MEREDITH v. MEREDITH was a 1967 Idaho Supreme Court
decision. Full opinion is available, but even such contains
only limited - but extremely revealing - details.  In February
1962, Clair H. Meredith filed for divorce against his then
wife, Marilyn D. Meredith. The wife countered with her own
request for divorce. Both parties alleged extreme cruelty,
and requested custody of the three minors produced by
this marriage. Clair H. Meredith had children by a previous
marriage.  It is unclear whether Marilyn D. Meredith had
been previously married.

The judgment was entered in August 1962.  The trial court
granted a joint divorce, in that both parties were guilty of
extreme cruelty to the other.  Custody of the three minors
was awarded to Marilyn Meredith despite prior unfit conduct
on her behalf. The trial court decided that her conduct was
less unfit than the unfit conduct of Clair Meredith, and less
likely to repeat itself.  Part of the findings against Clair
Meredith was this:

"[Clair Meredith] is teaching his boys in accordance with
the tenets of his [Jehovah's Witnesses] religion not to
salute the flag, and that it is better to go to jail than to serve
the country or participate in elections and support the
country's institutions."

Clair Meredith appealed the trial court decision.  Amongst
other issues, Clair Meredith thought that the above
"finding" violated his constitutional rights. Clair Meredith
should have left well enough alone, rather than risk having
other trial court findings memorialized in a Supreme Court
opinion. But, first things first.

Testimony at trial indicated that Clair Meredith had joined
the Jehovah's Witnesses subsequent to his marriage to
Marilyn Meredith, which was not dated, but was probably
around 1953-4.  The trial court found that Clair Meredith
thereafter subordinated the interests of his family to his
religious beliefs to the extent that family activities and
outings nearly ceased altogether; that [Clair Meredith]
spent nearly all his time in the study of religious books,
tracts and pamphlets and in the missionary work of said
religious sect, and his whole life was bound up in Jehovah's
Witnesses.

Testimony at trial indicated that Marilyn Meredith
remonstrated with Clair Meredith about this to no avail and
that subsequently she left the home at various times,
stayed out late at night occasionally, and finally left
appellant completely and went to live with another man
from whom she had since separated.

On the basis of this mutual misconduct the trial court
concluded that the conduct of Clair Meredith justified
Marilyn Meredith in leaving him, but her subsequent actions
in living with another man were not justified and that the
parties should be divorced, the bonds of matrimony
terminated by a divorce.

Clair Meredith appealed. He assigned nineteen separate
assignments of error, but his principal contention was that
the trial court erred in awarding custody of the minor
children to Marilyn Meredith for the reason that he was not
a fit and proper person for the custody of such children
because he taught his boys in accordance with the tenets
of his Jehovah's Witnesses religion, not to salute the flag
and that it was better to go to jail than to serve the country
or participate in elections and support the country's
institutions. Clair Meredith urged that this constituted
interference with, and an infringement upon, a parent's
constitutional right to attempt religious training and
indoctrination of his children.

The Supreme Court of Idaho agreed with Clair Meredith, in
part, but affirmed the trial court decision, stating in part:

"If this were the only ground upon which the trial court had
found and concluded appellant was an unfit party for the
custody of his minor children, it appears the great weight of
authority in other jurisdictions would require reversal of the
trial court's decree and a new trial. ...

"However, there was competent evidence in the record
before us that appellant was guilty of incestuous conduct
with an older daughter from a prior marriage who had been
living with appellant and the two boys of this marriage
during the separation of the parties hereto. The record also
contains competent evidence that appellant requested and
desired having anal intercourse with respondent.
Additionally the evidence discloses that this older daughter
by the prior marriage who for years served as a baby sitter
for appellant with the two boys, the custody of whom are
involved here was married and had left the home some six
months prior to the date of the trial. The record fails to
disclose what care appellant would provide for the two
minor boys when he absented himself from the home in his
religious endeavors. It is true that the abnormal sexual
habits of appellant were denied, but it has long been the
rule of this court that where the findings of fact of the trial
court are supported by substantial, competent, though
conflicting, evidence such findings will not be disturbed on
appeal. ...

... ...

"While respondent's conduct left much to be desired, still
the trial court found, and the record amply supports the
finding, that her misconduct was caused by appellant's
complete devotion to his religion to the exclusion of his
family and that at the time of the trial respondent had
reformed. Also it is to be noted that the misconduct on the
part of the respondent, relied upon by appellant, was from
months to years prior to the date of the hearing; and there
was no showing of her unfitness as a mother at the time of
the trial.

"Thus there is no showing of an abuse of discretion on the
part of the trial judge in awarding custody of these minor
children of tender years to respondent-mother.

... ...

"Next, appellant contends the court erred in permitting
evidence concerning appellant's religion to be introduced
on the questions (1) of determining his fitness for custody
of the children, and (2) in considering respondent's grounds
for divorce, claiming in each instance that appellant's
constitutional rights were infringed under the First
Amendment of the Constitution of the United States and
Article 1, section 4 of the Constitution of the State of Idaho.
There was no reversible error committed by the admission
of such evidence in determining appellant's fitness for
custody of the children because, as previously pointed out
in this opinion, the evidence supports the trial court's
findings and conclusions in this respect on other grounds.
There was no error in the admission of such evidence in
support of respondent's grounds for divorce because, as
she testified, and as the court found, it was appellant's total
absorption with his religion that primarily caused the
disruption of the parties' marriage."
Jehovah's Witnesses Lose in Court-Often....