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Legal dispute over child's baptism leads to charges for mother

11:34 PM, May 2, 2012   |    comments
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The couple's son was baptized at Grace Baptist Church in Knoxville in December

A dispute between two divorced parents escalated to the courtroom, and a mother temporarily jailed. The conflict between them started over their child's baptism.

According to J. Terry Holland, the attorney for the mother Stephanie Miller, the couple's 12-year old son decided he wanted to be baptized in a local Baptist church.

Holland says both parents attended the December ceremony at Grace Baptist Church in Knoxville, but the boy's father argues the decision should have been made jointly between the two parents.

Holland believes it wasn't a decision for the parents to make.

"The child is old enough to decide where he ought to live, he is old enough to decided his relationship with the person he calls God," Holland said.

The parents faced off in court, where Knox County Circuit Court Judge Bill Swann decided the case wasn't about religion at all.

"Its not a case about baptism, or its desirability. It's not about boys desires," Judge Swann said. "It's a case about what contract the parents made and had they lived up to the contract."

The contract he refers to is called a "Permanent Parenting Plan," an agreement between the two parents in their divorce. It requires them to make certain decisions about their children together, or with a mediator. That includes religious upbringing.

"The question was, had the mother lived up to her end of it, and the Court found she had not," the Judge said.

Miller was charged with contempt of court, arrested, and spent a day in jail.

"A young man, 12 years old, looked through the windows of the courtroom," remembers her attorney. "He saw his mother get arrested. It destroyed that young man. He got hurt."

Judge Swann says cases like these can be complicated.

"It is always difficult when you have two good parents -- who want the best for their children -- and the two good parents do not get along with each other and do not respect what the other parent does," he said.

10News reached out to the father's attorney for comment, but he declined saying his client "... feels it is not in the children's best interest to talk about this."

Holland says he and his client plan to appeal.

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