I’ve been really critical of religious homeschooling, not only because of the potential to mis-educate children, but because it opens the door to all kinds of abuse which is difficult to catch when the children are rarely, if ever exposed to people outside of their cult-like surroundings. This is one such case.
Jennyfer Deister was adopted by a very religious woman and educated within the home, completely cut off from the outside world. She was not allowed to interact with many other children and her mother, driven by her religious leader grandfather, pushed for more and more restrictive clothing and behavior as she got older. Jennyfer describes her swimsuit as being a one-piece, down to her knees, with sleeves. It comes across just one step this side of a Christian burka. However, as sad as that is, that’s not what places this story on Horror Show Thursday.
Jennyfer’s adopted parents sold her to a man for more than $25,000. According to Jennyfer, it might have been as much as $50,000, nobody knows for certain. She wanted nothing to do with this arranged marriage, she had met someone in her single semester at a highly Christian college but her mother and family did everything in their power to keep the two apart, even hiding Jennyfer’s birth certificate and passport. With no identification, she was unable to get a driver’s license, get a job or find an apartment of her own. When she and her then-fiance Tom Austin ran away, following her “liberation” of her vital documents, they could find no one to help them, everyone she knew was so religiously fundamentalist that when they got married at the Justice of the Peace, they had to hire a witness because nobody would stand up for them.
This is unfortunately nothing unusual in fundamentalist religious circles. I’m sure most people know the story of Alecia Pennington, the girl whose ultra-religious parents failed to register her birth or even legally acknowledge her existence. She has no birth certificate, she has no social security number, so far as the government is concerned, she isn’t even a citizen. She has absolutely no legal paper trail and her parents utterly refuse to help in any way. We simply don’t know how many other children may be in similar dire straits, held hostage by their hyper-religious parents and utterly unable to walk away because they have no legal identity of their own.
While Jennyfer and Tom are trying to start a life together, there is one glimmer of hope that I see. When asked about her religious beliefs, Jennyfer has said “‘The one thing I know is I am not a Christian.” Good for you, Jennyfer, good for you.