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Lauren Jarrell, mother who baptized children without ex-husband's consent, faces jail time

Lauren Jarrell could go to jail for baptizing her two children without consulting her ex-husband first.
Baptism 2012 03 31Enlarge
Pope Benedict XVI celebrates baptisms in the Sistine Chapel in Vatican City on Jan. 8, 2012. (L'Osservatore Romano Vatican-Pool/Getty Images)

A mother in Tennessee could go to jail for baptizing her two children without consulting her ex-husband first, UPI reported.

The Tennessee Court of Appeals ruled this week that Lauren Jarrell can be charged with criminal contempt-of-court for violating a court order that required her to make major decisions about the religious upbringing of her children jointly with her ex-husband, Emmett Blake Jarrell, the Associated Press reported.

Her ex-husband, a Methodist, didn’t want his children to be baptized until they were older and could understand the significance of the rite, according to UPI. The children are 4 and 6.

After discovering that his ex-wife, a Presbyterian, had baptized them anyway, Emmett Blake Jarrell asked for her to be convicted of criminal contempt, which carries a maximum penalty of 20 days in jail and a $100 fine, the AP reported.

According to the AP:

A lower court has already found the mother in contempt of court. The appellate court decision overturned that decision and said criminal contempt proceedings are more appropriate because the mother can't undo the baptisms.

Lauren Jarrell's lawyer argued that including religion in the parenting agreement violated her First Amendment rights, UPI reported. The mother also argued that the lower court showed it preferred her ex-husband’s religious views on baptism over hers when it found her in contempt, the AP reported.

"Mother is correct that courts `must maintain strict neutrality in cases involving religious disputes between divorced parents' and they may not `prefer the religious views of one parent over another unless one parent's religious beliefs and practices threaten the health and well-being of the child,’ " Judge Alan E. Highers of the Tennessee Court of Appeals wrote this week. "However, simply put, this is not a religious dispute." Highers said the court’s job is to decide whether the Jarrell can be found in contempt for ignoring the court order.

Lauren Jarrell’s hearing has not yet been scheduled, according to UPI.

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