At this International Conference on the future of Religious and Spiritual Minorities as we move into the 21st century, it is appropriate to ask the following questions:
Having served as lawyer for individuals and the group called the Messianic or Twelve Tribes Communities in the U.S. and Canada, I have documented from our experience over the last twenty years how inaccurate information has been used against us to the detriment of parents and children alike. We also have Communities in France, Germany, Spain, and England.
While legitimate concerns of government create valid reasons for inquiry (e.g., education, taxes, legal structure, etc.), our communities and members in Germany and France have experienced unwarranted oppression and discrimination because of our religious beliefs and not because of evidence of misconduct or danger. The same inaccurate and prejudicial information that caused governments to stumble by overreacting to us in fear in North America is circulating like wildfire in a climate of religious persecution and intolerance. We do not take exception to being judged by what we actually do, but we do seek to be judged by the truth and not by lies. This is very difficult, if not impossible, in the present European hysteria against religious minorities promoted by fear and ignorance.
Where we have labored to make peace with officials and come to workable solutions in very deep issues of conscience, a trail of unsubstantiated negative information follows us, creating unwarranted suspicion that must be overcome by officials in order for them to be fair. To their credit, we find most judges and education officials to have had the integrity to stand against the lies many times at the risk of political peril. One of the problems that we document in this paper is what occurs when the established state religion or its agents are relied upon by the government for its information on us.
I issue a call to the scholars of Europe to appeal to government officials in the EU to make a commitment to religious freedom and freedom of conscience, which mean more than just worship to the state or compromise with its favored religion. Its preservation costs something. What I say comes from a history of numerous legal battles in the courts in North America, plagued by the attacks of the anti-cult movement1 whose exaggerations and misrepresentations seem to never die, despite the fact their false claims are found to be without substance and without credible evidence.
At the recent conference of the 14th World Congress of Sociology in Montreal, the social, political, economic, and resulting spiritual upheaval in Europe was a well-documented and much-discussed topic. As noted in the recently (July 1998) defeated “Resolution on Cults in the European Union,” new religious movements are attractive to many and symptomatic of “a profound social, moral and civic disquiet,” acknowledging that “a longing for meaning and purpose in life is no longer being satisfied by the traditional churches.”2 “Today’s scientific and technological society marked by individualism and the erosion of the traditional social fabric” has made conditions ripe for the proliferation of new religious movements which governments in Europe are either unwilling or negligent to try to accommodate or which established religions aren’t willing to tolerate. This reactionary trend is a prime example of the oppressive nature of an alliance between the state and a favored religion, as exists in the member states of the EU. Remembering Europe’s history should help to make urgent the need for religious freedom and toleration.
However, new religious movements are increasingly seen as a threat to the world’s social order because they are different or an alternative to the established ways. The strength and endurance of social democracy as a government, combined with the brittleness3 of ecumenism, will forge an alliance to create stability that offers peace where there is no peace. People will sacrifice their rights to have their basic needs met and will pretend that there is unity in diversity, where there is no unity at all. Those who do not want to participate will not have it easy. In an effort to maintain social control, governments are increasingly tempted to violate the rights of dissenters and those who are different. The pressure to conform is becoming enormous. Many have already surrendered to this control, just to survive or to make life a little easier.
In the midst of this climate, the involvement of anti-cultists is rampant, most evident on a large scale in EU countries where this alliance between church and state is already entrenched and there is no historical protection to guarantee the practice of religious freedom. In these countries such as Germany and France the protection of religious liberty is minimized or jeopardized entirely because these governments are so entrenched in their national religious roots (Evangelicalism and Catholicism). Are you ready for what is coming next?
The dynamic relationship between the state and religious influences in Europe, given the confederation among numerous countries with differing religions, will dominate the social and political landscape for the next 50 years. Ecumenism will flourish as the European Union matures. Minority religions are in serious jeopardy because they are not recognized as legitimate socially and politically and not protected legally. Let’s take a look at what life is like for members of the Messianic Communities in Germany and France.
II. PRESENT STATUS OF MESSIANIC COMMUNITIES IN EUROPE:
ANTI-CULTISTS ACTIVELY PROMOTE INTOLERANCE WITH LIES
In February 1994 several German families who are members of the Messianic Communities moved to a little village called Pennigbuttel in the state of Lower Saxony in the north of Germany and set up a household. These families came back to Germany after many years in France because they loved Germany, wanted to raise their children there, and wanted to demonstrate their common life of love in their homeland.
Before too long the fact that their children were educated by their parents at home became an issue that was a concern of the local officials and school board, as it should be. Community parents welcomed the education authorities in to see and observe the children. The parents continued the teaching of their children at home but at the same time respected the educational authorities while making every effort to explain to them their beliefs. While everything was not perfect, there were peaceable and civil relations between the two and a mutual respect was evident and increasing.4
Shortly after they arrived in Pennigbuttel, an evangelical pastor, Mr. Glaser, began attacking the community in the media as well as distributing anti-religious, and inflammatory information about the community to government officials. The education officials as well as the family judge involved with the Community did not respond to his efforts, stating that they were not interested in what supposedly happened to other Messianic Communities in the U.S. and Canada.
