IN THE DISTRICT COURT OF YORK COUNTY, NEBRASKA
CAROL L. PETERSON, CASE NO. 13889
Petitioner, REPORT OF GUARDIAN AD LITEM
ROBERT G. PETERSON,
Upon my appointment in the case I invited both the petitioner, hereafter referred to as Carol and the Respondent, hereafter referred to as Bob, to give me a list of persons to contact in relationship to my investigation of Guardian Ad Litem.
HOME STUDY OF ROBERT PETERSON. On August 1, 1989, I met with Robert Peterson (Bob) at his home south of York, Nebraska. Bob is self-employed in a furniture and auto upholstery business. Also present at his home were his ten year old daughter Cassie and his five Year old son William ("Willie"). Bob's girlfriend Shirley Kovanda was also there. Shirley has known Bob for approximately one year, lives in a separate residence, but spends quite a bit of time at Bob's house.
Bob reported that he and his ex-wife Carol were married approximately 10 years. He and Carol were separated, apparently in September of 1987, after Carol was starting to become involved with a church in York. He reported that following the separation that he could not see his children for approximately four months because she advised him that he had the devil in his heart and was evil. Carol further required that as a condition for reconciliation that he find the Lord immediately. Prior to the
separation, the family was Methodist, but apparently did not ever attend church on a regular basis. Robert believes that Carol's involvement into the church was generated by her high school friend, Sue Allen.
The house that Bob lives in is a two story home. The home has a new foundation and was moved from near Gresham, Nebraska, to the location where it now stands. The home is generally appropriate, but it appears that there are several areas in the home where remodeling was started but is yet uncompleted. The home is in the country approximately one or two miles south of York.
Cassie now lives with Robert and has lived with him since February 1989. During the last school year, Sadie, Cassie and Willie started to attend the York Christian Academy which was operated in conjunction with the Good-Life Pentecostal Church (hereafter "church") at 74 Nebraska Avenue, York, Nebraska. Cassie did not like the school and apparently was given the choice by her mother as to whether she would live with her mother and attend the school or live with her father and attend the public school. Willie Peterson and Sadie Peterson still live with Carol.
Bob stated that since Carol has become active in the church that she has also gotten Sadie heavily involved in the church and the church activities have interfered with Sadie's visitation with him. Sadie is not doing much of anything during the visitations with her father except perhaps sitting and reading a book. Bob also reports that there have been problems in connection with Willie's visitations in that in connection with Carol's faith, Willie has strict clothing restrictions (such as no shorts or short sleeve shirts), which make it difficult for Willie to know what is right to do when his dad allows him to wear swimsuits, shorts,
etc., during visits. Bob says another problem with visitation is that Carol's faith also advocates that television is evil, and Bob understands that Willie has gotten spankings with a belt when he got home with his visitations because he watched cartoons on television during the visits. Bob's principal concern with Sadie is that since she and her mother have become associated with the church that he has noticed a dramatic change in her personality. Bob states that all Sadie thinks about is the church, and is no longer interested in or associates with her former friends. He is concerned that she was in gifted programs in the York Public School system and that by attending the church school that she is not going to develop her full educational or social development potential. Prior to the time her mother joined the church, Sadie had gone out for the basketball team in Junior High but now has no interest in sports or similar recreational activities.
Bob is further concerned in that in an effort to himself help in the children's spiritual development, he was going to go to the Methodist Church along with Sadie and her grandparents and Sadie became terrified at this prospect of attending the Methodist Church with him. Sadie now apparently believes that any church which believes in the Holy Trinity is "of the devil" with the Catholic Church being "the great whore", and all other protestant churches being "daughters of the great whore". He further advised that during visitations with Sadie that Sadie would make arrangements to sneak out of the house in order to attend church services with her mother, and to attend other church functions.
Bob reports that he believes that Sadie has been "brainwashed" and that sometimes Sadie appears to be in a "hypnotic trance".
Bob further reported that he is concerned about his children's welfare relating the fact that when Carol was his wife they never resorted on a regular basis to corporal punishment. He stated that now he is concerned that Carol spanks his children with a belt, and that on one occasion Cassie reported to him she got 40 lashes with the belt. His concern is that often the children get spankings from Carol now for things related to church beliefs. For example, if the children would go swimming or wear short sleeve shirts, they might get a belt spanking.
Bob is also concerned that Carol's religion advocates faith healing, and that he is concerned that if his children would get sick that they would not receive proper medical attention or medication. He told me of one incident that he was aware of when a lady died during a church service as faith healing efforts were being made in lieu of calling the rescue squad. Apparently medical assistance was ultimately called, but after it was too late.
I then asked Bob about his alcohol and marijuana use. He stated that he has not used marijuana for some time, and never consumes alcohol before or during visits with Sadie and Willie. He said that when Carol filed the motion relating to terminating visitations due to his marijuana use he submitted to a urine test for marijuana and passed. His attorney forwarded a copy of the results and they are attached to this report. When I asked him why Sadie would make such a report, he said that it is either because she is mistaken (he smokes cigarettes), or disparately wants to please her mother by finding a way to end the visitation, or has been brainwashed by her mother or someone in the church to believe that he used marijuana.
INTERVIEW WITH CASSIE PETERSON. I then met with Cassie Peterson at Bob's residence outside of Bob's presence. Cassie and I discussed her preference as to which parent she would like to live with. She would prefer to live with her father, and most of the reasons related to the fact that she did not "get along" at the York Christian Academy. She told me that there were approximately 9 to 10 children that attended the academy. She advised that each of the students worked in their own work area in workbooks, and then if they had a questions they would put up a flag. Then someone would come to answer their flag if they had a question. They were not allowed to talk at all during schooltime, but could talk during break. They had a break approximately every two hours and could then go outside to play or go to the park. On holidays they had parties. Other than the holiday parties, there did not seem to be any organized group activities.
Cassie said that she liked attending public school better, and preferred living with her father. Also, she did not like to go to church with her mother all the time because the services are long and boring.
INTERVIEW WITH CLAY AND IRENE BRUMBAUGH. After I visited with Cassie, I met with Carol's parents, Clay and Irene Brumbaugh. The Brumbaughs also live south of York on a farm. The Brumbaughs reported that when Bob and Carol were separated that Carol came to live with them for approximately seven weeks. Thereafter, they got Carol moved into a house.
The Brumbaughs are concerned about Carol, Sadie and Willie. The Brumbaughs spoke of a couple of incidents when Willie was at their house and was very afraid to go out with his grandpa for a ride, because Willie was under the impression that the devil was
on a hill at the farm. When they asked Willie where he got that idea, apparently he had gotten the idea from either his mother or someone in the church that the devil was living at the Brumbaugh's house, and the devil was also at his father's house. They then took Willie up to the hill to show him that the devil was not there, when they got back from the hill Willie was looking to see if the devil was in the creek.
