Distressed over court cases they say involve "infringement of religious liberty," a group of religious figures, attorneys and sociologists declared that American religious bodies are guilty of "moral failure" if they decline to support unconventional religious movements under legal attack.
The loss of religious freedom by one group, however strange its beliefs, could mean diminished independence for mainline religions, according to members of the American Conference on Religious Movements who met Wednesday at Loyola Marymount University.
Participants included Dean Kelley, church-state specialist with the National Council of Churches; Franklin Littell of Temple University; James Wood of Baylor University; J. Gordon Melton, author of "The Encyclopedia of American Religions;" H. Newton Maloney of Fuller Theological Seminary, and attorney Barry M. Fisher of Los Angeles.
A statement adopted by 18 participants cited in particular court cases with adverse rulings against the Unification Church, the Church of Scientology, the Hare Krishna movement and the Church Universal and Triumphant.
"All religious communities have the obligation to interest themselves in these cases, to file amicus curiae briefs and to support morally and monetarily those positions that seem right and just," the group said. "Failure to act is moral failure."
The last time the Washington-based group, which describes itself as a center for interfaith dialogue and information, met in Los Angeles, its leaders identified the clergy malpractice suit against Grace Community Church in the San Fernando Valley as the most serious threat against religious liberty. That suit, recently dismissed by the California Supreme Court, went unmentioned in this week's statement.
Asked why the malpractice case was not mentioned in the group's lengthy statement, Fisher said he presumed that part of the reason was that some clergy malpractice suits are still pending around the country.