In the meantime, a custody contest ensued between a couple when the woman joined the Community. The couple had already split up before she met us. While the mother had actual custody of the young girl, the father became concerned and fearful, based on things he did not understand about the mother’s faith and communal lifestyle. In his desire to find out the truth about the Community, he sought the advice of anti-religionist, Michael Kropveld of Infosecte Montreal, who provided the father a three page letter concluding that his daughter would be subject to “serious emotional, maturational, educational and physical risk if she continues to be exposed to the Community.” This letter, written in March 1994, is full of unsubstantiated misinformation about the practices and beliefs of the Community, not to mention lists of libelous statements claimed as fact attaching criminal liability to group members that are totally erroneous and contrary to available court records.5
Both the father and his lawyer trusted the “expert” opinions of Mr. Kropveld, using his letter, a letter from a Vermont state’s attorney, and a letter from a German anti-sect information agency in Stuttgart as “evidence” in the custody proceeding.6 The result was that the father was given custody of the girl, even though the judge could find nothing wrong with the mother except that she did not send her daughter to public school. In fact his finding refuted the accusations against the community: “Specific evidence is lacking as to Inga having been exposed to such treatments, especially the beating with rods for discipline. Up to now, Inga did not incur any damage in her soul or deficits in her personality. Also, no evidence was found of ’psychological brainwashing’ of her mother. The court has no right to judge the beliefs of the mother. This can obviously be contributed to the positive child rearing practices of her mother. In this aspect, she cannot be accused of any omissions.”7 These personal letters to Mr. Schwiebert along with other anti-religious information was made available to the anti-sect network throughout Germany by Mr. Schwiebert’s lawyer and is currently given out upon request.8 In fact, one current member of the Community in Germany received such a pack as have numerous others who are interested in the life and beliefs.
In August of 1995 some members of the Community in Pennigbuttel moved to a small village in southern Germany called Oberbronnen. As soon as pastor Glaser found out about this, he wrote a letter or warning to the local mayors, Evangelical and Catholic churches as well as the police.9 In spite of this unwarranted distribution of documents to stir up suspicion, fear and paranoia on the part of the local officials, the members of the Community in Oberbronnen contacted the local education officials, seeking to find a way to achieve official recognition of their parental rights and religious convictions to educate their children at home.
Community parents found the social service officials in their district open. The relationship is good, friendly, and there are visits. Then in April 1997 a baby died from a congenital birth defect, a heart with a hole in it, in a sister Community in Sus, France. This event, fueled by similar anti-religious documents against the community distributed by A.D.F.I., sent the media and the public into a frenzy of fear and suspicion.10 In the wake of this event, mounting pressure on the German officials in Oberbronnen led to an investigation by the local Social Services / Youth Office. The report of this office was one which praised the Community stating: “the people at Oberbronnen are ’very sensible parents’ and ’happy and lively children’ who live in a family-like situation that is next to exemplary.” The local media report of this visit was entitled “All You Can See Is Happy Children.”11 Both the education officials and the media report make it clear that the only problem with the Community is their non-compliance with the compulsory education law.
Just days after this favorable report in the media, a zealous reporter from the same newspaper decides to “investigate.” His ensuing series of negative articles12 relies heavily on anti-religious information, especially from A.D.F.I., Michael Kropveld, and a letter from Vermont State’s Attorney, Susan Davis. The information from Kropveld and Davis are verbatim quotes from their letters to Mr. Schwiebert in the custody proceeding in 1994. It is noteworthy that as the State’s Attorney for Essex County, Vermont, where Island Pond sits, she states to Mr. Schwiebert “Most of these custody battles are decided against the parent who is a member of the cult….” (emphasis added) She writes a two page letter offering her interpretation of members’ religious beliefs and practices which are misleading and inaccurate, and mostly prejudicial in their slant.
It is interesting to note that the negative media reports came just two days after the same newspaper reported a very positive article about the Community in Oberbronnen. This change of position by the paper from “exemplary community” to “cult” came about not by direct observation of the life of the Community members in Oberbronnen but by the anti-religious, unsubstantiated information gathered by the reporter in his “investigation” of the community. These news articles served their purpose to put pressure on local officials to act.
The Social Services / Youth Office asked the Community to voluntarily submit to a medical examination of their children in order to quiet the public outrage and put to rest the flurry of accusations that were beginning to crescendo. The parents of the Community complied and even though the social services wanted the doctor to require the parents to sign a blank document that would allow the state to take custody of the children should any medical problem arise, the doctor would not require such a thing. He had never in his 30 year career as a medical doctor been asked by social services for such action. Instead, he examined the children and issued an excellent report on the health of all the community children.13
During this same time period, a member of Parliament, Dr. Mauz, from the State of Baden-Württemberg addressed the Parliament and asked if the government is aware of the “activities of the sect” and if the answer is “yes,” what were they planning to do about it. The Ministry of Education responded with a Parliamentary report relying on information from people such as pastor Glaser.14 The Parliamentary response endorsed Pastor Glaser’s letter to them on this subject15 and was then published in the media, putting increasing pressure on local officials to take action.16 These letters show how government officials in the Ministry of Education, Youth, and Sports and a member of Parliament relied on an Evangelical pastor for “expert” opinion concerning the Community in Oberbronnen.
At the end of July 1997 one of the largest German TV stations (ZDF), presented the community as a sect. The German public was already sensitized to this subject due to the reports of the deaths of the Solar Temple members and the events of the poisonous gas in Japan. One of the accusations was a piece entitled “Children in Sects,” which implicated the Community by association, but had no factual basis relevant to the Messianic Communities. It applied pressure by stating that the government was doing nothing. With these events, the pressure on the social services in Oberbronnen became unbearable.
So, in August of 1997, the Social Services took action and sent a letter to the local family court, asking if the children in the Community in Oberbronnen were in danger and if custody should be taken away from the parents.17 Media pressure had changed the Social Services opinion of the Community from praising them in April 1997 to believing the anti-religious information and wondering if the Community is a child abusing, apolyptic sect by August of that year. The fact that all the parents of the Community were under investigation by the family court reveals that it was not a school issue with the Community anymore, but that the Community had become a “problem” to the government based upon the anti-religious distribution of untruthful data about us. Social Services who had stated that the children were “ happy and lively” and lived in an “exemplary environment” now asked the Family Court to have the children psychologically examined, raising the question of whether the parents should retain custody of their children, even after the medical doctor had given the children a clean bill of health.
At this point the Family Court Judge took responsibility for the issue and instead of trusting the Social Services to conduct a psychological examination of all the children, paid a surprise visit to the Community himself in August of 1997. He rendered a very positive report about the children and the living situation within the Community.18 He did not see the need for a psychological examination but ordered an academic evaluation of the school aged children, thus putting the issue back to the question of compulsory education and the Community’s non-compliance. Since the judge is aware of the communication between the Community and government school officials, he is waiting to see how this situation is developing and has not made a final decision concerning custody of the children.
