KRQE News

A non-religious woman lost custody of her sons after stopping court-mandated sessions with a Christian counselor.

According to Raw Story, Holly Salzman of Albuquerque, N.M., sought assistance with co-parenting her 11-year-old twin sons from her ex-husband. A family court judge ordered her to attend 10 counseling sessions with Mary Pepper. Salzman says that in her first session with Pepper, the counselor began praying, which Salzman objected to. Pepper replied, "Well, this is what I do."

After a second session where Pepper talked frequently about God, Salzman asked the court to assign her to a different counselor. When the courts did not respond to her request, she stopped seeing Pepper and lost custody of her sons.

Pepper told KRQE News that she pivots between offering religious-based and secular-based counseling depending on the customer.

Left with no option other than to finish out the sessions, Salzman returned to Pepper, but with a sting operation in mind: she secretly recorded their meetings and turned them over to the media, via Boing Boing:

“The meaning in my life is to know love and serve God,” Pepper told Salzman at one session. “If you want to explore how God was in your past, how God was in your life and not in your life… I know you don’t believe in God which is fine but I know at some points he was in your life in some way.”

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Salzman says Pepper gave her religous-themed homework, like writing about her relationship with God, as well as pamphlets inscribed with Psalms and other Biblical writings.

KRQE News found that Pepper was also illegally using public libraries to meet with her clients in order to "keep [her] costs down." The city of Albuquerque does not allow for the sale of products or services on library property.

Salzman alleges that Pepper knows about this statute and the clients book rooms in their names while paying her in cash.

“She had actually explained to me that you need to be discrete about it because I’m not allowed to exchange money in the public library. So I had to kind of hide the money and then literally pass the money under the table,” Salzman said.

Pepper wouldn’t tell KRQE News 13 about the cash payments.

“I think that this interview needs to be ended,” she said.

Peter Simonson, ACLU executive director said, “No one should be put in a position where they are forced to accept training or therapy that violates their own religious beliefs and morals.”

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As for Salzman, she completed her counseling and regained custody of her sons.

“I got a certificate and I kicked my heels on the way out,” she said.

[H/T Boing Boing]

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