Dr. Jay Cohen - Deprogrammee
Deprogramming: what is its ultimate fate?
(Note - last in a series on religious deprogramming, this article explores the legality of the practice.)
'Deprogramming constitutes a very dangerous trend that could be used against political as well as religious dissidents.'
By William A. Barton
What is to be the ultimate fate of religious deprogramming? Will it be remembered by future generations as a sort of 20th century inquisition or more as an emancipation movement?
Responsible people can be found on both sides of the issue, making the question quite complicated.
Most likely the future of the deprogramming movement hinges on the legal question. As of the moment there are no legal definitions of a "cult" or of "mind control," the lofty banners most deprogrammers used to justify their actions.
There are, however, legal definitions of "kidnapping" and "Assault." And unfortunately - for the deprogrammers - many of their actions fall within these definitions.
Still, the issue is not that easy. While supporters of deprogramming such as Dr. Jay Cohen admit that the actions of deprogrammers are often illegal, though, he believes, justified, and Constitutionalists like Dan Cooper are very vocal concerning the illegality of deprogramming, disagreement is often found in the courts.
In a case in San Francisco in 1977, five members of the Unification Church of the Sun Myung Moon were placed in the custody of their parents by a State Superior Court judge for the purposes of deprogramming, even though the ages of those involved range from 21 to 26.
A recent court case in Minnesota saw all charges dismissed against many of the principals involved in the attempted deprogramming of a follower of the Way Ministry, including a Lutheran Minister who instigated the deprogramming and the proprietors of the "house" where the deprogramming took place. The actual deprogrammers received minimal fines.
In Ted Patrick's first court case in his deprogramming crusade, he was found "not guilty" by a jury who conceded that he had committed the acts with which he was charged, but was justified in his abduction due to the "state of mind" of the father of the victim.
Such breaks for the deprogrammers do not always materialize. However as Michael Truscht's Freedom of Thought Foundation discovered when shut down by court order last year.
Ted Patrick is under so many legal indictments he must exercise care in his deprogramming efforts not to be involved in the actual kidnapping process.
Several judges have ordered him to cease deprogramming persons 18-years-old or older, however, Patrick has continued to flout the law with his activities.
While bills have been introduced into Congress to investigate the charges of"mind control" against religious groups called "cults," the courts have at times reaffirmed such groups' right to religious freedom.
In a case in New York in 1977, State Supreme Court Justice John J. Leahy declared the Hare Krishna movement with a "bona fide religion" and threw out indictments against movement officials.
"The entire and basic issue before this court," stated Justice Leahy, "is whether or not the two alleged victims in this case and the defendants will be allowed to practise the religion of their choice and this must be answered with a resounding affirmative."
The judge went on to say, "The separation of church and state must be maintained. We are, and must remain remain a nation of law, not of men.
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The presentment and indictment by the grand jury was in direct and blatant violation of the defendant's constitutional rights.
Concerning the charge of brainwashing against the Krishnas, he said "It appears to the court that the people rest their case on an erroneous minor premise to arrive at a fallacious conclusion. The record is devoid of one specific allegation of a misrepresentation or an act of deception on the part of any defendant."
Although the case did not directly involve deprogramming, it was applicable to the deprogrammer's charges of "brainwashing and mind control" levied at the Christeners and other so-called "cults."
Others besides constitutionalists and judges have pointed out the dangers in deprogramming.
But in a 1977 conference sponsored by the American Civil Liberties Union and the Toronto School of Theology, Dean M. Kelly, an official of the National Council of Churches, called deprogramming "the most serious violation of religious liberty in this country in this generation."
At the same conference, Aryeh Neier, executive director of the ACLU, warned that attempts by parents and others to kidnap and deprogram members of religious "cults" constituted "a very dangerous trend that could be used against political as well as religious dissidents."
His warning was given ominous support when, within less than a year, a member of the U.S. Labor Party was reported to have been deprogrammed.
Following the Guyana disaster with Jim Jones People's Temple, there was a general public outcry against religious cults, in spite of the fact that investigations have shown Jones' group was more a socialist society than a religious one. Many have urged legal action against the "cults."
The difficulty in such action, despite the obvious violations of religious freedom guaranteed by the Constitution, lies in the lack of a legal definition of a cult. The whole question flounders in a legal gray area.
The point is, what a cult is to one person or group, constitutes a recognised religious organisation to another. To take action against the group labelled "cult" by one faction would be to open the door to action against any other group someone disapproved of. To many anti-cult groups, the Roman Catholic Church is a cult. To the Atheist Church, every religious group that professes a belief in God would be could be considered a cult.
Who then is a legitimate target for deprogrammers? Should separation of church and state be violated and a government agent be set up to decide as some advocate?
Or should the First Amendment to the Constitution remain the law of the land and deprogramming be outlawed as others believe?
It is indeed a little question. However, though it is often ignored, the weight of legality seems to favor the opponents of deprogramming. As things stand now, deprogramming is a violation of constitutional rights, whether or not the victim is assumed to have been stripped of rights by the "mind-control" of a "cult."
Do two wrongs make a right, as deprogrammers would have us to believe? It is justifiable to counter-brainwash someone believed to be brainwashed, although the members of such groups deny they are?
It would appear that the question will ultimately have to be answered by the Supreme Court.
Until then, as it has been, it will be up to the individual himself to determine whether or not his rights have been violated, either by the teachings of a religious group labelled a "cult," or by the illegal actions of the self-appointed liberators of the deprogramming movement