One set of parents sent a copy of the judge’s report to the Ministry of Education. He, in turn, gave these parents a meeting at which he gave them opportunity to talk about anything they wished. They made an appeal to this man from their heart and found him to be a man who listened to his conscience. Very quickly he realized from the conversation that the issue was not whether children of the Community would be able to get a job if they left as the social workers had claimed, but rather one of control: who has been given the ultimate right and responsibility of the child and therefore has the ultimate right and authority to control his or her education.
The official explained that, not only did the German government assume the right of compulsory education over the right of the parent, but also because of the history of Germany, which has left many people with great fears of any repetition of uprising from a charismatic leader (either political or religious) that could plunge Germany once again into ruin, the government takes the position that they have the responsibility to avoid such demagoguery in the future by educating “its” children to be critical thinkers and aware citizens. In other words, he explained why the state “owns” the child.
The response of the parents was that it is a shame that those parents who are conscientious and who have conviction and purpose in laying hold of their parental right and responsibility to educate their children, would have to leave the country leaving only those who have to be forced to go to school. They asked the official, “How could such a policy be good for Germany?” A week later, the Supreme School Board in Stüttgart gave Community parents one year to come up with a solution.
The legal issue of the parents’ right to follow their conscience and educate their children according to their religious belief versus the extent of control the state can exercise over that education continues in the courts and between the parties. Community parents acknowledge the State’s right to know that their children are educated and have no problem submitting to state supervision to that extent.19 Presently the court has allowed a time interval during which both sides can communicate and work towards a solution that accommodates the needs of both the state and the families involved, so as not to trample their religious liberty. (that is, for people who practice a religion other than the two favored state dogmas of Evangelicalism and Catholicism)
Since the early 1980’s the Messianic Communities have had a group of approximately 100 or more that have resided at Tabitha’s Place in Sus, near Navarrenx, within sight of the Atlantic Pyrenees. The leaders and administrators there have maintained open and working relations with prefect and sous-prefect in Pau. Over the years the home education of our children was questioned, as was the legal structure of the group and the practice of spanking children. However on numerous occasions, the children have been tested by the educational authorities and also by the social service officials. There has been no resistance by Community members or cause for alarm about the well-being of the children.
Nevertheless, the media and the anti-cult forces have made a substantial impact as far as the public perception of the people at Tabitha’s Place. L’ Association pour la Défense des Familles et de l’Individu, A.D.F.I., as an advisor to the government of France, duplicates and distributes massive quantities of material against the group that is absolutely untrue and untrustworthy. Their activity is not confined to the borders of France, but has also included sending much libelous newsprint and seemingly official letters to Germany which has been eagerly received by the regional “sect” ministers that function to distribute information about new religions throughout all of Germany.
However, in several custody cases, judges have noticed that there is no evidence of anything harmful or worrisome about the group. In August 1995 a 13-year-old boy who had lived in the Community with his mother, but was delivered to the custody of his father by court order in 1990, returned to the Community because the boy preferred to be there. The parents agreed and the Court took care to acknowledge the boy’s awareness of the Community and its way of life, and respected the boy’s choice to be there, foreseeing no problems concerning the welfare of the boy. The judge held an in chambers conference with the teenager who confirmed his request to reside with is mother at Tabitha’s Place.20
That same month in Oberbronnen, Germany, a couple joined the Community there, having just given birth to a baby boy named Raphael who had a severe congenital birth defect, a hole in his heart. Sometime afterwards, the German wife, Dagmar Zoller, moved with her French husband, Michel Ginhoux, to the Community in France at Tabitha’s Place. They had two other children, operated a natural clothing business and owned a pleasant home in the little village of Oberbronnen.
In April 1997, the frail, much-loved, 19 month-old Raphael died. The couple reported the death of their young son, having nothing to hide. Within hours, the couple was taken into police custody, under criminal investigation for the heartbreaking death of their youngest child. It has been 18 months and the couple remains in jail. The investigation continues. It is hard to imagine that, had Raphael died during any of the several high-risk heart operations that were a medical possibility, or if he had passed away at his family’s home in Oberbronnen without his parents being members of a Messianic Community, that criminal charges would have been filed against his loving parents. However, within days, A.D.F.I. was circulating a county-wide petition against the “sect of Sus,” available at local “mairies,” voicing various “concerns” based upon fears and not facts. While investigators seized documents about religious beliefs, they also had Raphael’s brother and sister examined and found no cause for concern.
Despite the fact that courts have ruled favorably on behalf of Community members based upon the evidence that they presented in individual cases, A.D.F.I. continues in its reckless dissemination of information about the Messianic Communities that is not substantiated. The sources are not trustworthy. This pattern of the continued distribution of material that has been found unreliable in court is a serious and troubling strategy of anti-cult groups both in North America and Europe. It reveals that their agenda is not to provide accurate information to the consuming public, but at least in part to destroy “competitive religions” that threaten the status quo.
The story of the working of the A.D.F.I. agenda against the disciples at Tabitha’s Place began in 1985 when the newspapers reported a spokesperson from A.D.F.I. as saying they had been contacted by two unrelated parents of two members of the Community in Sus. The parents were Mr. and Mrs. Nielsen and Mr. and Mrs. Töpfer. After receiving information about the community from A.D.F.I., the Nielsens hired a deprogrammer to kidnap their daughter, Kirsten, and attempt to deprogram her. Her account of that experience is documented in Appendix IJ. The Töpfers on the other hand, chose to visit their son at Tabitha’s Place in Sus before making any decisions about the well-being of their son. They became friends of the Community and have visited several communities on two continents. One has a wonderful relationship with his parents outside the community and the other has hardly any relationship with her parents because of their unwillingness to respect the life their daughter has chosen to live. She remains in the Community despite two deprogrammings by her parents.
