by Ethan Tong • 5 min read
First Liberty recently filed a friend-of-the-court brief at the Supreme Court. We’re asking the Justices to hear M.C. and J.C. v. Indiana Department of Child Services, a case that highlights parental rights and religious liberty rights.
Our brief recounts the tragic story of Abigail Martinez, a Christian mom in California, who lost custody of her teenager Yaeli. The state took issue with Abigail’s religious beliefs about sexuality. Yaeli eventually committed suicide.
M.C. and J.C. v. Indiana Department of Child Services presents a similar issue. It deals with the state of Indiana’s decision to remove a child from the home of Christian parents because of their religious beliefs about sexuality.
Abigail’s story began in 2015, when, at 15, Yaeli began to question her sexuality. She struggled with intense depression for years, and an older transgender friend told her the only way to be happy was to change genders. School staff encouraged her to covertly join the LGBTQ club and hide it from her mom. The school psychologist recommended a gender transition, rather than treatment for her depression.
When Abigail tried to advocate for Yaeli to receive mental health treatment from the school, the school staff rebuffed her. After Yaeli was hospitalized for an attempted suicide, her former principal visited her in the hospital—only to attack her mom, saying, “Is it too hard for you to call your child a new name?”
In 2016, the state took Yaeli away from her home. Abigail was only allowed to visit her child once a week for an hour. Activists from the Los Angeles LGBT Center told Abigail she should “have a funeral for your daughter and adopt your son,” and that if she talked about God during her allotted hour, she would never see her daughter.
By age 19, Yaeli’s depression had not been solved by the attempt at transition. Her pain was too deep, and hormone treatments made it worse. Yaeli eventually committing suicide by kneeling on a train track. The coroner’s office could not even show Abigail what remained of her daughter.
Abigail and Yaeli’s story is gut-wrenching enough. But what is also heartbreaking is that such forceful separation on the basis of religious beliefs continues to occur today. M.C. and J.C., the petitioners in the case pending before the U.S. Supreme Court, are in the midst of their own battle.
It’s unconscionable for a state to tell parents what to believe and how to raise their children. It’s also unconstitutional. Our legal experts explain: “The Constitution is clear: States cannot target parents because of their religious beliefs, interfere with the religious upbringing of their children, or impose prior restraints on speech in their own homes.”
Through First Liberty’s brief, Abigail shares her family’s tragic story in hopes that other families will not experience similar heartache from harmful state policies. We hope that the Supreme Court agrees to hear this case and protects the right of parents to exercise their religious beliefs freely.