The Unification Church and some religious groups that have denounced it in the past have teamed up to attack an informal congressional hearing on religious cults.
The Unification Church yeaterday brought it top national and state leadership to Capitol Hill to lobby members to pressure Sen. Bob Dole (R-Kan.) to call off Monday's hearing, which is heavily loaded with professional deprogrammers and other avowed enemies of the church founded by the Rev. Sun Myung Moon.
At the same time, a letter to Dole signed by representatives of nine Protestant and Jewish groups, including the National council of Churches and the Synagogue Council, charged that the lack of "strong advocates for religious liberty" at the scheduled hearing poses a threat to First Amendment guarantees of religious freedom.
Barry Lynn, legislative counsel for the United Church of Christ, who drafted the letter, charged that Mondy's meeting, which Dolehs office is calling an "information session" rather than a formal hearing, is "really a witch hunt."
The letter said the hearing "can do nothing but inflame the public and obscure the delicate and complex issues which surround the activities of minority groups." It complained that "no strong advocates for religious liberty are represented, yet vital First Amendment conferns are at the very heart of the debate about so-called 'cults'."
With the exception of Jacqueline Speir, an aide to the late Rep. Leo J. Ryan, (D-Calif.) who was wounded in the November ambush in Guyana in which Ryan died, most of the scheduled witnesses have achieved prominence in their battles against the Unification Church. Best-known is Ted Patrick, an ex-aide to former California governor Ronald Reagan who has served several prison terms for his role in kidnaping and deprogramming cult members.
Dole's office charged late yesterday that the intent of Mondays session has been "misconstrued," adding that it is not a congressional hearing, an investigation or "a debate between opposing points of view. It is very simply an information session for members of the Congress and their staffs on the cult phenomenon in this country."
Bill Katz, an aide to Dole, acknowledged that the session was planned after the mass suicide-murder at the Peoples Temple settlement in Jonestown. "In some respects," he said, "it is a reaciton to Guyana."
In the wake of that tragedy, he said "the other members of [Congress] said they didn't know enough about it to sponsor legislation" to restrict religious cults.
The protest, which Lynn emphasizedwas not prompted by the Unification Church, reflects the sensitivities of mainline religious leaders to any effort to legislate religious activities.
'This time they are not coming after us," said Lynn. "But if we donht speak out now, we hav eno right to when they come after the Methodists or the Unitarians or whoever."
The signers of the letter also include executives of the United Methodist and United Presbyterian churches, United Church of Christ, Church of the Brethren, Lutheran Council in the U.S.A, Unitarian Universalist Association and Baptist Joint Committee on Public Affairs.