For Immediate Release

Fatherhood Coalition task SJC to address Restraining Order law

Petition requests release of Harry Stewart and constitutional review of state law ch.209A

BOSTON, September 13, 1999—Coming on the heels of a federal lawsuit filed against the state's trial judges for discrimination against men in domestic relations law, the Fatherhood Coalition has now brought the specific issue of the restraining order law (209a) to the state's highest court.

The Petition for the Supreme Judicial Court was delivered last week to the chairmen of the Judiciary Committee, Sen. Robert Creedon and Rep. David Donnelly, and to Governor Cellucci. The State Constitution empowers both the Governor and the Legislature to solicit opinions of the state's highest court "upon important questions of law, and upon solemn occasions."


"Both Family Court practices and the restraining order laws need to incorporate the highest level of due process afforded when such fundamental rights as the care and companionship of one's children, liberty, and property rights, are so profoundly at risk. Abuse, prejudice, and outright persecution is rampant; and these matters scream out with constitutional violations of the highest and most severe form."

"... it is an intolerable condition that an innocent, law-abiding man and loving father can be charged with the commission of a crime, tried, and jailed under color of law for opening a foyer door to assist his son while exercising visitation. These "crimes" only exist to punish non-custodial fathers. This is thoroughly alien to any rational interpretation of what constitutes a free society."

In the cover letters delivered with the petition, the Fatherhood Coalition claim:

"The gross and egregious abuses of justice that have fallen on the people of Massachusetts resulting from M.G.L.Ch.209A must be brought to an end now. Attached is an emergency petition to the Supreme Judicial Court requesting an immediate constitutional review of 209A and the immediate release of Harry Stewart."

The three-page Emergency Petition lists two requests:

  1. Suspend M.G.L. c209a, Abuse Prevention, pending judicial and public review, or declare it unconstitutional and void.
  2. Set aside the June 21, 1999 conviction in Quincy District Court of Massachusetts of decent citizen Reverend Harry J. Stewart for violation of restraining order absent any charge of abuse, when he acted responsibly and in the best interest of his child.

Petition requests immediate release of Harry Stewart

Harry Stewart is the Weymouth lay minister and father of two boys who is currently serving a 6-month sentence at the Norfolk House of Correction for getting out of his car to assist his 5-year-old son return home to his mother following a court-ordered visit. The provisions of the 209A abuse prevention order held by his wife constrained Stewart from leaving his car at visitation pickup-dropoffs.


  • State of mind of the victim is sufficient to establish criminal liability for "offender"

The "abuse" definition includes "Placing another in fear of imminent serious physical harm." No proof is required that one is "in fear." Thus, the state of mind of the victim is sufficient to obtain a 209A order. How do you argue that someone is not afraid of you?

  • Abuse protection orders are fraudulently used as strategic tools

Restraining orders in divorce and custody battles are regarded as just another cost of doing business for men in Massachusetts. Harry Stewart has never even been charged with domestic violence, yet his wife's mere claim that she is "afraid of him" is sufficient to trigger a 209A order stripping him of his liberty and his parental rights.

  • Open-ended definition of "violation" lumps the innocent with truly violent offenders

No distinction is made between violations that endanger the "abused" and mere technical violations, such as attempting to speak to one's children on the phone. All of Harry Stewart's alleged violations are for these kinds of violations. There is also no distinction made between intentional, accidental, and contrived violations. Men are prosecuted for accidental contact, such as in a chance meeting in a shopping mall, as well as contact deliberately contrived by the "victim."

  • Domestic Violence paradigm is a black box: Only women can be victims

Domestic violence prevention is a one-size-fits-all black box. The outcome is always the same: woman victim, man perpetrator. In 1997, Stewart was featured on a Channel 7 News report on battered husbands. For 12 years, Stewart claims he was repeatedly assaulted and terrorized by his ex-wife. Though she once assaulted him with a knife, she is considered the victim.

  • Fraudulent 209A orders actually enable violent women

Rather than receiving treatment for her violent behavior, Stewart's wife has been treated as a victim of domestic violence. She has been given the confusing message that even though she is violent, she is a still a victim.

The Stewart case has received nationwide attention. In recent weeks, Coalition spokespeople have appeared on many radio programs heard in all 50 states, as well as network television newscasts. More television coverage is in the works as the Stewart case has ignited a firestorm of controversy over the use of restraining orders as tactical legal weapons in divorce.

The FREE HARRY campaign has opened up the discussion on domestic violence, which heretofore has been dominated by the domestic violence industry, who unilaterally deny the fraudulent use of protection orders and minimize female-on-male domestic violence.

The petition asserts that the abuse prevention law, originally drafted in 1979 but which has grown ever more punitive since, is unconstitutional as written because it does not require any substantive proof of malicious intent or criminal behavior on the part of the "abuser." It then deprives the defendant of substantive rights outlined in the Bill of Rights and the Massachusetts Constitution, and imposes a condition of prior restraint.

The petition claims that the essence and operation of 209A affords an alleged "victim" to define herself abused simply by her own assertion of her state of mind, independent of any malicious and criminal actions of her "abuser." Operation of the law then results in the immediate deprivation of the alleged abuser's substantive and protected constitutional rights without substantive due process.


For information on the petition, contact:

Mark Charalambous

CPF Spokesman

John Flaherty

CPF Co-Chairman

Also, for more info on Harry Stewart:

Phyllis Field, Esq.

(Stewart's attorney)




CPF - The Fatherhood Coalition

A non-profit, all volunteer organization of men and women advocating for fatherhood since 1994

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