Custody Battle Results in Allegations of Christian 'Elite' Controlling Small Maryland Town

A case involving a woman who was accused of molesting her own daughter after divorcing her Christian husband and converting to Judaism has resulted in accusations that Harford County in Maryland is run by an evangelical Christian elite that is discriminating against Jews.

After a highly dysfunctional marriage that included allegations of physical and sexual abuse mixed in with religious differences, Valerie Carlton divorced her husband, Russell, a fundamentalist Christian minister. According to Valerie's court statements, Russell was furious over the idea that his daughter would be raised part-time in a Jewish household. Valerie, although Jewish by birth, was not a practicing Jew, but returned to the faith during her marriage.

After the two officially cut matrimonial ties in 2009, Valerie was accused of 28 felony charges of sexual abuse by the county and her ex-husband, including molesting her own daughter, as well as a neighbor's daughter.

In an interview with WBAL News, a parent of the alleged victim living next door said, "(We're) hurt, furious, revengeful, that's about all I can say."

However, Valerie claimed the charges were concocted by Russell along with an ex-boyfriend and Russell's Christian relatives, who reportedly have extensive connections in the community.

"I have an evangelical ex-husband whose family basically 'owned', socially and politically this small Maryland county," Valerie said in a video testimony on YouTube. "Because the county is so small and is so Christian, Southern Baptist, Evangelical majority, all of the government offices therefore are manned by individuals in particular congregations that my ex-husband's family founded."

After converting to Judaism, Valerie says Russell's powerful family accused her of lying about her religion in order to get better custody rights.

"They said I was using Judaism to alienate the proper Christian father from his child and I was only using Judaism to manipulate the orchestrate the best custodial arrangement for myself," she said.

Valerie wound up going to prison for 13 months and was released June 20, 2010, after the 28 felony charges against her were dropped due to lack of evidence. Fearing for her life and safety, Valerie eventually moved to New York.

Hartford County State Attorney Joseph Cassilly, the prosecutor who charged Valerie, denied allegations of religious bigotry and political corruption, according to the Journal News.

"No one is going after her because of her religion," Cassilly said. "Her husband has no political influence."

Cassilly did not go into details about the charges being dropped due to lack of evidence.

"The case didn't work out well," he said. "The thought was we're not going to make this case and put the child through this."

Although the original charges were dropped, Valerie was accused of assaulting a guard while in prison, and Maryland officials are currently in the process of extraditing her from New York, where she is currently sitting in jail, as the case is under review.

However, since the beginning of the case, Valerie has won the support of many people in the area, who also accuse Harford County of bigotry and corruption. Those supporters are now trying to help prevent her extradition back to Maryland.

On Nov. 10, Leora Rosen, a social science analyst who has done research on sex abuse allegations in custody cases, led a rally in front of the Rockland County Courthouse to prevent Valerie's extradition.

"There is still a white power elite in Harford County that practices a very strict form of Evangelical Christianity," Rosen said in a recording of the rally organized by The Committee to Vindicate Valerie Carlton. "But Harford County is not as homogenous as the power elite would like it to be. There are blacks, Jews, Catholics, and poor people living there and nobody can tell them openly to leave."

Several people at the rally held signs that read: "Being Jewish is not a crime."

Prof. Phyllis Chesler of the City University of New York and author of books on feminism and anti-Semitism, wrote in Jewish news website's op-ed section that Valerie "was kept in solitary confinement and tortured in further ways. Why? Because she loves and wanted to protect her young daughter and because she dared to practice her Judaism openly."

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