APn 10/18 0335 Moonie Lawsuit By BOB EGELKO Associated Press
SAN FRANCISCO (AP) -- Former "Moonies" can sue the Unification
Church for alleged deception and brainwashing because freedom of
religion does not protect fraudulent recruiting, the state
Supreme Court said in reinstating two suits.
A lawyer for the National Council of Churches called Monday's
6-1 ruling "a real blow" to freedom of religion.
"The challenge here ... is not to the church's teachings or to
the validity of a religious conversion," said Justice Stanley
Mosk in the decision.
"The challenge is to the church's practice of misrepresenting
or concealing its identity in order to bring unsuspecting
outsiders into its highly structured environment. That practice
is not itself belief -- it is conduct subject to regulation for
the protection of society."
Reversing two lower court rulings, the high court decided that
two former church members who brought their cases could seek to
convince a jury that they had been brainwashed and were unable to
exercise independent judgment when they joined the Rev. Sun
Myung Moon's church after being told of its identity.
In dissent, Appeals Court Presiding Justice Carl Anderson,
assigned to the Supreme Court for the case, said religious
conversion -- whether or not it involves "brainwashing" -- is
constitutionally protected from court scrutiny.
"`Brainwashing' and religious conversion are not really
distinguishable," Anderson said, noting there were no claims of
force or threatened violence in the case.
Kenneth Ross, a lawyer for the church, said he would recommend
an appeal to the U.S. Supreme Court.
Lawyers for the plaintiffs, whose lawsuits had been rejected
in San Francisco Superior Court and a state appellate court,
hailed the ruling.
The court recognized "the rights of people who have been
exploited by the dishonest and unethical practice of religion,"
said Ford Greene, lawyer for David Molko.
"Until this case was decided, cults had taken the position
that they could do whatever they chose to do with respect to
deception and fraud in their recruitment activities and claim
that they were immune from responsibility by virtue of the First
Amendment," said Stanley Leal, attorney for his daughter, Tracy.
But Kathleen Purcell, a lawyer for the American Baptist
Churches in the U.S.A. and the National Council of Churches who
filed written arguments supporting the Unification Church, called
the ruling "a real blow to both free exercise of religion and the
separation of church and state."
She said it was the first ruling of its kind by any state's
Ms. Leal, now 28 and studying for a teaching credential at
San Jose State University, was a 19-year-old college student when
a recruiter approached her at a San Francisco bus station in
1979. A few months earlier, Molko, a 27-year-old Pennsylvania
lawyer newly arrived in San Francisco, also was recruited at a
Both said the recruiters denied any church affiliation,
instead claimed membership in the Creative Community Project, and
invited them to dinner. Soon afterward, they said, they were
taken to a retreat and subjected to intensive lectures,
discussions and exercise. Molko said he was not told of the Moon
affiliation for 12 days, and Ms. Leal for 22 days.
Both remained church members for several months before they
were abducted by "deprogrammers" hired by their parents, the
Their lawsuits sought damages from the church for emotional
distress and punitive damages. Molko also sought return of his
$6,000 he donated to the church.