Cult Litigation Doesn’t Threaten Religion
Herbert L. Rosedale, Esq.
Cult Observer, 1993, Volume 10,
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
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.
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.