They also advised me that they were very concerned about both Carol and Sadie and their physical health. They advised that both Carol and Sadie had lost a great deal of weight and that Sadie has been fasting for approximately one day per week. Sometimes Sadie has dark circles under her eyes. Mr. Brumbaugh told me of three separate incidents where he had given money or food products to his daughter Carol to provide food for her family, but that the money or food was donated to the church or sold and the proceeds donated to the church. They are also concerned about the physical discipline that is used by Carol with Willie. Apparently they have learned of other incidents in which other members of the church have allegedly struck their children with 2 X 4 boards in connection with physical discipline.
After Carol became involved with the church, the Brumbaughs began to try to persuade her that the church was not in her best interests. They reported that Carol did not attend the church prior to her separation with Bob, but apparently while still married with Bob that Sue Allen was coming to Carol's house when Bob was gone and "indoctrinating" her. They feel that the church, directly or indirectly, led to the breakup of Bob and Carol's family.
On one occasion Mr. Brumbaugh stated that he took Carol in his pick-up truck out to the field to try to talk with her about getting out of the church, and first she tried to climb out of the truck over him and then when he would not let her out she leaned back in the seat and kicked him in the mouth with both of her feet. She called him a "killer" which he could not understand, and on other occasion told him that "I'll lose my family but I won't give up my church or my Bible."
Since Carol became involved with the church, Irene Brumbaugh has been doing a good deal of research on both the minister of the church and the church's beliefs and backgrounds. The Brumbaughs are convinced that the minister of the church, Ed Morey, is taking advantage of the members of the church both spiritually and financially. Mrs. Brumbaugh had done research to show that Pastor Morey and the church has acquired several different pieces of property in the past few years in and around the area of the church. Mrs. Brumbaugh advised me that church members live in some of the homes, and that the church has recently acquired an additional home which is being used for a day care center.
Mrs. Brumbaugh advised me that Rev. Morey maintains exclusive control over the church finances, and despite the fact that his congregation only consists of approximately 40 people, he works as a full-time pastor and is supported by the congregation. They stated that the congregation does not simply make weekly offerings to support the church, but that members are expected to devote volunteer hours in working for the day care center, and the children of the church are taken on weekends to various towns to sell peanut brittle as fund raising activities for the church. The parent responsible for taking the children to the different cities
provides the transportation and food for the children while they are selling. Apparently on a rotating basis each of the church members is required to prepare meals and such for the church.
The Brumbaughs reported that they took some of their concerns about the Church to what amounts to the Nebraska Council of the United Pentecostal Church International (UPCI). They were advised by the Council that the Council had nothing to do with the church and the church "belonged" to Pastor Morey. Mrs. Brumbaugh reports that they advised her the Church is virtually independent from any state or nationally organized Pentecostal Church, and goes out of his way to schedule his own revivals and such to conflict with regional events organized by the Nebraska Council of the UPCI. Further, Irene Brumbaugh advised me that Rev. Morey and his church is not involved in any type of interdenominational organizations within York. Irene Brumbaugh also advised me that Rev. Morey was not the graduate of any type of an organized theological seminary, but apparently came to York, started preaching, and established his own church.
The Brumbaughs realize that Sadie is not particularly close with her father Bob, and I believe they have had their differences of opinion with Bob. However, they would prefer seeing Robert receive custody of all the children in order that they can continue to have meaningful contact with their grandchildren. The Brumbaughs have also offered to take custody of Sadie if necessary. They also suggested that Sadie's natural would be willing to take custody of Sadie. Sadie was adopted by Bob Peterson, but Sadie has continued to have contact with Roger Clark, her natural father, and would normally visit him approximately one time each year. The Brumbaughs are particularly concerned about Sadie as at one time
it appeared she was a pretty and talented girl. She was an honor roll student and was active socially with her friends, and has now withdrawn from her family and friends and appears physically different, because she is very thin, and has become sullen and quiet.
INTERVIEW WITH SUE ALLEN. On August 4, 1989, I again travelled to York. I first met with Sue Allen and Carol Peterson and they showed me the curriculum that was used at the Christian School. They also provided me with a copy of Rule 13 of the State of Nebraska Department of Education which creates an exemption from accreditation for religious Schools. The exemption is granted in situations in which the parent, because of their religious convictions, objects to sending their children to public school. The children are then excused from participation in public school classes.
Sue showed me some of the booklets that are used as part of the Accelerated Christian Education (ACE) from a curriculum program by a company in Louisville, Texas. This curriculum is apparently one of the common christian school courses and is used by several different christian schools around the country. The basic educational unit in this program is called a Pace. In order for a person to "graduate" from high school they must complete 144 Paces or 12 per year. The Paces are administered through workbooks in which a student sits in a work station and goes through the self-graded programs. Monitors are present to make sure the children are working and answer any questions that they might have. As a student gets older to high school, there are additional electives that a child can take when the Paces are completed.
The Paces allow a student to work at their own rate, and I understand after completing a workbook the student has a test. The test then quizzes the children over the material covered in the workbook and the student takes that test to a grading scale and grades the answers. If the answers are not correct within an appropriate percentage of accuracy, the child then must redo the unit over and retake the test. As the children get older, they write reports and there are encyclopedias present at the school for research projects.
There are also apparently as part of the program foreign language tapes available, but it is not clear to me whether those tapes are available in the York Christian Academy. There is also microscopes and lab equipment at the school in order that the children can work on biology and chemistry projects. Apparently most of these projects though are guided through the booklets. There is also an art course that the children can take, which is again out of the booklets. This year the school plans to implement choir and a sewing class.
The school year at the York Christian Academy is the same as the public school year, only they do not have the days off that the public school has, except I believe they may be given some extra days off around Christmas.
Carol Allen advised me that Sadie, when tested with a pre-test for the accelerated Christian Academy tested below her "grade average" in some areas. This is despite the fact that in school she was in a gifted program and an honor student. I believe this discrepancy can be explained by the fact that in order to test at "grade average" using the Paces system, that if the material was simply introduced in the Paces, it would be regarded as a
deficiency in grade level. In order to catch up to "grade level" the person needed to simply complete those workbooks and take the test to a required degree of performance.
The children do not receive "grades" in the York Christian Academy system, but merely move on to the next level once a Pace is completed.
INTERVIEW WITH SADIE PETERSON. I then met with Sadie Peterson alone. She advised me that Bob Peterson was not her real dad and that she was never really very close with her father. Sadie said they lived in Kansas from the time she was in Kindergarten until approximately third grade. After that time they moved back to York and she spent the third through eighth grades at the York Public Schools. She got mostly A's and B's in school and got along well with the other students.
Prior to the divorce, she said her parents would argue and fight after the children had gone to bed and they tried to hide it. Apparently there was a big incident in which her father became intoxicated and that is when Carol and the children left and went to their grandparents house. She stated that she still sees her natural father, Roger Clark, who lives between Axtell and Minden, a couple of times each year, once during the summer and once over Christmas.
