Georgia mother loses child custody over humorous religion

Sunday, March 26, 2006

Rev. Mary Magdalen (Rachel Bevilacqua) of the Church of the SubGenius, a postmodern or parody religion, lost custody of her child in February of 2006, seemingly due to her involvement with the church. Church members are touting the judge's response to her involvement with the church together with his decision as religious discrimination, and the ACLU is examining the situation.

Judge James Punch (Orleans County) allegedly denied custody of the child her son out of anger, after seeing videos of Rev. Magdalen in a bondage "dress" and papier maché goat’s head at the church's X-Day celebration and performance art piece. Judge Punch repeatedly asked, "Why a goat? What’s so significant about a goat’s head?" When Rev. Magdalen replied, "I just thought the word 'goat' was funny," the court then pressed her to explain how her actions were funny, finally concluding with the statement, "Obviously there's nothing funny in those pictures."

According to Rev. Magdalen, the judge reportedly lost his temper and shouted at her, calling her a "pervert," "mentally ill," "lying," and a participant in "sex orgies." Proponents of her case have been working to make the actual transcript of this statement available online.

Judge Punch ordered that Rev. Magdalen is to have absolutely no further contact with her son, not even in writing, after February 3, 2006. On March 9th, the judge issued a verbal order stating that Rev. Magdalen was to cease all communication on the Internet regarding her son, thereby preventing her from posting transcripts of the actual court proceedings (however, a transcript of her own testimony was made available on March 26th).

Rev. Magdalen has been a major figure in the Church of the SubGenius since 1997 when she and her son moved to Dallas, Texas to be with her fiancé Rev . Jesus (Steve Bevilacqua) and help keep the for-profit church afloat. The church members traditionally consider the for-profit arm to have "religious significance", due in part to the church's intentional parody of Scientology and New Age religions, and the church declares itself to be "the only religion that is proud to pay its taxes." The Bevilacquas relocated to Columbus in 2004.

Religions or deities engaging in satire, such as the Church of the SubGenius, Discordianism, the Invisible Pink Unicorn, and the Flying Spaghetti Monster, have become significantly more widespread through the internet. However, the Church of the SubGenius is relatively old, dating to 1979, and gained much of its current popularity through its published books, including the Book of the SubGenius, and its Hour of Slack radio program. Discordianism is even older, dating to 1958 or 1959, and has strongly influenced modern non-satirical neopagan religions. Such religions are now generally termed "postmodern" instead of "parody", as their followers frequently insist the religion is as real and valid as any other religion, but often accept the postmodernist critique of religious metanarratives.

Rev. Magdalen's case has been profiled on a number of popular blogs and Internet sites, including Boing Boing and Fark.

Following the word of this case being spread on the Internet, Judge Punch recused himself without comment. The case is being re-assigned to another judge, and Rev. Magdalen will return to court next month.

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