Divorced dad objects to court telling him to take his children to church

A cross worn by Pope Francis. "Steve" has been ordered to take his children to a Catholic mass at Christmas.Reuters

A divorced father has been ordered by a judge to take his children to a Roman Catholic mass when he has them at Christmas – though he says that his ex-wife, who is a practising Catholic, did not request the ruling at their divorce.

Known as "Steve" in order to protect the identity of the children, the man – a contributor to an atheist website – told the Daily Telegraph: "It's all very bizarre. This aspect of the contact order was not requested by the other side in the case.

"The judge decided that I would commit to taking the children to mass and he put it in the court order.

"What I think is really concerning is that it does not allow me or my children any freedom of religious expression.

"I am definitely not Catholic. The last time I went to church was some time ago and it was a Unitarian church that I attended.

"My oldest son, who is now 10, has already expressed a clear lack of belief but legally I am required to take him to Roman Catholic mass at Christmas.

"Because my contact arrangements now give me the children on some weekends, I am concerned that I will now also be required to take them to mass on Sundays when they are with me, even though that is not part of the original order."

Steve, a 51-year-old psychologist, is a contributor to the atheist Skepticule podcast. His case is covered on another atheist website, Skeptic Ink, by Jonathan MS Pearce. 

The Telegraph says it has seen court transcripts that show that Judge Orrell discussed his own Catholic faith during the course of the hearing into contact arrangements for Steve's two sons.

The order reads: "If the children are with their father at Christmas he will undertake that they will attend the Christmas mass."

Steve applied to the Court of Appeal on the grounds that the order was a breach of his human rights. However, appeal judges and a later judicial review in the High Court both failed to support him, as did the Judicial Conduct Investigations Office.