Cults Hearing Noisy, Tense
By Marjorie Hyer
Washington Post Staff Writer
Tuesday, February 6, 1979; Page A14
oes of religious cults alternated with defenders of religious freedom in a
noisy and emotional congressional hearing yesterday.
The Russell Senate Office Building hearing room was packed with spectators,
the majority of whom were members of the Unification Church, who heckled and
jeered speakers who portrayed cultists as "child molesters" and cheered those
who branded the hearing a "witch hunt."
Sen. Bob Dole (R-Kan.), who organized and chaired yesterday's session,
stressed that it was not a formal congressional hearing, an investigation or a
debate. Rather, he said in opening remarks, it was intended as a "starting
point for members in their search for a through understanding of this very
sensitive and complex issue."
Last week, the Rev. Sun Myung Moon's Unification Church and Protestant and
Jewish leaders complained to Dole that his proposed witness list - which
included professional deprogrammers, parents of cult members and others with
strong anti-cuit views -- failed to reflect the complexity of the issue.
As a result, four specialists in religious and civil liberties and two
spokesmen for the Unification Church were invited to testify yesterday.
Five senators and four representatives attended at least part of the
four-hour session. Dole added that "a couple of my colleagues thought it better
not to show up here this morning" because the hearing had become so
Jackie Speier, aide to the late congressman Leo J. Ryan (D-Calif.) who was
injured in the shooting at a Guyana airstrip in which Ryan died, told about
conversations she had with adolescent girls in Jonestown, the Guyana commune of
the Peoples Temple cult.
"Their answers were devoid of normal emotion, speaking in monosyllables and
quite often not in proper response to the question asked, making it appear that
certain answers were programmed to fit a number of questions," she said. "These
women showed little interest in career or college goals, expecting an early
marriage within the cult to be their only option in life."
Speier called for an investigation of "religious groups that may be fronting
for other purposes," but added, "I must strongly caution against a McCarthy-type
witch hunt or any lessening of true religious freedom."
Ted Patrick, the most widely known of the deprogrammers, called the war
against cults "one of the most dangerous wars in the history of mankind."
Describing cult members as victims of mind control, Patrick said their minds
were "like containers, with the lids on tight; put them under the faucet and
nothing can come in. What I've got to do [in deprogramming] is take the top
Patrick was booed by Unification Church members when he finished, but they
saved their deepest animus for Rabbi Maurice Davis of White Plains, N.Y., a
prime mover in the anti-cult movement.
He was repeatedly interrupted with shouts of "lies! That's a lie!" as he
spoke of death threats he had received and likened the Unification Church to the
Nazi Youth Movement and the Peoples Temple. The rabbi inflamed the crowd even
further with his concluding comments: "I am here to protest against child
molesters. For as surely as there are those who lure children with lollypops in
order to rape their bodies, so, too, do these lure children with candy-coated
lies in order to rape their minds."
Veteran civil liberties lawyer Jeremiah S. Gutman warned of the
constitutional dangers of legislating against religious cults. "Every
definition I've heard here, trying to distinguish cult from legitimate religion,
offends the First Amendment," he said. "There is no official truth in this
country; therefore there can be no official falsity."
The Rev. Barry Lynn, an attorney and minister of the United Church of Christ,
urged that if the government is to make any mistakes in response to the new
religious groups, "let those mistakes be on the side of religious tolerance.
When our nation's leaders have done otherwise... they have always plunged us
into our darkest periods of our history."
Lynn pointed out that his spiritual forebears included the Puritan elder who
"presided at the infamous witchcraft trials" of 17th century New England. "With
that sense of history we are particularly troubled at any hint of governmental
scrutiny of religious faith," he said.
© Copyright 1979 The Washington Post Company
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