ROMANO v. ROMANO was a 1967 New York court decision.
The names are ficticious. Husband and wife were Italian
immigrants, who were baptized and reared in the Catholic
Church.  They had three children, who were all baptized and
being reared in the Catholic Church.  In 1964, the wife
converted to the Jehovah's Witnesses.  At some point, the
husband divorced his wife, although they continued to live
in the same house. The husband flipped out, and continuing
physical violence had to be dealt with by the court. In 1966,
the husband was ordered to move out of his house. He sold
the house, and his former wife and children were forced to
move.

Thereafter, the husband sought sole custody of the three
children on the basis "that the wife has become a
Jehovah's Witness and that she is trying to bring the
children up as such, their right to be brought up as
Catholics is being affected and that if the children remain
with the mother, they cannot be reared or taught as
Catholics, and that it is in the best interest of the children to
be raised in the father's religious environment."

The wife countered that "the court lacks jurisdiction to
interfere with the petitioner-mother's right to direct the
children's religious education and training and that if an
award of custody is made solely on religious grounds it
would invade her constitutional rights contrary to the
freedom of religion and separation of church and state
clauses of the state and federal constitution".
The court reasoned and ruled as follows:

"The basic issue, in the view of this court, is whether the
children are being so adversely affected by their continued
education in a Catholic school while continuing to live with
a mother, who is a Jehovah's Witness, that they should be
removed from the custody and care of their mother. The
facts are clear that the mother is a good mother, providing a
good and clean home and that the father is a devoted
father, equally concerned about the welfare of the children.
Were there no difference in the religion of the parents, the
likelihood of a fairly stable, normal family relationship might
have been good.

"The difficulty seems to be compounded by the fact that
the mother, aged 31, born in Italy and raised in the Catholic
faith, who married her husband in the Catholic Church, has
only within the last three years become a practicing
Jehovah's Witness. The children had all been baptized in
the Catholic Church and the older two children now attend a
Catholic school, although the oldest child did attend a
public school in the first grade and the second child
attended kindergarten in a public school.

"The mother admits that she would prefer to bring her
children up as Jehovah's Witnesses but did testify that she
felt, as a Jehovah's Witness, that the father did have the
right to decide what kind of education the children should
have. Thus she agrees that, if the father wishes the children
to attend a Catholic school and to attend Catholic Church,
she will allow them to do so. She states that she tries to
help her children with their lessons in all but their religious
subjects. Yet she feels she has the right to express to the
children her feelings, as a Jehovah's Witness, that the
Catholic religion 'is not based on the Bible'. She admits
taking the children at times to Kingdom Hall, the
headquarters and meeting room of Jehovah's Witnesses,
once in spite of the court's oral admonition not to do so.

"It is also true that when the court, in chambers, discussed
the situation with the oldest child, aged 9, in the presence
of counsel for both parties, he indicated he wishes to be
brought up as a Catholic and that he was somewhat
confused by the fact that his mother practiced another
religion. I do not feel, however, that this is all-controlling in
view of the age of the boy and in view of the boy's
statement that he and his father had discussed the
expected interview with me. (He did say he had been told
to tell the truth). ...

"There is no question that the mother had the right to
change her religion and to practice her religion. Nor is there
any question that Jehovah's Witnesses have a moral and
legal right to bear children and to raise them in the precepts
of their religion. Those who are not Jehovah's Witnesses
will, of course, not agree with their beliefs and practices.
They may be appalled, as is the father in this case, by their
attitudes toward such matters as refusing to salute the flag,
to hold public office, to serve in the armed forces or even to
permit blood transfusion. But no one would suggest that
where the spouses are both Jehovah's Witnesses that they
should be denied the right to bring up their children as
Jehovah's Witnesses, even if their beliefs are distasteful to
us. Thus, a mother's being a Jehovah's Witness is no bar, in
and of itself, to having custody of her children. And in this
case, there is no evidence to suggest her unfitness as a
mother.

"The question does arise about the effect upon the children
of the conflict presented by their continuing to attend
Catholic school and being brought up as Catholics in spite
of the mother's difference in religion. The general rule is
that the parent having custody will, absent special
circumstances, be allowed to raise the children in his or her
own religion. In this case the mother has agreed that the
children may continue to attend Catholic school and may go
to Catholic Church. There are many instances of
intermarriage in which the children are brought up in a faith
other than that of one of the parents, in which the
relationship remains a good, healthy one. This is dependent
largely upon the willingness and understanding of each
parent to respect the right of the other parent to be what he
or she wishes to be. It is helpful if the child is taught to
respect the religious difference of the other parent and to
recognize that, regardless of differences, there may be
good in the heart and soul and deeds of those who believe
differently than we do. This is particularly so where it is
one's mother or father whose faith is different, as is her or
his right in our democratic way of life.

"This does not imply that we do not recognize the inherent
difficulties in a situation such as this. It will not be easy for
the children to reconcile the teachings of the Catholic
Church with the attitude of their mother. The mother should
try to understand that this is so and should attempt to treat
with respect the religious differences of the father and her
children, especially since she agrees that the father has the
right to determine the nature of their schooling.

"Yet I feel that the choice must be in favor of allowing the
children to remain with their mother. The alternative of
having them live with their father's brother and
sister-in-law, the very same people who initiated the
eviction action against the mother, is not a good one. Nor is
there any other better plan available. ...

"Custody is awarded to the mother under the following
conditions, violation of any one of which may be a basis for
reconsideration of this determination:

"(1) The father may visit with children on Sundays from
8:30 A.M. to 12 noon, for the purpose of taking them to
Catholic Church.

"(2) The father may visit with the children, in or out of the
mother's home, on Saturdays from 9:00 A.M. to 1:00 P.M.

"(3) The father may take the children of school age to
Catholic school every morning and he shall return them to
the mother's home directly after school.

"(4) The mother shall not take the children to any
headquarters or meeting hall of Jehovah's Witnesses nor
shall she instruct them in any teachings of Jehovah's
Witnesses.

"Mutual order of protection for one year to incorporate
above conditions.

"Referred to Probation Department to discuss with the
parents the possible referral for counselling around the
above problems in relation to the attitudes of the parents
and for any help which the children may need.

If this decision was not appealed, it likely was not due to
any lack of effort on the part of the WatchTower Society's
Legal Department.
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Jehovah's Witnesses Lose in Court-Often....