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.
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.
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.
For more information . . .
About our church, visit: http://www.wordoffaithfellowship.org/
About our Holocaust Museum: http://theholocaustmuseum.info/
 Word of Faith Fellowship, Inc. v. Rutherford County Dept. of Social Services, 329 F.Supp.2d 675 (W.D.N.C. 2004).