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New York Deprogramming Bill

Anti-Cult Bill Stirs Debate on Constitutionality

23 Jun 1981

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19 Jun 1981
23 Jun 1981
1 Jul 1981
21 Jul 1981

Buffalo, N.Y. News

ALBANY - The assembly Monday night approved a "cult bill" that its chief sponsor said could give parents help in getting their older children away from religious cults.

Opponents of the measure, however, claim that in return for the help that parents might get, the bill would hand judges too much power to set up "temporary guardianships."

The measure, approved 77-64 in the Democratic-controlled Assembly is expected to pass the Republican-controlled Senate easily. However, it could face a veto from Gov. Carey, whose mental hygiene commissioner, Dr. James Prevost, has already said he has "serious reservations" about the bill.

The vote was the second attempt in less than a week for the sponsor, Assemblyman Howard Lasher, D-Brooklyn. On Thursday he was only able to come up with 64 "yes" votes in the 150-member house where 76 votes are needed for passage.

The Lasher bill, officially known as the "guardianship bill," would allow judges to remove members of religious cult for a 45-day "deprogramming" period.

Assemblyman Alan Hevesi, D-Queens, an opponent of the measure, said during the earlier debate that under the legislation "a person can be held for the equivalent of a Class B misdemeanor - a person who is not incompetent, not mentally ill and not a danger to himself or anyone else."

"I think that's a power we should not give to the judges of this state," he said.

The bill requires that, to become eligible for a court-appointed guardian, a person show a drastic change in life-style as a result of undergoing a psychological indoctrination. The guardian, who could be a parent or another person, could be appointed no matter what the age of the cult member, a major point with those who consider the measure unconstitutional.

The 45-day deprogramming period could be extended for an additional 30 days if, during the initial period, another member of the cult had contact with the court-removed member.

After the deprogramming period, the person would be free to return to the cult, stay with his parents or go anywhere else he wished.

The bill has been opposed by, among others, the state Council of Churches, the American Civil Liberties Union and the chapter of the NAACP.

The ACLU has labeled the bill a "direct attack on basic constitutional principles of individual conscience and liberty."

Part 2

 


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