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ICRF v. Maryland Motion to Dissmiss: Statement of the Facts PDF Print E-mail

A. Legislative History of the Cult Task Force Resolution
B. The Task Force Report Continued the Violations of Plaintiffs’ Constitutional Rights


A. Legislative History of the Cult Task Force Resolution

On February 19, 1998, House Joint Resolution 22, "Task Force to Study the Effects of Cult Activities on Public Senior Higher Education Institutions," was introduced to the Maryland House of Delegates by Delegate C. Anthony Muse. Delegate Muse unambiguously stated that the "cults" he was seeking to restrain were religious organizations. Asserting his preference for some religious practices over other religious "cults," and characterizing the bill as one which is based upon interpretation of competing religious doctrines, Delegate Muse stated:

Cults can be defined from and by many different disciplines. Here, I am not defining cults from a theological perspective as I always believe in freedom of religious expression. But I am aware that even religious practices can be designed to be manipulative, harmful and have as its goal to prey on naive persons rather than praying for the good of one.

(Ex. 1.)

Thus, the Resolution overtly addressed religious issues, and did so from the viewpoint that some were good and some "prey[ed] upon naive persons" with false theology and practice. Indeed, the State of Maryland’s Internet web page of legislative enactments indexed the Resolution under the topical heading "RELIGION — see also – CHURCHES." (Ex. 2.)

In the Appropriations Committee meetings in which the passage of the Task Force legislation was proposed, no representatives of the groups to be studied (the purported "cults") were afforded the opportunity to refute public allegations derogating their religious beliefs and practices. Rather, each person who provided written or oral testimony regarding the bill was listed in the legislative record as a "proponent" of the bill. (Ex. 3.) The inflammatory and one-sided assertions of the harms generated by "cults" by these proponents, each bore a religious theme.

For example, Roger and Sandra Stephon, the parents of a member of the International Churches of Christ, who stridently disagreed with their adult child’s involvement in the religion, made allegations regarding the existence of manipulative "cults" on campus. (Ex. 4.) One Laura Ann Weber, in derogatory terms, asserted that her life changed for the worse after she attended a Bible study group which led to her deep involvement in a religious organization she referred to as a "cult." (Ex. 5.)

The legislative history supplies many examples of the usage of the term "cult" as applicable to a religious organization with practices perceived to be unorthodox. One key witness was Lutheran Minister Richard Dowhower, who provided examples of blatant preference for his "main line" religious beliefs over the "destructive" beliefs of the "cults" which he deemed in part to practice "heresy":

While the worst aspects of these religious and therapeutic malpractice are their human rights violations, serious thinkers and believers are also offended by cultic truth claims, which are often self-contradictory and are violated by the actions of the cult’s leaders. They violate the Christian tradition by (1) denying the validity of Jesus as savior, (2) the sufficiency of the Holy Bible as revelation and (3) the fellowship of traditional churches. Their "salvation by special enlightenment" is a revisiting of the ancient gnostic heresy.

(Ex. 6.)

Rev. Dowhower’s testimony was similarly laced with statements regarding his disagreement with "cults" on theological grounds:

As part of my parish ministry since 1975 I have been studying new religious movements, educating clergy, youth and church groups to their dangers, and counseling families as to how they may morally and legally get their loved ones out of such groups. Once the ex-members have voluntarily exited the cult, I help them sort out their spiritual and theological issues as they move through the post-cult era of their lives.

(Ex. 7.)

Additional witnesses, Les and Nora Baker, were represented by a lobbyist of an infamous anti-cult organization, the Cult Awareness Network, and complained that their daughter was "coerced" by a Resident Assistant at the University of Maryland "to give her life over to a destructive cult." (Ex. 8.) The alleged "cult" at issue was, as described in a newspaper "expose" provided by Ms. Baker to the Appropriations Committee considering the legislation (Ex. 9), was the International Churches of Christ. (Ex. 10.)

