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True Light Church Members Fined for Violating Child Labor Laws

March 2, 1988

CHARLOTTE, N.C. (AP) _ A federal judge rebuked Shiloh True Light Church of Christ for exploiting children and cited church members for contempt of court for violating federal child labor laws.

U.S. District Judge Robert Potter also ordered two companies owned and operated by church members to pay $203,272 to cover a federal investigation and litigation expenses and to pay employees back wages and interest.

The actions Tuesday further set back the church’s campaign to stop what it calls government interference with its religious beliefs.

Potter ruled that church members and the two companies - McGee Brothers Co. Inc. of Union County and Wendell’s Woodwork Inc. of Mint Hill - violated his October 1987 order to obey federal child labor laws.

True Light families educate their children at home. The church also sponsors a job-training program that gives youths the opportunity to earn money while learning such trades as bricklaying, woodworking and sewing.

Church members acknowledged during the trial they used their children, some as young as 9, at construction sites and in workshops where they carried bricks, laid foundations and more recently, operated forklifts and power saws. They said they had been doing that for at least 100 years.

In October, Potter ordered children to stop working for the companies. When the owners of the companies continued the program for the church, the Labor Department asked they be found in contempt.

In separate judgments, Potter ordered both companies again to obey the laws and warned that McGee Brothers would be fined $10,000 and Wendell’s Woodwork $5,000 for each day the companies remain in contempt of his order.

In addition, Potter said Wendell’s two owners - Wendell Long and Herbert Long - would be fined $500 each per day that they remained in contempt of his order. The five brothers who own McGee Brothers face fines of $1,000 per day each if they remain in contempt.

Potter also ordered McGee Brothers to pay $133,890 in back wages and interest to employees who had not been paid minimum wages and for overtime work.

Calls to both companies’ offices and the offices of their attorneys for comment were not returned.

″We feel like our freedom of religion and freedom of worship has been violated,″ said Rommie Purser, the church’s minister. ″We just plan to go on to the Supreme Court and see if we aren’t being denied freedom of worship.″

In a January trial, the Labor Department charged the owners of the two companies - all of whom are members of the church - with violating the federal statute against child labor.

The judge wrote in his 58-page opinion that the children employed ″are children doing adult’s work, and regardless of the label defendants have attached to them, i.e. ‘trainees in Shiloh Vocational Training Program,’ they are manifestly being exploited by defendants in this case, whether or not they proclaim their purpose to be in furtherance of their religious beliefs.″

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