From Persecution to Vindication: My Inspiration to Attend Law School—Part III

November 20, 2014

By: Joshua Valentine

Earlier this week I summarized just two of the custody cases that members of our church endured and the legal issues that arose from them.  Today, I will be giving a brief version of a federal civil rights action that our church brought in light of actions taken by Department of Social Services against our church.

Word of Faith Fellowship, Inc. v. Rutherford County Dept. of Social Services

In response to the falsified claims made by Mother (see Part II) and other disgruntled former members, employees of the DSS began unconstitutional “investigations” of WFF and its members.  These investigations included threats to remove all the children in the church, attacks against the children’s religious convictions, threats to close the doors of WFF, and urges for teenagers to leave their parents’ homes.  On any given day, DSS workers would appear at the Christian school unannounced and demand to speak with specified students.  Their meetings with the students were often conducted in offices and cars, with the doors locked.

As a result of these oversteps of authority, WFF filed a civil rights action in the federal district court for the Western District of North Carolina, claiming that the actions of the DSS violated the rights of the church and its members to the First Amendment free exercise of religion, to parental-child relationships, and to due process of law.  DSS filed a motion to dismiss the case, arguing that the State’s interest in protecting the best interests of children must prevail over the rights of the church and the children’s parents.  In a lengthy reported opinion, the district court rejected the DSS’s argument, and held that the actions of the DSS, as alleged in the complaint, violated the constitutional rights of WFF and its members.[1]

Following this landmark federal court decision, DSS entered into a comprehensive settlement, in which it paid WFF $300,000, and agreed to an extensive set of severe restrictions on its ability to investigate church members.  These restrictions addressed specific illegal and unconstitutional actions in which its employees had engaged.  DSS also withdrew every finding of abuse or neglect against our church members, expunged their files of such findings, and closed all open investigations.  Furthermore, DSS recognized and acknowledged that the participation of minor children in the church’s religious practices of prayer and discipline is “protected by the United States and North Carolina Constitutions and does not and cannot on its own constitute abuse or neglect of children . . . .”  Although the North Carolina Attorney General was not a party to the lawsuit, their office reviewed and approved the settlement.

The Inspiration

Through every battle my church has faced, I have learned the greatest lesson from watching my pastors: never back down in fear, and always stand up firmly for what you believe.  For if we do not speak out, if we do not stand up, if we do not treasure and fight for our freedoms, they will be lost and we will be destroyed.  My experiences have placed within me deep convictions that will never leave.  This has been my inspiration to attend law school and to fight for justice in this generation.

Professor Huber, blog author Joshua Valentine, and CRC member Gabrielle Valentine at the WWF Holocaust Museum.  Much of the great work done at the museum resulted from the lawsuits discussed in this blog series.

Professor Huber, blog author Joshua Valentine, and CRC member Gabrielle Valentine at the WWF Holocaust Museum. Much of the great work done at the museum resulted from the lawsuits discussed in this blog series.

For more information . . .

About our church, visit:

About our Holocaust Museum:

[1] Word of Faith Fellowship, Inc. v. Rutherford County Dept. of Social Services, 329 F.Supp.2d 675 (W.D.N.C. 2004).

From Persecution to Vindication: My Inspiration to Attend Law School—Part II

November 19, 2014

By: Joshua Valentine

The Legal Battles

Each persecution, investigation, and legal battle that my church incurred arose from disgruntled members who left the church and lied extensively about the church practices and beliefs.  As early as 1995, Inside Edition tabloid television aired a production that included distorted footage of our church services and prayer, as well as falsified reports of former church members concerning our church.  As a result of the program, our church was extensively ridiculed, mocked, and defamed, to the point that the public considered us to be a religious cult, which we certainly are not.  Attacking us from every angle, these people utilized the courts as a tool to harass, persecute, and wrongfully prosecute our church, its members, and our faith through civil and criminal cases.  Even custody cases sought to entangle our church’s beliefs and target them as allegedly abusive.  In this article, I will provide you with a brief synopsis of a couple such cases.

