Judge: 'Cult' factored in ruling

Raleigh, USA - Venessa Mills, the Wake County mother whose home-schooled children were ordered to attend public schools, grew alienated from her husband and parents after joining a religious group that some former members call a cult, the judge in the case said Tuesday in a written order.

Wake District Court Judge Ned Mangum ruled March 6 that it would be in the best interests of Venessa Mills' three children to go to public school this fall.

That ruling, in an ongoing divorce case between Venessa and husband Thomas Mills, sparked national attention from conservatives who maintain that Mangum overstepped his bounds.

"Based on all of the evidence, the court finds that Ms. Mills engaged in behavior that alienates the minor children from their maternal grandparents, their aunt, and most importantly their father," Mangum wrote.

Venessa Mills was not available for comment Tuesday. She said after the March 6 ruling that Mangum had overlooked the facts and legislated from the bench.

Among other provisions, the written order said the parents will have joint custody of the children -- who are 12, 11 and 10 -- and that both parents can "practice their own religion and expose children to same."

The ruling amplified Mangum's reasons for ordering the change in schooling, noting that he recognizes the benefits of home schooling. It goes into significant detail about the Washington state-based Sound Doctrine Church to which Venessa Mills belongs. "It is in the best interest of these minor children based on all of the evidence presented that Mr. Mills, a father with equal rights, should be allowed to expose the children to more than just the experiences that Venessa Mills desires," Mangum wrote.

Attempts to reach Jaye Meyer, Thomas Mills' lawyer, and to the Sound Doctrine Church for comment were unsuccessful.

Magnum's ruling quotes people named as former members of Sound Doctrine who describe the institution as abusive. They say Sound Doctrine practiced brainwashing and was run by fear and manipulation.

"In numerous sworn affidavits submitted to the court, witnesses describe this group as a cult," Mangum wrote.

According to the ruling, Venessa and Thomas Mills had a loving relationship for many years after their 1994 marriage. In 2005, Venessa became involved with the Sound Doctrine Church of Enumclaw, Wash. In Mangum's findings, Thomas Mills is quoted:

"Venessa stopped communicating with me in any meaningful manner; instead, her responses to me began to consist almost exclusively of quoting Scripture or parroting Sound Doctrine religious rhetoric.

"It became clear to me that our marriage relationship did not matter to her anymore, and she even told her own family members that she did not consider herself married to me."

Thomas Mills warned his wife that the marriage would end if she valued her religious group more than the marriage, Mangum wrote. "He began to spend less time in the marital home and had an inappropriate sexual relationship" with another woman, the ruling said.