Without hearing opposition testimony, the Appropriations Committee voted unanimously to pass the bill. (Ex. 11.) The Resolution was provided to the entire House of Delegates the next day, March 28, 1999, with a short descriptive cover page. The cover page used the word "cult" seven times, noting in part, that "the bill would study ... cult activities ... regarding recruitment and organizational practices of cults, the extent of cult activities within the University System of Maryland ... and the effect of cult involvement on students." (Ex.12.)

Numerous portions of the legislative history demonstrated an antagonism to "cults" in general, and specifically the International Churches of Christ and Unification Church – as compared to or identified as being in competition with the religious practices of the speakers which when identified, invariably were main line faiths such as Presbyterian, Lutheran, and later, Catholic and Episcopalian.

The Joint Resolution was passed by the Maryland House of Delegates on April 9, 1999 and by the Senate on April 12, 1999. The Governor signed the Joint Resolution on May 21, 1998.

The text of the Resolution required the Task Force to study "The Effects of Cult Activities on Public Senior Higher Education Institutions," and therefore overtly indicated its design to target religious minorities denominated as "cults." The term "cult" has come to have a highly derogatory definition in our society, connotating frightening religious practices off the main line of legitimate belief. One popular dictionary published in 1997 defined "cult" as: "a religion or sect considered to be false, unorthodox or extremist," and "a particular system of religious worship, especially with reference to its rites and ceremonies." Random House Webster’s College Dictionary. Similarly, the first definitions in the 1981 edition of Webster’s Collegiate Dictionary are religious: "1. formal religious veneration: worship. 2. a system of religious beliefs and ritual; also: its body of adherents; 3. a religion regarded as unorthodox or spurious; also: its body of adherents."

The Dictionary of Cultural Literacy, defines the term in part, as one "suggest[ing] extreme beliefs and bizarre behavior." (Ex. 16.)

In the written testimony of Dr. William Stuart, professor of anthropology at the University of Maryland College Park, who represented that his primary research interest is the study of new religious movements, stated:

The term "cult," itself, is a problematic one. Although the term can be – and usually is by social scientists – defined in a non-prejudicial manner, it is a fact that the term, as used by most of us, the public, is pejorative; it is a term one uses to describe the religion of someone else; virtually no group that I am aware of uses the term ‘self-referentially," i.e., to speak of itself. Moreover, the term, when used in the colloquial manner of everyday speech, carries with it a condemning, negative assessment of the movement.

(Ex. 17.)

The pejorative meaning of the term was readily apparent in the Task Force proceedings. Appointed as a member of the Task Force as a "parent of a former or current cult member," was Ms. Patricia Rausch, a parent of an individual who had attended several meetings of the International Churches of Christ. Rausch was highly disturbed over her adult daughter’s choice of religion, as indicated in her testimony to the Task Force. Rausch was therefore chosen as one of the persons who would make determinations on behalf of the State, even though she was known to be highly prejudiced. The other "parent" appointed to the Task Force was "anti-cult" activist Frantz Wilson, although his daughter joined the Black Hebrews, a religious group, 19 years ago and the event had no relation in or to the State of Maryland or its universities. (Ex. 18, Statement of Frantz Wilson.)

Mr. Wilson and Ms. Rausch were selected as the "sub-committee" to select the speakers at Task Force meetings. At one of the Task Force public hearings, on June 25, 1999, plaintiff Alexander Colvin complained that Mr. Wilson had selected former CAN president Ronald Loomis as a speaker, that Mr. Loomis had repeatedly made derogatory remarks about Mr. Colvin’s church, the Unification Church, calling its members "Moonies" and that Mr. Wilson, responded stating, "I do not care what you say because I know that the Unification Church is a hateful and deceptive organization." (Ex. 19, para. 10, Declaration of Alex Colvin.)

