The Daily Item, Sunbury, PA

The Rave

September 2, 2012

Justice issues still unresolved

More light landed last week on the disquieting rupture that has shadowed Northumberland County's Family Court for more than eight months.

An appeals case revealed that the county self-described "children's judge" Charles H. Saylor had been barred from hearing cases involving Children and Youth Service following a complaint that religious bias was involved in his ruling last December that a child be removed from an Old Order Mennonite foster home.

In that case, Judge Saylor and a Court Appointed Special Advocate (CASA) volunteer aligned on one side against a legal guardian and Children and Youth Services on the other. The judge prevailed at his own hearing, but was later challenged by Legal Guardian Cheryl Humes and solicitor for Children and Youth Michael Robinson.

That put Judge Saylor on the sidelines until some governing authority could decide whether the allegations of religious bias had merit.

The court of appeals closely examined a series of accusations against the judge at length and deflected them, one by one, finding in each instance that Judge Saylor had every reason to rule as he did in the interest of the child's safety, education and life opportunities.

The case is striking on several levels:

n The most obvious are the implications for child's well being (safety and educational opportunity) when foster care is offered from a traditional religious community governed by a particular lifestyle and what that means for the constitutional protection to practice particular, but peaceful, beliefs while still participating partly in civil society.

n There is the dubious quality of the inferences drawn by those who challenged Judge Saylor's initial decision. Do they reflect substantial advocacy on behalf of the child the guardians were obligated to protect or professional peeve over a decision that threatened to shut off an avenue for child placement that was convenient for the agencies involved?

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