A member of the Hare Krishna sect in Montgomery County charged in a lawsuit yesterday that she was kept prisoner for 33 days by "deprogrammers" who sought to rid her of her beliefs by depriving her of sleep and subjecting her to long, ritualized harangues against the sect.
Donna Seidenberg Bavis, 24, alleged that her captors, who were engaged by her mother for the deprogramming, stayed with her constantly throughout the 33 days, even accompanying her to the bathroom on occasion. She said she was kept in locked quarters and compelled to watch them burn Hare Krishna relics during a month of "terror and hysteria."
Bavis, who returned to the sect in March after pretending to be successfully deprogrammed, then married another devotee, Edward Bavis. She had been confined by the deprogrammers under a "conservatorship," a court-sanctioned form of guardianship usually applied to senile people who cannot manage their own affairs.
The suit in federal court in Baltimore is the first East Coast challenge to the use of such laws by parents hoping to remove their children from what they consider objectionable religious movements. It is also the first direct assault on the east Coast on the methods of the deprogrammers.
Legal action is already under way in other parts of the country, most notably in San Francisco, against the entire deprogramming movement, which the American Civil Liberties Union and the cults see as an unconstitutional abridgement of religious freedom. Parents and deprogrammers contend that the adherents victims of "brainwashing" and that they are simply trying to return freedom of choice to the young people.
Bavis's attorney represent the American Civil Liberties Union, the Mental Health Law Project and Americans United for Separation of Church and State.
Bavis' complaint alleges that 11 defendants, from a Maryland judge, who granted the conservatorship, to the deprogrammers themselves, conspired against her "as a member of a hated class" to deprive her of equal protection of the law. She is not suing her mother, whom she described in a press conference yesterday as "innocent."
Andrew G. Stubbs, a deprogrammer and defendant, called the lawsuit an "exposure tactic by the Krishnas to give deprogramming a bad name, but it can't be done. My efforts were to help her understand the mind control and the slave labor of the cult."
The actual "deprogramming" began Feb. 26 in a Baltimore motel room where Donna was taken by her mother who had lured her home on the pretense she was giving a bridal shower in Donna's honor.
"Donna held back from entering" the motel room, the complaint states. "One or more of the defendants, who were concealed within the room, pulled her in and locked the door behind her," it says. Then, for four days, Stubbs, Paige Stetson of Rye, N.Y., a bodyguard known to Donna only as "Mark" and another deprogrammer known to her only as "Ellen" told her repeatedly that she could not escape and that she would he held captive "until she was 'deprogrammed' from her religious beliefs and associations 'however long it takes,'" the suit said.
During this time, the long dress that she wore for religious reasons, was taken from her and replaced with dungaress; the picture of her fiance and a gold engagement bracelet from him were seized, among other items, and was allegedly called a "whore," a "slave," a "bitch" and a "prostitute for her spiritual master."
Eventually, she began to feign acceptance of the "deprogramming" and was subjected to a telephone "stress test" by an unknown man who said he was analyzing her voice to determine whether she was telling the truth. She passed it.
On March 1, Stubbs, Stetson, "Ellen" and another defendant, "Linda," drove her to The Carriage House in Bradford, N.H., for four weeks of "rehabilitation." The home is the summer residence of two more defendants', George and Winifred Swope.
All doors and the telephone were locked, the complaint states, and Donna was kept "under constant surveillance."
She was allegedly compelled to listen to lectures about the New Testament, listen to tape recordings about Charles Manson (to whom her "deprogrammers" compared her Krishna leaders) and forced to write a letter to Swope consenting to all restraints imposed upon her and authorizing her "deprogrammers" to capture her should she escape.
She also was forced to write a letter to Montgomery County Circuit Judge Richard Latham thanking him for "rescuing" her by granting the guardianship renouncing the sect and her engagement to Bavis.
On March 25, Donna was driven to Boston by another defendant, Joy Shores, the staff director at the Carriage House, for a conference with Jean Merritt, a psychiatric social worker, who questioned her about her religious beliefs and congratulated her on her "successful 'deprogramming.'"
Donna went home to Baltimore March 27. The next day she went before Judge Latham and said she was not being detained against her will. The guardianship was dissolved.
The following day, she returned to the sect in Potomac and was reunited with her fiance and with her religion.
The complaint alleges that J. James McKenna, a private lawyer and Maryland public defender, sought custody of Donna acting on her mother's behalf.
Donna contends that the entire process that followed - including a secret hearing of which she was never notified - was a breach of the state law governing guardianship.
The law she contended, requires mental examinations, right to counsel and adversary hearing, and prior notice to the subject of the proceeding before a guardianship can be granted because of "incompetency."
Judge Latham allowed none of these things, she alleged. Latham was unavailable for comment yesterday.
In addition to seeking an injuction against these and other "deprogrammers" unless custody laws are fully followed, the suit asks $250,000 in compensatory and $250,000 in punitive damages from the defendants.
Reached by telephone Merritt and Shores declined comment. McKenna said angrily that what he did was "perfectly legal, and something about which I feel proud. I will not be intimidated and I want that message to come out loud and clear."
Swope said that "as far as I know," Donna "came willingly" to the Carriage House. Others could not be reached.
Swope was named a defendant in another major law suit filed in New York this week by Wendy Helander, a member of the Unification Church. She is seeking $6 million from Swope and "deprogrammers" Ted Patrick; Joseph and Esther Alexandria, now of the Freedom of Thought Foundation in Tucson; her parents Elton and Caroline Helander of Guilford, Conn, and Citizens Engated inReuniting Families, an anti-cult groups, for violations of her civil rights.