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Cult Litigation Doesn�t Threaten Religion

Herbert L. Rosedale, Esq.
Cult Observer, 1993, Volume  10, No.  2


I am writing to you as the President of the American Family Foundation, an organization of professionals, including religious leaders, mental health professionals, academicians, and attorneys who are committed to informing the public about the dangers of destructive cults.

In your November 1990 issue (�The Anti-cult Business,� The Public Square), you [Rev. Richard J. Neuhaus, Editor, First Things] imply that the American Family Foundation is �bad for religion and bad for the public order� as well as a potential contributor to �prejudice, fanaticism, and hysteria.�  These are very serious charges, and I would have thought that contact with our group would have been appropriate before making such accusations. 

Since your article addresses legal matters, I would like to respond as an attorney with more than thirty years� experience and a commitment�untarnished by pecuniary baggage�to the First Amendment and the preservation of individual liberty and our pluralistic society.

Concern about the risk of entanglement of secular courts in the business of regulating religious beliefs and practices, insofar as it relates to destructive cults� tort liability, is misplaced.  A like argument was urged and rejected generations ago, when action based on religious beliefs and practices resulted in the deaths of children who were denied blood transfusions and other medical treatment, and in the physical abuse of women and children.  Concern about potential peril resulting from involvement of the courts in religion did not prevent every state in this country from rejecting the claimed denial of responsibility for injuries inflicted in hospitals operated by religious organizations.  Rejection of the simplistic notion that adults are unqualifiedly responsible for all decisions they make was at the heart of those determinations, which held purported practitioners of religion liable for selling credulous members of the public snake oil to cure illness and goat glands to enhance virility.

Reaffirmation of the doctrine that religious motivation does not override substantial secular concerns relating to health and welfare was recently evidenced by the United States Supreme Court�s determination that the sale and distribution of drugs, even though religiously motivated, was not immune from legal accountability.

The American Family Foundation is concerned with the infliction of injury through psychological manipulation, whether the manipulator be ostensibly religious or a part of a political group or a psychotherapeutic group.  It would be regrettable if an espouser of the First Amendment sought to �check� the present pattern of AFF�s providing prophylactic information to those who seek it.

As for your criticism of those professionals who testify on behalf of plaintiffs as expert witnesses, their professional community provides ample support for their position.  Moreover, the availability of expert witnesses to plaintiffs seeking redress for injury is an essential premise of our adversary system.  Suppression of opinion is not consistent with the First Amendment. Truly, the issues you raise are issues involving liberty (which extends to victims suffering injury as well as the groups responsible for it) and responsibility for harm caused others.  Those carefully crafted decisions of courts upholding liability no more pose a threat to religious liberty than do the determinations that the doctrine of �charitable immunity� is an unnecessary shield for religious groups seeking to avoid tort liability for injury inflicted in charitable institutions.

Your article suggests that the decisions imposing liability on destructive cults will encourage a flood of litigation against established religions.  Since, however, the decisions to which you refer relate to litigation started many years ago, one would expect, if you were correct, that the established religions would already be inundated by demands for damages from disaffected members.  This has not occurred, and I doubt that it will occur because established religions do not employ the level of psychological manipulation observed in destructive cults.

I welcome the opportunity to demonstrate that the American Family Foundation is not an organization which deals in prejudice, fanaticism, and hysteria, or that its call for responsibility on the part of destructive cults is bad for religion or the public order.  And I would like to correct any misapprehensions in this regard held by your publication, its editors, or its readers.




+ AFF News, 02.06: Rosedale, Herb: "Annual Report From the President"
+ AFF News, 03.06: Rosedale, Herb: "Annual Report: Letter From the President"
Langone, Michael, Ph.D.: "On Using the Term "Cult"
Rosedale, Herb: "Legal Analysis of Intent As a Continuum Emphasizing Social Context of Volition"
Rosedale, Herb: "Legal Chapter.pdf"
Rosedale, Herb:  "AFF Statement Mass Wedding of Sun Myung Moon"
Rosedale, Herbert L., Esq.: "Legal Considerations: Regaining Independence and Initiative"
Rosedale, Herbert, Esq.: "Cult Litigation Doesn't Threaten Religion"
Rosedale, Herbert, Esq.: "Women and Cults: A Lawyer's Perspective"
� Rosedale, Herbert L.:  "NPR One-sided on Moon Movement", CO 11-4, 1994
Ω Conference 1997: PA Presenter
Ω Conference 2003 CA: Presenter
√ Child Abuse in Cultic Groups - IP03
√ Giambalvo, Carol: "Boston Movement: Critical Perspectives on the ICC"
√ Video: "Symposium - Theory and Cults: In search of the Perfect Explanation, Sociological Theories, Psychological Manipulation: The Abuse of Women Conference"

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