Where does Michael go to school, a Catholic School where both he and his mom want him to go, or to an academically equivalent public school, where his dad wants him to go?

This is a case being decided in Kentucky and pertaining to state constitutional law regarding religion. The case was effectively decided several years ago when the same issue came up in grade school, and the judge sent the family away telling them to keep the kid in Catholic school and wait until high school to make this decision. Again, the usual gambit: The religion presumption, the religious fall back, the religious default.

This is a tricky case, because neither option is especially bad. This isn’t an evangelical school where religion will be shoved down this child’s mouth every few minutes. (It would be intersting to know what the life science classes are like at Saint Xavier’s!)

This is not a case where parochial schools are clearly inferior to or superior to public schools in any of the usual measures.

The father’s argument is that the child will be forced to consume religious training of some sort. An additional argument being maid for the plaintiff is that the child will be indoctrinated into a system that insists that his father’s beliefs are immoral. That is a a fairly powerful argument, I would think.

This is why atheists should not date or marry religious people.

Anyway, the reason that I bring this all up is that the case is now in the courtroom of Judge Freeley (again) in Oldham County Family Court and will be decided, most likely, some time this month.

Source, and a place for you to comment, here.

(Hat tip: Joe)


  1. #1 MRW
    April 6, 2008

    An important point mentioned in the article:
    “The 144-year-old Catholic secondary school also happens to be Michael’s first choice.”

    Since “neither option is especially bad”, the parents disagree, the parents have joint custody, and the parent whose preferred school is chosen has to pay the tuition, it seems to me that the logical choice is to let the 14-year-old make up his own mind.

  2. #2 impiri
    April 6, 2008

    Yeah, I think the son is old enough to make an informed decision on where he goes to school. That, or he’s been listening to Zappa’s “Catholic Girls”.

  3. #3 pelican
    April 6, 2008

    This child is fourteen and invested enough in his education that he has checked out a number of prospective high schools. His wishes should be primary, particularly since mom is willing to pay and so dad won’t be forced to support an institution he finds objectionable.

    I grew up in a wealthy area with excellent public schools (ranked highest in my state), but in all honesty, the Catholic high school was better. It was more intellectually rigorous by far, particularly in the life sciences. This was many years ago, but even then the Catholics had more resources and better trained teachers. I suspect the differences in quality are even more pronounced these days, even in “good” public school districts. Catholic high schools frequently have a very strong curriculum focusing on logic and rhetoric. They are certainly not expecting students to “just take things on faith.” Many of my wealthier friends who attended Catholic school had vigorous arguments with their religions teachers and learned a great deal about critical thinking and constructing a good argument as a result. I’m an atheist but I would not hesitate to allow my child to attend a Catholic high school if that’s where he wanted to go.

    I suspect Michael will not take it well if his dad prevails, just as he wouldn’t take it well if he wanted to go to the arts magnet school, and mom wouldn’t allow it because the principal was gay, for example. But, it’s unfortunate that in this case, it’s the atheist parent who is being the control freak who is willing to sacrifice his son’s developing autonomy for dogmatic reasons and possibly to get a dig in with mom in what sounds like a pretty hideous divorce. Ironically, I think Michael is more likely to lower his opinion of his dad and of atheism in general due to dad’s decision to push this lawsuit than he would be if his dad had just said “You’re growing up. I trust you to decide what’s right for you. You go to school where you want, but if you choose Saint Xavier’s, can we talk about what they tell you in your religious studies class? I want to explain to you what I believe and why.”

  4. #4 the real cmf
    April 6, 2008

    “Catholic secondary school also happens to be Michael’s first choice”
    Where did we ever get this insane isea–that 14 year old boys, particularly Virgin Mary/mother cult Catholic boys–even have a ‘choice’?

    Kids in general ( like that whole idiocratic movement to let kids vote) do not and can not make informed choices, because they are surrounded by the gynocracy from age birth to 18….

  5. #5 decrepitoldfool
    April 6, 2008

    This is why atheists should not date or marry religious people.

    The article doesn’t say if David was an atheist when he married Susan.

    When my wife and I got married I was a Christian Church minister and she had grown up in the church. Today I am an atheist blogger with a secular job and she is active in a much more open-minded church, best known for pacifism and social justice concerns. No one from her church has ever given me any grief for being an atheist. One person did, however, bake an outstanding rhubarb-apple pie for me when I helped with her computer. I can put up with that kind of evangelism pretty much indefinitely.

    But Ryan, who professes not to believe “in any god nor the existence of a supernatural world,” said that Michael will be better off in a school without religious ties that promotes free inquiry, not “a certain belief system.”

    David may be disappointed in just how secular the public school actually turns out to be. At least the Catholic school’s religious bias is overt.

    Interesting to see how the kid turns out in ten years. Sounds like his choice of religion will be complicated by a choice between mom and dad. Good job, David and Susan.