When I asked her about her friends, she advised me that her friends were primarily Cassie Brugh, Rachel Boldt, Shannon Whitmore, and Denise Cosgrove. She stated that she still sees her friends, but perhaps not as much as she used to.
She also stated that she does not like to go visit her father in that his mood changes from weekend to weekend but often he can be a real grouch and that if things are not O.K. he will make
things miserable for everyone else. Sadie gets along alright with Shirley.
When I asked Sadie about her grandparents, she said that she sees her grandparents once in awhile, but that it is hard to be around them because of their different feelings in that they do not agree with her "convictions" and what "we believe".
When I asked Sadie about how she got along with Cassie, Sadie advised me that her father was always partial to Cassie and would let Cassie get away with things that Sadie would not be able to do. Sadie's comment to me about Cassie going to live with her father was to the effect that "if Cassie wanted to do things that were bad, that she would have to live with her dad". I asked Sadie about how he gets along with Willie and she advised me that she gets along well with Willie, but that he is naughty.
She said that her mother physically disciplines him more than one time per week with a belt. An example of what Willie would be disciplined for is lying, disobedience, or dishonesty. She said that her mother would not give Willie a spanking for "watching T.V. " Sadie advised me that during July that she saw her father smoking marijuana during a visit when she was outside mowing, the mower got caught and quit. She said he was sitting in a recliner in the living room with a marijuana pipe. She could tell the smell of marijuana because both her mother and her father used to smoke marijuana together before the divorce.
When I asked Sadie some questions about watching television, clothing styles and such, Sadie advised me that these were not necessarily beliefs of her church, but that they were personal "convictions" that the members have based upon their literal interpretation of scripture. Sadie advises me that she likes the
York Christian Academy better, and when I asked why she said there was "no constant pressure to compromise principles," and that she could work at her own speed. She said she doesn't have to worry about social pressures or her peers. She is the oldest student in the school and the next oldest student is two or three years younger than her.
Sadie reports that she weighs approximately 105 to 110 pounds. When I asked Sadie about her fasting she said that she does fast when she "feels the need" and that while she is not required to fast by her church, that she does approximately once per month. Normally when she fasts she would not eat for approximately one day, but has fasted up to two days. During a fast period she would drink water, tea or diet pop, but would eat no food. When I asked her why she fasted she said she would fast to make sure that "what happened was the Lord's will" and to assist in a prayerful guidance.
When I asked Sadie about the incident at the Methodist Church, she reiterated to me that the Catholic Church was the great whore as per the Book of Revelations, and that she was not to enter into their door. When I explained to her that the Methodist Church was a protestant church she explained to me that the Pentecostal Church is not a protestant church. The apparent foundation of the Pentecostal Church's belief system is that a person must be baptized in Jesus' name rather that in the name of the Father, Son and Holy Spirit. She also stated that her clothing mores, hair style and other actions are based on Bible scriptures. The clothing, hair style, fasting, and other practices are strictly optional. Apparently church members develop these beliefs as part of their Bible reading.
;When I spoke with Sadie about her career options, she advised me that she would be interested in possibly attending some type of a college or taking college-level courses through the Paces program. She might be interested in doing either interior decorating or secretarial work. She would like to stay with her mother, stay in the York Christian Academy, and continue to attend the Good Life Pentecostal Church.
INTERVIEW WITH CAROL PETERSON. She advised me that she was married in 1977 and that Bob adopted Sadie in 1979 in Ellsworth, Kansas. They moved back to Nebraska in 1982 when he came to work for his parents upholstery store business.
Carol advised me that her employment consists of housekeeping for a disabled gentlemen, and working at the sale barn cafe one time per week.
Carol advises me that the reason for the dissolution of their marriage was Bob's alcohol and drug abuse. She said that Bob when intoxicated became verbally abusive. She stated that she went to a program in which she learned that she was an "enabler" and only allowed Bob to continue to abuse drugs and alcohol. She said that Bob used either alcohol or marijuana at least six days a week to intoxication and that he mostly used marijuana. She stated that she stopped smoking marijuana in August of 1987. She requested that her husband talk to someone about alcohol or drug counseling and he refused to do this. She stated that throughout the divorce procedure, she wanted her husband to undergo some type of drug or alcohol evaluation, and part of the reason that she does not any longer have an attorney representing her is because her attorney would not push for this as part of the divorce.
She said that she does not think that Sadie should be forced to go see her father for visitations and that she should be allowed to make her own decisions. She would like to change the visitation periods for the children from 5:00 p.m. on Friday until 9:00 a.m. on Saturday morning.
She said she believes that Bob is still using marijuana, and she was not satisfied by the fact that he had a test performed, as he could have cheated on the test by taking in someone else's urine sample, or that he just waited long enough after he had used marijuana to take the test.
I then discussed with her the fact that Cassie was now living with her dad. She stated that Bob was promising Cassie things that she simply would not or could not give Cassie. She allowed Cassie to make up her mind to live with her father, but Carol does not feel that it is in Cassie's best interest for her to live with her father. She believes that Bob will go back to "his old ways" and Cassie will ultimately change her mind and want to come back and live with her mother. She reported that Cassie was unmanageable at school and would simply not follow the school program and that she was a disruption to the other students.
I also inquired of her as to her use of physical discipline with the children. She said that the children would get spanked with a belt for behaviors which were inappropriate, such as lying, disobedience or disrespectful behavior. She explained that she would spank the children with the belt with their clothes on, usually between one and ten lashes and would always explain to the children the reason for the spanking. She said that prior to her divorce they used physical discipline and there was nothing unusual about the spankings.
I also inquired of her about some of the other information that had been provided to me by her parents relating to the church and its activities. She stated that her mother in particular was out to destroy the church, and that her primary reason for doing so was because Carol would not quit and that her mother always liked to have control over her life and her life style. She said that her mother is the overbearing type. She is the only child left in the immediate area, and her mother does not have anything better to do. She admitted to me the incident in which she kicked her father in the face, but said that he was trying to choke her.
I asked her about her physical health and she said that she was fine. I asked her whether or not she fasted and she said that she did fast on occasion to pray for spiritual guidance, and that she has fasted for periods up to one week.
When I asked her whether or not she ever advised Willie that the devil was at either Bob's her parents' house, she advised me that she never said that, but that Willie was very perceptive and was able to draw his own conclusions. She was not willing to try to dispel the notion that the devil exists at both Bob's house and her parents' house. Carol advised me that she does give 10% of all of her gross income (including child support) to the church, but that she needs an additional amount of child support in order to be able to reasonably live.
Carol says that she has adequate food for her children and does not force either Sadie or Willie to fast, but that if they wish to fast as a form of prayer, that she would not stop them. So far as the children being involved in fund raising, she feels that the fund raising is a normal part of the church related activities.
She stated to me that she draws much spiritual strength from her church, and that she sees no reason why she should have to change her church. The way Carol said she explained her feelings about her church to her dad was that if he dug a well for his farm, and it produced the best water that he ever found, would he plug that well and try to did a new well? She questions whether Bob's motivations in attempting to obtain custody of the children, especially Sadie are more an outgrowth of her mother's hostility towards the church than Bob's sincere desires to benefit the best interests of the children.
