New York custody case sparks debate over parody religion

From: First Online Church of Bob
Published: Sat Apr 08 2006

A parental custody case in upper New York state has exploded into an Internet debate over freedom of expression and the influence of religion on the United States legal system.

Rachel Bevilacqua had raised her son and exercised custody from birth, with the father of the child retaining visitation rights. As with many separated couples, this agreement had been followed by each parent, until the father took steps to request sole custody of the child in December of 2005. Domestic custody battles take place daily in the court system, but this case took a turn into strange territory on February 3, 2006, when Rachel Bevilacqua's chosen religion was introduced in the court room.

Bevilacqua is a high-ranking member of the Church of the SubGenius, known far and wide as a "parody religion" that engages in satire, performance art, and comedy in a manner widely seen as a spoof of dangerous religious cults. Her son's father introduced photos of her performing at the annual SubGenius "X-Day" festival, including participation in an unquestionably adult-oriented parody of Mel Gibson's blockbuster movie "The Passion of the Christ." In the SubGenius parody, Jesus Christ is dressed in clown makeup and carrying a cross fashioned in the shape of a dollar sign, while dozens of members of the Church of the SubGenius beat him with sexual toys and objects. This performance was enough to outrage Judge James Punch (Orleans, NY), who subsequently removed custody of Bevilacqua's son and ordered sole custody to be granted to the father.

Bevilacqua's case soon reached the Internet, where it became a rallying cry for advocates in favor of free expression and free speech. Such popular online sites as Boing Boing and Fark spread the word far and wide, casting Bevilacqua as a victim of a legal system that apparently failed to recognize the right to engage in parody, and of a judge who, as quoted in a famous SubGenius slogan, "couldn't take a joke."

Bevilacqua's son has never attended any SubGenius events, which are often adults-only and frequently encourage participants to engage in activities considered offensive and blasphemous to many religious beliefs.

Following the word of this case being spread on the Internet, Judge Punch recused himself without comment. The case is being re-assigned to another judge, and Bevilacqua will return to court in the later part of April.

For further information:

Rachel Bevilacqua's blog:

Court transcript of February 3, 2006 custody hearing:

Summary of the court case:

Boing Boing:


Church of the SubGenius Web site:
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