Pro-Family Christians Support Child Kidnapping

Yesterday, I came across a story that was so appalling I had to write about it. It shows the true depths of the Christian right’s hatred for gay and lesbian people, and the lengths they’re willing to go to – up to and including defying U.S. law – in the name of that hatred. (HT: The Wall of Separation)

The story in a nutshell: A same-sex couple in Vermont, Lisa Miller and Janet Jenkins, were married in 2000 and had a legally recognized civil union. Two years later, they had a daughter, Isabella, with Lisa the biological mother. In 2003 they separated, and a court ruled that Lisa should have primary custody of Isabella and Janet should have visitation rights.

But Lisa Miller moved to Virginia, joined an evangelical Christian church (for reasons that remain unclear to me) and decided that she had been “cured” of being a lesbian. Since Virginia doesn’t recognize same-sex unions, Miller filed suit to overturn the Vermont court’s custody decision, arguing that under Virginia law her former partner wasn’t a parent to their daughter and should have no parental rights. In this effort she was assisted by Liberty Counsel, a religious right legal group founded by Mat Staver, who’s also the dean of the law school at Jerry Falwell’s Liberty University.

This didn’t go well for the religious right. The Virginia Supreme Court denied Miller’s petition, citing a federal bill called the Parental Kidnapping Protection Act which was passed specifically to prevent this kind of forum-shopping. Meanwhile in late 2009, finding that Lisa Miller had been consistently refusing to permit Janet’s court-ordered visitations, the Vermont family court overturned its earlier decision and awarded sole custody of Isabella to Janet Jenkins.

The deadline for the custody handover was set for January 1, 2010… and at the appointed time, Lisa and Isabella didn’t show up. The police obtained an arrest warrant, and since then both of them have been missing.

That was the last update in this case, until now. It was reported this week that the FBI has arrested a Tennessee pastor, Timothy David Miller, and charged him with helping to arrange for Lisa and Isabella to flee the country and travel to Nicaragua, where he had worked as a missionary. More, according to the affidavit, he wasn’t acting alone:

Ms. Miller and Isabella stayed in a beach house in Nicaragua that is owned by a conservative businessman with close ties to Liberty University, an evangelical school in Lynchburg, Va., and whose daughter works at the university’s law school, according to the affidavit…

[Mat Staver] said he knew nothing about the accusations involving a law school office assistant, Victoria Hyden, and her father Philip Zodhiates, the beach house’s owner…

Much of the evidence in support of the criminal charges and other accusations, the affidavit said, was obtained through court-approved, covert searches of e-mail accounts, uncovering messages from Mr. Miller that appear to arrange the mother and daughter’s 2009 flight to Nicaragua and from Mr. Zodhiates arranging to send them supplies.

Let’s not mince words: If these charges are true, then the FBI has uncovered an international Christian child-kidnapping ring, a premeditated conspiracy to defy the law and keep same-sex parents apart from their children – and one, moreover, that has close ties to Liberty University and the religious right’s political infrastructure. Notwithstanding Mat Staver’s denials, I have no doubt whatsoever that even if he didn’t personally participate in any illegal act, he either knows where Lisa and Isabella are or could find out if he wanted to.

Unfortunately, it seems that under the relevant law, the most that anyone could face is three years in prison. That’s not nearly enough – a religious fanatic who believed he needed to “save” a child from the love of her same-sex parent could easily wait that sentence out and consider it a small sacrifice, and of course, he would be hailed as a hero by the religious right upon his release. If the law allowed, say, 20 years in prison rather than three, that might be enough to make even the most defiant zealot consider cooperating with the authorities – and give him an incentive to name the others who were part of this conspiracy. I have little doubt that the full list of names would be a major embarrassment, possibly even a crippling legal blow, for the Christian right. (I wonder if federal prosecutors have considered using RICO against Miller.)

But most of all, my heart breaks for that little girl, who must be going through intense brainwashing sessions in an attempt to poison her mind against her legal mother. I hope with all my heart that she resists and that she understands the crime that was committed against her. In the name of “protecting” her from exposure to gay people, the religious right has taken her out of the country, torn her away from her friends and family, quite possibly destroyed any hope she’ll ever have for a normal life, and is no doubt trying to indoctrinate her into a cult of bigotry and hate. Are these the people who dare to call themselves “pro-family”?