INTERVIEW WITH LUCY NABER. On August 17, 1989, I conducted a telephone interview with Lucy Naber of Stromsburg, Nebraska. Lucy Naber was a member of the Good Life Pentecostal Church for approximately eight years. Lucy said she stopped being a member of the church because she was advised by the Pastor that she should not get married to her husband. She states that the Pastor and some members attempt to control the congregation through the use of fear of outsiders. First the Pastor told her that she should get married to her husband, but then later changed his mind and said that she should not get married to her husband because she and her husband missed a church service and he had a "rebellious spirit."
She further advised that the Pastor of the church obtained confidential information from members and then would use that confidential information to embarrass the members if they would not comply with the expectations of the Pastor and the other members.
Lucy said that her daughter Brenda attended the Christian Academy School for one year when it was open in 1981 and 1982, but that her daughter did not like it. When her daughter went back to
public school she was a year behind the other students, because her daughter was not the self-motivated type. She felt that the group organization which public school provides is in the best interests of her daughter. She further advised me that she did not think that the school as it existed when her daughter went was in her daughter's best interest because they did not have any other types of classes such as typing or computers, as that equipment was "of the devil". She stated that the church tries to intentionally keep its members uneducated.
She further advised me that she felt that now that she was out of the church Pastor Morey took advantage of members in that first they were expected to tithe 10% of their earnings, and then give additional offerings during the church services and on special occasions. There were suppers scheduled in which the women would supply the church food and the other members that ate the dinner would then pay for the dinner but the money would not go to the person preparing the food but would go to the church. She also stated that it costs money to send the students to school and that the parents are also expected to regularly contribute food and such for bake sales, peanut brittle sales, and gasoline. She estimated that while she was in the church approximately 40% of her income was expended to the church and for church-related activities.
Lucy further advised that the church encouraged fasting and that each member was expected to fast for at least one day per week but the member would get to pick out which day they fasted. Occasionally, Pastor Morey would inquire as to whether the members were fasting. On one occasion, she said Pastor Morey advised the fellow parishioners that he had fasted 21 days.
Lucy Naber does not really know the Petersons and does not have any direct information about them. Her involvement with the church was primarily prior to the time that Carol Peterson became involved.
WORMAN V. WORMAN TRANSCRIPT. I had an opportunity to review the transcript of the proceedings in the District Court of York County, Nebraska, in the case of Worman v. Worman, said proceedings being held on July 5, 1989.
INTERVIEW WITH GENE ROBB. On August 18, 1989, I conducted a telephone interview of Mr. Gene Robb at York. Mr. Robb was a teacher-advisor for the York Public School and had Sadie as a sixth grader. The York Public Schools establish classes in which for 17 minutes a day they have a "student family" and one teacher is designated as the contact person between the school, the students and the parents. During these class periods they would work with the students on feelings, self-concept and study skills and in order to give the child a better chance to know at least one student. Sadie was in Mr. Robb's homeroom class. Mr. Robb also coached Sadie in basketball in the seventh grade. Mr. Robb advised that the first year Sadie was in school that he knew her in sixth grade Sadie was shy and quiet but was a super student. By the time she was in seventh grade she was more at ease and her basketball skills were progressing greatly. During this period of time he got to know Sadie somewhat better and learned that Bob was Sadie's adoptive father.
In eighth grade he advised that Sadie did a great job in school and that he had her for science. He said that she was a quality student and took part in the gifted school program, primarily because of her academics in that she had high scores in
both writing and math. He noticed that towards the end of eighth grade that Sadie began to withdraw. He attributed the withdrawal initially to Sadie's parents' divorce and did not realize that Sadie was becoming involved with the church. He stated that he never really sat down and talked with Sadie about the whole situation, and she did not return for the ninth grade.
He said that he has learned from the students that he felt that Carol Peterson was pushing Sadie hard to make decisions relating to joining the church and following its teachings which caused her to be separated from her friends and classmates. Such decisions include a vow not to wear shorts or jeans, and to avoid many of the activities that the other students were doing such as sports. Mr. Robb does occasionally see her at the school and smile but they have really not had much other contact since the eighth grade.
INTERVIEW WITH LINDA BOLDT. On August 17, 1989, I spoke by telephone with Linda Boldt, Principal at one of the elementary schools in York.
I discussed with Linda the children and she said that as Willie was only in her building a total of one month that she could not give me much information about him. She said that prior to leaving to attend the Christian School that Cassie was a good student. She said that Cassie was extremely motivated but that she had some trouble in getting along during work activities. She stated that prior to Cassie's involvement with the church that she was always clean. After Cassie became involved in the church she noticed that she saw a change in hygiene, and that Cassie would wear the same clothes three or four times in one week and that she began to dress differently than the other kids. She referred to
the clothing as a "prairie maiden" type of clothing.
I generally discussed with Linda Boldt the issue of the ability of students to go to and from the Christian School and she advised me that she did have experience with other students going to and from the Christian School that the children were not developing the group skills necessary for a citizen's proper socialization. She is concerned that with the self-checking system that is employed as an educational technique that there is not the proper teacher-student interaction that is a necessary part of learning. In other words, virtually all of the educational experience that the child has is through "book" learning through the workbooks, and they do not receive other sources of information, such as lecture, group discussions, and other types of educational stimulation such as computer work, films and video tapes.
She said the type of learning technique employed in self-paced programs like ACE emphasizes rote skills and while a person may be very adept at those skills and it might be an effective way to teach certain principals, students learning from this type of a medium sometimes have difficulty in transferring that learning to practical applications. There are may types of learning that a student undergoes which do not necessarily always involve coming up with the "right" answer, which can be checked through the performance in a workbook. It is difficult through a workbook to develop skills in leadership, cooperation, and sophisticated problem solving. It is also difficult for a monitor to assess certain types of learning deficiencies or to give special attention to a student that is having problems.
Linda Boldt is also somewhat familiar with Sadie Peterson as her friend was a good friend of Sadie's. In seventh and eighth grade Sadie and Rachel used to do many things together like go to movies, walk, and that among her friends Sadie was socially just fine. After Sadie became involved in the church most of Sadie's energies were diverted to church activities, and as because Sadie attended a different school the girls just simply did not see each other as much. Sadie lost her interest in doing things like going to movies and doing many of the other things that young people her age are interested in doing. Linda also told me that so far as she was concerned, that Sadie and her father Bob were never that close.
INTERVIEW WITH CARYN HACKER. On August 18, 1989, I also visited by telephone with Caryn Hacker. Caryn Hacker has her Masters in Social Work and lives in Omaha, Nebraska. Bob' s attorney has provided me with a copy of her resume and it is attached. She has conducted much of her practice and experience, in dealing with persons that were formerly associated with some type of a cult, and then need psychological help in dealing with life after leaving the organization.
