Father loses appeal against terms of contact order

A divorced dad has been ordered by the court to take his children to mass at Christmas, in a case that has caused considerable controversy.

The man, who is identified only as ‘Steve’ due to reporting conditions, was warned by Judge James Orrell that he could be in contempt of court if he does not abide by the terms of the contact order.

Steve, an atheist, was baffled by the requirement, arguing that his Catholic ex-wife had made no such request.

“It’s all very bizarre,” the 51-year-old told the Daily Telegraph. “This aspect of the contact order was not requested by the other side in the case.

“What I think is really concerning is that it does not allow me or my children any freedom of religious expression. My oldest son, who is now 10, has already expressed a clear lack of belief but legally I am required to take him to Roman Catholic mass at Christmas.

“Because my contact arrangements now give me the children on some weekends, I am concerned that I will now also be required to take them to mass on Sundays when they are with me, even though that is not part of the original order.”

Following the county court ruling, Steve had appealed to both the Court of Appeal and High Court, arguing that such a strict condition violated the European Convention on Human Rights.

But despite previous advice from Sir James Munby, head of the family division, that courts should remain neutral when it came to religious matters, attempts to alter the terms of the contact order have so far been unsuccessful.