The Peterson Family's Experience
Carol L. and Robert G. Peterson were married in October 1977. Carol had a daughter, Sadie, from a previous marriage and Robert adopted her in 1978. The couple then had two children, Cassie and William.
On September 3, 1987, Carol filed for divorce. It was granted in February 1988, with custody being awarded to her. From testimony given in court at a later custody hearing, it appears that the children were increasingly left in the care of Sadie, the oldest daughter. After their divorce, the children's hygiene had deteriorated and they had lost weight.
Carol was a member of the Good-Life Pentecostal Church in York, Nebraska. It is uncertain when she became a member of this church. At first her mother, Irene Brumbaugh, encouraged her to attend. Prior to this time, Carol had been involved with drugs and drank. Edward D. Morey was the pastor and the church was affiliated with the United Pentecostal Church. Morey claims he came from a broken home and used to play in a rock band in California in the late sixties.
History of the Good-Life Pentecostal Church
Edward Morey moved to York in 1978, starting church services in the York city auditorium. The church became incorporated the same year. The church owned three houses and three lots, as well as the church building. They ran a day care center, Tender Loving Care, as well as the York Christian Academy.
The York Christian Academy opened in November 1980, with an enrollment of seven children, all from the 16 families which comprised the congregation. By 1990, eleven children attended, and the church had approximately 35 members. The school consisted of a student room with cubicles for study purposes. A self-paced ACE curriculum from Texas was used. The school was not state accredited, nor were there any state certified teachers. In 1990, it was run mainly by Edward Morey and his family, as well as John Cemer, who was the assistant pastor and Edward Morey's father-in-law, and his wife. Only one of the monitors, a substitute, had graduated from high school. Two attended school through ninth grade, one attended high-school but didn't finish, and two had a GED. Testimony was given in court by Cassie that when she didn't understand something in the curriculum, she was told to read it again. When she still didn't understand after a third attempt, she was told to pray about it.
In 1981, York County filed its first motion against the Academy. They considered it to be illegally operated. In late October 1982, York County moved to close the school. A hearing was scheduled for November 19, 1982. The Academy failed to answer the original complaint filed by the county. The only action taken was to question the jurisdiction of the court. I am unsure as to what transpired after this, as by 1990, though still not accredited, it was a recognized school under a state rule.
A Move to Change Custody
In October 1988, Carol removed her three children from the public school system in York, enrolling them at York Christian Academy. Robert became concerned. Irene, Carol's mother, was also concerned with the children's involvement at the school. She had heard about Debra Worman's problems with this same church and had begun to investigate the church and cults. As Carol became more and more involved with church, Irene began to have less contact with her daughter.
Robert filed for custody of the children, siting several areas of concern. One was that Carol had failed to care for the children's health by not taking them for immunization shots. She later rectified this matter. Another concern was removing the children from public school. (The court later ruled that this was not a sufficient basis for a custody change, but raised concerns about the quality of their education at the Academy.) Other reasons were Carol's increased activity in church, turning the children against their father by stating the devil was in him, and unnecessarily beating them. It appears she regularly beat them with a leather strap.
The Custody Hearing
Robert was represented by attorney Bruce Stephens. The Lincoln Star (2/1/90) said he "brought in witnesses who testified that Morey's scare and coercion tactics followed the guidelines of cultism." It was felt that Carol's involvement at this particular church threatened the well-being of her children.
There was a six day hearing on the matter, ending January 26, 1990, with the judge's ruling following five days later. Caryn Hacker, a psychotherapist with a master's degree in social work and eleven years experience investigating religious and cult-like groups, testified over a 4 1/2 hour period that the Good-Life Pentecostal Church met nine out of ten criteria used to identify cults. To be considered a cult, a group needed to meet at least seven of the characteristics. The church did not meet the criteria of communal living. According to an article in the Grand Island Independent (1/28/90), Caryn "testified that Edward Morey has a 'big impact' on how the church members conduct their lives and what they believe."