I asked Caryn Hacker if there was any type of a psychological diagnosis that was commonly accepted in her profession in order to define whether a person was being harmed psychologically by their participation in a religious organization and she advised me that the closest diagnosis that she could come would be called an adjustment disorder with a depressed mood. She stated that the primary symptoms that she looks for in a person in order to determine whether their excessive participation in a religious organization has affected their well being is to determine whether
or not their reactions are depressed and they have a flat affect. This usually includes some difficulty in making any type of a decision independent of that of the will of the group.
When describing the symptoms of a flat affect , it would commonly be manifested in that person not having any broad range of emotion. In other words, it would be very difficult to get that person aroused. Sometimes it may appear that the person is in some type of a trance-like state. It is often hard to get a person in this state either very happy or very angry about anything. It would not be unusual for a person's response in an answer to some type of an inquiry to give a standard reaction that everyone in this group might have to that question or problem. The answer may be to merely recite scripture.
She then discussed with me the idea of "mind control" which I equated with what might commonly be called "brainwashing". She described mind control as generally being a set of circumstances which places pressure on an individual's ability to think for themselves. She gave me the example of a person cramming for an exam in a limited environment. All that person can think about is the upcoming exam and the questions and the answers.
Caryn advised me that the optimum time for mind control to take place is when a person is maintained in a controlled environment. Also, she advised that diet may have an effect on a person' s vulnerability to maintain an independent will. She described a process called "snapping" in which a person's brain gives up in attempting to be independent and think independent thoughts. After this "snapping" takes place, the brain simply begins to accept the information received by it in connection with the limited environment as true and will not begin to question that
information. The brain then becomes simply unable to take information which is contrary to the programed belief. The brain does not even assimilate that information, as it may be evil to even consider that information. She advised that at times even when people get out of these types of groups that they may "float" because of the mind control employed. When things get tough for that person they may regress into a trance-like state and the words of the leader or the other person responsible for the mind control will come into their mind. The other signs of a person's mind control or loss of self-will would be reflected by a person's inability to think for themselves and to think only what the organization wants.
I asked her if she had any standards or guidelines by which to decide whether a particular organization or a person's involvement in an organization got to the point in which it was detrimental to their health, and she gave me a number of different criteria to look for in examining a person or a situation to determine whether mind control is being practiced to the detriment of an individual. These standards are as follows:
1. Does the organization have a living, charismatic leader.
;2. Are the members generally submissive to the power of the leader and do the members have any authority to question the teachings of the leader.
3. Does the organization have a rigid ideology that does not permit a truly free interchange of ideas. In other words, is there only one "right" way to view scripture or events, and dissenting views are not tolerated. Along with this may go from type of system of beliefs that are extreme in comparison to what is commonly believed by society.
4. Is there some type of stated goal of isolation or de facto isolation from society. This type of isolation may come in the form of religious beliefs that society on the whole is inherently evil and that the members fear being in contact with society. The isolation may also occur where the organization, through marathon religious session, and a continuous schedule of activities (including school) all revolving around that church and its organization continuously occupy its members.
5. What information source do the members use to gather their news about the world and its events. In other words, do the members read newspapers, watch television and listen to radio in order to obtain news and make their own assessments of events. If communications including television, radio, magazines, and other news sources are strictly regulated, there is a greater chance of a loss of an individual's self-will. If the only material a person is permitted to read, listen to, or become in contact with is controlled by the organization there is a greater chance of a loss of self-will.
6. Whether the person has become isolated from their family. A common scene which runs through organizations of this type is some type of belief that any member of the family not associated with the church is evil. Any effort made by any member of the family to dissuade the person from participating in the organization only then makes that person and the organization more convinced that the family members are evil in attempting to have them leave the organization.
7. Whether the organization has some type of a hate or fear of anyone outside of the group. This criteria often merges with the other factors and the ideas that the organization becomes
isolated, it is a strong force to keep the organization together. In other words, its members believe that everything outside of their organization is evil, and that no one but the chosen few in that organization are holy or are saved. An unhealthy organization may have a belief system by frequently focusing on Satan and his powers, to believe that Satan is actively manipulating the rest of the people of the world except the select few in the group. This distrust or fear of outsiders only reinforces the members with the desire to be isolated from society, family, and friends.
8. The method of recruiting new members. Some groups engage in "love bombing" where a new member to the organization is at first unconditionally received and all of the members of the organization give that person unconditional love, support, and assistance. If the person is vulnerable and particularly in need of that support or assistance at the time, they become dependent upon that group love which everyone needs and desires. At some point, the love becomes conditional, and if you do not comply with the group's rules and values, then you are rejected. The person then fears the rejection and scorn of the support group and for fear of rejection, the person must conform to the group will.
9. Whether the group engages in some form of sensory depravation. This may result in several different forms, and may include extremely long church or religious services in which the person is bombarded for hours or days with the group's particular indoctrination. Some group members often report that after a certain amount of time of intensive indoctrination, the "snapping" occurs and then the person may have a "revelation response" which means that the person's defenses have worn down to the extent that they are ready to accept anything. The person may actually feel
wonderful both physically and mentally, but Caryn Hacker described this revelation response as being an adrenalin reaction to the person being emotionally and physically worn down. The sensory depravation can further take the form of eating restrictions which may include low protein diets, fasting, or services at odd hours. These continued dieting and food restrictions cause a person's body to remain off kilter, and unable to physically have the strength to have independent thought.
10. Financial control over the members. Does the group require the members to turn over their assets to the organization, or do members devote a significant period of time in their religion to fund raising efforts on behalf of the group. These fund raising efforts may include selling flowers, classes, or undertaking other activities which take a substantial amount of a person's time and energies in order to raise money for the church. In connection with this, the leader's lifestyle should be examined to determine whether the leader's lifestyle is extravagant when considered in relationship to the lifestyle and status of the other members of the group.
11. The final factor which Caryn Hacker said is important to consider is whether the group exhibits some type of communal living. This may be either communal living in the standard sense of the word when everyone lives in the same structure, but the concept of communal living can be extended beyond sleeping arrangements. An example of an extension of the communal living concept is if the persons involved in the group all send their children to school together, with the older group members providing education for the younger group members. Another example of this could be if the church commonly has several meals per week together
with each other, and spend several nights per week in either organized or other church-related activities.
According to the research which Caryn Hacker has done in this area if approximately 7 of the foregoing 11 factors are found, it may be such that a person is at risk in losing their autonomy and self-will. The members lose the ability to make major decisions affecting their life outside of the context of the organization.
Caryn Hacker has personally interviewed Cassie Peterson, and has also interviewed Deborah Worman, a former member of the church. She said that from the information that she obtained, she would regard the Good-Life Pentecostal Church as being a "cult" within the definitional structure that I have set forth above.