In November 1988 there was another news article in the local Pau paper which said: “Another group denounced by A.D.F.I., the Northeast Kingdom Community in Vermont, U.S.A., which was spoken of in the papers in 1984 when it had been stated that the children were regularly beaten. This sect has a subsidiary in Béarn, at Sus: Tabitha’s Place.”21 This very first article reflects the seriousness of the problem: inadequate research to determine if the claims were true. Had A.D.F.I. “done their homework” they could have easily discovered that every case in Vermont where allegations of abuse were leveled, those charges were dismissed. It is hard not to wonder if they wanted to know the truth or were more interested in distributing destructive information?
In the Fall of 1991 A.D.F.I. published its first main document against us which presented its main accusations against Tabitha’s Place. At the end of the document, there is a Nota Bene saying that everything that is reported comes from members or ex-members of the Community and also from direct observation of the A.D.F.I.22 They never came to Tabitha’s Place and therefore never talked to members of the community there, eliminating any “direct source” material as to what is practiced and believed by actual members. In fact, Gérard Toussaint, the now deceased leader of A.D.F.I. in Pau, said on a local radio program something like: “It is part of A.D.F.I.’s policy to never enter in direct contact with the groups we are fighting against.” The U.S. based Cult Awareness Network practices the same elusive policy, which belies any intention to pursue the truth.
In November 1992, Gérard Toussaint wrote a letter to the wife of a member of Tabitha’s Place who did not come to the Community with her husband. In the letter Monsieur Toussaint tells her that her husband is a victim of “mental manipulation” and encourages her to write her testimony to the procureur (state representative) and to send a copy to the A.D.F.I.23 This “advice” was given without ever meeting the husband, and the agenda is clearly to put inaccurate and inflammatory information in front of government officials, with the motive of destroying the religion by defamation.
The campaign of A.D.F.I. began to escalate after the Solar Temple affair when Gérard Toussaint spoke in a local newspaper about his work against all the sects around Pau. He mentioned that there are eleven such groups, but only mentioned Tabitha’s Place, implying that they are the most dangerous.24
In February 1996 an erroneous news report in the Sud Ouest was used in the official decision of a Family Court judge awarding custody to a parent outside the Community at Tabitha’s Place. In the decision the judge quotes the paper as saying Tabitha’s Place is listed as a millenarist and apocalyptic sect in a report of the Renseignements Généraux, a special department of the police.25 However, a special commission formed by the French Parliament to inquire about all sects in France, made a report based on the information of the Renseignements Généraux.s In this report, they never speak about us clearly and never say anything specifically about us.26 This is a prime example of how judges need to be educated as to the unreliability of newspaper articles, especially as source material for findings of fact in court cases.
The extent to which A.D.F.I. entered into a campaign to discredit the Community at Tabitha’s Place and thereby put pressure on government officials to take action against the members there is evidenced by the following examples. In June of 1996 the “Elus locaux” (local electeds), the mayors of Sus and Angous and the “Conseiller général” of Navarrenx had a meeting about us. This meeting of officials came after pressure from a public debate organized by A.D.F.I. in Pau at the end of May 1996. The titles of both articles that report this meeting of officials reads “The Electeds are worried.” It then speaks of how they wish that the state would intervene in the lives of the residents of Tabitha’s Place.27 In February of 1997 A.D.F.I. organized a debate about Tabitha’s Place which was attended by more than 200 local residents. The article reporting this debate states that during one of the last debates (also organized by A.D.F.I.), a petition was made but only a few people signed it. So, it was decided that another petition would be made and circulated in the whole county. The petition was about the life of the children at Tabitha’s, the obligation of vaccination, the obligation of schooling, and tax control. Later, people from A.D.F.I. knocked at every door of the county, trying to get people to sign the petition. This petition was then sent to many different levels of government.28 It was on the heels of this petition that the authorities arrested the couple whose son died in early April 1997 and who remain in custody, isolated from their other children.
To show the prejudice of A.D.F.I. against the Community at Tabitha’s Place, there are examples of officials visiting the Community, examining children, and coming away with positive reports. This has been the case in every instance where officials have actually visited and seen for themselves the lives of the people in the Community at Tabitha’s Place.
In an article in Sud Ouest in January 1996, it says: “During an unexpected visit, the substitute of the procureur in charge of the children, Frédérique Loubet, together with gendarmes, met spontaneous people and especially children that did not look abused, but to the contrary. ’Nothing, for now, made me think that the judge for the children should intervene,’ she explained.”29 The mayor of Sus also says that we don’t make problems, that we are polite, and that the children are beautiful. But in the very same article, Gérard Toussaint speaks of a family who left the community because of manipulation and were in such bad shape that they had to be turned over to the social services. The article goes on to say that Toussaint was not able to give any name or address of such people to the journalists.
In a second article in January 1996 A.D.F.I. alleges child abuse in the Messianic Communities and abuses of child labor but produces no evidence. In the same article it says that the Renseignements Généraux qualifies Tabitha’s Place as a potentially suicidal sect, but again without substantiating their claim.30 Nothing could be further from the truth, given the doctrinal beliefs of the Community.
In another article in January 1996 there is a report of a meeting of the Conseil Général, a group of politicians from Pyrénées Atlantiques. The president of the Conseil is also the Minister of Education, Francois Bayrou. In this meeting, it was said that the Renseignements Généraux made a report considering Tabitha’s Place as excessively dangerous and likely to “favour auto destruction phenomenon.” As a result, police investigations were conducted. After the police investigations were over, to his credit the Minister announced that, “We are in a country of rights. These investigations cannot let us conclude to the claimed danger.31
After a series of bad articles about Tabitha’s Place after the Solar Temple suicides in February 1996, the state sent out the Gendarmes to control the people at the Community. Here is their report: “We could not see any trace of bad treatment, as the A.D.F.I. is claiming. There is no trouble to the public order. They stay home, work and go to the market.”32
C. In Summary: Learn from North America’s Mistakes
It is instructive to look at our twenty-year history of conflict with state government in North America (1978-1998) in hopes that European scholars can better educate political and religious leaders here as to how to respond to us, by learning from the mistakes of North American social service agencies and law enforcement officials who have seriously mislead both the public and the government. Inappropriate responses based on misinformation by governments to religious minorities can have catastrophic and deadly consequences, such as the 86 deaths in Waco, Texas in 1993.
