Regardless of one’s theological belief system, The United States Constitution affords citizens fare treatment. People from all backgrounds, creeds and colors have fought bravely to protect this sacred right, including Craig Scarberry, a Navy veteran and proud father of 3 children.
Craig, an agnostic, lost legal custody of his three children this November. The presiding judge on his custody case (George Pancol), made note of Craig’s agnostic beliefs in the court order, stating he “did not participate in the same religious training that the (mother) exercised and that (Scarberry) was agnostic” and “At the time of the Property Settlement Agreement, the Petitioner/Father considered himself a Christian and the parties were able to communicate relatively effectively”.
Regardless of the fact the Court had found that the Mother left the children on their own, failed to provide breakfast numerous times and transported the children in her vehicle without proper safety restraints- Judge Pancol granted sole custody to the mother.
Before the hearing, the mother had filed a restraining order against Craig, claiming he had harassed her via text messages and showed up at her place of employment. Despite the mother’s best efforts to cast Craig in a bad light, he successfully demonstrated that he had no other intention to communicate with the mother aside from issues pertaining to their children.
Days after the custody hearing, the mother’s boyfriend interfered with a visitation exchange at a local restaurant. The boyfriend attempted to intimidate and discourage Craig from saying goodbye to the children while in the mother’s vehicle. The boyfriend then exited the vehicle and assaulted Craig in the presence of the children, punching him three times, causing a concussion. Local police were called after the boyfriend fled the scene -investigating officers found that Craig had been the victim in the altercation and the boyfriend being the aggressor. Misdemeanor charges have since been filed against the boyfriend.
Between the obstructionist acts, clearly perpetrated by the mother and boyfriend, the children have suffered a great deal. We believe that Craig’s constitutional rights have been violated in the most grievous manner. The Indiana Code of Judicial Conduct states that “A judge shall not, in the performance of judicial duties, by words or conduct manifest bias or prejudice, or engage in harassment, including but not limited to bias, prejudice, or harassment based upon race, sex, gender, religion, national origin, ethnicity, disability, age, sexual orientation, marital status, socioeconomic status, or political affiliation, and shall not permit court staff, court officials, or others subject to the judge's direction and control to do so.”
Clearly, the court order factors in Craig’s religious indifference. Considering the fact that Craig never discouraged or objected to the children attending a Christian school or participating in church activities, the issue of both the mother’s and Craig’s religious ideology should not have been a mitigating circumstance in the case.
While it is perfectly acceptable for elected judges to exercise their own personal right to exercise religion, it is unethical to base court decisions based off their own personal beliefs.
Judge Pancol is an active member of a local Methodist church within Craig’s community and serves as an executive council member. The question remains whether or not Judge Pancol weighed the custody decision based off the parent’s religious beliefs; however, we believe that references contained within the court order were unethical if not at the very least, inappropriate.
Craig intends to appeal the court’s decision and continues to fight for the best interest of his children. Not only is he fighting for his own rights, Craig will be heading a peaceful demonstration to support equal rights for ALL parents and call for the end to judicial bias within our great country.
The demonstration will be held at the Madison County Indiana Government center on December 16th, 2010, located at 16 East 9th street, Anderson, Indiana.
Those who wish to attend are welcome to join.