As Mr. Wilson and Ms. Rausch were unashamed "anti-cult" extremists, they selected all "anti-cult" advocates to testify. Persons invited to testify at the Task Force’s first meeting were the head of the local former Cult Awareness Network office in Baltimore, Doris Quelet, and Lutheran minister Platz. Several "former members" of so-called "cults" presenting derogatory opinions on their former churches were also invited to testify. No active members or representatives of any of the targeted "cults" were asked to testify, and no representatives of civil rights groups were invited to testify. The International Churches of Christ and the Unification Church – obviously religious groups – were nevertheless specifically targeted in the meetings of the Task Force. The Task Force meetings were, in part, akin to "anti-cult" revival conferences with the Task Force and its supporters degrading and criticizing minority religions. For example, as explained by plaintiff Alexander Colvin who attended the meeting:

The first person to give testimony to the task force on May 25, 1999 was Mr. Ronald Loomis. His topic was "Overview on Cults." He was identified on the agenda as a "Cult Awareness Educator and Consultant." Mr. Loomis was introduced by Mr. Frantz Wilson, the Chairperson of the Subcommittee on Outside Resources. In his testimony, Mr. Loomis made numerous comments about new religious movements referring to them as "cults." While Mr. Loomis maintained that his comments referred to a wide variety of cults, he specifically discussed the Unification Church and the International Churches of Christ and made a number of prejudicial and unsubstantiated accusations. He maintained that the witnessing and teaching of these organizations was a form of "mind control." When Mr. Loomis spoke of the Unification Church, he frequently referred to them in a demeaning and negative manner as "moonies." Mr. Loomis was given more than an hour to present his anti-cult theories and allegations.


On the afternoon of May 25, the task force heard several hours of anti-cult testimony. One of the witnesses was ... Sidney L. Gulick, Professor of Mathematics, University of Maryland College Park, a long-time anti-cult activist. Dr. Gulick introduced two "former cult members." One, Edward Rodriguez, had been a member of the International Church of Christ. He did not mention the name of the group, but spoke of being invited to "Bible studies," "confessing his sins," and donating a part of his income from his employment as "cult" activities. After Edward Rodriguez testified, Chairman Wood asked all of the task force members to applaud.

(Ex. 19, paras. 8 & 11, Declaration of Alex Colvin.)

Substantial time was expended in the first meeting to define the type of group the Task Force was instructed to investigate, i.e., endeavoring to define the term "cult." The Task Force’s advisors from "anti-cult" groups provided definitions which were manifestly religious in nature – since that is what the term means – and the chairman determined that the word "cult" would no longer be used. (Id.) However, the Task Force defined the term in the context of activities which leave no room for doubt that the organizations targeted are religious in nature. (Ex. 20, Declaration of Dan Fefferman.)

Plaintiff Alexander Colvin attempted through the legislative process to reveal the prejudicial nature of the Resolution to the Task Force, and thereby sought to evade litigation over the Resolution – an endeavor which ultimately assisted defendants to avoid injunctive relief prior to the publication of the Task Force Report.

In light of the vehement opposition to the Task Force by plaintiffs Fefferman, Eby and Colvin, the Task Force members sought to obscure the nature of their activities to appear as if religious issues would be avoided. The decision to eliminate the term "cult" and the chairman’s assertions that the Task Force would not become involved in religious activities, permitted the Task Force to arbitrarily exclude academic and scholarly works regarding the prejudicial nature of its activities in investigating religious minorities. Excluded were numerous testimonial statements challenging the Task Force’s mandate as unlawful, and articles demonstrating the biases inherent in the use of the term. (Exs. 19 & 20.) Throughout the proceedings, the Chairman interrupted witnesses to tell them that the Task Force had decided not to define the word "cult" and that it intentionally omitted the word from its mission statement. In fact, he stated, the Task Force on Cult Activities was not studying "cults" at all. (Id.) Then, at a Task Force meeting on August 10, 1999, the Task Force voted to abandon its policy of not defining "cult" and officially re-opened the question of defining the term. (Id.)

