An official of the Hare Krishna sect asserted yesterday that increasing numbers of parents are forcibly removing their children from unconventional cults by gaining court-ordered custody on the grounds that their children are victims of mind control and are not competent to exercise free will.
Alan Attias of Boston, Krishna spokesman in the eastern United States, condemned the practice at the press conference here as "legal kidnaping" followed by "deprogramming" and a "criminal and civil infringement" that threatens religious liberty.
The Hare Krishna sect called the press conference to announce that a 23-year-old devotee at the Potomac temple, Donna Seidenberg, disappeared Saturday while visiting her mother in Baltimore and is presumed to be undergoing "deprogramming."
The American Civil Liberties Union in Maryland has field a habeas corpus petition in Baltimore City Court requesting that the girl's mother, Pearl Seidenberg, and her sister, Susan Tapper of Pikesville, produce Donna Seidenberg in court to determine whether she was removed from the sect against her will.
Barbara Mello, staff counsel for the ACLU in Maryland, said she has no evidence that Seidenberg's mother was awarded legal custody of her daughter. She added tat in all similar cases, court records have been sealed until "deprogramming" has been accomplished or until a judge been accomplished or until a judge been accomplished or until a judge has vacated any guardianship order.
Mello said that the ACLU in Maryland has announced that it will litigate all cases where legal aid is sought in fighting such court-ordered guardianships awarded to parents of adults who join unconventional sects.
On Feb. 7, she said, Montgomery County Circuit Court judge John J. Mitchell awarded temporary guardianship to the parents of a Unification Church member who has been missing from his Prince George's County residence since.
On Jan. 21, Baltimore County Circuit Court Judge H. Kemp MacDaniel awarded a temporary guardianship to Paul Stubbs of Pasadena, Md., parent of Hare Krishna devotee Andy Stubbs, 19, who left the sect's Baltimore temple with his father, ostensibly for a dental appointment, on Jan. 22 and never returned, she said.
The ACLU filed a habeas corpus petition. On Feb. 28, Stubbs appeared in Baltimore County Court with his parents and testified under oath that he was not being held against his will and wanted to renounce his Hare Krishna affiliation.
Attias said that since a prominent "deprogrammer," Ted Patrick, is serving a one-year jail sentence for unlawful imprisonment of a Hare Krishna devotee on the West Coast that professional "deprogrammers" have been "dissuaded" from forceful abduction and have turned to the court-ordered temporary guardianships.
"All this is done, of course, ex parte (without the presence or knowledge of the victim),' Attias complained.
"The next thing he knows, he is walking down the street chanting Hare Krishna when suddenly his parents appear from the shadows with a phalanx of deprogrammers and private detectives, grab him, wave a court order in his face, stuff him into a car, and whisk him off to a remote hotel for his 'exorcism,'" Attias continued.
Jeremiah Gutman, an ACLU lawyer in New York, said at the press conference that lawyers who are willing to help parents "deprive their children of self-autonomy" without a court haring should be "drummed out of the profession."
He said the concept of legal guardianship, normally used in cases of mental incompetence, is being "abused."
Gutman noted that a Missouri judge recently was persuaded to vacate a guardianship be awarded to the parents of David C. Houk, a 29-year-old Krishna devotee who described his attempted "deprogramming" at the press conference.
James J. McKenna, a Montgomery County lawyer for several parents who have obtained the guardianships - including Stubbs' and Honk's - called Gutman's remarks "extraordinary."
"Anyone who presumes to attack a lawyer for representing a person desiring to go into court is attacking our entire system of jurisprudence," McKenna asserted.