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: http://www.wordoffaithfellowship.org/

About our Holocaust Museum: http://theholocaustmuseum.info/

[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).


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