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March 19, 2007: A Georgia mother has acquired over $70,000 in legal costs in her ongoing struggle to regain custody of her son, after the child was taken away from her based on her religious beliefs.
Rachel 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. In December of 2005, she became involved in a legal dispute regarding custody of her ten-year-old son, though she and the father of the boy had never been married. Rachel had raised her son with her husband, Steve Bevilacqua, 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. 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.
Rachel'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."
Rachel'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.
The boy's father, Jeff Jary, was represented pro-bono by a personal friend. The ongoing court case saw numerous delaying tactics by Jary's lawyer, which resulted in the case being extended for the remainder of 2006, and over $70,000 in legal costs to Rachel Bevilacqua.
Following the word of this case being spread on the Internet, Judge Punch recused himself without comment. The case was re-assigned to Judge Eric R. Adams of Batavia, New York. In December of 2006, after months of delays, Judge Adams awarded custody of the child to Rachel Bevilacqua. However, Jeff Jary's lawyer filed an emergency stay order, requiring the case to go to an appellate court. The case is expected to continue in June of 2007.
Rachel Bevilacqua's associates have begun a Web-based fundraiser to allow interested persons to donate to her legal fund. Since the site's foundation on March 10, 2007, over $3,400 has been raised for her legal costs. However, there is a long way to go, and additional donations are being sought.
For further information:
Fund-raiser for Rachel Bevilacqua's legal fund:
Court transcript of February 3, 2006 custody hearing:
Court transcript of January 5, 2007 judicial decision:
Summary of the court case:
Church of the SubGenius Web site: