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A father can teach his minor child about polygamy against the mother’s wishes because any harm it might create does not supersede his right to the free exercise of religion, the Pennsylvania Supreme Court said in a 5-1 opinion. However, the court added that some instances could result in the opposite ruling. In Shepp v. Shepp, the father of a then 9-year-old girl whose parents were divorced, argued that the Supreme Court should overturn the Superior Court’s ruling that the father was prohibited from teaching polygamy to his daughter because there was no proof that it would cause her “substantial” or “grave” harm even though the practice of polygamy is illegal. “[W]e conclude that a court may prohibit a parent from advocating religious beliefs, which, if acted upon, would constitute a crime,” Justice Sandra Schultz Newman said for the majority. “However, pursuant to Yoder, it may do so only where it is established that advocating the prohibited conduct would jeopardize the physical or mental health or safety of the child, or have a potential for significant social burdens.” The 1972 U.S. Supreme Court case Wisconsin v. Yoder, held that the convictions of Amish parents for violating laws regarding compulsory school attendance were invalid pursuant to the First Amendment. Newman said there was no harm to the child established in this case, and, therefore, no constitutional basis for the York County trial court’s order limiting Stanley M. Shepp’s speech. She said Yoder requires the court to consider only those interests that are “of the highest order” in determining whether free exercise of religion should become secondary. “[I]t is clear that the commonwealth’s interest in promoting compliance with the statute criminalizing bigamy is not an interest of the �highest order’ that would supersede the interest of a parent in speaking to a child about a deeply held aspect of his faith,” Newman said.

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