Catholic judge takes child from SubGenius mother
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Tue Feb 21, 2006 at 07:41:34 PM EST
A woman has had custody and all contact with her son taken away after her ex-husband submitted pictures to the judge of her at a SubGenius festival that the child never attended.
Child custody cases are often not pretty, they can be emotional heart-breaking affairs. But it is even worse when your religious and social choices are used against you in a custody battle. Last year a divorced Wiccan couple were ordered to not teach their child Wicca after a judge decided they might "confuse" the child in a harmful manner. The ruling was struck down, and many were hoping this was an isolated incident. But it looks like it is happening again.

Rachel Bevilacqua (an active SubGenius known as "Rev. Magdalen") had her son, Kohl removed from her custody and was barred from even writing to her child due to her bawdy and satirically blasphemous participation in Subgenius festivals (at which the son was never present). Not only was the son never present at these adult-oriented festivals, but she has been barred since 2000 from "exposing" her son to any information or activities related to the Church of the SubGenius.

Rachel Bevilacqua with her current husband Steve.

For those not clear on who or what the Church of The SubGenius is, the group is a parody religion (or a religion of parody) formed by a loose assortment of artists, freaks, ex-hippies, and free-thinkers.  The church delights in blasphemy, sex, and outsider art. The group has spawned a nationally syndicated radio show, has published several books, and has been championed by artists like Devo and R. Crumb. It is considered by many to be a syncretic offshoot of Discordianism (AKA Eris worship).

At the last custody hearing Judge James Punch (an outspoken Catholic) not only allowed the irrelevant photo evidence (of which the child was never involved) into the court hearing but then obviously lost all sense of justice and balance in the proceedings.

"His Honor also strongly disapproved of the photos of Rachel Bevilacqua in a bondage dress and papier mache goat's head. The judge repeatedly asked, "Why a goat? What's so significant about a goat's head?" When Rachel replied, "I just thought the word 'goat' was funny," Judge Punch lost his temper completely, and began to shout abuse at Rachel, calling her a "pervert," "mentally ill," "lying," and a participant in "sex orgies." The judge ordered that Rachel is to have absolutely no contact with her son, not even in writing, because he felt the pictures of X-Day performance art were evidence enough to suspect "severe mental illness". Rachel has had no contact with Kohl since that day, February 3, 2006."

Church of The SubGenius founder Rev. Ivan Stang has weighed in on the issue on his blog.

"For Magdalen (Rachel) and Jesus (Steve), a parent's NEXT-TO-WORST NIGHTMARE is taking place in real life, and one reason this injustice is happening is due to, not the Church of the SubGenius, but dumbass misunderstandings of it (and probably pretty much everything else Slackful). Also, if you ask me, on a monstrous misunderstanding of what "freedom" in America is supposed to mean."

Currently the ACLU is looking into the case and the church is trying to raise money for the substantial court costs this case will accrue. One can only hope that this mockery of justice will be struck down as well, and that people who don't adhere to the dominant religious paradigm won't be treated as second-class citizens in our country.

For more on this issue:
Bartholomew's notes on religion
Jesus' General
Boing Boing
Bulldada Newsblog

I've been a card-carrying Rogue SubGenius for (good grief) 20 years, and I know how cheeky they are. Deliberately so. Their airy insubordination helped me through a very difficult time in my own life.

Still, that judge stepped way beyond his bounds when he took Rachel's son away. It's a very sad day when parody can destroy a family.

I tried to view the video, but the SubGenius site has been BoingBoinged, which is almost as bad as being Slashdotted.

Thanks for posting this, Jason.

by Lorie Johnson on Tue Feb 21, 2006 at 08:50:11 PM EST

At the Daily Kos.  Let's hope it makes recommended list.

by Bruce Wilson on Tue Feb 21, 2006 at 09:05:43 PM EST
We have only two accounts of this situation - from Rachel Bevilacqua and from the founder of the Church of the Subgenius.

Now, I'm not challengeing the credibility of these accounts, I'm merely noting that it would be helpful to have verification on the details of this case from relatively disinterested parties.

