A 10-year-old Jewish girl has been permitted to become a Christian after a judge rejected claims by her mother that she had been “brainwashed” and was too young to change faith.
The schoolgirl’s divorced parents were “at war” over her desire to be baptised at the church her father, himself a convert, now attends. But at the end of an unusual case a judge has ruled that she is mature enough to choose her religion, and alongside his judgment wrote a personal letter to the girl explaining his decision.
Judge John Platt said to her: “Sometimes parents simply cannot agree on what is best for their child, but they can’t both be right. Your father thinks it is right for you to be baptised as a Christian now. Your mother wants you to wait until you are older, so they have asked me to decide for them. That is my job.”
In the letter, made public alongside the ruling handed down at Romford County Court in Essex, he went on: “My job is to decide simply what is best for you and I have decided that the best thing for you is that you are allowed to start your baptism classes as soon as they can be arranged and that you are baptised as a Christian as soon as your minister feels you are ready.”
But the judge stressed that it did not mean the girl would lose her Jewish heritage and concluded: “Finally, and this is the most important thing, both your mother and father will carry on loving you just as much whatever happens about your baptism.”
The court heard that the girl, who cannot be named for legal reasons, was born in late 2001 to Jewish parents and grandparents. But her mother and father divorced in 2010 and she, and her younger brother, now live for a week at a time with each under a shared parenting agreement.
Her father converted to Christianity after the breakdown of his marriage.
In November the girl’s mother, without telling anyone, applied for a court order forbidding the father from baptising or confirming her into the Christian faith. The judge heard evidence before deciding how to respond to the application.
The father claimed the family had never been strictly observant Jews, and neither of his children grew up with any strong religious beliefs.
He said his daughter told him on the way back from an evangelical Christian festival that she had “experienced an encounter with God”. He added that he was initially sceptical as he thought she was just “on a high”. The father also said he was “unhappy” when the girl went behind his back to talk to a Sunday school teacher about being baptised.
For her part, the mother claimed her former husband prevented the girl from practising Judaism and said she wanted her daughter to wait until she turned 16 to become baptised. The girl’s grandparents accused her father of forcing her to give up her Jewish heritage, while a rabbi told the court that it would be “unnatural to their soul” to make a child change religion. The judge was scathing about these claims, saying that neither the mother nor the grandparents had made “any real effort” to consider what was best for the girl while the rabbi’s letter was made in “inflammatory terms without any supporting evidence”.
The judge said it was “wholly wrong” for the mother to go to court without discussing it with the father or his priest.
He concluded that he had no power to order the girl’s baptism, but dismissed the application to stop it happening.