McGee v. McGee

In 2000, a WFF member engaged in a custody battle for her three children was ordered by a district court judge that her children could not participate in the church’s prayer.  This finding of fact was based solely on the unsubstantiated claims of the children’s father, who was not a church member.  In 2004, the father attempted to hold the mother in contempt for allowing her children to engage in the prayer after court-ordered mental health examinations found that there was no harm in it.  While recognizing the evidence that the church’s strong prayer was not abusive, the trial court still held that it was bound by the prior court order from 2000.  On appeal, the Court of Appeals did not agree that the trial court was bound by the prior court order and reversed the decision of the trial court.[1]

In Re Almanie

Also in the early 2000’s, a drug addict mother (Mother), who was very abusive to her children, came to WFF to get help with her addiction.  While Mother was clean from drugs for over a year, she eventually returned to both her drug addiction and physical abuse of her children.  After being told by the pastor and her relatives that her abuse of the children would not be tolerated, Mother left the church and gave written consent to place the children in the custody of another family, who were also members of WFF.  Mother repeatedly expressed that she never wanted her children in the first place, and she was glad to get away from them.

Subsequently, Mother became involved with so-called “anti-cult” organizations that prodded her to file a custody action for the return of her children, claiming that the children were being abused through the church’s doctrines and practices.  At Mother’s request, the Rutherford County DSS opened an investigation, but later transferred it to the neighboring county of Lincoln, who conducted an extensive investigation and found no abuse or neglect.  Despite this finding and without conducting any further investigation, Rutherford County DSS commenced a petition to remove the four children from the custody of the family Mother left them in and place them into foster care.  Following a highly sensationalized trial, with extensive press coverage, the four children were removed from the church family and placed in abusive foster care.

On appeal, the Court held that the trial court lacked subject matter jurisdiction, because the Lincoln County DSS investigation had established that there was no abuse or neglect, and therefore there was no authority for the removal petitions.[2]  The children were reunited with the family that Mother had initially given custody to, and that family was later awarded custody by the court.

North Carolina Court of Appeals

North Carolina Court of Appeals

I was a young boy at the time of these lawsuits and, as a result, I did not understand why things happened the way they did.  Yet watching my friends be unjustifiably taken from the parents and families they loved and placed in abusive environments, I wished I could do something to help—but I didn’t know what I could do.  As I got older, I began to realize that, as a guardian of the law, I would be able to help my friends and anyone else who found himself or herself deprived of justice.  This was my inspiration to attend law school.

Stay tuned to the Civil Rights Clinic Blog for the final installment of this three-part series.

[1] McGee v. McGee, 178 N.C. App. 742, 632 S.E.2d 600 (N.C. App. 2006)(unpublished).

[2] In re S.D.A., 170 N.C. App. 354, 612 S.E.2d 362 (N.C. App. 2005).

From Persecution to Vindication: My Inspiration to Attend Law School—Part I

November 18, 2014

By: Joshua Valentine

“If you don’t sign this paper that you will stop praying for your children, we will be back by eight o’clock tomorrow morning to take all the children in your Christian school.”  These were the words of a Department of Social Services’ (DSS) worker to my pastor, when I was only nine years of age.  My pastor refused to sign the paper, and the social worker did not take any of us children.  But it was a rather lengthy battle.  At the time, however, it was very difficult for me to understand how something like this could possibly happen in the United States, a country established on the very principles of religious freedom.

On an unexpected basis, workers from the DSS would appear at my school to challenge me and other students about our beliefs.  “Do you like your mommy?  Do you want to leave your family? Why were you reading your Bible?”  These were the absurd and offensive questions that I was personally asked as a boy who loved my life.  Daily, I feared that the government had the ability to separate me from my family, my friends, and my church; take us into custody; and deprive us of our faith.  These personal experiences, followed by years of intense persecution and litigation involving my school and church, placed a compelling desire within me to boldly fight against religious persecution and to stand for justice.  This was my inspiration to attend law school.

Who We Are

The Word of Faith Fellowship (WFF) is a Protestant, non-denominational church located in rural Western North Carolina.  Our beliefs are traditional, evangelical doctrines of the Bible—we strive to live our lives in accordance with the Scriptures.  We believe in preaching, teaching, praising and worshiping God, as well as the Biblical practices of strong prayer.  In addition, WFF maintains a private Christian school ranging from kindergarten through twelfth grade, and over 90% of the school’s students have excelled in higher education.  Inspired by the persecution we endured, the school created an internationally renowned Holocaust Museum, comprised of over 600 pieces of artwork, which has travelled widely both across our state, as well as out-of-state to Washington D.C., New Mexico, Texas, and Florida.  Our church also has outreach missions to prisons, nursing homes, our surrounding community, and other nations including Brazil and Ghana.

