Holly Salzman is a loving mother of two sons who lives in Albuquerque, New Mexico. She recently sought court aid in coparenting her children with their father, from whom she is now divorced. The judge then ordered her to attend sessions with a Christian counselor or face contempt of court charges and lose custody of her children.
Salzman said she just naturally assumed that the counselor the judge sent her to, Mary Pepper, would be someone who specialized in family and couples counseling, but as she recalls:
“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.”
Had Holly Salzman refused to continue the Christian counseling sessions, she would have been held in contempt of court and could have lost custody of her sons. Salzman said that she feels for the court to order her to a Christian counselor is a violation of the separation of church and state, so after the initial session, she contacted Family Court and left a message expressing her concerns. She never heard a word back from anyone at the court.
Now we arrive at the second counseling session. And again, Pepper opened with a prayer. Salzman:
“We went back to court. I expressed concerns again about the religious overtones and they stated they hadn’t heard any problems concerning Mary Pepper with religion.”
Salzman stopped going to the weekly counseling, and the court took her sons away from her. Yes, they took them away because she objected to Christian counseling! Salzman says the entire ordeal has been horrible:
“It’s probably the worst thing I’ve ever been through in my life.”
ACLU executive director Peter Simonson commented on Salzman’s case:
“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.”
Ms. Salzman has since completed the court-mandated counseling and been reunited with her sons. She said:
“I got a certificate and I kicked my heels on the way out.”