An Albuquerque, New Mexico mother was ordered by a judge to attend sessions with a Christian counselor or face contempt of court charges and lose custody of her children. However, when the counselor’s practices were put under scrutiny, several serious problems became apparent.
According to KRQE Channel 13, Holly Salzman sought court aid in coparenting her 11-year-old sons with their father, from whom she is divorced. The judge ordered a set of 10 sessions with counselor Mary Pepper.
Salzman says that she assumed Pepper would be a regular couples and family counseling therapist, but “I walked into the session and the very first thing she said to me was, ‘I start my sessions by praying,’” Salzman said. “When I expressed my concerns that I didn’t pray she said, ‘well this is what I do’ and she proceeded to say a prayer out loud.”
Because the sessions are court mandated, Salzman said, “You don’t have a choice. You do it or you’re held in contempt of court.”
Salzman said that she feels that for the court to order her to a Christian counselor is a violation of the separation of church and state. After the first session, she contacted Family Court and left a message expressing her concerns. She never heard anything back.
At her second session, Pepper opened with a prayer again.
“We went back to court. I expressed concerns again about the religious overtones and they stated they hadn’t heard any problems concerning Mary Pepper with religion,” Salzman told Channel 13.
She was, she says, so “offended and disgusted” that she stopped attending the courses altogether, at which point the court intervened and took away her sons.
“It’s probably the worst thing I’ve ever been through in my life,” she said.
In order to regain custody of the boys, Salzman would have to complete the sessions. Channel 13 and Salzman worked together to covertly record three of the final sessions with Pepper.
“The meaning in my life is to know love and serve God,” Pepper told Salzman in one of the recorded meetings. “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.”
Pepper frequently handed Salzman religious tracts and gave Salzman a “homework” assignment, to write an essay titled “Who is God to me?”