A 25-year-old Silver Spring woman attempted today to convince a judge that she is not being held against her will in New York City by members of the Unification Church, as her father has charged.
"I believe that if I were a Catholic or a Lutheran that this never would have happened," said Barbara Anne Larson, who was raised as a Lutheran but has been a member for the past seven years of the controversial church led by the Rev. Sun Myung Moon. "There is bias in this world," she said.
"I am as sane and sound and as normal as you," she continued to her father's attorney, Alan Apfel. "All I want to do is to pursue my First Amendment right of freedom of religion without fear that someone, some day will haul me away in handcuffs and force me to superficially recant my faith in order to have them leave me alone."
Miss Larson spent the entire day on the stand in the habeas corpus hearing brought by her father, Lewis O. Larson, to determine if she left a "deprogramming center" in Pennsylvania of her own volition last Dec. 10.
Judge Alvin F. Klein earlier in the day dismissed a motion brought by Unification Church attorney Leonard H. Rubin to remove himself from the case because of alleged animosity toward Rubin. The hearing is scheduled to continue Thursday.
The elder Larson, who sat impassively in the corner of the courtroom in the New York Supreme Court building here, shook his head after his daughter left the stand as court recessed for the day. "They coached her real well," he said.
Larson estimated that he has spent more than $20,000 so far to separate his daughter from the Unification Church. "It's worth it, even if I lose. At least I'll have tried," he said..
Following a hearing in October in Missouri, where Miss Larson had been living in church quarters, a St. Louis judge awarded custody of Miss Larson to her parents. She then was flown by professional "deprogrammer" Gifford Capellini, of Freedom of Mind Inc. to a rehabilitation center in Sweet Valley, Pa., where she spent the next seven weeks.
Miss Larson describes the facility as "concentration camp" where she was "beaten up spiritually." "How would you like it if they sat you down and yelled at you for hours?" she asked the court.
Apfel painted a different picture to Judge Klein. According to him, Miss Larson was treated well, went dancing and roller skating and had a generally pleasant time at the facility, which was established to help people leave groups like the Unification Church.
During extended questioning of Miss Larson on the events surrounding her departure from Missouri and later from Pennsylvania. Apfel challenged her credibility and mental competance to determine if she is being held against her will.
During her testimony, Miss Larson made a number of factual errors, and at one point declared that a letter she had written from Pennsylvania to her parents disavowing her membership in the church to be "totally false" because she had not been sincere in the disavowal.
Apfel during a recess said he does not believe that Miss Larson voluntarily left a Christmas party on Dec. 10 with a church member and flew to New York City on a private plane chartered by members of the church. He would not elaborate what he believed actually happened on that occasion.