On Aug. 18, Tom Jones Jr. ("The Wrong Religion," July 27-Aug. 3) heard the news he had been waiting for since November. It was his lawyer, Ken Falk of the Indiana Civil Liberties Union, calling to tell him that the divorce decree forbidding him from raising his son as a Wiccan had been overturned by the Indiana Court of Appeals.
Tom Jones Jr. and ex-wife Tammy Bristol are pleased after a judge overturned a ruling limiting their religious freedom.
Jones says he felt "an incredibly wild feeling of exultation" and that he and his ex-wife, Tammy Bristol, who is also Wiccan, have "the freedom to be ourselves again."
The legal saga stretches back 17 months to Marion County Superior Court Commissioner Mary Ann Oldham's initial ruling in the case, which prohibited the family from teaching their son about Wicca, a form of neo-paganism. Oldham's decision had been based on a report from the Domestic Relations Counseling Bureau (DRCB).
Judge Cale Bradford, who denied a motion for correction from Jones in November, now says that he made a mistake. Asked about the Appeals ruling, he says, "I agree with it."
The Appeals Court issued its unanimous eight-page ruling, written by Judge Patricia Riley, on Aug. 17, finding that Bradford had "abused [his] discretion." It said there was no reason to believe that Wicca would harm the child's well-being. It ruled on the basis of state law, which says that courts can limit a child's upbringing only if there is evidence of a possibility for harm.
Bradford, who reaffirmed his support for freedom of religion, points to the limited time he's able to spend on each individual case. He says he spends an average of 10 minutes on motions for correction of divorce decrees. If he had spent more time on this case, "that would have saved the Joneses and the court system some time."
Jones says, "I realize he has an incredibly busy docket. However, we all deserve that time and effort. That's why he's an elected official." Jones says, "He didn't do his job - plain and simple."
There is a 30-day period after the ruling before it takes effect, and he says that on the 31st day he will invite Wiccan friends over for a celebration. Jones says his son is particularly excited about being able to attend the annual Pagan Pride Day celebration on Sept. 24, which Jones helps organize. Jones' Web site is www.nonmainstream.org.