  6. #6 A Lurker
    April 6, 2008

    If both parents agreed on what school or one parent had the right to choose and one did not then I would agree that the kid would not have a say. So long as the father is not forced to pay any more then he would otherwise, let the kid be the tie breaker. The courts have better things then to decide where some kid goes to school.

    If the joint custody arrangement had some means of deciding whose wishes will prevail in case of disagreement this lawsuit would not be necessary. It is not like this sort of thing is not foreseeable. If no arrangement is possible then joint custody should not be allowed: one parent should get custody though certainly visitation rights can be provided for.

    I don’t see that the court has any right to any preference on whether or not the kid gets a religious education. Nor can it say what kind of religious education he would get if he is to get one. Secular governments don’t decide those things — indeed that is what makes a secular government secular.

  7. #7 The Ridger
    April 6, 2008

    Of course it’s his “choice” – the courts made it for him when they told the parents to leave him there and wait till high school.

  8. #8 Cherish
    April 6, 2008

    If the father had any sense, he’d put up and shut up. If the kid wants to go there (and more than likely the only reason he wants to go is that’s where all his friends are going), this is the probably the most moronic way of dealing with it. Can we say power trip? Mom is probably already bringing him to Catholic services, so I don’t see that Catholic school is really going to do much more than reinforce what is already being taught other places.

    If the dad wins and the kid ends up in public school, the kid is going to really be ticked at his dad for the rest of his high school career.

    Great way to build a healthy relationship with his son, don’t you think?

  9. #9 T. Bruce McNeely
    April 6, 2008

    Considering the accounts that some atheists have given about their religious experiences in childhood, wouldn’t the son be MORE likely to become atheist if he stayed in Catholic school? The father obviously isn’t taking the long view.

  10. #10 Soren
    April 7, 2008


    What the fuck has your misogony got to do with this case?

  11. #11 Virgil Samms
    April 7, 2008

    Catholic school is very good training for life as an atheist.

  12. #12 TheOtherOne
    April 7, 2008

    Where did we ever get this insane isea–that 14 year old boys, particularly Virgin Mary/mother cult Catholic boys–even have a ‘choice’?

    Actually, some are capable of making very good choices. My younger brother went to public schools through 6th grade, then a private religious school for 7th and 8th. During 8th grade, they took them over to the religious high school for a day, to sell them on going to the church high school.

    He came home and told my parents there was NO way he was letting them pay tuition money to send him to that school. They asked why – turns out he’d been in the restroom and overheard a couple of the high school boys discussing the various drug party options for the weekend. He figured if he was going to be in a party/drug atmosphere, at least he could do it at the local public high school where the folks weren’t paying tuition on top of tax dollars.

  13. #13 DeWraith
    April 7, 2008

    For those who don’t know St. X, it is a high school that is no better than any other public school in Louisville, Ky. Or Oldham County for that matter. I have had friends and coworkers come from there and tell me stories worse than I experienced in my public school and some better. These kids that come out are no smarter and no more successful than their secularly educated brethren (it’s an all male high school, btw). And YES, every last minute of that kid’s life in St. X will be spent with the cross being nailed into his head and him being myth-informed. Religion does get jammed down your throat in this school and so much so that some kids have rejected Catholicism just because this school rammed it down their throats so bad.

    Also of note, it has been failed to be mentioned in several articles that when the parents divorced, the father wanted his son removed from the Catholic school he was in. The judge told him to wait until high school, which he has done. The kid got indoctrinated and I can tell you that his friends from that school WILL be going to St. X because he lives in the rich part of town and they all send their kids to St. X because it’s like the SUV of schools–a HUGE status symbol that says “I’m rich!” AND, ONLY the mother said they toured “several schools” but never says which ones. The kid has been indoctrinated because a judge botched the case to begin with and now we are seeing the fallout.

    The default position is to send the kid to a public school by day and Bible study or church by night. Everybody wins that way. Also, private schools in Kentucky are not required to hire accredited or certified teachers. Any Joe Schmo from the street can teach there; so who do you think REALLY has the better teachers?

  14. #14 Zac
    April 7, 2008

    14 is old enough to determine where to go for one or two years of junior high school.

  15. #15 Anne Gilbert
    April 7, 2008

    Well, well, well. In most cases, I would probably favor the atheist guy, at least in the sense of allowing his freedom of expression. But what we’re talking about is the wishes of a fourteen-year-old! And he probably wants to continue with his friends, among other things. Generally speaking, nowadays, Catholic schools do not shove “religion” down their charges’ throats, at least not at the high school level. And, from what I’ve heard from Catholic friends, they teach perfectly respectable science. If this kid wants to go to a Catholic high school, the father should butt out and leave him alone! I have no sympathy whatever for this guy.
    Anne G

  16. #16 the real cmf
    April 9, 2008

    Soren: your pet peeve is called ‘misogyny’, or to the informed ‘massageme’ in the case of those with weak ago structure who bandy it about.

    Dude: the catholics are a fertility cult, and few have done more for your pet peeve than the Catholics: redirect your upper class white female pandering angst, and take a look at Catholicism.