Given the experience of the legal conflicts we have encountered over the last two decades and the judicial decisions rendered, it is clear that judges, lawyers, social workers, law enforcement, government officials, and the media need to be educated as to how to judge the information they receive about a new religious group that they don’t understand or receive complaints about. In fact, the bad information being circulated against us in Germany and France had its origin mostly in North America. The following summary will attempt to document the source of the errors and hopefully provide a firm foundation of solid and documented information for all interested parties to understand who we really are, what we really believe, and what our fruit really is.
In the State v. Wiseman, 91-7-83 Ecr (1983), and In Re: C.C, 22-6-84 Osj (1984), in Vermont, and the Queen v.Dawson in Nova Scotia, Canada, cases cited herein, members of Messianic communities in North America were accused of crimes because of their religious affiliation, rather than because of evidence.33 This is reflected in judicial decisions. In each of those cases, when the State was called to their proof in court, they did not prevail because they had no evidence. The reason they had no evidence of crimes is because there had been no crimes committed. The only “crime” committed was the fact people were presumed guilty by their association with the particular Messianic community where they lived, whom the State government decided they didn’t like the religious beliefs of, as interpreted to them by the distorted perspective of anti-cultists.
I want to be abundantly clear here that often the government officials are unaware how they are being used by the anti-cult agenda. Many do not intentionally practice religious discrimination, but religious discrimination exists nevertheless, whether it is intentional or unwitting. This is the very reason that government officials must be educated, so as not to become the tools of an anti-religious lobby and thereby being inadvertent participants in the erosion of fundamental freedoms of religion and conscience in Europe. The alliance already existing between government and religion in Europe makes government particularly susceptible to lies and misinformation about new religions, other than the favored ones.
Before turning to the North American cases, I want to make two significant points about the situation in Europe regarding the Messianic Communities and religious intolerance.
First, it is noteworthy that in case after case (education, custody, social services), judges and public servants, both in Germany and France, have been able to rise above the destructive tactics of the anti-cult movement by rendering fair decisions by looking at the facts presented. We are most grateful to these dedicated officials who take the time and care to “praise those who do good.”
Second, however, it cannot go unnoticed, the dangerous trend for representatives of a government-favored religion, or a special interest group, to be in the role of informing the government and the public about other religions. It goes on almost unnoticed, with a “blind trust” granted to those who may not be trustworthy or rightly-informed. It is a very dangerous habit which threatens democracy and religious freedom.
III. THE NORTH AMERICAN EXAMPLES
A. The Vermont Cases
In Re:C.C - The 1984 Raid on the Church in Island Pond
On the morning of June 22, 1984, in the sleepy rural village of Island Pond, Vermont, nestled in the Green Mountains just south of the Canadian border, the powers of state government descended upon the 350 believers who lived there as a church community, in an effort to be satisfied that the children who resided within were not being severely abused.
Ninety Vermont State troopers in bulletproof vests and fifty social workers, armed with virtually unlimited police power, raided 19 homes in the pre-dawn hour demanding the names of the children and the children themselves. They waved papers, as if they had a flag of victory demonstrating the State’s conquest over the religious beliefs of the individuals involved. A local judge had signed a search warrant to legitimize the round-up of the unsuspecting children, so the zeal of the social workers became unleashed to confidently intrude into the lives of these little ones as if they were doing them a great favor, rescuing them from the abusive clutches of their fanatical parents. 112 children were unlawfully seized that morning because of the religious beliefs of their parents.34
June 22, 1984, was a Friday - a long, but glorious day for the families involved. After being transported, in custody, to the courthouse in Newport, Vermont, some 20 miles away, each family awaited their turn to appear before a judge who would decide if they would be separated or kept together. Happily for the parents, Judge Frank Mahady was a man who respected the State Constitution of Vermont as well as the U.S. Constitution and who did not judge by the barometer of public opinion. As he properly called the lawyers from the State Attorney General’s Office to provide evidence of abuse to justify the seizure of each child, the State of Vermont was left with nothing to say, except to speak against the faith of those brought to court, with greater and greater intensity.
Court continued late into the night, calling each child by name. Each one was sent home with his parents, as there was no basis to keep even one for examination by the state’s battery of doctors, social workers and psychiatrists who sat to no avail nearly an hour away at a ski resort, waiting to perform their scrutinizing rituals. At around 9 p.m. Judge Mahady had to decide what to do with the large group of children, approximately 60, whose parents did not give their names, despite the coercion of law enforcement’s threatening tactics. After hearing the arguments, he released them all to return home with their parents. He gave the opportunity for any parent who had something to say, to speak. Many passionately told the story of their day and spoke of their deep gratitude for a judge who ruled justly. By 11 p.m. a bus of tired, but rejoicing, families headed home to Island Pond, singing the praises of their God and giving thanks for the judge whose humble response was, “I’m only doing my job.”
The two judges most intimately involved with the facts and the law in the Raid case, In Re: C.C. (standing for “Certain Children”), found that it was unlawful, unconstitutional and regrettably authorized “under pressure,” based upon bad information compiled by government officials who trusted and relied upon anti-cult information and tactics. Even the judge who signed the search warrant agreed.35 In the past fifteen years since the pre-Raid gathering of information, these same lies and misrepresentations have been relied upon repeatedly by government agencies and in courtrooms.
It is an appropriate and socially significant question today to ask, “Why?” Why have social workers and pastors especially, not learned from the clear judgment of Judge Frank Mahady, which is based on constitutionally impeccable scholarship? The preservation of religious freedom may well depend on how much attention we pay to this question and how we respond to the answer.