The Word of Faith Christian School Holocaust Museum

The Word of Faith Christian School Holocaust Museum

What We Endured

It is because of our Biblical beliefs and practices that we became the subjects of hatred, persecution, bigotry, and discrimination through Inside Edition tabloid television, local and international media, social media, hate crimes, and several heated lawsuits.  Church members’ personal businesses were boycotted; we experienced a drive-by shooting; mine and other members’ homes were sprayed with graffiti and egged; our pastor’s lives were threatened; we were called slanderous names in our local stores.  We were investigated by local law enforcement, the DSS, the State Bureau of Investigation, and the Federal Bureau of Investigation.  Prominent lawyers, judges, and most of our community made a vigorous attempt to close our church doors and stifle our First Amendment freedoms.  Our legal battles took us to the North Carolina Supreme Court and even to the United States District Court.  Ultimately, after years of intense litigation, lower court rulings were overturned and we were vindicated with victory in every case.

My personal experiences caused me to realize that any of us can lose the freedoms that our forefathers sacrificed their lives to acquire.  They can be lost right here in the United States, in our courts.  As the assault on my church, my faith, and my religious freedoms continued to grow and intensify, I began to wonder, “If this is happening to us, in rural Western North Carolina, where else is this happening?”  But I soon realized that all over America, the right to pray, the right to say the name of God, the right to religious freedom is being challenged.  If we lose the fundamental rights upon which our nation was founded, what will we have left?  This was my inspiration to attend law school.

Check back in the upcoming days to learn specifically about a custody battle and a federal civil rights action that attributed to my inspiration to attend law school.

An Old Problem, New Face

November 6, 2014

By Johnny Hollis

One of the oldest issues in our society is homelessness.  It affects every state, county, and city in our nation.  Studies show that nationally 19 out of every 10,000 people are homeless, while in individual states that number ranges from 8-106 out of every 10,000 people.  Causes of homelessness range from loss of employment, mental and physical changes in health, loss of loved ones, and other traumatic life events.[1]  While homelessness is decreasing in our country, in general, there is a rise in one particular area: within the transgender population of the Lesbian Gay Bisexual Transgender and Queer (LGBTQ) community.[2]

What does “transgender” mean?

Transgender is an umbrella term that is used to describe a wide range of identities and experiences, and the term is used to refer to persons whose gender differs from what they were born as.[3]  Transgender persons often express themselves through their clothing, change of names, or medical procedures, all which help further their desire to live their identity.

What are the causes of homelessness among the transgender population?

Among experiencing discrimination from family members, in educational environments, and in the workplace, transgender individuals also experience discrimination in homeless shelters—the very place designed to assist them in times of crisis.  To start with, they are often isolated and alienated by family members at young ages, thus leaving them with no place to go.

Next, obtaining an education becomes hard because of the ridicule, immaturity, and bullying transgender individuals face from peers as well as faculty and staff.  According to the National Center for Transgender Equality, 15% of those who identify as transgender drop out of school because of the pressures that derive from bullying.[4]

Although Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 protects individuals against employment discrimination on the basis of race and color, as well as national origin, sex, and religion, the law fails to protect certain classes, including sexual orientation and gender identity.[5]   This leaves room for discrimination in the work place in the form of harassment by coworkers through taunting and/or isolation, as well as discrimination by employers through job application barriers, promotion denial, and by being fired.[6]

With the lack of familial support, education, and work, some transgender individuals are forced to either conform to the societal definition of gender and sexual orientation, or live in distressed conditions such as homelessness.

The Challenges of Being Transgender and Homeless

The difficulties and challenges that arise for transgender individuals are greater when they experience the effects of being homeless.  For example, even the task of finding a homeless shelter becomes quite tiresome.  Because transgender individuals identify opposite of their “born” gender, many shelters will not recognize identity over outward physical appearance.  This causes many to have to either live on the street, or participate in “survival sex” work in order to have a shelter for the night.[7]  Survival sex is defined as “involving individuals over the age of 18 who have traded sex acts (including prostitution, stripping, pornography, etc.) to meet the basic needs of survival (i.e., food, shelter, etc.) without the overt force, fraud or coercion of a trafficker, but who felt that their circumstances left little or no other option.”[8]


What Can We Do to Advocate for Equality?

