20/01/2015 05:47 GMT | Updated 20/05/2015 06:12 BST

Divorced Dad Ordered To Take Kids To Mass - Even Though He Isn't Catholic

Kneeling Catholic school children praying during Mass

A divorced dad has been ordered to take his children to Catholic mass - even though he isn't Catholic.

A judge told the father he faces a possible jail sentence for contempt of court if he fails to go to church when he has custody of the children.

Judge James Orrell imposed the order as part of a divorce settlement made at a county court in the Midlands.

The Telegraph reports that Judge Orrell discussed his own Catholic faith during the course of the hearing into contact arrangements for the man – referred to as Steve – and his two sons.

The paper says the ruling reads: "If the children are with their father at Christmas he will undertake that they will attend the Christmas mass."

However, the same order has not been made on the children's mother, who is Catholic.

Steve, a 51-year-old psychologist, told the Telegraph: "It's all very bizarre. This aspect of the contact order was not requested by the other side in the case.

"The judge decided that I would commit to taking the children to mass and he put it in the court order.

"What I think is really concerning is that it does not allow me or my children any freedom of religious expression.

"I am definitely not Catholic. The last time I went to church was some time ago and it was a Unitarian church that I attended.

"My oldest son, who is now 10, has already expressed a clear lack of belief but legally I am required to take him to Roman Catholic mass at Christmas.

"Because my contact arrangements now give me the children on some weekends, I am concerned that I will now also be required to take them to mass on Sundays when they are with me, even though that is not part of the original order."

The ruling has been subjected to a series of legal challenges since it was imposed in 2009 but the church attendance requirement remains in force.

Steve went to the Court of Appeal on the grounds that the order was a breach of his human rights under Article 9 of the European Convention on Human Rights, which protects freedom of thought, conscience and religion.

However, a ruling by appeal judges and a later judicial review in the High Court did not support his application.

Steve also complained to the Judicial Conduct Investigations Office which, he said, upheld other aspects of his application but declined to give a decision on the Article 9 points, claiming they were a matter for the legal appeal process.

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