Cult task force preparing to write recommendation
The Diamondback, 8 September 1999
By Ross Wallenstein
A state-led task force regarding cults in public institutions, including campus, met last week to review recommendations for the draft of a final report to be made after a federal lawsuit was filed in Baltimore alleging the task force is infringing upon people’s constitutional religious rights.
The eight hour meeting of the 15-member task force was business as usual and no decisions were reached. Recommendations were added to the draft of the final report which will include ways to monitor cult activity on campus, according to Chris Hart, University System of Maryland spokesman.
A cult can be defined as any group or system of religious worship bound together by the same thing, person, ideal as manifested by a group of admirers and/or worshippers, according to Webster’s Unabridged Dictionary.
Following the implementation in May of the task force, a federal lawsuit was filed in Baltimore’s U.S. District Court on Aug. 16 by Seventh-Day Adventists and Unification Church members, two religious groups.
The lawsuit, which names Governor Parris N. Glendening; William T. Wood, member of the University System Board of Regents and chairman of the task force; and the Maryland Board of Regents; alleges that the task force is infringing upon the practice of religion, a direct violation of the First Amendment of the U.S. Constitution.
The suit also claims the task force violates the Declaration of Rights within the Maryland State Constitution. The International Coalition for Religious Discrimination, a second plaintiff in the case, released a statement from Executive Director Dan Fefferman.
“The state of Maryland is engaging in a witch hunt by carrying out a biased inquisition into new religions,” he said.
The task force, created by a Maryland House of Delegates joint resolution and signed by Glendening, was spurred by several complaints made by families of campus students who had become involved with the International Church of Christ.
According to an August 10 Baltimore Sun report, the task force was designed to study ways to protect public university students from “cult-like organizations.”
At a hearing held on June 7, minutes of which can be found on the Task Force Web Site, Gary Pavela, campus director of judicial programs and student ethical development, questioned whether it was campus’s responsibility to regulate these groups.
“Do we have the wisdom to identify in advance those groups that will evolve into mature religious movements,” he asked.
Danny Gulick, a math professor who spoke at the hearings, has been studying the impact of cults on students for 14 years and said in a Baltimore Sun article between 50 and 100 campus students are involved in cults. Gulick was not available for comment.
“[Campus officials] are certainly concerned about the fact that many parents are worried about their children,” campus spokesman George Cathcart said, but the main problem is “we can’t legitimately determine whether every group recruiting students on campus is or is not a cult.”
Cathcart added there is a “monitoring issue at stake, but also an issue of the First Amendment right at the heart of the matter.”
The task force, which held six hearings between May 25 and August 9, will deliver a 17 page report to Glendening on September 30.
The report is expected to make 12 recommendations regarding the monitoring of cults on college campuses, according to Hart.
Assistant Attorney General John Anderson said the report is expected to be released on schedule.
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