The American Jewish Congress has launched a program designed to tackle on the legal and legislative fronts the involvement of young persons with religious cult groups.
Legally, the Jewish agency is enlisting services of lawyers across the country to aid parents or young persons in bringing suit against the cults on such charges as imprisonment, breach of contract or violation of child labor laws.
On the legislative front, the organization will compile data on efforts to regulate cult groups and findings of governmental investigative units such as attorneys general or legislative committees.
Julius Schatz, who will coordinate the new program, said the American Jewish Congress hopes that "legislatively and legall . . . we will be able to render some kind of service."
In a telephone interview, Schatz emphasized that the agency would avoid any programming of young persons who have been lured from the cult groups, sometimes by illegal means.
"That's too touchy a thing at the moment for us to get involved with and create all kinds of concerns," he said.
Schatz said the new program was prompted by experiences of the agency's leaders "who in their own families or in their own neithborhoods have encountered this problem."
The agency's legal services in the Washington area will be available to non-Jews, he said.
In a prepared statement announcing the program Harold Becker, corresponding secretary of the American Jewish Congress emphasized that the organization "is strongly committed to religious freedom as guaranteed by our Constitution. But some cults recruit and retain members through tactics that are clearly in violation of basic civil liberties."
Schatz said the legislative aspect of the new program would involve such issues as "brainwashing legislation, the question of the rights of young people who wish to leave the cults and taxation matters," among others.
Critics of the cults repeatedly have questioned whether political and, in some cases, commercial, involvement of some cult leaders justifies the groups'continued tax-exempt status.