|7||A case of snatching someone from a cult for purposes of washing
out a brainwash (or to "deprogram" the subject, as they put it) has entered the
annals of crime this month in Cedar Rapids. With it have gone pretty loose allusions to a
much more serious offense: kidnapping. Both the cultist-grabbing business and the legal
framework it falls into need a better touch of public understanding than they've usually
enjoyed so far.
What happened here took fairly classic lines. Four men from Omaha were hired by a 27-year-old woman's parents to transport her bodily away and talk her out of eight years' allegiance to a religious group called The Way International. Police thwarted the abduction after the grab-team's behavior raised suspicions in a Cedar Rapids restaurant. The four men were charged with false imprisonment and assault.
Perceptions of these happenings get muddied up by problems with the motives usually at work. Both sides would describe them as benign, not criminal. Religious group adherents generally take satisfaction in their membership, however offbeat or unorthodox the group's activities may be. Relatives of members (parents, ordinarily) sense alienation in their loved ones. The common feeling is that youngsters have been sneakily beguiled into harmful situations which conflict with family teachings - that children got sucked into something they would quickly drop if only they could think straight again. Hence the usual resort to forcible removal and reverse brainwashing in the name of pure parental love.
Were all this fine intent goes wrong, however, is in doing things to people that society, through law, does not want people doing to each other. Freedom to believe, associate and worship as one likes is fundamental to our way of life. Most of those involved in cults, however kookie some may be, are fully qualified adults. We can't let others interfere by force in that against one's free-religion rights. Not even if the way one joined a church had seeming elements of mental "force" against ones early training. Only physical captivity within a cult can warrant physical activity to counteract.
Due recognition of the motives underlying tug-and-pull tactics with cultists finds Iowa law drawing valid distinctions. Overt acts that qualify as "kidnapping" in one context rate only as "false imprisonment" in another. You have kidnapped someone if you seized the person with intent to: (a) Hold him for ransom. (b) Use him as a shield or hostage. (c) Inflict serious injury or sexual abuse. (d) Secretly confine the victim. (e) Interfere with the performance of any government function.
By contrast, false imprisonment occurs when someone has been seized, without authority or right, to intentionally confine the person against his will. "A person is confined," says State Code section 710.7, "when the person's freedom to move about is substantially restricted by force, threat, or deception." The serious-misdemeanor penalties applying to it properly are lighter than the penalties for kidnapping as a class A, class B or class C felony, depending on what happened in the act.
The bottom line of right or wrong in cult-concerned shenanigans thus won't let strong-arm tactics pass as virtuous. No person has a right to forcibly detain another, even with the high intent of breaking mental chains. It may be wrong, as well, for cults to hold a mind in bondage if the mind got into its predicament through undue pressure or deceit. But cultist-snatchers unmistakably commit a criminal offense. They shouldn't pay for it as kidnap artists, but they do deserve a penalty that fits the crime.
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