Interested advocates can begin helping this population by reaching out to local LGBTQ organizations in order to gain a better understanding of the LGBTQ community and the challenges that are faced within.  Local organizations such as Equality NC: North Carolina LGBT Organizations and the Charlotte Lesbian and Gay Fund are good places to start.

Advocates can also engage locally by contacting their local homeless shelters and demanding that they create a safe, open, and inclusive environment for all people.  An inclusive environment would include safe zones, which are areas that are designated to prevent harassment and discrimination.  The shelters should also provide adequate information and resources that help facilitate individuals’ transition from homelessness to full independence again.

Furthermore, we can petition our state to prohibit any further discrimination within our K-12 and post-secondary schools.  We can not only petition against discrimination, but also petition for education relating to transgender and the LGBTQ community in totality.  We can also continue to reach out and lobby our local, state, and federal government requesting amendments to the language of our employment protection laws to include protections for sexual orientation as well as gender identity.

The Civil Rights Clinic began contributing to the cause by reaching out to the local community, and as a result, was able to persuade the City of Charlotte to include gender discrimination in their discrimination policy, and is assisting Cabarrus County in updating their policy as well.


Although homelessness currently affects many transgender individuals, it does not have to continue its climb to prevalence.  Through advocacy, education, and awareness we can eliminate the factors that contribute to homelessness within the LGBTQ community.



[3] Lisa Mottet & John M. Ohle, Transitioning Our Shelters: A Guide to Making Homeless Shelters Safe for Transgender People 3, 7 (2003).




[7] Lisa Mottet & John M. Ohle, Transitioning Our Shelters: A Guide to Making Homeless Shelters Safe for Transgender People 4 (2003).


Target Practice: Victim Blaming and the Cross-Sections of Race and Gender

November 4, 2014

By: Tierra M. Ragland

Victim blaming is a devaluing act that occurs when the victim of a crime is held responsible in whole or in part for the crime committed against them. Victim blaming can occur in the form of negative social responses from the media, society, legal professionals, medical professionals, and immediate family members. Some victims of crime receive more sympathy from society than others. Often, the responses toward victims of crime are based on negative societal stereotypes. These responses may lead others to believe that the victims deserved what happened to them.

Victim blaming can happen to anyone, but it overwhelmingly affects victims of rape, indigent populations, and victims of domestic violence. When victims are African-American, they may also become the subject of victim blaming.  Victim blaming can occur from media coverage that focuses on a victim’s unrelated or alleged criminal past, the physical attributes of the victim, how the victim was dressed, and any actions they may have taken that led them to becoming a victim. Victim blaming is problematic for a variety of reasons. Societal tendencies to victim blame encourage crimes to go unreported. Often, victims of crimes do not get adequate assistance and the accused go unprosecuted, leading them to get away with the crime they committed.

Domestic Violence

Recently, National Football League “NFL” running back Ray Rice was suspended from the NFL for domestic abuse against his then fiancé, now wife, Janay Rice. TMZ released surveillance footage of the incident, which sparked a media frenzy. Social debate soon followed with conversations surrounding the actions of the victim.  Conversations in the media speculate as to why she married him, what she did for him to hit her, and how and why she would defend him. This example of victim blaming is problematic because it places all of the blame on a victim of domestic violence and attempts to justify the actions of the alleged abuser. High profile victim blaming such as this can lead to future incidents of domestic violence not being reported, and potential cycles of violence to continue.


Last year the Steubenville Rape investigation was a constant fixture in the news media.  A 16-year old girl was raped at a party by two local high school football stars. After the rape, pictures of the victim being violated were sent throughout the high school and social media. During the trial of the two young men, the focus of many local and national new broadcast consisted of victim blaming. There were questions surrounding what the victim was wearing, whether she was drinking, and how the accusation would affect the promising football careers of the young men.  Instances of victim blaming such as this contribute to rape culture, which focuses heavily on policing the actions of victims and not the actions of predators.  Even after the boys were convicted of rape, the community, her peers, and the news media harassed the victim and her family.

Earlier this year, one of the rapists was released from detention and returned to playing on his high school football team. Upon his release, there was a press release about how this incident has affected him and his family but there was no apology to the victim. When the purpose of the juvenile justice system is to rehabilitate, what message does it send to the victim when her convicted rapist serves less than a year in juvenile detention and gets to pick up his life right where he left off? A victim has to spend the rest of her life with the reality of public humiliation through pictures on social media, harassment by the community, and blame for ruining the promising future of her rapist.


