Middletown Times-Herald-Record, New York.
Albany (UPI) - Tacking one of the hottest issues to face lawmakers all year, the Assembly Thursday narrowly defeated a bill to allow parents to legally kidnap their children from religious cults for deprogramming.
After more than 3 1/2 hours of sometimes vigorous debate, the so-called "anti-cult" bill was beaten 62-46 and tabled. Seventy-six votes are needed for passage in the 150-member house.
The measure can be brought up once again this year and supporters said that could happen as early as Monday.
Sponsor Assemblyman Howard Lasher of Brooklyn, D-46, said the measure was intended to rescue people who had joined religious cults against their will and perhaps might "be enslaved for years."
Opponents, led by Assemblyman Alan Hevesi of Forest Hills, D-28, did not attack the intent of the bill, but argued it was grossly unconstitutional.
Howard Lasher has made an extraordinary good faith work(?)", said Hevesi, "I just don't think the approach taken in the bill is a remedy."
Mid-Hudson Assemblymen voting for the bill were Thomas P. Morahan of New City, R-C-96; William J. Larkin Jr. of New Windsor, R-C-97; Raymond M. Kisor of Goshen, R-C-98; and Stephen M. Saland of Poughkeepsie, R-C-99.
Voting against the measure was Maurice D. Hinchey Jr. of Saugerties, D-L-101. Glenn E. Warren of Fishkill, R-C-100, was absent for the vote.
Hinchey sad he cast a "nay" vote because although cultists are "horrible people," the bill violates constitutional freedom of religious rights.
Larkin, however, asked the Assembly during debate to consider the feelings of parents whose children join cults, rather than the opposition of organized religion to the bill. Virtually all mainline churches had opposed the measure, saying it would allow families to kidnap any relative who departs from their religious beliefs.
But Kisor said local clergy to whom he spoke supported the bill. He related the story of an Orange County woman who joined a cult and the heartbreak it caused her family.
"The people who have walked in those shoes" support the measure, he said.
Kisor, Larkin and Morahan were sponsors of the measure, which has yet to be debated in the state Senate, where it passed last year by a 3-1 margin.
The measure would allow parents or guardians of a cult member to obtain a court order to legally kidnap the person for up to 45 days to undergo deprogramming.
To receive the order, the parents would have to show evidence that the cult member had been deceived into joining the group, had undergone a form of brainwashing and suffered a radical change in behavior, Lasher said.
Assemblyman Mark Alan Siegel of Manhattan, D-66, outlined specifics included in the bill to describe behavioral changes, arguing they could be applied to many other situations.
"I experienced sleep deprivation, I experienced inadequate diet, I experienced unreasonably long work hours, I experienced inadequate medical care - all in support for Eugene McCarthy up in New Hampshire," he said of the 1968 race for the Democratic presidential nomination.
"This bill could have been used against me when I graduated from law school and went to work for Gene McCarthy."
Assemblyman Elizabeth Connelly of Staten Island, D-61, unleashed an attack on the Rev. Sun Myung Moon in her speech, adding, "Khrushchev said it right: They're going to get us from within."
A similar "anti-cult" measure was passed last year by both houses, but was vetoed by Gov. Hugh L. Carey, who contended it was unconstitutional. Carey offered to work with the sponsor to draft a bill that would withstand a court challenge.
This year's measure has undergone several changes, but it is still unclear how Carey feels about it.
The bill sparked one of the most intensive lobbying efforts of the 1981 session. Both supporters and opponents have spent weeks confronting lawmakers and the media to express their feelings.
On Thursday, seven different stacks of statements against the bill were delivered to the Capitol press room.
Most of the opponents, many of whom are members of established, organized religions, content the measure is a violation of personal freedoms - that their own religions at one time were considered cults, and many saints and Biblical figures could be considered cult members.
"That is poppycock," Lasher countered. "I never have known one of those people (Biblical figures) to say 'I want you not to be part of anyone else, not to sleep or eat."'