Howard Friedman, who writes the excellent blog Religion Clause, brings us this bizarre story. A divorced dad has refused to pay his child support through his state’s Central Child Support Receipting Unit. He would rather pay the money directly to his wife because this processing unit violates his First Amendment rights.

What does child support have to do with religious freedom? Well, each state’s Central Child Support Receipting Unit is established under a federal statute codified at 42 USC Sec. 666. That’s right – he believes his payment would be processed by a “Satanic entity.”

He brought a case before the Tennessee Court of Appeals which rejected his claim. As Professor Friedman writes:

He argued that he would pay directly to his former wife, or to the court, but that because the central state agency was set up under a federal statute codified at 42 USC Sec. 666, payment through that entity would involve him in transmitting funds to a “Satanic entity” in violation of his religious beliefs.

The court, however, held that the state’s statute is uniformly applicable and facially neutral as to religion. Therefore it is valid so long as it reasonably promotes a legitimate public purpose. The court found that standard to be satisfied.

The decision was unanimous. In fact, I am surprised that it was even heard by an appellate court. Religious beliefs should be treated with respect, but as a legal argument, this case is pretty frivolous. Even a little funny.

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