Court Drops Counselor Accused Of Inserting God Into Co-Parenting Classes

An Albuquerque woman said she was required to pray during the court-ordered sessions.

A state trial court in Albuquerque, New Mexico, ended its relationship this week with a mediation provider who allegedly required single mother Holly Salzman to participate in prayer and religious assignments as part of court-ordered family counseling.

Albuquerque news station KRQE first reported the split, and The Huffington Post confirmed the news with Salzman. A court spokesman did not immediately return a request for comment.

The New Mexico Second District Court's decision to terminate ties with counseling provider Mary Pepper comes after KRQE reported last week on Salzman's troubled experience with her. 

Salzman, who is engaged in a custody dispute over her 11-year-old twins, was directed by the court to begin taking classes with Pepper in November. She said she was surprised to find the counselor incorporating religious handouts, prayer and assignments of spiritual reflection into each session. Pepper chastised Salzman for her support for abortion access and often asked her what God would have her do in various situations, Salzman told The Huffington Post.

Pepper insisted to KRQE that she provides a "secular program" if people aren't "open." 

Other concerns have been raised over the counselor's behavior. She met with Salzman in a public library to "keep down costs," Salzman said. But Albuquerque public libraries prohibit the sale of goods or services on their property. KRQE also notes that Pepper's business license expired in February. 

Peter Simonson of the American Civil Liberties Union of New Mexico urged the Second District Court to "investigate Ms. Peppers' counseling techniques" last week. In a letter to Chief Judge Nan G. Nash, he also called for review of other outside counselors who contract with the court.

Salzman had complained to the court after her second session with Pepper in December, but the court "brushed it under the rug," she said. When she stopped attending classes, the court held her in contempt and took away her children. Salzman still does not have full custody back. 

Court spokesman Tim Korte told KRQE that Salzman's case was an isolated incident.

"Our staff went back and reviewed the entire list of all the providers to make sure there are no providers requiring participants to go to religious-based counseling,” he said.

But Thomas Grover, Salzman's attorney, told The Huffington Post that since the case has received media coverage, multiple people who had taken Pepper's courses have contacted him to verify their religious nature. 

Salzman plans to file a lawsuit against Pepper before the end of the month.

"It still doesn't fix everything," she said. She now sees her sons every other weekend.