Both Cassie and Carol testified about a beating which took place after Cassie was expelled from the York Christian Academy in early 1989 for disciplinary problems. After beating her with a leather belt at least 10 times over a two minute period, Carol told Cassie to copy dictionary definitions of rebellion and stubbornness, as well as biblical Scriptures pertaining to the subject. Included was the often used I Samuel 15:23, "For rebellion is as the sin of witchcraft, and stubbornness is as iniquity and idolatry."
Checking her work, Carol found 20 mistakes and proceeded to beat her 20 more times. Told to re-copy her work, Cassie made 10 more mistakes and was beaten an additional 10 times. After another attempt to re-do her work, she made three mistakes. Carol beat her three times with the belt. On her final attempt, Cassie made no errors. Over a 4 1/2 hour period, Carol had beaten her daughter at least 43 times.
The Lincoln Journal (9/20/91) reported that "the incident occurred during a time when Carol Peterson considered herself to be 'very leery to spank' Cassie and 'very lax' in her discipline because she was involved in a custody dispute."
Carol's mother also testified on behalf of her son-in law. In an interview with the Lincoln Star (2/1/90) she was quoted as saying there was no way they could win. "We hated to see Carol lose custody, because she loves the children and they love her. But because of that church, she deserved to lose custody."
Debra Worman also testified about her involvement in the same church.
Judge Bryce Bartu awarded custody to Robert Peterson, ruling that Carol's religious beliefs threatened the well being and health of the children. (Cassie had already been living with her father for about 11 months.) The York News-Times said he ruled that Carol "has adopted systems of corporal punishment and fear to force obedience and submission of her children to the doctrine of her church."
Judge Bartu noted that a parent usually will not be disqualified for their religious beliefs unless the health and well being of the children are threatened. Visitation rights were granted to Carol on the stipulation that all visits were to occur at her parent's home. There was to be no more corporal punishment or promoting her religious beliefs to the children. Sadie and William were also to be removed from the Academy.
The Appeal to the Supreme Court
Carol, defended by attorney Richard Watts, appealed the ruling of this case to the Nebraska Supreme Court shortly after the decision was made. She stated she only used corporal punishment to make the children mind. Edward Morey also denied all allegations against him and the church. When several members were questioned whether mind control was used at the church, they laughed.
At the time of the custody ruling, Carol was 36, Sadie was 15, Cassie was 11, and William was 6.
Edward Morey's Probation
On March 10, 1990, the Nebraska District Board of the United Pentecostal Church placed Edward Morey on a one year probation. During this time he had to bring his church in line with the district or face losing his credentials with the UPC. The board stated that the action had nothing to do with the Peterson case, or the allegations made during testimony. Pastor Morey was being sited for isolating himself and his church. At first, Pastor Morey said he knew nothing about the probation. Two days later, in another article, he said that his church would continue to follow old fashioned standards of holiness. He felt that the district action was illegal and had contacted the UPC headquarters in Missouri. Pastor Morey felt that the district was trying to put distance between themselves and his church, not wanting to be seen as a cult.
The Lincoln Star (3/28/90) quoted a church press release as stating that holiness standards were the cause of the board's actions. "That has characterized Apostolic Pentecostals for a century. A new wave of liberalism is sweeping the Nebraska churches and our church is not willing to conform," the statement said. "We therefore have become a target of political animosity. Our church has no intention of bowing to this pressure."
Less than a month later, the Nebraska District Board rescinded the probation of Edward Morey. A board member stated this decision was based on outside counsel and gave no specific reasons. Of course, Edward Morey and the church were pleased. However, this action obviously did nothing to correct the situation at his church.
Meanwhile, by this same time, Carol Peterson had transferred to another UPC church in Grand Island. This was done with the help of the District Board.
Supreme Court Ruling
The Nebraska Supreme Court, in September 1991, upheld the ruling of the lower court, awarding custody to Robert Peterson. They modified the lower court ruling, ordering Carol Peterson to abstain from comments to her children that "contradicts, disparages, or questions the validity of the father's religion " or anyone he or the children associate with, or any comment that "interferes with the children's relationship with the father." (Lincoln Journal 9/20/91) Carol was ordered to pay $140.00 per month for child support. They did not rule on whether or not the church was a cult as they felt it was not necessary to do so in order to resolve the case.
