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JIPS order was supported by sufficient evidence and doesn’t violate parents’ religious rights

State v. Ester M. and Alexander M., 2014AP1621, District 1, 12/16/14 (1-judge decision; ineligible for publication); case activity

The circuit court’s order finding Soreh M. to be a juvenile in need of protection or services  evidence is supported by sufficient and doesn’t impinge on the right to religious freedom of her parents, Ester M. and Alexander M. In addition, the circuit court had the statutory authority to order conditions for the parents to complete before the court would consider placing Soreh M. in their home again.

Both the State and the parents themselves brought CHIPS petitions alleging Soreh was in need of protection or services after she ran away from, and refused to return to, her parents’ home. Soreh was placed in foster care, and at the dispositional hearing on the petitions the parents conceded Soreh should be placed outside their home but opposed continued placement in her current foster home. The court concluded she should remain in her foster home and ordered conditions for the parents to meet before Soreh could return to their home. (¶¶2-12).

The court of appeals concludes “the record provides ample evidence to support the trial court’s decision” (¶24), given that “it was the parents who requested that the trial court assume jurisdiction because Soreh M. had run away from boarding school and was allegedly ‘uncontrollable’” (id.), the numerous court and psychological reports and other documents in the record, “the contents of which were not disputed at the hearing and are not disputed on appeal” (¶25), and the testimony of the witnesses at the dispostional hearing (¶26).

The court of appeals also rejects the parents’ argument that the JIPS order prohibits them from raising Soreh according to their religious values:

¶30     …. As explained in more detail above, the record shows very clearly that this case is not about religion, but instead concerns whether Soreh’s continuing to live with her biological parents is contrary to her best interest. See Wis. Stat. § 938.355(2)(b)6. In concluding as much, the court considered the emotional and physical abuse inflicted by the parents, domestic violence against the mother, the complete breakdown in relations between the parents and the juvenile—including the fact that Soreh M. refused to even visit her parents out of fear of abuse—and the parents’ failure to cooperate with obtaining medical and psychological services that experts found necessary. The trial court’s decision was supported by sufficient evidence, was well‑reasoned, and in no way impinged on the parents’ religious freedom.

Finally, the parents’ argument that the circuit court may order conditions of return only when the child is placed back in the home is unsupported by, or even contrary to, the language and purposes of the relevant statutes, in particular §§ 938.34(2)(b), 938.345, 938.356, and 938.45(1m)(a). (¶¶14-21).

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