Rutherfordton -- The mother of three minor children was found in criminal contempt of a court order after she allowed the children to participate in a controversial prayer practice at the Word of Faith Fellowship.
In a December 2000 court ruling, a judge found the practice of strong prayer or blasting to be harmful to the children and ordered it stopped, but left the children in the church with the mother, Pam Sharpe.
Ben McGee and his wife, Sharpe, had separated leading to the original hearings.
Sharpe freely admitted during recent domestic court proceedings that she has resumed the prayers with the children, stating it was her Constitutional right.
Judge Mark Powell, instead, found her in violation of Judge Randy Pool's original order.
Two of the children, however, will now be allowed to make their own decision as to whether or not to participate in the practice.
Powell's ruling states the "defendant is in criminal contempt of the prior court order. To purge herself of contempt she is to pay the (Ben McGee's) attorney the sum of $2,600 by August 1, 2005, or face a possible thirty-day jail sentence as an alternate sanction."
The ruling added that the two oldest daughters of the couple, now ages 13 and 14, were of sufficient maturity to make their own decisions about religious practices.
A nine-year-old son of the couple was not considered old enough and thus is still subject to Pool's ruling which says the child cannot participate in blasting.
The blasting practice, which came to light in 1995, has been ruled abusive in other court cases, though Pool's 2000 ruling was the first.
According to testimony of church members, past and present, blasting usually involves a person sitting in a chair in the center of multiple people who use loud screams or guttural sounds to force demons out of the person's body.
Powell noted that "The State of North Carolina recognizes the basic right of freedom of religion but even that right is secondary to the protection of the children."
Each of the children had testified they liked the strong prayer and wanted to participate.
Powell found their testimony to be credible.
McGee said he believed the strong prayer continues to cause his children harm.
The court held a hearing over the course of two days, one in January and one in March, before making the new ruling.
The WOFF has been in spotlight since investigations in 1995 and beyond revealed unusual practices in the church.
Ex-members say their lives are controlled every minute of the day through a variety of practices.
Many church members work in businesses owned by other members.
The church, founded by Sam and Jane Whaley, says they should be allowed to practice their religion free from outside influence.