The answer is clear. Religious freedom is jeopardized when government officials rely upon the mere subjective opinions of anti-religious zealots as true and act upon them. The anti-cult activists claim to be experts in matters of faith and convince government officials that they are trustworthy.
We hope that the diabolical mind behind the manipulation of government officials, playing on their fears and their conscientiousness as public servants by the anti-religious zealots who seem to have no conscience toward religious liberty, can be exposed for what it is. It is our desire that government officials would be armed with knowledge of these tactics, that the media would have the integrity not to incite fear for the sake of a story, and that mainstream religious clergy would not be looked to as experts on us, since they have a vested interest in promoting their own doctrine as the “right” doctrine, thus maintaining a comfortable status quo alliance with the state.
In the case of the Raid, the reality is the anti-religionists made it clear that they wanted to proceed on the basis of opinion and religious doctrine rather than evidence. Make no mistake about it, Judge Frank Mahady made it abundantly clear that
“Upon a proper evidentiary showing of abuse, this court is not the least reticent to take immediate and effective action under the law to protect the children who are the objects of such abuse.” In Re: C.C., App. G @ 8.
The key point here is “under the law.” It has been shown, time and time again, that, really, it is the anti-religionists who are the fanatics, unwilling to surrender to the rulings of courts, continuing on in the strength of their own opinions.
So that we will not fail to learn from history’s mistakes, a reminder of just how serious such arrogance can be. On June 22, 1984 law enforcement officers took three photographs of each child seized from the Community in Island Pond, ostensibly for identification purposes, but without specific authorization from the court. Judge Mahady rebuked the State, reminding them that:
”Taken literally, such presumptive delegation of authority would allow the tattooing of numbers on the arms of the children for the purpose of later identification.” Such fears “came home to roost in Island Pond on June 22, 1984.” Id. App. G(2) @ 6
Let us not forget the painful lessons of history, lest we be compelled to repeat them.
The years before the Raid were peppered with several attempted “deprogrammings” of adult members, who returned to the Community after the unlawful imprisonment they suffered at the hands of anti-cultists trying to force them to abandon their belief system in the God who created them.36
Juan Mattatall was a child molester who vowed to “destroy the Community” when his wife would not leave the Community with him.37 He told the world that the Community “splits up families” in an attempt to force his wife to leave with him and won custody of his five children, making great press on the front page of The Burlington Free Press.38 He got a lot of mileage out of accusing Elbert Spriggs of kidnapping his daughter Lydia, even though he was still in the Community and agreed to Lydia travelling with the Spriggs for awhile. Once in the custody of their father in Florida, the children spent a good deal of their childhood in foster care and orphanages, their father being charged with sexual crimes on children. His own mother shot him dead in the head in April 1990 in Oviedo, Florida, whereupon the children were finally able to return to the Community in Island Pond, Vermont, where there was much rejoicing over their return.
Attorney General’s Office: Influenced
In the wake of Mattatall and several other custody cases, Gaylen Kelly and Priscilla Coates provided lists to the State Attorney General’s Office in Vermont, of defectors who would provide information against the Church in Island Pond.39 They were major activists in the anti-cult movement through their involvement in the Citizens Freedom Foundation (C.F.F.) and the Cult Awareness Network (C.A.N.).40 A defector named Michael Taylor later confirmed that, after his deprogramming by Galen Kelly, he attended a meeting in Burlington, Vermont, where Kelly vowed he had a “fool-proof plan to bust up the Northeast Kingdom Community Church.”41 Kelly proceeded to execute his plan by visits to the State Attorneys General, who gave into the fear he generated and so advised the Governor of Vermont, Richard Snelling.
A Vermont State Police officer and director of the Newport Social Services Office were sent on a mission to travel around the country, amassing data on the church. The only problem was, that by the time they left, they were already poisoned by the untruthful agenda of the anti-cultists, convinced that child abuse and mind control were commonplace in the Island Pond Community. And so they went, at taxpayers’ expense, and returned with the necessary ammunition “to get the Church in Island Pond.”
The two anti-religious zealots, Kelly and Coates, prevailed upon the Attorney General’s Office, and the Governor himself, to adopt as true, the unreliable data amassed by the two state employees, who provided the fodder for local law enforcement to compile a 32 page affidavit, replete with horror stories of abuse42 and strewn with incredible interpretations of doctrine.43 There were no affidavits from current members as to the accuracy of beliefs actually adhered to or from parents and friends who regularly visited the community, as is the admitted practice of anti-cultists. Instrumental in the success of the plan to execute the Raid was a local publisher, Chris Braithwaite, who, years later, admitted he had “crossed the line” from a commitment to be an objective journalist, responsible to investigate the facts before reporting, to an obsession with being an activist to “stop the abuse,” because of his personal distaste for spanking. Because he never let the public know that he had gradually abandoned his journalistic ethics, many were deceived to believe lies about the Community without ever realizing that they had been “sold a bill of goods” not worth buying.
Similarly, in 1997, nearly fifteen years later, a journalist in Germany, having received some anti-cult propaganda, proclaimed that he had done an “investigation” on the Community, thereby leading readers to believe he was telling them truthful facts.44 His “research” went no deeper than to report from news clippings of American anti-cultists, without ever checking the court records, or the other side of the story, a fundamental for reporters. To date, that article is circulated throughout Europe by “information providers” on the Messianic Communities, and that article is no more true now than it ever was.
