Catholic Parents Sue for Right to Mistreat Transgender Child Based on Religious Belief

Jeremy and Mary Cox

Once again, Catholics are central in U.S. court cases which could be detrimental to LGBTQ+ people and their rights. Two parents have appealed to the country’s Supreme Court to defend what they claim is a right to misgender their transgender child.

Mary and Jeremy Cox, a Catholic couple in Indiana, sued the state’s Department of Child Services after it investigated the couple and then removed their teenage child, know in court filings as “A.C.” The Coxes claim their child was removed because the parents refused to support A.C.’s identity as a transgender girl. But the state’s attorney general explained otherwise. Daily Mail reported:

“The Coxes refused to refer to the child with their preferred name and pronouns, citing their religious beliefs in immutable sex.

“The DCS [Department of Child Services] received allegations that the child’s physical and mental condition was endangered by her parents who were not referring to her by her preferred pronouns. Reports of alleged verbal and emotional abuse over the teen’s gender identity were filed. They are allegations the Coxes deny.

“The Indiana Attorney General’s Office argued the conflict over the child’s gender identity was not why the state took her away from her parents.

“‘Rather, petitioners’ child was removed because the child had a severe eating disorder that petitioners had not been able to effectively address for two years, that jeopardized the child’s brain and bone health,’ the attorney general’s office argued.”

After their child was placed in a safe home with the state agency, the Coxes sued. They have since lost their case in trial court and the Court of Appeals (details here). According to Church Leaders, the appeals court’s argument focused on the extreme circumstances of this case:

“Upon appeal, the Indiana Court of Appeals admitted that a parent-child disagreement usually doesn’t warrant a child’s removal. But ‘this is an extreme case where Child has reacted to a disagreement with the Parents’ in such a way that ‘seriously endangers Child’s physical, emotional, and mental well-being.”

“Although the DCS eventually dropped the abuse allegations, A.C. was never returned to the Cox home. The Indiana Court of Appeals ruled that the couple’s rights weren’t violated, because although they ‘have the right to exercise their religious beliefs…they do not have the right to exercise them in a manner that causes physical or emotional harm’ to their child.”

A.C. is now over 18, rendering the case moot in the eyes of Indiana’s attorneys. But the Coxes want the Supreme Court to end what they refer to as a “nightmare.” No word yet if the court will take up the case, though it has not been inclined to interfere in cases related to gender identity of late.

Like many anti-LGBTQ+ legal efforts, the Coxes are funded and represented in this case by the right wing group Becket. Their lawsuit is part of a larger effort to curtail LGBTQ+ rights, including those of most vulnerable youth, on the basis of extreme religious liberty claims. Indeed, if Becket and its partners were fully empowered, it might be a world where “religious belief” made almost any act legal.

What is tragic for the majority of Catholics who support LGBTQ+ equality and civil protection is that far too often, it is our fellow faithful who are the plaintiffs seeking to impose forms of Christian nationalism. This was true in recent Supreme Court cases like Catholic Social Services v. City of Philadelphia and Our Lady of Guadalupe School v. Morrissey-Berru. In doing so, these Catholics abandon the church’s tradition supporting and encouraging non-discrimination protections and human rights. Hopefully, the lower courts’ rulings in the Coxes’ case will stand. Nonetheless, Catholic LGBTQ+ advocates must keep working to temper our fellow faithful who wish to negatively impact others’ rights.

Robert Shine (he/him), New Ways Ministry, February 28, 2024

3 replies
  1. Mary Cullen
    Mary Cullen says:

    Then you look at Texas going after a Catholic non profit for aiding migrants. I guess you can only have religious beliefs that align with a particular system and those beliefs are exclusionary and hurtful instead of loving and helpful.

  2. Jennifer Belanger
    Jennifer Belanger says:

    You don’t get to abuse your child and then claim the 1st amendment. It doesn’t work that way. Verbal abuse, IS abuse. Mental abuse IS abuse. It’s worse than physical abuse. The state was right in taking the child.


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