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Church Sues N.C. County Officials

December 11, 2003

CHARLOTTE, N.C. (AP) _ A church known for shouting prayers at members as a way to drive out supposed demons has sued a county social services agency, alleging violation of its religious freedoms.

The federal lawsuit, filed by lawyers for Spindale-based Word of Faith Fellowship, accuses Rutherford County Department of Social Services officials of unconstitutional harassment of church members. The suit asks a federal judge to order an end to all investigations of the church that are based on its religious practices.

The lawsuit, filed Dec. 5, lists as plaintiffs 19 adults who are Word of Faith members and parents of 25 children ranging in age from 2 to 17.

At the heart of the suit are two church practices and their application to children. One is ``strong″ or ``blasting″ prayer in which, according to former members, church members stand in a circle around an individual while praying loudly in an effort to drive out supposed demonic spirits.

The other is ``discipleship,″ in which church members and children spend time in isolation, praying, reading Scriptures and listening to tapes of religious teachings.

Critics argue that blasting prayer is a form of abuse, and that ``discipleship″ separates children from family and friends.

The lawsuit seeks unspecified damages and an order declaring that the two practices are constitutionally protected and are not abusive.

In addition to the department, the lawsuit names several individuals as defendants, including county DSS director John Carroll.

Carroll did not return a call Wednesday seeking comment, nor did Brad Greenway, a lawyer who has represented the Rutherford DSS in past court cases.

The town of Spindale and Rutherford County are in southwestern North Carolina.

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