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.
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. The children were reunited with the family that Mother had initially given custody to, and that family was later awarded custody by the court.
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.
 McGee v. McGee, 178 N.C. App. 742, 632 S.E.2d 600 (N.C. App. 2006)(unpublished).
 In re S.D.A., 170 N.C. App. 354, 612 S.E.2d 362 (N.C. App. 2005).