In a flagrant church-state violation a New Mexico mom loses her children after refusing to attend court mandated Christian counseling sessions.
KRQE reports Holly Salzman was hoping to get some help co-parenting her 11-year-old twin boys with her ex-husband, but instead she says she got 10 court-ordered religious sessions that she did not want.
I walked into the session and the very first thing she said to me was, ‘I start my sessions by praying.’ When I expressed my concerns that I didn’t pray she said, ‘well this is what I do’ and she proceeded to say a prayer out loud.
Salzman, a single mother of two, said she felt so “offended and disgusted” that she stopped going to the court-ordered sessions. The result was that the court took her kids away. Salzman reports:
It’s probably the worst thing I’ve ever been through in my life.
In order to regain custody of her children, Salzman was forced to complete the faith based counseling despite her objections, and despite the fact that she is not religious, and does not believe in God.
KRQE reports that in every counseling session there were handouts with quotes from Psalms and other religious sources, and religious based homework such as one activity titled “Who is God to me?”
In a series of undercover videos the court mandated Christian counselor repeatedly forced the issue of God and Christianity into the counseling sessions, despite the fact that her client had no interest, and found the discussion of religion in the context of the counseling sessions offensive.
In one secretly recorded session the counselor told Salzman:
The meaning in my life is to know love 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 know at some points he was in your life in some way.
It is hard to imagine something more obnoxious, or more infuriating, than being forced to endure some holier-than-thou Christian counselor explaining that God really was in your life, despite the fact that you don’t believe in God.
And it is heartbreaking to note that if a mother does not quietly endure the abuse of the obnoxious Christian counselor, her children will be taken from her by the courts.
Commenting on the story, Peter Simonson, ACLU Executive Director, said:
No one should be put in a position where they are forced to accept training or therapy that violates their own religious beliefs and morals.
We’ve got protections in our country under the Bill of Rights are intended to try and stop that. On the face of it, it looks pretty problematic.
“Problematic” is an understatement. This is despicable, and a clear violation of Salzman’s civil and constitutional rights.
To be clear, there is nothing wrong with being a Christian counselor, but as a Christian counselor, one must be honest and upfront with one’s clients about one’s biases. In addition, clients must be free to refuse Christian based counseling if they are not Christian. Otherwise, the counselor is being unethical, and unprofessional.
Clearly it is wrong for a court to mandate Christian counseling, and it is wrong and unethical for a licensed counselor to force religion on a court-mandated client who is not interested in religion.
As for the Christian counselor, identified as Mary Pepper, according to reports her proselytizing to court mandated clients is not her only unethical activity. Pepper does her court-mandated counseling surreptitiously at the public library to avoid overhead, and in so doing illegally forces her local government to subsidize her business expenses. Plus, she demands cash payments from her court mandated clients, presumably to thwart the IRS.
As for Pepper’s background, she is a Catholic extremist who used to be a “parent educator” at Project Defending Life, a radical anti-abortion group.
The good news is that Salzman completed the counseling sessions, and she has her kids back again. Let’s hope she gets a good lawyer and sues everybody responsible for this despicable debacle.
Watch the news report about this story, embedded below: