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Ten Years After Jonestown, the Battle Intensifies Over the Influence of 'Alternative' Religions

November 17, 1988|BOB SIPCHEN | Times Staff Writer

The most significant case, everyone agrees, is last month's Molko decision by the California Supreme Court, which anti-cult groups have cheered as a major victory.

In that reversal of lower court decisions, the justices agreed that David Molko and another former member of the Unification Church could bring before a jury the claim that they were defrauded by recruiters who denied they had a church affiliation and then subjected the two to church mind control techniques, eventually converting them.

Mainstream religious organizations including the National Council on Churches, the American Baptist Churches in the USA and the California Ecumenical Council had filed briefs in support of the Unification Church, claiming that allowing lawsuits over proselytizing techniques could paralyze all religions.

"What they're attacking is prayer, fasting and lectures," said Biermans of the Unification Church. "The whole idea of brainwashing is unbelievably absurd. . . . If someone had really figured out a method of brainwashing, they could control the world." The church plans to appeal the ruling to the U.S. Supreme Court if necessary. Paul Morantz, the attorney who was struck by the rattlesnake placed in his mailbox by the "Imperial Marines" of Synanon, gave pro-bono assistance to the plaintiffs in the Molko case.

"For me, it was a great decision for freedom of religion and to protect against the . . . use of coercive persuasion," he said.

Morantz currently is defending Bent Corydon, author of the book "L. Ron Hubbard, Madman or Messiah" against a lawsuit by the Church of Scientology. He said he's confident of how that case will turn out.

But he shares the belief of others on several sides of the multifaceted cult battle, in concluding that education rather than litigation should be the first defense of religious and intellectual liberty.

He's not, however, optimistic.

"If anyone thinks they're ever going to win this war, they're wrong," he said. "As long as we have human behavior, there will be sociopaths who will stand up and say 'follow me.' And there will always be searchers who will follow."

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