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New York Deprogramming Bill

NY Senate Passes Bill on Cult Deprogramming

1 Jul 1981

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1 Jul 1981
21 Jul 1981

By Bob Keeler - Garden City Newsday, New York

Albany - Despite an intensive lobbying campaign by organized religion, the Senate gave final passage yesterday to a controversial bill designed to help parents retrieve their children from cults for deprogramming.

Gov. Hugh Carey vetoed last year's cult bill on constitutional grounds, then told his counsel to work on an alternative. Talks with the sponsors broke off earlier this year when negotiators failed to agree on a new bill. Carey has not said what he will do with this year's bill, but it has strong opposition, including a letter from Mental Health Commissioner James Prevost.

"I think he's probably going to veto it again," said the Senate sponsor, Joseph Pisani (R-New Rochelle). The Assembly sponsor, Howard Lasher (D-Brooklyn), had been more optimistic, but yesterday he would only say, "Your guess is as good as mine."

In both houses, support for this year's bill was significantly smaller than for the 1980 bill. The Senate vote yesterday was 35-23, compared with 42-14 last year. In the Assembly, the vote on June 22 was 77-64, compared with 97-44 last year.

"This year there was much more of a concerted push by organized religion against it," Pisani said. Barbara Shack, the legislative director for the New York Civil Liberties Union, which opposed this year's bill even more strongly than last year's, said the lobbying was heavier because "last year, there wasn't time, really."

The bill allows a judge to appoint a temporary conservator for persons over 16 years old. The conservator could remove the cult member from the cult, with the help of a sheriff if necessary, for 45-day deprogramming period. But the person applying to be the conservator would first have to prove to the judge three factors:

  • The person has undergone a radical psychological change, evidenced by a list of symptoms such as drastic weight change diminished rate of facial hair growth and cessation of perspiration.
  • The group practices such coercive techniques as isolation from family and friends, food and sleep deprivation and unreasonably long work hours.
  • The group uses deceptive practices in its recruiting.

During the hour-long debate, senators opposed to the bill pointed out that the group practices outlined in the bill could apply to the early Franciscans, to the Marine Corps and even to the Senate. And proving deception involves passing judgment on the beliefs of the group, which endangers religious freedom, its opponents argued.

But Sen. John Marchi (R-Staten Island) said the bill would simply offer young people whose free will has been voided by cults an "opportunity to take stock." Pisani said: "This bill is dedicated to a free expression of conscience and belief."

But the difficulty of the problem is obvious from the strange voting patterns that produced a "yes" vote from such a normally liberal Democrat as Assemb. Arthur J. Kremer (D-Long Beach). "It's the oddest mix you'll ever see on any bill," said Kremer, whose neighbor's 28-year-old son joined a cult. "Those who feel strongest about it directly or indirectly know someone who's had the problem."

Part 2

 


Introduction
Deprogramming
Conservatorship
Deprogramming Bill
What Deprogramming is not
Cases Studies
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