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Originally appeared at CatholicCourier.Com (Regional paper for Catholic Diocese of Roches

Lyons man stands up for beliefs

(Publication Date:  09-03-2008)

By Jennifer Burke/Catholic Courier
Lyons resident John Murtari has been standing up for what he believes in for years, but those actions recently made him a minor celebrity in his hometown.

Murtari is featured in "Support? System Down," a documentary recently produced and directed by actor Angelo Lobo. The film explores what Lobo sees as the flaws in America's child-support system. "Support" premiered in California this past spring, and the recently restored Ohmann Theater in Lyons hosted a special screening of the film Aug. 13.

In November 2006 Lobo visited Murtari in prison, where Murtari was serving a six-month sentence for failure to pay child support. Murtari claims he fell behind in his child-support payments because the payment amounts were calculated based on an income level he no longer had. What little extra money Murtari did have was usually spent traveling across the country to visit his son Domenic, he said.

"What am I supposed to do? I want to see my son," Murtari, who belongs to St. Michael Parish in Lyons, told the Catholic Courier. "He wasn't (physically or financially) hurting for anything, but he wanted Daddy."

Murtari refused food or water while imprisoned and instead received his nourishment through a feeding tube inserted through his nose. He did so not to harm himself, but to protest what he called an unjust family-court system that he felt had wrongly taken away his son and sent him to prison, all without a jury trial. Murtari also has been arrested several times for writing on the ground in chalk "I love you, Dom" and "Senator Clinton, help us" outside the Federal Building in Syracuse in an attempt to draw Sen. Hillary Clinton's attention to his proposed Family Rights Act.

"The idea is to get Congress to pass a Family Rights Act. Each state has different family law, and it's almost amazing to think that your relationship with your children could be governed differently in Alabama than here in New York," Murtari said.

Murtari, founder of the nonprofit organization A Kids Right, has a draft of the proposed act on the organization's Web site, The organization's members believe all parents should be presumed fit and equal parents unless the government can prove through a jury trial that they are a demonstrated threat to their children, and have demonstrated that with harmful intent. Only then should the government interfere with a parent's right to raise his or her child, according to the organization and the proposed legislation.

"John Murtari is a voice for the many non-custodial parents who wanted to share their children equally. People will see why he not only went on a hunger strike for change, but also continues to peacefully protest for the rights of children to have both parents," Lobo said in a statement.

Murtari, who hadn't seen the movie before the Aug. 13 screening, said he was pleased with the way Lobo told his story and the way the film educated people unfamiliar with the child-support and family-court systems.

"It's always weird seeing yourself (on film)," Murtari said. "What really got me was the people from town who were there and said, 'Wow, I never knew (about the system)."

Murtari said he himself had never known much about the child-support and family-court systems before his divorce, even though he'd always considered himself a politically aware man. When his ex-wife decided to move across the country with their 5-year-old son, however, he said the "gut-wrenching" experience inspired him to learn more about the system and how he might change it. He drew inspiration from the Gospels and from reading about the lives of St. Francis of Assisi, Martin Luther King Jr. and Mahatma Gandhi.

Inspired by what these men were able to do through simple faith and nonviolent action, Murtari decided to follow their examples.

"Nonviolent action doesn't mean writing letters. It's voluntary, loving self-sacrifice to show how deeply you believe in your cause," Murtari said.

His nonviolent actions have landed him in jail more than once, but Murtari said he's seen some fruits from his labor. Once-hostile law-enforcement officers and court officials have begun treating him with respect, and he's full of hope that his actions can make a difference for families throughout the nation.

"I could have easily descended into that bitterness and helplessness. Once I started taking these actions I felt better," Murtari said. "With faith you can lose that bitterness. When you're using that faith and sacrificing to make things better for others, you're going to feel better."

EDITOR'S NOTE: To learn more about "Support? System Down," visit the film's Web site at