Many well-intentioned civil servants were duped into believing that they were doing a good deed to protect innocent children and, to this day, are none the wiser.45 It was a despicable tragedy. Armed with this unreliable and untrustworthy affidavit, a local prosecutor persuaded to believe that the Community was evil, convinced a well-meaning judge to sign the search warrant. Hence, the Raid occurred. The warrant-signing judge later acknowledged publicly in 1987 that he had been “pressured” to believe bad information - from prejudiced sources that he should not have relied upon.46
State v. Wiseman
The most “heinous” crime laid against a church leader was the simple assault charge on Charles Wiseman in 1983. When push came to shove in the hearings after the Raid, and the State was called to justify itself after all the children had been sent home because there was no evidence of any abuse, the State declared that “all the children were at risk because they lived in the same Community as Mr. Wiseman.”47
The Wiseman case was eventually dismissed for lack of a speedy trial on June 13, 1985. The reason the trial was not “speedy” was because the State declined to call available witnesses, instead choosing to rely on unsigned depositions of defectors who recanted their exaggerated accounts, explaining how they had been pressured by anti-cultists.48 The complaining witnesses in this case were a defector named Roland Church and his thirteen-year-old daughter Darlynn, who became the unwitting pawns of Gaylen Kelly and his plan to destroy the Community Church in Island Pond. The trial judge found the State of Vermont guilty of prosecutorial misconduct for their strategy of appealing to delay the case while the witnesses were ready to testify to the truth. Today, the alleged victim is a 27 year-old mother of three, who has nothing but friendship towards her once-alleged “abuser.”
B. 1994, Ten Years Later: Lavin v. Lavin and Hyannis, MA
In 1994, ten years after the Raid, there were two significant cases: 1) a child custody dispute in Rutland, Vermont,49 and 2) a child protection case in Hyannis, Massachusetts. Both revealed that the initiators in each case, a private father in one, and a social services’ office in the other, had become alarmed about the welfare of specific children, given the anti-cult tactics of generating fear based on unspecific, generalized accounts that are unverifiable, and also distorting and exaggerating specific accounts beyond the information actually given. This was combined with ten-year-old allegations still circulating among state social agencies, and from anti-cultists who refuse to accept the judgment of court decisions. This material seems to circulate to this day, as if by magic.50 The effect of such tactics is very personal and very harmful to the families affected. Rather than promote communication and understanding, it causes hysteria and overreactions, both quite detrimental to the children involved.
Lavin v. Lavin - Custody Case
In the Rutland case, a couple, already divorced, spent six months in a highly publicized court case, before coming to resolve about their six children. A previous agreement gave custody of the two teenage boys to the father, while the mother had custody of their four daughters, aged 4- 12. Having received alarming phone calls and unsolicited literature, the father refused to return the girls after a weekend visit. Instead he filed an abuse petition in the Family Court and a request for custody. After hearing and by agreement, the abuse petition was dismissed.
After a court-appointed expert, a psychologist, conducted a thorough (70-page) evaluation of the entire family, he found that the Community was a “safe” place to raise children and that their child-rearing teachings were “developmentally sound.”51 He recommended joint custody and contacts that did not in any way interfere with the mother’s freedom of religion. Four years later, in 1998, all four girls, now ages 8-16 reside in the Community with their mother, with the consent of their father, who is a frequent and welcome visitor. In fact, the father has relocated to be closer to the Community.
Hyannis, MA - Social Services
In Hyannis, Massachusetts, nine children there came under the scrutiny of social services when a worker produced an altered affidavit, based on statements other than the truth. It generated from the fact that an anti-cult pastor, Reverend Robert Pardon, made a complaint to social services based on things he never saw, and worse yet, on things he was never told! He justified his anonymous report by the fact that, since the member he had talked with never made a report as he had advised, he decided to do it without her! Once this young woman saw the affidavit produced by the Department of Social Services, she filed an affidavit protesting their manipulation of what she had said.52 The parents and children faced court proceedings for six months, enduring court-ordered evaluations and government intrusions without cause. In the end, the Chief Family Court Judge in Massachusetts dismissed all the cases for “lack of evidence.”53
It is worthy to note that several of the court-appointed lawyers for the children and parents gave favorable reports to the court after visits with their clients at their Community homes. While presumably done to advance “the best interests of the children” involved, in reality, such intrusion only brought instability and turmoil to their lives. Ten years after the Raid, social service agencies were still circulating the same unreliable information, without accountability or responsibility.
Even worse is that despite the Chief Family Court’s ruling, Mr. Pardon, cites as “History” in an extensive paper he compiled on the Messianic Communities, the “fact” that “D.S.S. brings charges of child abuse against the Community in Hyannis, MA,” stating that
“ex-member won’t testify, frightened, mishandled by State, lack of support from friends,” without ever acknowledging his role as the instigator who made false reports not based on first-hand knowledge. He also ignores the woman’s own account of what social services did with what she said, and proceeds to confirm his own predetermined conclusion that the group is an abusive mind control cult with power hungry and mad individuals in control. In his lengthy final report about the Community he writes as supposed “expert,” Mr. Pardon distorts and misleads with the casual confidence of one who knows his readers won’t check up on him. Beyond that, he openly claims that when you meet us, you can’t trust what you see. So how can anyone really know? His obvious direction and expert advice is “trust me.” Now who is it that is afraid to let people think for themselves and judge what they see, the Community or Mr. Pardon? Who wants to control whose mind?
An observation I have made over the past fifteen years of my acquaintance with the Community is this: if sincere people take the time to know or investigate the Community first-hand, there is a positive response or report; if people rely on hearsay accounts of former members, especially those who have been deprogrammed, influenced by anti-cultism, or on the material generated by anti-cult organizations, the response is fear and horror.54 Mr. Pardon is the exception.
C. Canada: The Queen v. Dawson (Nova Scotia)
Perhaps the best example that shows the cost to individuals when governments are not careful to protect religious liberty and guard against discrimination, is the story of Edward and Michael Dawson, a father and son.55 Known as Isaac, Dawson became a believer in a Messianic Community in Nova Scotia in 1986, three years after Michael was born in Montreal. He is victorious after ten years of legal battling in the province of Nova Scotia. Government officials in that province discriminated against his religion when it came to who had authority over the life of his son Michael, whom he had sole legal custody of since age 3. The painful part is that Michael, now 15, is no longer with him.
