Baltimore Sun Editorial

Baltimore Sun Editorial

The Baltimore Sun, August 11 1999.

Spurred by nervous parents, a legislative task force is examining reports that cults are recruiting at college campuses across Maryland.

No hard data exists yet on how many Maryland students join religious cults. The panel has commissioned a statewide survey of student advisers and campus officials.

Denny Gulick, a University of Maryland, College Park, math professor who has been helping students deal with cults for 14 years, estimates about 50 to 100 of the campus’ more than 30,000 students are cult members.

So far, much of the evidence gathered by the task force has been anecdotal. The panel is supposed to determine the extent of the problem and recommend what can be done by Sept. 30.

The General Assembly created the panel last year in response to parents who said the International Church of Christ, an evangelical group, had recruited their children at College Park.

Parents say young, impressionable people away from home for the first time need to be protected from manipulative cults.

Members of Hare Krishna, the Unification Church and other religious movements say students are adults who can make their own decisions. Despite panel Chairman William T. Wood’s assurances that the state has no intent to regulate religion, they fear the task force will lead to religious repression.

“This is the first step in a nationwide offensive,” said Alex Colvin of Glen Burnie, a devotee of the Unification Church and its leader, the Rev. Sun Myung Moon.

The panel finished collecting testimony Monday.

Steffie Rausch told members she joined the International Church of Christ for several months in 1992 while a student at College Park.

In videotaped testimony, Ms. Rausch said her thoughts were soon filled with the group’s message that she was sinful and her family was evil.

After she left the group, she spent two years nursing suicidal thoughts until she began sharing her experiences. But then she ran into another problem: the school didn’t share her concerns.

“I could not understand why an educational institution could not educate about an issue like cults,” she said.

Michael Delp, who also joined the church at College Park, defended the group, saying he is a reformed partygoer who now attends church three times a week.

“I’m a regular guy,” he said. “I play sports. I go to school.”

A lawyer for the church, Jonathan Abady, said regulating religious groups is not the role of government.

“College is a place where young adults should and must learn to fend and think for themselves,” Abady said. “If young adults can be required to serve today as soldiers in Bosnia, Kosovo, Iraq and South Korea, then certainly they should be empowered to make choices between which groups — religious or otherwise — they want to belong to an a college campus.”

Back to other media reports about the International Churches of Christ.