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.


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