In any event, these efforts were clearly political, as the International Churches of Christ and the Unification church continued to be targeted as the primary "cults" or "groups" of concern. Several other minority religions were also mentioned in the context of being "cults."

At the same time the Task Force was denying it was investigating "cults," a questionnaire created by the Task Force was disseminated through the Maryland University System. The questionnaire, provided to the Presidents of all University System of Maryland Schools from the Chancellor of the University System of Maryland, notes that the Task Force sought information "... regarding the recruitment and organizational practices of cults, the extent of cult activities with the University System of Maryland ... and the effect of cult involvement on students." (Ex. 21.)

The questionnaire’s cover letter provided no guidance regarding the identification of a "cult," obviously assuming that the term is sufficiently defined in common vernacular to be understood. If so, the definitions of the dictionary and common usage as a religious minority apply by default. The questionnaires were separately captioned to be distributed to "consulting psychologists" (Ex. 22), "resident directors and community directors" (Ex. 23), "chaplains" (Ex. 24) and "faculty/professional academic advisors." (Ex. 25).

Responses to the questionnaires were predictably rife with derogatory comments regarding minority religions – not other types of groups – and evidence of the creation of new fear, distrust and discrimination against minority religions. The responses dealt with precisely what they would be predicted to reply to – religious minorities.

For example, in a response from Coppin State University, after answering that there was no "activity, inquiry, issues, or concerns expressed by students, parents, or staff relative to cult activity," the response stated:

As a result of this inquiry, Dr. Geraldine Waters [Dean of Adult and General Education] has suggested that we be more vigilant with regards to this issue. She plans to insert a question in her initial interview with students to discern any indication of cult involvement. (e.g.) Are there any groups or involvement to which you give special allegiance, which you have not disclosed in your admissions application? If so, please describe them at this time.

(Ex. 26.)

This response is a clear indication that as a direct result of the Task Force’s actions, an atmosphere of suspicion will continue to be created toward "cults," and that University officials are increasing their "vigilance" by requiring new students to reveal their private religious and constitutionally protected associations.

Another survey response from a resident assistant at the University of Maryland College Park names the Chi Alpha Christian Fellowship and Maryland Christian Fellowship in response to the Task Force’s Question 3 in what she refers to as its "dangerous group survey." She cites three episodes of being asked to come to a "Bible study," and one of a student attempting to give her a Bible, although she admits that in all cases those who approached her did not persist after she rejected their invitations. She also refers to a person who had previously invited her to a Bible study walking in a public parking area and "talking to a young adult." (Ex. 27.) Thus, perfectly innocent, constitutionally-protected religious free speech activities are denominated publicly as dangerous "cult behaviors" as a direct result of this Task Force’s inquest.

Many of the questionnaire responses evidence the Task Force’s creation of religious prejudice, including chaplains and mainline ministers reporting on the "cult activities" of their religious rivals. For example, Bob Albrecht, Catholic chaplain at Towson State University, responded by citing as evidence of "cult activity" the following:

1. The Unification Church owned a house near the campus.

2. Members of the Unification Church "infiltrated" student meetings "with the express purpose of recruitment."

(Ex. 28, p. 5.)

In addition to attacking the Unification Church, Father Albrecht denigrates other Protestant groups that seem to be more successful than his own church at recruiting new members. He calls these "Shepherding Groups" and defines them as "cults who take young people from their families and brainwash them," although he offers nothing to support this statement. (Id.) Father Albrecht brags that the Catholic Newman Club helped to "put a stop" to such a group. The Unification Church owning property near campus is also designated as a dangerous "cult activity," while the Catholic Newman Club’s property ownership and presence is not only protected, it is considered by Father Albrecht to be necessary to stem the tide of a competing religion.

In response to the Task Force’s questionnaire, William Reichart from the Campus Crusade for Christ at Towson University complains that rival Christian groups are causing problems by inviting students to "a Bible talk" on campus. Encouraged by the Task Force’s study of "cult activities," he calls these rival Christian denominations "cults." (Ex. 28, pp. 6-7.)