About Adam Lee

Adam Lee is an atheist writer and speaker living in New York City. His new novel, Broken Ring, is available in paperback and e-book. Read his full bio, or follow him on Twitter.

  • http://politicalgames.posterous.com themann1086

    I seriously cannot respond coherently or civilly to this. Just… GAH

  • Dan

    This case is prime for using the RICO act. But what federal prosecutor will have the guts to accuse a religious group of organized crime?

  • http://eternalbookshelf.wordpress.com Sharmin

    But most of all, my heart breaks for that little girl, who must be going through intense brainwashing sessions in an attempt to poison her mind against her legal mother. I hope with all my heart that she resists and that she understands the crime that was committed against her. In the name of “protecting” her from exposure to gay people, the religious right has taken her out of the country, torn her away from her friends and family, quite possibly destroyed any hope she’ll ever have for a normal life, and is no doubt trying to indoctrinate her into a cult of bigotry and hate. Are these the people who dare to call themselves “pro-family”?

    It’s so sad. The “pro-family” contingent so often ends up doing precisely that which is harmful to families. I hope this turns out well for the little girl and that she’s back soon with the mother who was given custody. As themann1086 wrote, I’m finding it difficult to respond coherently.

    -Ani Sharmin

  • Nathaniel

    I hope the shits that did this get charged with conspiracy.

    I also hope that the Catholic Church is relabeled as an organized criminal organization, and that the government will give me a pony.

    Gah, our country really does suck sometimes.

  • Doug Kirk

    Sometimes (ok a lot of the time) I’m truly ashamed to be American. If we don’t nail these bastards to the wall, I will just another ignoble moment to the growing box that is “I’m afraid I may need to move out of the country soon….”

  • http://contributor.yahoo.com/user/804274/eric_hetvile.html Eric Hetvile

    I think it’s a safe policy to be against anything that Liberty University is for.

  • Miles McCullough

    I’m just trying to imagine the thought process in the Xtian mind. First, Janet was not awarded custody originally, and Lisa was, presumably for a reason. Janet is not straight, and Lisa apparently is now, which is the clencher for the argument that Lisa is a better person. Janet isn’t the biological parent, Lisa is, which settles the argument of who the “real” parent is. Obviously, Lisa is well within her rights to keep her child away from the depraved degenerate, Janet.

    I don’t suppose it occurred to them that gay =/= evil or that custody hearings can be incredibly arbitrary or that love matters way more than genes or that Janet and Isabella both deserve the right to see a loved one at least or that when in doubt one ought to follow the law.

    Then again, cruel and conniving people can often hide their less flattering traits and play the system, and maybe Janet was that person, causing Lisa and Isabella the flee a monster the only way they knew how. Although even if that was the case, they ought to have stuck it out and hired a PI or something to get some evidence and show it to the court to end visitation rights.

    Try as I might, I can’t give Lisa the benefit of the doubt on this one. She is either stupid and impulsive or cruel and conniving herself, but either way she clearly cannot handle a child responsibly. And her enablers are no better.

    This is just more evidence that faithful in general and fundamentalists in particular have a worldview so topsy-turvy that they can consider themselves the persecuted minority that rightfully operates an underground railroad to prevent the modern day moral equivalent to slavery (teh gays), but in reality they are the ones enslaving their own followers with mind-forged manacles and enslaving children with physical constraints despite the well known aphorism that children cannot give consent.

    It’s stuff like this that made me aware even at age 14 or so that the most implausible thing in the Chronicles of Riddick was the hero’s success, not the galactic death cult of crazy.

    I just hope this gets RICO invoked, only I can imagine the backlash from all faith traditions if for nothing else than the precedent it might set.

