Zummo v. Zummo
574 A.2d 1130 (Penn. 1990)

Facts:

  • Pamela S. Zummo (Jewish) and David S. Zummo (Catholic) were married and had three kids, Adam, Rachael, and Daniel.
    • Prior to getting married, they agreed that the kids would be raised in the Jewish faith.
    • During the marriage, this is what happened.
    • After they separated, however, David refused to take Adam to Saturday services as well as Sunday School, which were part of his Bar Mitzvah training, and also wanted to occasionally take the kids to Catholic services.
    • Pamela was against this.

History:
The trial court prohibited David from taking his kids to Catholic services and required that he take Adam to his Jewish Sunday School.

Issues:
(1) Whether an order prohibiting a father from taking his children to religious services contrary to the Jewish faith during periods of lawful custody or visitation violated the father’s constitutional rights.
(2) Whether the father may be directed to present the children at Synagogue for Sunday School during his periods of weekend visitation.

Holdings:
(1) Yes.
(2) Yes.

Reasoning:

(1) “We hold that in order to justify restrictions upon parent’s rights to inculcate religious beliefs in their children, the party seeking the restriction must demonstrate by competent evidence that the belief or practice of the party to be restricted actually presents a substantial threat of present or future physical or emotional harm to the particular child or children involved in absence of the proposed restriction, and that the restriction is the least intrusive means adequate to prevent the specified harm.”

  • Each parent must be free to provide religious exposure and instruction as that parent sees fit, during any period of legal custody or visitation.

(2) Again, both parents have rights to inculcate religious beliefs in their children, and courts emphasize “benign neutrality” in this regard.

  • Here, adequate accommodation was made:
    • The Saturday religion classes desired by the mother will be made up on weeknights; and
    • Pamela was willing to allow the David reasonable weeknight visitation to compensate for the portion of Sunday taken up by Sunday School.

Rule: Both parents have rights to inculcate religious beliefs in their children.
Rule: In order to justify restrictions upon parent’s rights to inculcate religious beliefs in their children, the party seeking the restriction must demonstrate by competent evidence a substantial threat of present or future physical or emotional harm to the particular child or children involved in absence of the proposed restriction, and that the restriction is the least intrusive means adequate to prevent the specified harm.”

Side Note About Pre-Divorce Religious Training Agreements:

Several persuasive grounds upon which to deny legal effect to such agreements:

  1. Such agreements are generally too vague to demonstrate a meeting of minds, or to provide an adequate basis for objective enforcement;
  2. Enforcement of such an agreement would promote a particular religion, serve little or no secular purpose, and would excessively entangle the courts in religious matters; and
  3. Enforcement would be contrary to a public policy embodied in the First Amendment Establishment and Free Exercise Clauses (as well as their state equivalents) that parents be free to doubt, question, and change their beliefs, and that they be free to instruct their children in accordance with those beliefs.