Cults and the Status of the law

The following editorial is short legal analysis of the Chilean anti-religious legislation now being pushed in parliament. It is written by Jorge Enrique Precht Pizarro, Professor of Public Law at the Catholic Pontifical University of Chile. Professor Pizarro also makes mention of the French legislation as it relates to the situation in Chile.

Santiago, Chile - We have also included information on Humberto Lagos Schuffenege, who is a Chilean academic/lawyer and counter-cultist who is one of the leading proponents of the proposed anti-religious legislation.

The cancellation of the legal status of the “Center of Tibetan Studies” has renewed interest in the so-called “destructive cults”. According to State law, only associations that are supposedly religious and whose practices offend public order, are immoral or use psychological coercion to such a degree that fundamental human rights of freedom of conscience are violated, should be considered cults, since these annihilate the autonomy and individuality of the members.

Only in these precise cases of pseudo religious socially destructive groups does the State have the right and the constitutional duty to intervene, taking care that the measures taken protect the individuals involved and society at large, without affecting legitimate constitutional rights such as freedom of conscience, freedom of religion and freedom of association.

In particular, it has the duty to intervene in favor of children of the members of destructive cults that are given by the parents to the organization or to the cult leader to be “brought up”, forsaking their paternal rights and duty to educate and bring up their children.

On the other hand, the selectivity, adjustment and rigor of the legislative, administrative and judicial measures that should be taken, can not be easily attained if due to social or political contingencies, a climate of sensationalism and suspicion towards all new religious groups exists, labeling as “cult”--without research or basis--groups that are innovative or that distance themselves from the large church paradigm or historic religions, or are outside of the Judeo-Christian framework in which the majority of Chileans were educated and continue to adhere to.

The Law requires that secular force not be employed to enforce ideas and much less religious beliefs. The State itself requires that a judicial regime not be created or special penal sanctions for determined groups or individuals, but rather that common law be applied to all. For this reason, the vast majority of countries have not resorted to the classification of a specific legal nature to the “formation of cults” (as if they were “private militias”) or “manipulation of conscience”, and has preferred to perfect the habitual judicial arsenal, such as crimes of fraud, inducing the abandonment of home, using religious judicial registration for profit or pseudo-therapy, offenses to psychic or physical health, sexual crimes, illegal association, etc.

The case of France in attempting since 1999 to create a penal character for the “formation of cults” and “manipulation of conscience” is an isolated affair in Europe and has led rise to a great deal of polemic in the interior and exterior of the Gallic Parliament which has yet to end.

The French parliamentary practice of producing a “list of cults” has been equally strongly opposed. Groups that are not destructive, nor could ever be and religious entities that are without question members of established and fully recognized churches are included. With this list thus discredited, the truly destructive groups benefit from the doubt implanted due to the methods employed.

Therefore, except in the case of crimes and behavior that is likely to violate the constitutional limits of religious freedom, the State must not intervene, leaving in the hands of society, especially of men and women with a religious background, to organize and coordinate, to avoid that in the name of the social legitimacy provided by religion, individuals without scruples commit crimes or profit from public credibility and profit at the expense of the weaknesses of individuals or the tragedies of life. There is room here for inter-religious dialogue that, as is well known, exceeds ecumenical discussions. This dialogue should be translated into private initiatives of social protection against cults.

It is known that the majority of cults operate as de facto associations. Nevertheless, some of them, and the most important of them feverishly seek judicial recognition as religious entities In this case, the State should deny such registration. It's not enough for a group to qualify itself as religious for that to be the case. Such self-denomination can be entirely fictitious and can cover other purposes, even criminal ones.

If the administrative branch of the State doesn't have the faculties to avoid this flagellation or to supervise to ensure that there is no deviation from the original objectives of the entities already granted legal status, the Government who oversees this administration can exercise its faculties in presenting legal initiatives. And to avoid any administrative discretionary powers, let the judicial recourses available be made clear.

On the other hand, citizens have the right to be able to identify with all transparency which groups and under which proceedings, are being conceded or have been conceded legal standing as religious groups, in order to be able to oppose such petitions or denounce excesses, abuses or negligence. But as long as even the most conscientious lawyers must continue searching for religious registrations in the muddle of the more than 200 daily associations the Official Bulletin publishes under the title of “Other Societies”, or it continues to be maintained that any association that denominates itself as religious, can send supposed “ministers” to hospitals, prisons and military facilities, despite the lack of any legal status that gives society the minimum security that they will not abuse of public faith, the correct social reaction cannot be carried out and we will just be moved by the plight of those “fallen in battle” left behind by the destructive cults.

As such, religious experience will continue to be discredited, despite the almost unanimity of Chileans who declare their adherence to some belief of that nature and many of which have made these beliefs the focus of their lives.

Jorge Enrique Precht Pizarro

Professor of Public Law

Catholic Pontifical University of Chile

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Background on Humberto Lagos Schuffeneger, Chilean Counter-cultist and supporter of the anti-religious legislation:

**From the newspaper articles, which are the only sources we have on hand, it is stated that Lagos is a lawyer and has an MA in Sociology.

Following are excerpts of an interview published in a Chilean newspaper in 1990 that give a little background on counter-cultist Lagos:

Humberto Lagos Schuffeneger

“I am a Christian Evangelical Baptist."

Humberto Lagos Schuffeneger, sociologist, lawyer, politician, professor, evangelical Baptist, advisor of religious affairs for the President of the Republic, very controversial for many evangelicals, is always where “things are happening”. Many applaud him, many criticize him. It's the price he must pay for being a public figure and he takes it with oriental philosophy. “Sometimes I lose my patience--he says--but we have to be willing to pay a price when the Lord places us in a certain place of service.” Mr. Schuffeneger has been one of the main proponents of regulating minority religions through the legislative process in Chile for over a decade.

We recently interviewed him to obtain firsthand information on the law of worship. [Note: This was being deliberated at this time, and was later passed into law. This law is referred to in the recent articles regarding the commission.] Lagos was named by supreme decree along with other persons, to create a bill that would regulate evangelical organizations.

In an anti-Family article published in “Cronica” on August 24th, 1990, after the first set of raids in Argentina, Humberto Lagos was quoted as saying:

Humberto Lagos is convinced that the time has come to legislate against these types of cults, that oppose social order. “It is a complicated topic, because it deals with the freedom of worship and conscience, but we can't just stand by and do nothing watching how they behave.”

Humberto Lagos also wrote a counter-cult book in 1985, entitled, “Religious Cults in Chile: “oppression or liberation?” (Sectas Religiosas en Chile: Opresion o liberacion?). He is also quoted extensively in the literature distributed by the Chilean Catholics to fight cults.

The “Theological Bulletin” of the “Theological Fraternity of South America” published a paper of his in June 1990, entitled, “Christians facing Political Totalitarianism”. Following is the abstract:

“The analysis of the topic 'political totalitarianism' constitutes more than a simple theoretical reflection when we relate it to South America and the authoritarian experiences of the military dictatorships. The ideology of totalitarianism consists in the affirmation of a sort of political millenarianism that rides on the apocalyptic horses of radical changes, to construct a definitive society directed towards 'the end of time'”.

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