Indeed, that sort of documentation would be very important for advancing Rachel Bevilacqua's case. If the ACLU picks up the case, that would add considerable credibility. But, also, her case would be strengthened should reputable news organizations choose to cover the story.


by Bruce Wilson on Wed Feb 22, 2006 at 09:14:15 AM EST

There's nothing new about this kind of decision based on blasphemy or the "wrong" kind of religion/spirituality making one ineligible to parent, but this country has obviously been headed in the direction of these kinds of events becoming more common. That is because there are thousands of people who were always there and who've had the rationale for this kind of action  rattling around their brains since they heard it in church on Sunday. The difference is that, rather than tamp down such ideas and conform to societal norms by Monday morning to do their jobs and get along with others, they actually feel compelled to attack their neighbors on the basis of church conditioning, twenty-four seven. They capitalize on the "coarseness" and social fragmentation that they themselves complain about; they act where they often haven't before because they no longer think that they need to conform to societal norms like the rest of us. They think they're special - and when there are thousands of them everywhere, an "army of ants," you'll be hearing stories like this basically all the time.

You want to do something about it, then figure out what you're going to do about churches that teach this kind of behavior, and this kind, and this and this kind too.

Acquire the Evidence: on Ron Luce, Teen Mania Ministries and the "BattleCry" campaign.

by Mike Doughney on Tue Feb 21, 2006 at 11:16:46 PM EST

I find this highly distressing, in part because (whilst I'm not quite Subgenii) I myself tend to be a bit...discordian in my own spiritual practices (it is my firm belief that sacred cows must, on occasion, be made into hamburger lest they contract mad cow disease--and boy howdy, I've seen all too well what happens when the sacred cows get mad cow disease!).

Not only Subgenii and Discordians, but pretty much any religious or spiritual practice in which parody and/or the goring of sacred cattle is part and parcel of the ceremonies is potentially at risk here.  (This includes not just stuff like the Discordians, but stuff like Coyote and Crazy Dog and Booger societies in Native American groups (who do things deliberately backwards and crazy, including actual parodies of religious ceremonies in some cases and (in the case of the Booger Society) parodies of missionaries as well.  Pretty much anyone venerating any sort of trickster aspect is at risk.  My friends who at Beltaine tend to give Mountain Dew and Twinkies to the God and Goddess and who set up an honest-to-Goddess candy corn altar at their desk at Samhain (complete with bag of candy corn for passersby to offer!) are probably in Deep Doodoo.  I hate to think what they'd think of my seeing Bugs Bunny as an aspect of Nanabush the Rabbit Trickster (seriously, Nanabush is the basis for both B'rer Rabbit and Bugs Bunny--the latter per the actual admission of Warner Brothers). :3)

This is really, really worrying and disappointing to me, because part of the whole reason I can keep any faith at all (post-dominionism) is by, on occasion, not taking things seriously or, more properly, not-taking-things-seriously seriously. :3  As Bob Dobbs himself would put it, "Don't eat something--EAT THE HELL OUT OF IT!" :3

(Of particular note to Talk2Action, the whole Subgenius thing is in large part a parody of televangelists, in particular the "name it and claim it" televangelists who (at the time that the Subgenii started) were also very heavily promoting the Rapture as a potential escape from Nuclear Annihilation.  In other words, the Subgenii are taking the p!ss of the very people who invented dominionism in the first place!)

by dogemperor on Tue Feb 21, 2006 at 11:58:54 PM EST

That I'd like to draw out. Now, as I've noted, we're awaiting further confirmation on the details of this case. That said, I'd note that if this characterization of Judge Punch's judicial conduct holds up it would be congruent with a broader pattern :

Advances in the political agenda of the Christian right would be difficult without the continued support of conservative Catholics. Now - on the one hand - the predominance of Catholics on the Supreme Court suggests a possible Christian right strategy of picking conservative Catholic judges for the court to cement conservative Catholic loyalty. On the other side of the equation, though, we indications of a rise - or recrudescence - of anti-Papism among some Protestant elements of the Christian right.