While I feel it would serve no useful purpose to label the church as a "cult", as I believe this carries a negative connotation, I am concerned that some of the factors above appear to be present with this church. In particular, it seems that the church does have a rigid ideology in its style of worship and the "convictions" that the members hold. The clothing styles, the continuous church activities, including fund-raising activities on behalf of the church lead to a certain type of isolation.
I am further concerned that if both Sadie and Willie continue attending the York Christian Academy, that the isolation from society as a whole will only be continued. I am further concerned that Carol Peterson has been isolated from her extended family, and there seems to be a belief on Carol's part that both her family and her ex-husband are "of the devil" and are otherwise evil. I am also greatly concerned about the fasting which occurs in conjunction with their beliefs, especially for Sadie, a growing teenager. While I am not a psychologist or trained in this area,
it did appear that both Carol and Sadie had a very "flat affect". They certainly did not talk like robots or appear as if they were in a trance, but many of the responses it seemed that I received from both Sadie and Carol tended to indicate that the ideas that they were expressing were not necessarily products of their own intellectual processes, but were founded primarily on the religious teachings of their church, In response to some of the questions I asked, I would receive scriptural quotations in response.
INTERVIEW WITH SHERRY NOWAK. On August 24, 1989, I spoke by telephone with Sherry Nowak. Sherry was Sadie's teacher in the Gifted Resources Program at the York Public Schools. The York Enrichment System (YES) class that Sadie attended was a regular classroom class. The purpose of the class is to help students to understand their giftedness. It is also to assist the student in developing their strengths, whether it be creativity or verbal skills.
So far as Sadie is concerned, Sherry reported that Sadie had some problems with a low self-esteem and needed to do group work in order to be comfortable with people. She said that Sadie becoming better able to feel comfortable with people as time and participation in the class took place.
Sherry also described that one of the units that they did was a unit on career choices, and Sadie expressed a desire to be a free-lance writer and photographer. The purpose of the class was to encourage the students to set high goals in order to allow them to fully explore their gifts and talents. She stated that Sadie, with continued counseling and support should develop to a great potential. Sherry was unable to detect any change after Sadie participated with the church, as Sadie was then in high school and
Sherry just taught seventh and eighth graders. However, Sherry did feel that Sadie needed to continue to participate in programs similar to the gifted program in order that she develop both her self-esteem and her full potential. She was concerned that if Sadie was not properly encouraged, that she might socially retreat and not properly develop her self-esteem.
YORK CHRISTIAN ACADEMY. On August 25, 1989, I again travelled to York, Nebraska, in order to see the York Christian Academy and to observe Sadie in school. When I arrived school was in session. When the students work, each of them has their own separate work station located along the west side of the room which is the primary school room. Each student has a work area of approximately nine square feet which is divided from the next work area by a partition. There were seven students there when I stopped. I was advised that there would be approximately five more students once the "ABC's" class started.
I met with Kim Morey, age 20 who was one of the monitors for the class. The other monitor is Jodi Morey. Kim and Jodi's mom Irene Morey is the school administrator. Irene Morey is the wife of the Pastor of the church. Irene's father, John Cemer, is the principal of the school, but he was not available the day that I was there.
I met with Irene Morey and Kim Morey and reviewed information about the Accelerated Christian Education (ACE) curriculum. They explained to me that the ACE starts at first grade level. When the students first get started, they meet with a group session in order to have the children learn their ABC's. The children would continue in a classroom setting with the monitors until they are able to understand the use of the books. The educational units are
divided into "Paces". Each Pace is a workbook, and there are twelve Paces per subject per year.
In reviewing the Paces, it appears generally that the content contained in the Paces is appropriate by grade and level. I reviewed samples of the curriculum that Willie was working on, and also reviewed Sadie's workbooks. As one might expect, there are continuing religious references throughout the Paces. For example, in a Social Studies unit, there may be a reference to Bible scripture as a framework in viewing some historical event. In the Science booklet I reviewed there was considerable space devoted to creationism and disproving the theory of evolution.
Neither of the monitors of the school have graduated from a traditional high school, as I understand they have completed their education through the ACE program. Both of the monitors have their GED's, and one of the monitors is now working on college-level Paces. The monitors at the school attended a one week program in order to learn how to be ACE monitors. The are also monitor's manuals which help to explain to the monitors what they are supposed to do.
I was advised that some of the Paces (such as foreign languages) include like audio tapes. The classes are ordered from the company if a student wants to take the course. Some of the parents of the school have religious convictions against the use of computers and so the school does not have one. Similarly, the school does not have a videotape machine, as most families do not have televisions in their homes.
The school does have a typewriter available for business courses and typing is an elective. However, the exact manner in which the course would be taught was not clear, as Sadie is the
oldest student in the school and she has not yet elected to take typing. The same is apparently true with Science and Biology. I was advised that the school used to sometimes have filmstrips, but there did not seem to be any plans in the works for the use of filmstrips this year. In years past I was advised that they have taken field trips to such places as the Hastings Museum, the Lincoln Elephant Hall, or to Henry Dorley Zoo in Omaha. All of the students wear uniforms.
INTERVIEW WITH PASTOR MOREY. On August 25, 1989, I also met with Rev. Morey for a considerable period of time. He stated that he was pleased that someone came to visit with him, as he felt that a good deal of information was being falsely disseminated about him, his church, and his congregation. Pastor Morey believes that the main source of the problem that has surfaced in both the Peterson case and Worman case deal with the fact that Debra Worman became disgruntled after Jenifer Worman reported that she was sexually abused by Debra Worman. The abuse was thereafter reported to the police. He says that Debra Worman has continued to spread a series of rumors, and that he has probably "heard them all."
Pastor Morey reports that he was ordained by the UPCI in April of 1981. He showed me his Certificate of Ordination, and also a membership card showing that he was a member in good standing of the Church with the Nebraska State Office of the UPCI. Rev. Morey explained that in his church there are three steps for ordination. The first step is to take a job as an apprentice to a local pastor. At that point, it is possible to get what is called a "local license". Pastor Morey stated that he did his apprenticeship under the supervision of a pastor in Ellingsworth, California, and his father-in-law, John Cemer, who is also apparently ordained with the
UPCI . He also was under the supervision of James O' Neal of Hastings, Nebraska. He reported that Mr. O'Neal at the time was also the State Superintendent for the UPCI. Pastor obtained his "local license" under pastor O'Neal.
He reported that he moved to York to start a church on a "home mission" basis in either 1977 or 1978, as York did not have a UPCI church. He then obtained his "general license" and then obtained his ordination in 1981. At each step, he had to fill out a new application, and go before the District Board of the UPCI which has the discretion of whether to approve or disapprove his application for licensure or ordination.
Morey reported that each congregation is sovereign, meaning that each one is free to from its own form of government. The York church is operated as a non-profit corporation incorporated in either 1977 or 1978. He stated that all of the church and its property belong to the congregation, and that the only things that were in his name were his home and his car. His home is across the street from the church and appears very modest from the outside.
