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Catholic parents ask high court to correct ‘dangerous precedent’ on parental rights, trans identity

The U.S Supreme Court building as seen in Washington Oct. 4, 2023. The high court heard oral arguments Nov. 7 in the case United States v. Rahimi, concerning whether people who are subject to a domestic violence protective order can be denied legal possession of a gun. (OSV News photo/Evelyn Hockstein, Reuters)
The U.S Supreme Court building as seen in Washington Oct. 4, 2023. (OSV News photo/Evelyn Hockstein, Reuters)

WASHINGTON (OSV News) — It is a case that strikes at the heart of both family relationships and Catholic beliefs in the confines of the household.

The teen at the center of a dispute about parental rights and transgender identity — a case involving the teen’s parents trying to get a hearing before the U.S. Supreme Court — is now legally an adult over age 18.

The case began as one family’s dispute over gender identity, and involved a state social service agency and the removal of the child. But any decision on the petition submitted to the high court Feb. 15 won’t result in the teen — named in court filings as A.C. and identifying as a transgender woman — being returned to the family home.

Rather, Jeremy and Mary Cox, Catholic parents in Anderson, Indiana, are arguing over their rights over their younger children as well as their decisions about A.C.

Their petition for a writ of certiorari, M.C. and J.C. v. Indiana Department of Child Services, was submitted by Becket, a public-interest law firm in Washington.

The Supreme Court’s decision on whether or not to accept the case could come as late as the end of its current term in June. But because the court also asked for a brief from Indiana officials, that’s seen as an indication that acceptance could be likely, according to Lori Windham, vice president and senior counsel at Becket.

Windham described the case to OSV News as “a really tragic situation.”

The Indiana Supreme Court refused to hear the Coxes’ appeal.

The Coxes, the brief states, believe children should be raised based on their biological sex. Further, they believe that pronouns or names inconsistent with their biological sex is immoral.

They agreed, as a sort of compromise, to call their child A.

The Coxes lost custody of the then-16-year-old in 2021. The Indiana Department of Child Services petitioned a Madison County court, alleging that the teen’s physical and mental condition was in danger and that there was a threat of self-harm as a result of the parents’ physical and emotional abuse.

A case manager’s investigation found that the teen had an untreated eating disorder, that A.C.’s parents had pulled the child from school and discontinued therapy, and that A.C. was contemplating self-harm, according to court records. The case manager’s report also found the teen’s mother used vulgar and demeaning language.

The Coxes denied the allegations, and Indiana officials, following an investigation, conceded that they were unsubstantiated.

But the Indiana Court of Appeals upheld the child’s removal from the home, concluding that the arguments over gender identity had contributed to the eating disorder even though agreeing that the Coxes were fit parents. The appellate court upheld a gag order, which it said was allowed under both the state and federal constitutions, over the Coxes imposing their religious views on gender.

“The appeals court left in place a gag order so the parents could not discuss gender with their child other than at family therapy appointments,” Windham said.

“With increasing frequency,” the Becket brief asserts, “state governments run roughshod over parents’ religious beliefs on gender identity, including removing children from parents, favoring certain beliefs in divorce custody disputes, and preventing adoptions.

It added, “These cases are sure to proliferate. Some state legislatures are now authorizing the state to take custody where parents refuse full-steam-ahead gender transitions.”

“This case,” the Becket brief concludes, “poses a question of national importance that is bound to recur absent (the Supreme Court’s) intervention.”

“The numbers of transgender youth are rising, matched by governmental willingness to remove gender-dysphoric children from their parents’ custody,” the brief says. “Indiana’s tack — blame a comorbidity and dodge adjudication of parental fitness — provides a playbook that any state can use to eviscerate bedrock constitutional protections while guaranteeing they remain insulated from review.”

“The big picture here is that this case sets a dangerous precedent for the state to be able to take children away from fit parents,” Windham said. “If this can happen in Indiana, it can happen anywhere.”

Kurt Jensen writes for OSV News from Washington.

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