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Excerpts from chapters from Understanding The Scarlet Letter:

Excerpts from chapters from Understanding The Scarlet Letter: A Student Casebook to Issues, Sources, and Historical Documents by Claudia Durst Johnson (courtesy of Greenwood Press)

In "Issues in the 1980's and 1990's," (pp. 200-202) Johnson also cites several recent custody cases that show how today's courts still decide on who is the most fit custodian of a child.
"Another highly publicized case involving rights of adoptive and biological parents occurred in the 1990s when it was discovered that two babies had been switched at birth twelve years before. One of the children had died, and tests had revealed that she was not the biological child of the parents who had raised her. The parents then sought custody of their biological daughter, who had been raised by another couple, the biological parents of the girl who had died. After much ill-feeling, the biological parents and the widowed man who had reared her received joint custody. But the daughter, unhappy with the joint custody arrangement, took her biological parents to court to 'divorce' them. After hearing her testimony, the court agreed to grant her wish. In another strange turn of events, only a few months later, the daughter appealed to the court for permission to leave the father who had reared her to live with her biological parents.

A divorced parent frequently challenges the custody of an ex-partner on a variety of grounds, none of which have much to do with 'abuse' or 'fitness.' Less frequently, either an ex-spouse or an agency of the state has challenged the continuance of a child with a parent for reasons of religion or sexual preference. For example, in a number of instances, homosexuals have been challenged as fit parents of their biological children.

Challenges on religious grounds in the late twentieth century usually involve children living with one biological parent in a religious cult where some kind of abuse may be taking place. One such instance occurred in the Branch Davidian religious cult in Waco, Texas, where the parents of very young girls were collaborating in the sexual abuse of their daughters by the cult leader.

A case that addresses several issues in The Scarlet Letter, custody included, was reported in the May 15, 1994, Boston Globe. Here the biological father pled for custody of his children, who were being reared by their mother in a religious cult. Other issues pertinent to the novel that arose in this case included administering corporal punishment and the refusal of the sect to allow the children to use their imaginations.

The father's objections were that the children were being subjected to brutal corporal punishment and were being refused a standard general education. They were being educated only for menial jobs within the church's industries.

The mother and the church, on the other hand, argued that she has been denied custody of some of their children because of a bias against her religion, which teaches that children as young as six months old should be struck with a switch to instill obedience, and which forbids the children experiences the church finds harmful, like the use of the imagination. The court eventually found in favor of the father, allowing the mother visitation rights outside the cult" (200-202).

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