Other Cases Involving the Good-Life Pentecostal Church
Was this the only incident at the Good-Life Pentecostal Church? No, it was not. There were at least two earlier matters, both involving Debra Worman, which is discussed in a separate page. The Lincoln Star reported on March 26, 1990 that "testimony in the Peterson case and in another family's 1989 custody dispute included allegations that Morey exercised significant control over and sometimes coerced the adults in his church and that his teachings encouraged excessive physical punishment of children." All of these happened while the church was affiliated with the UPC.
When this article was written in 1997, Edward Morey appeared to still pastor the Good-Life Pentecostal Church, at least according to a search in Yahoo's yellow pages. However, sometime between the 1992 and 1994 United Pentecostal Church Directories, he became no longer affiliated with the UPC. Exactly when this happened is uncertain. I also do not know if he left voluntarily or if his credentials were pulled. An e-mail to the Nebraska UPC web site went unanswered.
Somewhere around 2010, Morey moved to Oklahoma, where he began to pastor the New Life Apostolic Church at 655 Ramm Road in Claremore, Oklahoma. They had a website from 2013 to 2014, but it is no longer in operation. The archived copy is found in the link.
In 1997 I received news that the church closed both the day care and school some time ago. The church was still operating, with Edward Morey as pastor and Kyle Nielson as assistant pastor (he had been the secretary of the church board). More homes have been added. Carol Peterson is no longer a member of any United Pentecostal Church. Membership in this church appears to have dwindled. The Good-Life Church also changed their name to Apostolic Church of York, though it is unclear when this change took place.
Quite a bit of tracking down was done to obtain these documents and related information. Many hours were spent in researching this case and trying to contact the parties involved. A couple websites have since copied this information from here.
Click here to read the 43 page report of the attorney appointed to represent the interests of the Peterson children (from the District Court proceedings). Includes a synopsis of many interviews, including Pastor Morey, the children and Carol's parents. Gives a deeper picture.
Click here to read the 15 page brief to the Supreme Court of Nebraska, filed by Carol Peterson's attorney's.
Click here to read the 30 page brief to the Supreme Court of Nebraska, filed by Robert Peterson's attorney's. This also responds to Carol Peterson's brief. Includes several quotes from prior testimony in District Court.
Click here to read the 21 page opinion of the Supreme Court of Nebraska, September 20, 1991. Also includes quotes from prior testimony.
Allegations Spotlight York Church- Part 1 of a 3 part series written by Mary deZutter, Omaha World-Herald staff writer. Covers some of Debra Worman's case as well.
Member of Good Life Church Says She Thinks She's Doing God's Will- Part 2 of a 3 part series written by Mary deZutter, Omaha World-Herald staff writer. Interview with Carol Peterson and her mother.
Former Member Says It's Hard to Resist Power in York Church- Part 3 of a 3 part series written by Mary deZutter, Omaha World-Herald staff writer. Includes an interview with an unidentified former member of the Good Life Church, Caryn Hacker and Dr. Louis West, a psychiatrist.
The links below will take you to four newspaper articles. Though they are posted on Rick Ross' site, he had nothing to do with the case.
The Lincoln Journal-Star in Lincoln, NE has printed several articles on this church. In an article dated December 17, 1980, they announce the opening of the York Christian Academy. In 1982 (October 30, 1982 article), a motion was filed by York County in an effort to close the school.
On February 1, 1990, an article was printed about Carol Peterson losing custody of her children because of punishment and cultism.
On March 26, 1990, an article was printed which told that the Nebraska District Board of the UPC had placed Edward Morey under probation for a year. A follow-up story was printed March 28, 1990. A third article on Pastor Morey's probation was run on April 10, 1990.
Finally, on September 20, 1991, they printed the results of the Supreme Court appeal.
Posted September 27, 1997 and updated October 22, 2015
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August 23, 1997
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