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.
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.