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Protection from Abuse Order Survives Religious Challenge

On Behalf of | Aug 30, 2021 | Firm News |

Written By:  Robert L. Buzzendore, Esquire

On August 2, 2021, in Kaur v. Singh, the Superior Court denied Mr. Singh’s request to have the protection from abuse (“PFA”) order against him declared void for infringing his religious rights. The order restricted him from attending worship services at a temple he had attended.  The Superior Court disagreed, and it upheld the order.

The protection from abuse law is intended to provide protection to an abused adult or child.  It is a civil proceeding and the person requesting protection must prove his or her case by a preponderance of the evidence. This is an important point because it is not a criminal proceeding where the burden of proof is beyond a reasonable doubt.

The law provides broad remedies including:

  1. directing defendant to refrain from abusing the plaintiff
    or minor children;
  2. evicting defendant from the home.
  3. awarding temporary custody of minor children.
  4. directing defendant to pay financial support;
  5. restraining defendant from entering the place of
    employment or business or school of the plaintiff or
    minor children;
  6. prohibiting defendant from acquiring or possessing any
    firearm and directing defendant to relinquish any
  7. directing defendant to pay the victim’s ‘reasonable
    losses suffered as a result of the abuse, including
    medical, dental, relocation, moving expenses and
    counseling; and,
  8. directing defendant to refrain from stalking or
    harassing the plaintiff and other persons.

An order may be entered for up to 3 years and it may be extended under certain circumstances.  If one satisfies the conditions, there is no limit on the number of extensions. Besides the legal remedies, a PFA order may affect job clearances, custody and other matters.

Mr. Singh’s former wife filed a PFA petition against him claiming he had threatened her and her son at the Nazareth temple which she attended.  Singh denied the allegations.  He claimed he attended Nazareth temple, since 2005, and another temple. He lived about 45 minutes away from each temple, but he attended Nazareth temple because it was close to an Indian grocery store.

The trial court granted the PFA.  As part of the order, the court excluded Singh from attending Nazareth Temple on Sundays when former wife was present.

Singh appealed the order arguing it infringed on his federal and state rights to practice his religion and peacefully assemble.  He stated the order should have either allowed him to attend the temple on Sunday and directed each party to stay away from the other, or it should have provided a set schedule for each to be at the temple.

The Superior Court disagreed.  It noted the PFA order did not substantially burden his ability to practice his religion, and it did not compel him to act against his religion.  Singh could attend services at another temple or he could attend Nazareth on days other than Sunday. The order only prevented him attending a specific temple on a specific day to ensure his ex-wife’s safety.  The Superior Court concluded the PFA Order did not implicate or violate his constitutional rights.

A PFA order may lawfully restrict a person in various matters.  A violation of a PFA order is a criminal offense and it usually results in a fine and jail time.

The best courses of action are to avoid situations which a person knows may have the potential to deteriorate when in the presence of the other person, or leave situations when the other person becomes belligerent, angry or combative.  A person should keep a contemporaneous diary of events which may assist at a PFA hearing and if necessary, call the police.

In sum, a PFA order is unlikely to be struck based on constitutional reasons.

© Copyright by Hoffmeyer & Semmelman LLC,  September 2021