I discussed with Rev. Morey the financial workings of the church and he advised me that the church as a Treasurer, William Budler, who keeps track of the church finances. Rev. Morey's salary is paid by the tithes of the members. The church itself is supported by offerings from the members. He advised that they had a "two name" system on their checks, and that the names of himself and one of the other church officers was required in order to write checks. He advised that there were approximately 40 members in the congregation and that major decisions would normally be made by the church board, and then presented to the congregation.
I asked him whether the church had been acquiring different properties, and he advised me that they did acquire some vacant lots for possible future expansion, a home for a day care facility, and also a home next to the church which is used by the assistant pastor. They also own a rental home, which is now occupied by a family of the congregation, but is not necessarily reserved for someone in the congregation. The church is in the process now of adding on an addition, which will be used to make the school larger and add some additional rooms.
I did discuss with Rev. Morey some of the belief systems that the UPCI holds. When I asked him to summarize for me their most basic belief statement he advised me as follows: "Jesus Christ is God. Salvation is only through faith in Jesus Christ. Faith is expressed through repentance, water baptism in the name of Jesus Christ, receiving the gift of the Holy Ghost, and endeavoring to live a godly and overcoming life." Rev. Morey explained that the basic differences between his church and the majority of the protestant churches is that they require immersement baptism and repentance, along with their belief that there is one God, rather than the concept of a Trinity. Further, when a person repents and receives the gift of the Holy Ghost, that they will speak in tongues. He explained that the source of the Pentecostal Church was generally in the early 1900's and two churches formed to form the Pentecostal Church and the Assembly of God Church. He said that his church was similar to the Assemblies of God Church as they existed 20 or 30 years ago, except that the Assemblies believe in the Trinity.
I asked him about some of the other church beliefs such as fasting, and he stated that no one in their church is required to
fast, but that sometimes they have organized "chain fasting" which is not required but is purely optional. He stated that he did not require his own children to fast, and that sometimes by fasting they might simply mean that they would skip one meal each day.
I also asked him about their belief system regarding television, movies or video tapes. He advised that his beliefs were such that the media of television in and of itself is not evil as it is simply a form of communication. However, the UPCI feels that television has a marked impact on youth, and that they would like to try to give youth a spiritual background without an unspiritual counterpart. In other words, rather than attempting to police what shows are observed on television, the church would simply prefer that some other family activity be engaged in.
I also asked him about their dressing styles, and was advised that they dressed according to the scriptures. The basic idea in the distinctions between the types of clothing is to make sure that the men wear men's clothes and the women wear women's clothes. However, he stated that if a person does not comply with the dress code, own televisions, or do not comply with other of the practices of the church, it does not necessarily mean that their salvation is in jeopardy. The reason for having the church school is very similar to their ideas about television in that they would like to not have the children exposed to many of the negative influences that a child may face at a public school. So far as the school is concerned, they only want to have those students in their school that are genuinely interested in that type of school.
I also asked him about their forms of corporal punishment, and he said that corporal punishment is not used in the schools, and the church does not have any established policy about
discipline or corporal punishment. He believes that the Book of Proverbs provides guide to parents in that regard.
Pastor Morey also discussed with me the matter of the Worman case and advised that on July 4th several years ago that Jenny Worman was supposed to go home with her father and step-mother following a birthday party for Morey. He then advised that Jenny was unwilling to go home with her father because she reported that her step-mother had sexually molested her along with her "lesbian lover". The lesbian lover then came to the minister and wanted to get her life together. It was this person that brought up the fact that approximately six females, all apparently members of the church, had engaged in witchcraft or such rituals. He then talked with all of the six, and all agreed that they were involved, each naming the names of the others that were involved. He said that Deb Worman also confessed that she was involved in the sexual abuse, but later denied it. He said the incident with the witchcraft among his congregation was very embarrassing, and he has no explanation for why and how this would have occurred. He said that the incident had been a number of years ago and that the police had made an investigation but the investigation was inclusive. He denies that he ever attempted to coerce any confession out of Debra Worman.
I then spoke with him regarding the situation with Lucille (Lucy) Naber. During the hearing in the Worman case on July 5, 1989, Lucille Naber testified that Brother Morey had instructed her to take her daughter home and spank her until she confessed that she had been sexually molested. Pastor Morey denied that he ever stated that children should be physically disciplined in connection with the incident. Further, as Lucy Naber had advised me that Rev.
Morey had instructed her not to marry her current husband, I asked him about this. He stated that at first he welcomed Rick Naber to the church and Rick also took part in church activities. He did offer to marry Lucy and Rick within the church, but later learned that Rick had been previously married three times, and it was becoming obvious that did not get along in the church very well. He said he told Lucy that if she married Rick it would only be a matter of time before he quit the church and accordingly, it was apparent to him that if she married Mr. Naber that she would probably leave the church. He said he told Lucy that she would probably have to either choose between the church or her husband.
RECOMMENDATIONS TO THE COURT
In connection with my appointment as Guardian Ad Litem, I make the following recommendations to the Court so far as the custody of the children is concerned:
1. Sadie Peterson. I recommend that the Court take legal custody of Sadie Peterson. My recommendation that the court take legal custody is based upon the fact that I recommend below that Sadie attend public school, and the Court's retention of legal custody may be required to insure that Sadie attends school. I further recommend that physical custody of Sadie be placed with Carol L. Peterson, the Petitioner. Pending any further placement of legal custody of Sadie, I recommend the following steps:
A. A psychological evaluation be performed on Sadie by some qualified mental health provider. I do not necessarily believe that the provider must be Caryn Hacker, but could be some qualified psychiatrist or psychologist in the York, Nebraska, area. I make this recommendation in order that some person more qualified than myself can make an assessment of Sadie's current mental health
B. I recommend that Sadie be enrolled in the York Public School. My reasons for making this recommendation are as follows:
(1) Sadie's former teachers and classmates have indicated that Sadie's best interests and educational potential may be best served by an education in the Public school system. This includes her exposure to the Gifted Student Program, and continuing to work with her socialization skills. Through diversified educational methods and curriculum, Sadie can be exposed to the greatest possible number of career choices.
(2) I feel that as a general principal it is important for a student's socialization skills that they come in contact with their peers in order to be a fully-participating member of society. While it is true that are negative influences for a child at school, I believe there are also positive influences. To a certain extent, the school environment is a microcosm of our society.
(3) I believe that having Sadie attend public schools would deal with many of the concerns expressed by the Respondent and the Brumbaughs in that she would be away from the church environment for several hours each day. Sadie could still be spiritually active in church activities and further her Christian education on her own if she so desires, and still hopefully obtain her maximum educational potential.
(4) My recommendation that Sadie attend public school, or at least an accredited school is based upon the fact that throughout the marriage between petitioner and respondent, the children always attended public school. I believe that in establishing some guidelines for deciding a case in this manner is to have the Court look at what practice prevailed prior to the dissolution. Following dissolution of marriage, it would seem as a matter of law that one parent should not be able to enroll his or her child in a school or other educational environment other than the environment that child was brought up in, if that change is contrary to the wishes of the other parent. In this situation, Carol has attempted to unilaterally enroll the children in a school in a type of an educational system which is different than what the children were used prior to the dissolution.