In a country that has a history of discrimination, brutality, racism, and systematic oppression against African-Americans, Blacks are often blamed for the crimes committed against them under the guise that race no longer matters in “post-racial America.” This becomes problematic because the United States is far from, if ever, being post-racial. We, as a country, have not effectively dealt with the consequences and vestiges left behind from slavery, segregation, and disenfranchisement. Our history of systemic oppression makes the cross-section between race and victim blaming a tense and complicated issue.

In February 2012, seventeen-year-old Trayvon Martin, an unarmed African-American, was shot and killed by George Zimmerman.  During the media coverage of Zimmerman’s trial, the focus quickly turned to race. The media coverage focused on the physical size of Martin, his alleged prior drug use, and whether a black hoodie is or is not suspicious. This type of victim blaming is problematic because it suggests that if you look a certain way, dress a certain way, or have participated in certain activities, murder is justifiable. This instance of victim blaming is also interesting because much of the focus was on the actions of the victim and very little focus was on his age: Martin was still considered a child in the eyes of society and the law.  Zimmerman was ultimately acquitted of all charges.

In August 2014, Michael Brown, an unarmed African-American man, was shot six times, including twice in the head, by Missouri police officer Darren Wilson.  The shooting occurred during an encounter with Wilson, while Brown and a friend were walking down the street. This shooting sparked protest in the small town of Ferguson, Missouri, and received national media coverage. While the topic of the media coverage did focus on the “trend” of shooting deaths surrounding unarmed black men, elements of victim blaming still occurred. Media coverage and police statements made it seem as if Brown may have been involved in the theft of a cigar from a convenient store earlier that day, and accusations were made that Brown’s physical size may have intimidated the officer.  There were additional comments by the community and media that Brown was starting college soon, therefore his death was more tragic, suggesting that being shot while unarmed and surrendering is not tragic enough. Victim blaming as related to this incident is problematic because it devalues the life of the victim, and focuses on the actions of the victim, suggesting that his or her death or injury could have been preventable if only he had acted differently.

Protests surrounding Brown’s shooting also received media attention. The protestors were described as rioters and met with Ferguson police equipped in military gear. The protestors were gassed, harassed, and categorized in the media according to the actions of only a small number of looters.  Protest and civil unrest is still continuing in Ferguson. Darren Wilson has not been charged for the shooting of Michael Brown.

The above instances are a just few examples of victim blaming and the damaging effects that it can have on recovery and justice for the victim.  Racial aspects of both of the young men’s victim blaming consists of the physical size of black man, which is seen as intimidating, and their actions as criminal even when they have not been convicted. Many more victims of domestic violence, victims of rape, and unarmed black men have been the subject of victim blaming by the media and society.  Since the shooting of Michael Brown, thirteen African-Americans have been fatally shot by police. An entire book could be written on the subject.

The media and society have not only constructed socially acceptable victims but also socially acceptable alleged perpetrators of crimes and other forms for wrongdoing.

In comparison to the protest in Ferguson, similar protests have been categorized sympathetically by the media. For example, after the firing of long-time coach Joe Paterno by Penn State, thousands of students stormed the campus to express their outrage. Students gathered in the streets, overturned a media news van, tore down lampposts, and threw rocks and fireworks at police. The police responded with pepper spray. At no time were the protestors met with tear gas or police in military gear. In the media, the students were described as hurt by the firing of their beloved coach.  The media described demonstrators as “filing down into the streets.” The media expressed empathy and understanding as to why the students were outraged. Comparing this to the protesting in Ferguson where the protestors were arrested and met with tear gas and police in military gear, it begs the question of why such a vast difference in media coverage exists when, at the core, both protestors were expressing their outrage using their first amendment rights.

In July 2012, James Holmes opened fire into a crowded movie theater killing twelve people and injuring fifty-eight.  The media coverage surrounding the shooting described Holmes as mentally ill and a disturbed young man. In contrast, Martin and Brown, the victims of shootings, were described in the media negatively to justify the crimes against them, whereas Holmes is accused of committing the deadliest shooting since the Columbine school shootings and his actions are described as the result of mental health issues.

In a society ruled by social perceptions, victim blaming can be used as a tool to describe victims as worthy and unworthy. When this occurs, real social issues based in race and gender get lost in the conversation. There is little to no solution on how to effectively address these issues. However, the first step to end victim blaming is to allow victims to be victims and not condemn them in media

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