Faith-based lessons forced on mum

Faith-based lessons forced on mum

‘Inappropriate’ methods used by  a Christian ‘educator’ in Albuquerque – Mary Pepper, above right – were brought to light last week by Holly Salzman, left, who was ordered by a court to attend Pepper’s faith-based classes.

The disturbing order was issued after Salzman asked the Family Court Division for help in co-parenting her 11-year-old twin boys with her ex-husband. Instead she got 10 court-ordered religious sessions that she did not want.

The court told Salzman, who hoped to get co-parenting as well as communication skills, that she had to see Pepper, who touts herself as an educator, a mentor and a teacher for couples.

Said Salzman:

You don’t have a choice. You do it or you’re held in contempt of court.

In an interview with KRQE News 13 Salzman says she was surprised by her first encounter with Pepper.

I walked into the session and the very first thing she said to me was, ‘I start my sessions by praying’. When I expressed my concerns that I didn’t pray she said, ‘well this is what I do’ and she proceeded to say a prayer out loud.

Salzman wondered how this did not cross the line between Church and State. After that first meeting with Pepper, she says she left a message with Family Court staff, complaining about the religion. Salzman says she never heard back. She says the second session with Pepper opened with a prayer again.

We went back to court. I expressed concerns again about the religious overtones and they stated they hadn’t heard any problems concerning Mary Pepper with religion.

Salzman said she felt so “offended and disgusted” that she stopped going to the court-ordered sessions. The result was that the court took her kids away.

It’s probably the worst thing I’ve ever been through in my life.

To get her kids back she had to finish the classes, and Salzman said the religious pressure continued.

KRQE News 13 rolled undercover video and audio in the final three classes between Salzman and Pepper. There were several references of religion. Pepper told Salzman at one of the meetings:

The meaning in my life is to know love and serve God …

There were also handouts with quotes of Psalms and other religious quotes. Pepper also gave her homework titled “who is God to me?”

Said Salzman:

Every session there was some sort of religion that was intertwined with the sessions.

Pepper responded by saying:

I’m a believer myself and if a person is open, we talk about God. If they’re not open, it’s a secular program that I provide.

She said she doesn’t believe her programme has religious overtones and claimed that it was Salzman who brought up the subject of religion. As for allegations of blurring the lines between Church and State, Pepper said it shouldn’t matter that she mentions religion in a court-ordered programme.

The court does not pay for the sessions nor does it run them but because they’re court ordered, the American Civil Liberties Union said there may be a problem. Said  Peter Simonson, ACLU Executive Director:

No one should be put in a position where they are forced to accept training or therapy that violates their own religious beliefs and morals.

Simonson said he wanted to know how much the court knew about Pepper’s religious offerings in her programme. KRQE News 13 wanted to know too, but court spokesperson Tim Korte said court employees could not comment on pending cases.

The court does not refer parties to religious-based counseling. Some of the counseling organizations where individuals are referred may offer optional religious counseling, but the individual is not ordered by the court to participate in the religious counseling.

Pepper said 50-percent of her clients are referred from the court. She said has about ten court-ordered clients a week. But she said most people have no interest in spirituality and she said she leaves it out of the programme.

There are more red flags. Pepper holds her meetings inside public libraries “to keep her costs down”. But she’s not allowed to work in public libraries. City policy forbids the sale of products or services on library property.

Salzman says Pepper is aware of that– claiming she has her clients book the rooms in their names and pay her in cash.

She had actually explained to me that you need to be discrete about it because she’s not allowed to exchange money in the public library. So I had to kind of hide the money and then literally pass the money under the table.

Pepper wouldn’t tell KRQE News 13 about the cash payments.

I think that this interview needs to be ended. If you’d like to know more in private, I’d explain a lot about my business but to do this on the air is not appropriate.

But Pepper never explained the payments off-camera.

Salzman got her kids back and finished her co-parenting classes. She said:

I got a certificate and I kicked my heels on the way out.

16 responses to “Faith-based lessons forced on mum”

  1. L.Long says:

    I would accept the ‘punishment’ cooperate fully lie like crazy and RECORD EVERYTHING!!!! Be come well paid by a number of TV stations for the story. I would even have used a secret recording in the court as well, get him too!!! Suspect they are in bed with each other!

  2. Broga says:

    Christians have the mistaken and offensive certainty that if only they can force their strange beliefs on a non believer then these superstitions will prevail. The reality is that the sceptic will see through the “statements of certainty” and be even more sensitive to what is being forced on them.

    The danger to faith is an encounter with a sceptic. I know from experience in my own family that their response to challenge will be a boring reiteration of what they believe and an attempt to muzzle the challenger.