Another response from the counseling center at Frostburg State complains about the speech activities of a "Fundamentalist Christian" group stating, "The group is intolerant of others and ridicule the Methodist campus chaplain and the Catholic priest as being ‘unsaved’ and ‘unchristian’ because their theology does not match the group’s beliefs." (Ex. 29.)

In an interrogatory response from Rev. Mary E. Becker, Episcopalian chaplain at Towson State University, she submitted derogatory information on the International Churches of Christ, the Holy Tabernacle Ministries, the Great Commission Church, the Unification Church, and the Greater Grace World Outreach (Ex. 28, pp. 8, 9), complaining that her own religious organization is not prevailing over competing groups:

What is very upsetting and frustrating to me are the restrictions campuses have put on denominational groups which do not hinder the ones that are out to control others. We are not allowed to do programming in the residence halls, yet any of these groups are doing programs because they enroll students and get them to sponsor meetings in their rooms.


The University System, in response to HJR 22, also contributed to an expanding atmosphere of intolerance by requiring its campuses to report whether any resident assistants were "cult members" as a continuing obligation. Thus, the Task Force has directly encouraged and fostered an atmosphere of stigmatization of plaintiffs’ religion and other minority religions, in which students at the University System of Maryland, citizens of the State of Maryland, staff of the University System, will be increasingly scrutinized, suspected, denigrated and investigated solely on the basis of their religious affiliations.

B. The Task Force Report Continued the Violations of Plaintiffs’ Constitutional Rights

The harmful effects of the Resolution and the activities of the defendants continue into the future by the issuance of a published Report by the Task Force on September 15, 1999 as the culmination of its investigation and as findings of its work.

The Task Force abandoned the use of the word "cult" in its Report, seeking to alloy the problems raised throughout the Task Force proceedings, replacing it with the term "groups" and seeking to moot the unconstitutional acts raised in this action by pretending that they were not targeting specific "cult" organizations such as the International Churches of Christ and the Unification Church. However, it would be obvious to anyone with knowledge of the Task Force proceedings, or indeed, anyone who has read the newspapers generally regarding "cult" issues, that these religions were among the groups targeted by reference to "cults." Worse, by issuing a report on "Cult Activities" that actually dealt with "groups" in general, the Task Force created an impression that problems caused by unidentified "groups" in general (including presumably gangs, fraternities, drug rings, etc.) result from "cult activities." Thus, the elimination of the term had no effect as it was intended to concern itself with "cults."

Among the findings in the Report is the statement:

The extent of group activities causing harm is statistically very small when considering the enormous number of students attending USM institutions, Morgan State University and St. Mary’s College. This is based upon a wide range of group activities causing harm reported from these institutions varying from no problems to some problems. However, when interaction with a group causes harm to a student, that harm can be very severe.

The admission that the extent of harm is "very small" is important. However the "severe" harms are not specified, but are left as an inflammatory generality subject to the imagination of the reader. There is also an implication that "harm" to students is always caused by the group. The Report also found:

There are a wide variety of groups involved on USM campuses, Morgan State University and St. Mary’s College. Recruitment and approaches by all types of groups are a common place occurrence.

Group activities can escalate into a problem, for example, recruitment can lead to inappropriate immersion into the group.

The Report commended a College Park program that trains dormitory resident assistants to stay attuned to possible cult-related problems among students, and stated that "A summary of Resident Assistants responsibilities should be posted in dormitories together with a mechanism for reporting complaints." One chilling recommendation of the government Report was to:

Require USM institutions, Morgan State University and St. Mary’s College to assess the training needed for heightened institutional awareness of potential problems of destructive groups. Each institution should have the responsibility and the authority to determine the definition of harm relevant to the activities of such groups. The Task Force wishes to emphasize that this recommendation is for each institution to assess its training needs. There should also be a regular forum for interested members of each campus community (advisors, counselors, residential staff and chaplains, etc.) to exchange information relating to student complaints about outside groups.

