North Carolina School Baptisms

On September 6 2022, an Imgur account shared a screenshot of a two-day-old tweet which claimed that a school in North Carolina baptized a hundred children without parental consent:

The Imgur post did not include a link to the tweet, nor did it include any information substantiating the claims of the tweet. Nor did it include an immediately visible link to a related news story — but it did mention a news outlet, the Fayetteville Observer.

Fact Check

Claim: A North Carolina school baptized at least a hundred children without the permission of their parents or legal guardians.

Description: It had been claimed that Northwood Temple Academy, a private Christian school in North Carolina, baptized over 100 students without the permission of their parents. This event happened on September 1, 2022.

Rating: Decontextualized

Rating Explanation: There’s evidence to suggest that the baptisms indeed took place, as confirmed by the school. However, the extent of parental consent isn’t entirely clear as the complaints primarily referred to parents being upset about missing the event rather than objecting to the baptisms themselves. Therefore, the context of the claim is more complex than simply asserting it occurred without parental consent.

Google Trends measured searches for “North Carolina school baptism” in the seven day period ending September 7 2022, with some searches registered on August 31 2022. Under “Related queries,” the search term “Northwood Temple Academy” registered “Breakout” levels of search interest, and a Google search for the original term (without quotes) returned a total of 44 results.

Coverage by the Fayetteville Observer appeared on the first page, but the story, as increasingly is the case, was behind a paywall. Another high-ranking result was a Reddit thread on r/nottheonion:

That Reddit thread linked to a September 6 2022 article by, “More than 100 students baptized without parents’ permission at North Carolina school.” It sourced its reporting primarily from the paywalled source, and appeared to have originally been published by WGHP:

A North Carolina school apologized after baptizing more than 100 children without their parent’s permission, according to the Fayetteville Observer.

Northwood Temple Academy, a private Christian school in Fayetteville, posted on Facebook on Thursday [September 1 2022], “I feel it in my bones, You’re about to move! Today we had over 100 middle and high school students spontaneously declare their faith and get baptized today. We will have more pictures of these powerful moments posted over the next couple of days!”

That morning, three students had their scheduled baptisms at the school as part of Spiritual Emphasis Week. The offer was then extended to other students who had not been scheduled. More than 100 students in total were baptized.

However, a “stickied comment” at the top of the Reddit thread challenged the manner in which the title presented the claim, suggesting it was misleading:

At a private religious school. And the parents are mad they missed it, not that it happened[.]

Directly below that comment, another user replied:

My favorite part of this article:

at least one family was concerned that a second baptism could undo the first.

We located an archived copy of the Fayetteville Observer piece, which appeared to inform subsequent reporting on the North Carolina school baptism controversy. It was published on September 2 2022, with a slightly calmer headline: “100 children were baptized at a Fayetteville school; it came as a surprise to some parents.”

Its initial reporting aligned with the objections expressed on Reddit:

A baptism is one of the most important sacraments in nearly all Christian denominations. Usually, family members of the new convert like to be there for the event.

Some parents of students at Northwood Temple Academy, which is affiliated with Northwood Temple Church on Ramsey Street, were angry they did not get that chance on Thursday [September 1 2022].

One parent said her daughter, who is 11, was baptized without her consent. The girl had already been baptized, said her mother. The mother wished to remain anonymous because she feared Northwood administrators would remove her child from the school.

Commenters said that parents were upset they had “missed” the baptisms, inferring that the primary concern among parents was not being present (or that it might somehow cancel out a previous baptism.) School administrator Renee McLamb was quoted in the story; her claims (if they accurately represented parental objections) reflected what the commenters said:

[McLamb] said three emails in response to her letter were from parents who were “upset because they missed it and wanted to be there.”

One parent was angry and said no apology would be accepted, and another parent was upset because they felt it “undid the baptism that had already taken place at their church.”

But she said most parents she heard from were happy.

The report also indicated that some of the baptized students may not have been baptized prior to the incident — leading to a situation where some religious households stood to miss out on a large milestone in their child’s spiritual lives:

But the mother of the 11-year-old said parents’ rights had been usurped. She said she feels most badly for parents whose children were being baptized for the first time.

A popular tweet and later Imgur post claimed that a North Carolina school baptized a hundred children without parental permission in September 2022. A post with a similar title was shared to r/nottheonion on September 6 2022, where commenters decried the title as misleading and unnecessarily dramatized. Early coverage published by the Fayetteville Observer was behind a paywall, enabling and exacerbating a situation where only secondary sources and aggregated reporting were available to most readers who encountered social media posts about the controversy — leaving the topic wide open to subsequent disinformation campaigns.

In the initial reporting, school administrator Renee McLamb said that the majority of parents were either “happy” about the baptisms or “upset because they missed it and wanted to be there.” However, a parent who remained anonymous for fear of reprisal objected more broadly, expressing that she felt as if her rights were ignored. The piece also indicated that some of the baptized students were not previously baptized, excluding their parents or guardians from a major faith-related milestone.

Overall, the claim that a North Carolina school (Northwood Temple Academy) baptized 100 children without asking their parents or guardians did not seem to be in question, inasmuch as the original source confirmed the baptisms took place on September 1 2022. Aggregated reporting altered the tenor of the local news story, but at least one anonymous parent hinted that McLamb’s claims about the majority of parents did not account for parents who feared that their children would face repercussions if they objected.