Investigations of Abuse by Religious Institutions
The Justice Department investigates abuses by religious leaders. We need to charge the Justice Department with broader powers to investigate religious institutions that are suspected of harmful and illegal practices.
In the United States, we enjoy a wide range of freedoms and liberties, including the freedom of religion, allowing us to believe what we want and to worship how we want. This is a right that should not be infringed upon. However, there are some institutions that are more criminal in nature, but use the veil of “religion” to shield them from the potentially prying eyes of our government, leaders, and courts.
Our freedom of religion can only endure if we are vigilant to ensure that religion is not used as a cover for illegal and immoral activities. Illegal activities are easily defined by our criminal codes. But, who gets to decide what is immoral? Luckily, we already have a list of characteristics that guide us in determining if an organization is religious in nature or abusive in nature.
The International Cultic Studies Association has a list of characteristics that could be used in determining whether an organization is more “religious” or more “cultish”. These characteristics are not meant to be diagnostic, but rather as a tool to examine the nature of the organization.
- The group displays excessively zealous and unquestioning commitment to its leader and (whether he is alive or dead) regards his belief system, ideology, and practices as the Truth, as law.
- Questioning, doubt, and dissent are discouraged or even punished.
- Mind-altering practices (such as meditation, chanting, speaking in tongues, denunciation sessions, and debilitating work routine) are used in excess and serve to suppress doubts about the group and its leader(s).
- The leadership dictates, sometimes in great detail, how members should think, act, and feel (for example, members must get permission to date, change jobs, marry – or leaders prescribe what types of clothes to wear, where to live, whether or not to have children, how to discipline children, and so forth).
- The group is elitist, claiming a special, exalted status for itself, its leader(s), and its members (for example, the leader is considered the Messiah, a special being, an avatar – or the group and/or the leader is on a special mission to save humanity).
- The group has a polarized us-versus-them mentality, which may cause conflict with the wider society.
- The leader is not accountable to any authorities (unlike, for example, teachers, military commanders or ministers, priests, monks, and rabbis of mainstream religious denominations).
- The group teaches or implies that its supposedly exalted ends justify whatever means it deems necessary. This may result in members’ participating in behaviors or activities they would have considered reprehensible or unethical before they joined the group (for example, lying to family or friends, or collecting money for bogus charities).
- The leadership induces feelings of shame and/or guilt in order to influence and/or control members. Often, this is done through peer pressure and subtle forms of persuasion.
- Subservience to the leader or group requires members to cut ties with family and friends, and to radically alter the personal goals and activities they had before they joined the group.
- The group is preoccupied with bringing in new members.
- The group is preoccupied with making money.
- Members are expected to devote inordinate amounts of time to the group and group-related activities.
- Members are encouraged or required to live and/or socialize only with other group members.
- The most loyal members (the “true believers”) feel there can be no life outside the context of the group. They believe there is no other way to be and often fear reprisals to themselves or other if they leave (or even consider leaving) the group.
Complaints can be made to the Justice Department, requiring the Justice Department to conduct a thorough investigation into the allegations. The Justice Department would be able to initiate charges or indictments against the individual(s) involved and possibly the organization as a whole. If there are numerous findings of criminal activity or abuses, the “religious” status can be removed, eliminating the group’s ability to claim tax exemption status. When the criminality or abuses are classified as severe and/or widespread, the group may be forced to cease and desist, legally shutting the group down to prevent further harm to the public.
While religious rights must always be protected, we cannot allow groups to use the moniker of “religion” to provide cover and immunity from governmental oversight. We must carefully balance the freedom of religion versus public safety.
 International Cultic Studies Association, Langone, Michael D., “Characteristics Associated with Cultic Groups”, ICSA Today, Vol. 6, No. 3, 2015, 10, https://www.icsahome.com/articles/characteristics, accessed January 5, 2019.