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Alternative Religions And Their Academic Supporters
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When Scholars Know Sin - Continued
Alternative Religions and Their Academic Supporters

by Stephen A. Kent and Theresa Krebs

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Informational "Front" Groups

AWARE, however, was by no means the first, or the only, informational group apparently working for a controversial religious organization that involved academics. Perhaps the first informational "front" group was APRL, which initially stood for the Alliance for the Preservation of Religious Liberty and later became Americans Preserving Religious Liberty (APRL, 1982, 1). Beginning in late 1976, APRL was active in the United States in efforts to counteract criticisms leveled against a number of groups calling themselves "new religions." The often claimed relationship between APRL and Scientology finally was established by a document uncovered in the FBI raid against Scientology offices in Los Angeles and Washington, D.C. on July 7, 1977. Many of the confiscated documents came from Scientology's Guardian Office, which was dedicated to handling public relations (sometimes through illegal means). One undated memo entitled "PR General Categories of Data Needing Coding" contained a list of what it called "Secret PR Front Groups." Leading the list was "APRL, Alliance for the Preservation of Religious Liberty" (FBI, 1977, 97, 104).

APRL appears to have ceased operations in the early 1980s, but soon another Scientology information front organization was up and running -- Friends of Freedom, under the directorship of Reverend George Robertson of the controversial fundamentalist Christian Ministry Bible Speaks (MacSherry, 1992, 16). Bible Speaks acquired considerable notoriety when a former member successfully sued the founder for $6.6 million for unduly influencing her to donate large sums of money to the group (New York Times, 1986, 45). Apparently Robertson is guarded about revealing information concerning his school attendance, degree(s), and personal background (MacSherry, 1992, 18). He is less guarded, however, about speaking out against his avowed enemy -- the Cult Awareness Network (CAN). CAN was a privately funded, high profile organization that supplied usually critical information about controversial groups to concerned citizens and the media. In correspondence with Board Members and Advisory Committee members of Friends of Freedom, Robertson states his goal was to "do to CAN what Swartzkopf [sic] did to Hussein" (Robertson, 1992, 2). In its newsletter called CAN Opener, Friends of Freedom published exceedingly critical attacks against CAN, which had an impact on one very prominent sociologist, Dr. Anson Shupe, Jr.

Shupe deservedly is one of the most respected sociologists of religion today, having published widely cited articles on the Unification Church, new religions, Mormon business activities, family violence, and religious malfeasance. In 1980, Shupe was the co-author of a study of the "counter-cult" movement, referring to the people in it as The New Vigilantes (Shupe and Bromley, 1980). He was cognizant of APRL's ties with Scientology, stating in a 1984 publication that "[b]oth Scientology and the Unification Church were extremely active" in the organization (Shupe, Bromley, and Oliver, 1984, 142). Moreover, both Shupe and Lewis were to publish articles against CAN (Shupe, 1994/1995?); in Scientology's Freedom magazine (Church of Scientology International [1994/1995?] 1994a, 1995b).

In 1995, as a Scientology lawyer approached the most important court case thus far in his organization's relentless war against CAN (Goodstein, 1996), he acquired Shupe as his expert academic witness. The case was an unusual one, arising from the failed deprogramming of a young man from a Christian Pentecostal group, the Life Tabernacle Church (LTC), in Washington state. A relative of the young man's mother called a local crisis line in late 1990, seeking advice about the mother's desire to remove her two underage children from the group because "she believed a church pastor ha[d] acted inappropriately toward one of her younger sons" (Bjorhus, 1995, A6; Goldsmith, 1995, A6; Cult Awareness Network, 1995, 2). The crisis line gave her the name and telephone number of Shirley Landa, who had been a CAN board member in the early 1980s but who (as best as we can determine) was not identified as a CAN contact person in the crisis line's listing. When the mother called, Landa gave her the names of two people whom she felt might be able to help her -- one was deprogrammer and exit counselor Rick Ross. Ross was one of a handful of people in the United States who still did forcible removals and confinements. The mother contacted Ross, and he agreed to attempt deprogrammings with the two minors. In the autumn of 1990 he successfully removed them from the LTC.

Ross's luck changed, however, when he next attempted to deprogram the mother's eldest son, Jason Scott. On January 18, 1991, Ross and two associates forcibly removed Scott from his mother's Bellevue, Washington home and took him into a dwelling in Ocean Shores. While there, Scott "was forced to watch hours of video tapes on cults...was constantly intimidated and was told his church was the same as the cults. He said he was kept under watch 24 hours a day" (Jarvis, 1991, A10). Late on the fourth day, Scott pretended to renounce his association with LTC. The next day, Ross and his team arranged for Scoot to meet with his family for a celebration dinner at a public restaurant prior to their scheduled trip to Wellspring, a non-profit counseling center in Ohio. Scott apparently left the restaurant and called police from a public phone across the street. Subsequently, the county prosecutor brought criminal kidnap charges against Ross, for which he was acquitted in a jury trial. After this jury decision, Scientology representatives contacted Scott and offered to launch a civil case against Ross on a contingency basis (Brune, 1995, 11; Iosso, 1993, 1).

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