A North Carolina woman is fighting back after a judge told her to "button up" and booted her from the courtroom upon seeing her breastfeeding her infant son during a custody hearing.
Monday's hearing focused on the battle between Stephanie Rhodus and her mother over who is the legal guardian of Rhodus' 8-year-old son. However, presiding judge Peter Knight took exception to Rhodus nursing her 8-month-old baby Archer and kicked her out.
"Ma'am you need to cover up. For you not to realize that is absolutely ridiculous," Knight scolded Rhodus, according to a recording of the exchange. "Step outside and cover up right now. Stand up and go, now."
As the baby continued to squall, Knight continued to admonish Rhodus, calling the public nursing "absolutely ridiculous" before asking her to cover-up and leave the court.
"I'm fine with having a child (in the courtroom) if you don't have other arrangements made; that's certainly going to happen," Knight said. "But to nurse the child in the courtroom is just absolutely inappropriate. Now step outside and button up, or whatever you need to do to button up. Are you going to be able to stay buttoned up?"
For her part, Rhodus says that she never covers her son with a blanket when she breast feeds, as he doesn't tolerate having his face covered. However, what really got to her was the fact that the judge was upset over the breastfeeding to begin with. She noted that he didn't have anything to say about the baby crying, or simply being there- his issues was the breastfeeding.
The issue at play here is that since the judge allowed both her and her son to be in the courtroom, breastfeeding in the courtroom is permissible by law. Granted, judges do have the ability to regulate decorum and appearance in their courtrooms, but that ability can never supersede state law.
In this case, the North Carolina statute which also covers indecent exposure, states, "Notwithstanding any other provision of law, a woman may breast feed in any public or private location where she is otherwise authorized to be, irrespective of whether the nipple of the mother's breast is uncovered during or incidental to the breast feeding."
Even with the law technically on her side, Rhodus did as she was ordered and her infant son could soon be heard wailing in the court recordings after she stops nursing him.
Rhodus ultimately lost the custody case, with Knight giving her a protective order that deprived her of seeing her 8-year-old son for six months, a decision that she feels was influenced by the nursing incident.
"He had no interest in what i was telling him," Rhodus said.
Rhodus is due back in court on April 19, and she will be a little more defiant this time around, planning to bring her baby along with her.