If the Task Force meetings and the responses to the questionnaires are any indication of how the Universities would approach the matter, the Report calls for the establishment of a stigmatizing "forum" to derogate and plan the attack of minority groups. In other words, the schools are to set up forums for established religions to attack minority religions with the sanction of, and on the instruction of, the state.

Finally, the Report urged further inquisition and reporting on the activities of religious minorities, urging that the University System:

Provide a central resource on each USM campus, Morgan State University and St. Mary’s College to accumulate complaints concerning group activities or actions and make the information available to students, parents, faculty and administration. Groups who are identified in such complaints should be named and clearly identified so concerned persons may evaluate the complaints themselves following their own individual standards.

Thus, while after this lawsuit was filed the Task Force Report disingenuously sought to leave the identities of the target groups simply understood, it urged the schools to specifically name and stigmatize the groups – past and future. This recommendation is an invitation to hate groups and bigots to join with the University in creating a public repository for all kinds of unsubstantiated claims and hate propaganda.

Again, while endeavoring to avoid challenge to its Report on constitutional grounds, the Report promulgates the same concepts of religious disapproval and stigmatization promoted by the Task Force over the prior several months. This is demonstrated by the interpretation of the Report by local newspapers. For example the Baltimore Sun’s article of September 19, 1999, which addresses the issuance of the Report, states in its lead sentence that the Task Force concluded that "Cults can do severe harm to students and should be carefully monitored by colleges." (Ex. 30.)

The attempted fiction that the Report did not concern "cults" – and in particular the Unification Church – was obvious to everyone but the Task Force. As published in an article appearing in the Washington Post shortly after issuance of the Report entitled, "Studying Cults on Campus Awareness Urged, But Not Alarm":

A state task force investigating cult activity on Maryland campuses has recommended that universities warn students to watch out for potentially harmful organizations and require outside groups to register before coming on campus to recruit.... Although there have been a few "heartbreaking" cases in which Maryland students have been lured into harmful cultlike activities, the task force wrote in a report released last month, those cases are relatively few and far between.


The task force shied away from even defining "cult," choosing instead to focus on all groups "causing harm" to university communities. Many free-speech advocates say the term "cult" is used unfairly to ostracize any new offshoot religious groups. The report pleased some anti-cult activists who lobbied for the creation of the task force and at the same time assuaged some of the concerns of religious groups that had viewed the investigation as a direct attack on their constitutional right to organize.

The group was chartered by the state legislature last year in response to complaints from a couple of parents that their children had been aggressively recruited by a religious organization at the University of Maryland at College Park that they said bullied new members into devoting more and more time and money to the group.

State lawmakers also were inspired by cult-related tragedies such as the mass suicide of the Heaven’s Gate disciples in California two years ago and the subway poison-gas attack by a Tokyo cult.


The International Coalition of Religious Freedom, a Virginia-based group funded by the Unification Church, filed suit in U.S. District Court in Baltimore to try to shut down the task force, alleging it violated First Amendment rights.


The Rev. Richard L. Dowhower, an anti-cult activist and the pastor of All Saints Lutheran Church in Bowie, applauded the report. "The needs of cult victims have been recognized and honored," he said. "Cults themselves have been identified as a danger, and campus administrators are being put on notice that they need to develop new practices and policies and to deal with off-campus organizations." The task force recommended that schools create an educational program for incoming students to help them make smart decisions about what groups to join and to warn them about "destructive behavior" that could affect them.

(Ex. 31.)

Further, according to a brochure of the anti-religious group CULTINFO, Sandra Stephon, mother of a member of the International Churches of Christ at the University of Maryland, College Park, received primary credit for the Resolution. "Hear how one mom took on the cults in the Maryland legislature and won!" (Ex. 32.)




A. Legislative History of the Cult Task Force Resolution
B. The Task Force Report Continued the Violations of Plaintiffs’ Constitutional Rights