  • http://thechapel.wordpress.com the chaplain

    Thanks for the update on this story, Adam, even though I’m saddened by the appalling turn of events in the situation. As a former evangelical, I wish I could say I’m surprised at the involvement of evangelicals in this matter, but I’m not. Truth be told, I bet I could call 20 of my acquaintances within the next hour, and at least 15 of them would support what the evangelicals allegedly (and probably) did in this situation.

    I have my doubts as to whether this would amount to “a crippling blow” for the Religious Right. Even if they take a staggering hit legally, it will take a lot more than this to cripple them. If the Catholic Church’s international conspiracy to hide and deny rampant child abuse within its ranks is having a nearly imperceptible effect among its members, it’s unlikely that this one incident will do much damage to the Religious Right. It may – and probably will – cause a few to reconsider their religious ties, but Christianity is not going to crumble before our eyes any time soon. Maybe eventually – I hope – but it’s going to take a long time to dismantle what’s taken two millenia to build.

  • http://kagerato.net kagerato

    Yet another example of how bizarre and unreasonable the federal laws are. The maximum sentence for an international kidnapping of a child by a parent is three years. On the other hand, the minimum sentence for domestic kidnapping of a child by a non-relative and non-custodian is 20 years. (See the bottom of Title 18, Part I, Chapter 55, section 1201.)

    What kind of sense does that make? I see this as encouraging treatment of children as though they were the property of their parents.

  • Brock

    I forget who said it, (possibly Nietzche) that when you slay a giant, it takes a long time to fall. He could have added, but fall it does eventually.
    I agree that this will have little effect on Xianity in general. The best that we can do is what Ebon has done, and that is to publicize it. The airing of Catholicism’s dirty sheets (!) in public has had an effect on church membership, slight as it is (but remember, it’s a giant).

  • Leum

    There’s also reason to believe that a lot of evangelical-promoted adoption includes, if not kidnapping, coercion of parents (linky).

  • Jormungund

    my heart breaks for that little girl, who must be going through intense brainwashing sessions in an attempt to poison her mind against her legal mother. I hope with all my heart that she resists and that she understands the crime that was committed against her.

    They have had her from age 7 to 9 or so if I am getting the dates right. They’ve won. They brainwashed her in whatever way they pleased. I remember hearing a rather snappy quote from a Jesuit about how if you give him a child for a few years, he will make that child into a Catholic who’s faith will never be removed. I’m saying that quote wrong, but basically if that group is at all competent at indoctrination then that poor girl probably already believes that her other parent is evil and depraved.

    What kind of sense does that make? I see this as encouraging treatment of children as though they were the property of their parents.

    They pretty much are. Also all of their property and savings belong to their parents until they turn 18.

  • Eurekus

    Yet another example of the terror this 2000 year old religion has brought us.

    I have grave fears for this child because I battle to undo the indoctrination my wife received as a little girl. I hope this little girl doesn’t receive the same fate.

  • http://forums.penny-arcade.com/ Jeep-Eep

    I just cannot say anything coherent right now.
    I will let this video do the talking.
    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ufsf_-a_H9Q&feature=related
    (Warning, lound swearing within.)

  • kennypo65

    I can’t put into words what I feel about this. I’m shocked, but not suprised.

  • paradoctor

    What is it about custody battles that bring out the worst in people? Love gone wrong, maybe?

    And what is it about fundamentalism that brings out the worst in people? Again love gone wrong?

    Is fundamentalism a kind of custody battle? My religion divorces yours, but who gets the kids?

  • Katie M

    I occasionally check out fundamentalist blogs (gotta know your enemy), and I just came upon this-http://www.afa.net/Blogs/BlogPost.aspx?id=2147505638

    “Rosa Parks gained civil rights immortality because she refused an order to obey an unjust law. If there was ever a contemporary case in which civil disobedience is justified, the Lisa Miller case is it.”

    Yes. Bryan Fischer had the nerve to compare a kidnapper to an American heroine. Are his values really so twisted?!

  • http://kagerato.net kagerato

    Yes, their values are that twisted, Katie. These people believe that they are destined for greatness in any event. They welcome martyrdom, and consistently think that they are being persecuted even while oppressing others. It’s long-since standard operating procedure for them to defend the indefensible reflexively, purely on the basis of chains of authority.