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Pray or They Take the Kids Away, Mom Says

ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. (CN) - A mother of 11-year-old twins claims her children were taken away after she objected to the religious overtones of a court-ordered parenting class.

Holly Salzman says in her lawsuit that was ordered to take co-parenting counseling offered by defendant company Healthy Relationships 101 and led by defendant Mary Pepper.

Salzman says that when she arrived at the first class, she was told that Pepper began each class with a prayer. Salzman explained that she doesn't believe in God and asked that religious content be excluded from the class sessions.

But according to the lawsuit filed this week in Bernalillo County Court, Pepper told Salzman that her class "[integrated] Christian treating and that she would not separate it from the classwork."

After Salzman attempted to contact the court clinic and request another, nonreligious parenting class but received no reply, she attended another class with Pepper, the lawsuit says.

Again the class opened with a prayer, and included explicitly Christian content in the classwork and ideas, according to the lawsuit.

Salzman stopped attending classes and was found in contempt of court for refusing to complete the parenting class. The court gave custody of Salzman's twin sons to her ex-husband, at which point Salzman completed Pepper's classes, the lawsuit says.

Salzman says that over the course of the classes, she was asked to write on topics such as "When did you feel most distant to God recently" and "How has your understanding of God changed throughout your life?" Salzman says that she was "forced to feign tolerance" of the religious content in order to regain custody of her sons.

After Salzman was interviewed by the media about her experience with Pepper and Healthy Relationships 101, the Second Judicial District Court terminated its relationship with Pepper and her company because of the religious content of the classes.

Neither party immediately returned requests for comment.

Salzman is suing Pepper and Healthy Relationships 101 for fraud, intentional misrepresentation and breach of contract. She seeks punitive damages and attorney's fees.

No government entity is a party in Salzman's lawsuit.

She is represented by Thomas R. Grover of Albuquerque.

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