(5) I am concerned that if Sadie does not graduate from an accredited high school that her educational options for post-secondary education will be limited. While many colleges may accept someone with a GED or an acceptable test score, it may be that there are delayed entrance requirements for those persons.
C. I recommend that the Court consider reviewing its disposition in approximately six months, or in the event the psychological evaluation of Sadie brings to light additional facts which were not considered previously by the Court.
D. In the event Carol Peterson is unwilling to allow Sadie to continue to reside with her and still attend public school, the Court may wish to consider some alternate placement for Sadie, whether it be with the Respondent Robert Peterson, or with the Brumbaughs. However, as Sadie has expressed to me that she wished to continue to reside with her mother, I would not be willing to recommend a placement other than with her mother unless her mother is unwilling to allow Sadie to attend public school.
E. I recommend that Sadie continue to have reasonable visitation with her father as may be agreed among the parties. In the event the parties are unable to agree, I recommend a regular visitation schedule between Sadie and her father. I would recommend that visits commence on Friday at 6:00 P.M. and terminate on Saturday evening at 9:00 P.M., be on alternating weekends, and be such that she is with her sister and brother each weekend.
2. Cassie Peterson. So far as Cassie Peterson is concerned, I recommend that the court retain legal custody and physical custody of Cassie with her father, Robert Peterson. Cassie has been in fact residing with Robert Peterson and is attending public schools. Cassie has expressed to me her desire to continue to reside with Robert and wants to attend the public school, and does not want to attend her mother's church.
A. My reservation with Robert being granted legal custody at this time is the continuing reports of drug use by Sadie. Whether or not the incident occurred is a question of fact,
but would prefer the court take custody in order that it can order Robert to abstain from use and submit to chemical tests if necessary.
B. Carol Peterson apparently is willing to allow Cassie to reside with her father under reservations as to whether that is really what is best for Cassie.
C. I am somewhat dissatisfied in Carol's decision to allow Cassie to make her choice as to where she wishes to reside. I think that Carol Peterson put Cassie in a very difficult situation in which she was forced to absolutely choose between her mother and her mother's church and the school on the one hand and her father on the other. I am concerned that it may seem to Cassie, as an 11 year old child that her mother's love is conditioned upon the child participating in church or church school activities.
D. So far as Cassie is concerned I would encourage a regular visitation schedule between Cassie and her mother. I would recommend that visits commence on Friday at 6:00 P.M. and terminate on Saturday evening at 9:00 P.M., alternating weekends. This visitation should avoid questions as to which church the children will attend.
E. Robert Peterson should be ordered to abstain from the use of any controlled substances.
3. William (Willie) Peterson. For much the same reason as with Sadie, I would recommend that the Court take legal custody of Willie, and that physical custody of Willie be placed with his mother.
A. I recommend that Willie be enrolled in the public schools for the same reasons regarding Sadie.
B. I recommend that a review be scheduled in six months.
C. In the event that Carol Peterson is unwilling to enroll Willie in the public school system, I would recommend that custody of Willie be transferred to Robert Peterson.
D. Visitation with his father should be the same as with Sadie.
4. Recommendations as to all children. So far as custody of all children are concerned, I would require that Robert Peterson be ordered not to consume controlled substances at any time or place. Further, it should be ordered that Robert Peterson not consume to excess any alcoholic beverages at a time when he has physical custody of his children whether through placement or visitation.
A. I think the issue of whether or not the church or its activities can be regarded as a "Cult" or not are not necessarily dispositive of any of the issues in this case. I feel that Carol Peterson and other members of her church are sincere in their beliefs and are good people. I am somewhat concerned with the reports that a few years back several members of the church were reportedly involved in witchcraft rituals, but do not know what to make of it. I do not believe the Court can make a decision relating to the custody based upon the fact that one religion is better or worse than another. Further, so far as religion is concerned, it is difficult to assess at what point someone becomes too extreme in their beliefs. An exception to the rule comes when the religious beliefs of one parent are contrary the best interests of the children. In Burnham v. Burnham, 208 Nebraska 498, 304 N.W. 2d 58 (1981) Nebraska Supreme Court dealt with a situation wherein the Court examined the belief systems of a religion in order to
determine whether those belief systems would have an adverse impact upon a child. In that case the Nebraska Supreme Court stated
"We believe that the following beliefs may have an adverse impact on Jaime: (1) the belief that she is illegitimate; (2) the willingness of Carolyn to cut Jaime out of her life if she disobeys the rules of Tridentine Church; and (3) the racist views held by Carolyn, and, apparently by her church. Although by holding these views Carolyn has not disqualified herself from being a fit and proper person to have custody of her child, we must take all factors into consideration in determining what is in Jaime's best interests. ... We feel that Carolyn's religious beliefs, if continued in regular practice, which she indicates will be the case, will have a deleterious affect not only on the relationship between the father and his daughter, but upon the well being of the child herself," . . . 208 Neb. at 503
In attempting to apply the criteria placed by the Nebraska Supreme Court in the Burnham case to the case at bar, I find that there are some indications that Carol's involvement and participation in her church have a potentially detrimental affect on the well-being of the children. In particular, I am concerned about Carol's treatment of Cassie in that as Cassie was apparently unwilling to accept the church's doctrine and go to the church school, that she was allowed to leave home.
I am also somewhat concerned about the beliefs expressed by Carol, even though possibly not expressed by the whole church that "the Catholic Church is the great whore and all of the other protestant churches are daughters of the great whore". This type of attitude and teaching tends to instill in people, particularly children, an extreme prejudice against other members of our society similar in degree to the racist beliefs as discussed in the Burnham case.
I am also concerned that Carol has allowed Willie to believe that the devil resides at the home of both Robert Peterson and her
parents. Carol later called me and explained to me that she talked to Willie and explained that she discussed the matter with Willie. This definitely will tend to have a deleterious effect on both the parent-child relationship, and the grandparent-child relationship. I am also concerned about Sadie's statement to the effect that because "If Sadie wants to be bad, she has to live with her dad." This attitude seems to pit sister against sister.
I also wish to make the comment that it is my perception that the parties have all drawn battle lines with the church and Carol on one side and the Respondent, the Brumbaughs, and the Wormans on the other side. Through mistrust and misunderstanding on the parts of both sides, the children have been caught in the middle. I think for the benefit of the children if all parties could make an effort to respect the wishes and beliefs of the other parties, that considerable progress could be made. When the Brumbaughs described to me Pastor Morey, they used words such as "maniac" and "madman", even though they had never met him. It seems that the efforts made by the Brumbaughs and Robert Peterson to pry Carol and the children from the church have only caused Carol to retreat to seek isolation from her family.
Brian C. Bennett, Guardian Ad Litem
Used by permission of Brian C. Bennett, Esq.
Posted November 9, 1997
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