  3. dennis says:

    in a heart beat, L.Long!

    ms pepper is so lost in her religion she could not see secular freedom if she tried. “its a secular program that I provide” Right.

  4. Newspaniard says:

    Are judges in the USA appointed by their peers; elected; get their posts through bribery; take a correspondence course; buy a certificate from a phony internet university or what? There are some strange judges in the USA, some of whom need their bumps checked.

  5. Stuart H. says:

    We’re not as far from this in UK as you might think. Rather than prison sentences, my local court has taken to making alcohol- related offenders attend sessions run by a church group (not AA). No surprise that key staff in the family courts office are fundie religiots, and that the local NHS alcohol treatment centre closed due to lack of funds.
    On a related theme, Care in the Family’s last accounts reveal that they have a contract running ‘parenting classes’ for Lloyds bank staff.
    Why? What’s that all about?

  6. barriejohn says:

    So this judge (a) doesn’t understand the American constitution, and (b) isn’t held to account over that fact. I was hoping to find out something more about him/her, and I wasn’t the only one, but no such luck, I’m afraid. Some great comments here, so not all Americans have completely lost their marbles:

    “We went back to court. I expressed concerns again about the religious overtones and they stated they hadn’t heard any problems concerning Mary Pepper with religion,” Salzman said.

    The next case the court took was a murder. But the case was dismissed as they they hadn’t heard any problems concerning this murderer before.

  7. barriejohn says:

    Stuart H: We’re going to see a lot more of that in Cameron’s “On-the-Cheap Society”. Besides food banks, churches are now muscling in on “debt counselling” in a big way (including amongst students). Sorry, but as someone who can speak with some experience of this sort of enterprise, I just see this as taking advantage of the most vulnerable in society in an effort to push a hidden agenda.

  8. Cali Ron says:

    If you really want to know the details of how they are elected here’s a link:

    Basically, they are elected, but the candidates are selected by a commission which opens the door for cronyism and nepotism. If it’s anything like Cali you don’t know anything about the candidates on the ballot unless the voter does some serious research, which is highly unlikely in apathetic America. Christian judges, just like christian cake makers and county clerks sometimes abuse their position and try to force their fairy tale beliefs onto others.

    I’d be curious to know what qualifies Ms Pepper to offer co-parenting classes? Doesn’t seem to have anything to do with intelligence.

  9. Stuart H. says:

    Barriejohn – yup , I noticed the debt counselling thing too locally, and from what I’ve seen it comes with unofficial strings attached.
    Oddest thing is that one vicar involved admits that most small town clergy have little or no knowledge of finance, and live in dread of getting arrested for fraud due to not being able to keep their parish accounts ( happened to one last year, though in his case he was reported by an auditor whose brother was a priest who just happened to be looking for a parish). Also ironic that C of E clergy had their pension fund destroyed by a dumb Church Commissioner US property investment that the US authorities ordered closed because it would have made an entire NY block homeless. Once they retire they’ll need more debt counselling than most of their former parishioners.

  10. Stephen Mynett says:

    OT but there may not be so many C of E clergy to worry about if Welby fails with his latest idea:

  11. Broga says:

    @Stephen Mynett: Intriguing and this may be Welby’s only practical option. However, it indicates the way the C. of E. continues to dissolve. What he dare not do is consider objectively and honestly the nature of the beliefs he, his clergy and flock presume to accept.

    In the modern world there must be so many in the C. of E. who go through the motions of belief, accept the social role of the church and have, at best, a residual belief in what they supposedly accept in its totality. Best not to think about it seems to be the fall back position.

  12. AgentCormac says:

    Perhaps ‘Ms Pepper, in the library, with a bible’ should become another Cluedo crime option.

  13. Maggie says:

    Perhaps the judges ordering people to attend the classes were getting kickbacks. (It must be true; I saw it on an episode of Law & Order.)

  14. John the Drunkard says:

    Courts are expected to turn people toward ‘treatment.’ Except that most of the people in question can’t afford any kind of professional help. Hence the tendency of courts to rely on all sorts of dubious groups.

    I’ve heard of drunk drivers being sent to Scientology front-groups, to ‘Reichian dream groups,’AA groups swamped with angry court-assigned types. I always tell them that they can get their ‘cards’ signed by their bartender…

  15. N I Cetits says:

    Why do christian evangelists always have that happy smiley gushing sparkly forced supercilious smile? If I see someone like that the red light goes on in my head and I usually look for the most convenient escape route. But if confrontation is unavoidable my reaction is to exchange a polite greeting closely followed by mockery and withering deflating dismissal of their agenda if they don’t recognise sceptical atheist.