Will expressions of anti-Papist sentiment rekindle concern, among American Catholics, for the rights of religious minorities in American society ? If the details of the case at hand here hold true as depicted, and if the case ascends to a higher court, Judge Punch's decision will likely be overruled. But my concern is that this case might indicate a growing willingness of religious majorities to impose their wills on religious minorities in America - attitudes that might one day be enacted in legislation.  The "disgracful religious supremacism exhibited by Indiana Speaker of the House, Brian C. Bosma in a meeting with Jewish leaders last week" [ as Frederick Clarkson recently wrote on Talk To Action ] is certainly a data point pointing towards such  possibilities.

by Bruce Wilson on Wed Feb 22, 2006 at 09:47:25 AM EST

The SubGenius case isn't the only instance of a judge taking extreme action when confronted by a religious practice that is offensive to them.

The case of a Wiccan couple's divorce case is another example of a judge not seeing beyond his own religious biases.

Happily that case was overturned, but conditions were still imposed on the custodial parent, like being required to practice the (Christian) faith of her birth, and not teaching her child about Wicca at all.

A good judge should be able to see past his or her religious biases and judge things dispassionately and rationally- even when the case involves things that might offend them religiously. Some judges are offended by Wicca. Others are offended by satire. Those elements had nothing to do with the cases, but the judges used them to hand down a verdict anyway.

by Lorie Johnson on Wed Feb 22, 2006 at 03:09:11 PM EST

My name is Kari Bartlett and I too was a victim of James Punch. It is well known throughout the community that he is a male chauvanist! I was warned by 3 different lawyers I would never win my case becasue he hates women and the majority of cases seen before him are in the mans favor. Even though every allegation my ex had against me were proven wrong, I still lost my 2 children for 6 years. My greif was unconsolable, I couldnt believe I had lost my children so easily. To this day I still do not know how this could have happened. I have not ever even been given a reason why I couldnt see my kids except for all of the allegations that were poven false He was abusive and when he had nothing else against me he called me crazy and always challenged my mental stability. I had a Mental Health Evaluation done which he had a copy of and because it proved he was wrong and at that point had gound to stand on, he ordered that I have another one done at the place of his choice!!  I refused and lost my children. During our last hearing he became very abusive and I left crying. I called the next day to get a copy of the court transcripts. The woman who answered said she would call when they were ready. She called 3 days later, she told me they were ready and then whispered to me that they had been altered. I now have my children back and my ex is very remorseful. He agrees that I was treated horribley and something needs to be done. My children suffered dearly because of this jerk and many more have before me and many more will continue to be, if he is not removed from the bench. Because of this man I suffer from Post traumatic stress disorder and both of my children have anxiety problems. How much longer will this pompous, racist, ignorant person be able to abuse his power? If there is anything I can do to bring him to justice I WILL DO IT!

by Angelmae on Thu Mar 09, 2006 at 10:01:16 PM EST

 I have just recently had the chance to look over my last post. In my great anxiety to get out all I wanted to say, I misspelled and even forgot words. About the Mental Health evaluation, I meant to say he had NO ground to stand on! You can only imagine how I felt knowing that another mothers life is being completely torn apart by the same man who destroyed mine. I am hoping this case will encourage other women to come forward and help end this atrocity.

by Angelmae on Fri Mar 10, 2006 at 09:22:45 AM EST

Apparently, per at least one report, the judge has attempted to place a verbal gag order on the mother in question prohibiting her from posting the court transcripts or anything else relating to the case on the Internet--presumably to prevent negative information about him getting out.  (With the report on Talk2Action of the judge ruling in similar fashion in other cases, this could be very important.  I will not be surprised to see her new lawyers bring this up.)

Also, the mother is now reportedly being represented by First Amendment case specialists Lipsitz and Green LLP (who have acted as attorneys in First Amendment cases by--among others--Marilyn Manson and Larry Flynt).  Lipsitz and Green LLP is possibly one of the most prestigious and well-known groups handling First Amendment cases, and hopefully the odds will swing in her favour with this new legal team.

by dogemperor on Mon Mar 20, 2006 at 07:11:50 PM EST

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