Because of the province’s unnecessary interference with Michael, caused by unwarranted fear of Dawson’s faith, Michael remains with his mother in Montreal. Consequently, he is not properly cared for, is truant, and had been taken temporarily into social services’ protective custody. The social worker recently reported Michael’s living conditions as “filthy and unsanitary” with no food in the apartment and drugs and beer bottles in Michael’s room. His mother is an alcoholic under psychiatric care, although negligent with her medication. Although Michael went with the police willingly into custody, he witnessed his mother “foaming at the mouth,” in an alcoholic rage, biting one of the policemen. Michael was returned to her home the next day and the case closed, concluding that “Michael’s security and development are not compromised.”56 When the government of Nova Scotia began their unwarranted interference into the lives of Dawson and his son, Michael was four years old and the examining physician found him to be physically and emotionally healthy, “a smiling, bubbly child.”
After Dawson joined the Community, he and Michael’s mother executed a custody agreement in December 1986, wherein she agreed to give sole custody to Isaac, as long as she could visit at Michael’s residence. Both believed it was best for Michael to be raised by his father, who was ready, willing, and able to undertake the responsibility of parenting him.
In the ensuing twelve years, Dawson has been primarily consumed with legal troubles because he is a member of a Messianic Community and his son’s mother has been consumed by the fears of Dawson’s faith generated by anti-cult information and organizations. In 1987 Michael was unlawfully seized from his father in the Community at the Myrtle Tree Farm in the Annapolis Valley of Nova Scotia. After 44 days and a court appeal, the boy was returned to his father, but not without damage.57
The Nova Scotia high court rebuked the social service agency and commented that the only feasible reason they could have seized the boy was because his father took issue with social service policy.58 The court found this to be “hardly credible.” The court acknowledged the father’s practice of “kind, but firm” physical discipline that was sanctioned by his faith. It is fair to say the decision rocked the social service community.
It turned out that the Nova Scotia social services had a file compiled from social services in Vermont, full of inflammatory news accounts and magazine articles defaming Dawson’s faith. The fact that the Vermont Raid had been illegal did nothing to prevent the social workers from relying on the same bad information three years later. Instead, they waited for the opportunity to seize upon a Community child to investigate. Under cross examination, the doctor revealed that, in fact, he had not written the affidavit substantiating Michael’s need for protection, but rather that he had “just trusted the social worker and signed it,” after reading an inflammatory magazine article she had given him, acquired from Vermont.59
In the intervening years between 1988 and 1992 Michael’s mother took counsel from Michael Kropveld at Infosecte Montreal. She developed a plan to acquire custody of Michael, despite their agreement having given Dawson custody when the boy was three. In 1992 she deliberately went to court without giving Dawson notice of the hearing and called an anti-religionist witness, Stephen North, who spoke many untruths about Dawson’s faith. Within days Dawson was charged with parental abduction after the Royal Canadian Mounted Police believed her version of the events. Eventually, in 1994 and again in 1997, after a trip to the Supreme Court of Canada, Dawson was twice acquitted of kidnapping his son.
At the November 1997 two-week retrial, at which Dawson represented himself before a jury, the court, J. John Davison of the Nova Scotia Supreme Court, found indeed that “some people [i.e., the mother, Judy Seymour, her lawyer Heather Hill, and anti-cult “expert” Stephen North] had used a certain degree of force to undermine Dawson’s faith.” He was referring to the March 10, 1992 hearing in Family Court from which Dawson was excluded based upon his religious belief. The judge found this to be improper activity in a country that claims to have religious freedom and the jury unanimously found Dawson not guilty, a second time.
Beware of those who spread bad reports based upon the religion someone follows, claiming to understand their doctrine! For government agents to make judgments and exert authority over people based on their religion is a seriously unlawful trend, which needs to be recognized and seen for what it is, a world-wide threat to religious freedom, and to a social order that claims to preserve liberty. The anti-cultists who were there to throw stones at Dawson’s faith in 1987 and 1992,when Michael was four and nine, to the extent of influencing government officials to exert their awesome power to control families, are not there to be accountable or to pick up the pieces. Michael is 15, living with a mother who cannot care for him, and estranged from the only secure life he ever had, with his father in the Messianic Communities, because some people decided they didn’t like Isaac Dawson’s faith.
IV. REMEDIES TO THE DAMAGE OF ANTI-RELIGIONISTS:
TRUTH TO REPLACE THE LIES
A. The Affidavits of Michael Taylor, Roland Church, Jennifer Mattatall and Paul Gregoire
Included in the Appendix here are the Affidavits of several individuals who played critical roles in the cases against the Northeast Kingdom Community Church in Island Pond in the early 1980’s.60 Michael Taylor and Roland Church are former members who clearly tell their stories of how they were pressured and used by Galen Kelley, a leading anti-religionist affiliated with the now bankrupt Cult Awareness Network and his followers. Taylor and Church are frequently quoted in the documents circulated by government agencies in both Germany and France, as well as the Evangelical “sect” ministers in Germany and A.D.F.I. in France. While anti-religionists in the United States and Canada are well-aware of the fact that the courts have rejected this testimony as unreliable, the social service agencies, law enforcement, anti-cultists, and sometimes the media, continue to circulate this information with impunity.
Included in the packets of information that are distributed are the transcriptions of video-cassettes called “The Kingdom and the Children” , parts 1 and 2, from October 3 and 12, 1983 that were aired on TV in New England and Canada. Church and Taylor are quoted often and their responses feed the hungry spirit of the interviewer seeking to find child abuse, mind control, and kidnapping. The cases specifically spoken about were the Wiseman case and the Mattatall custody case, accusing Elbert Spriggs of beatings and kidnapping. The fact is that his accuser, Juan Mattatall, was a pedophile who denied his condition. He was unwilling to face his problem. Once his wife refused to leave with him, he cooperated with Galen Kelly in a “fool-proof plan to destroy the Community” and vowed he would do it. These transcripts paint a horrific picture of life within the Community, but they are not true, have been found without merit in court, and they should no longer be distributed, at least not by people who claim to be objective experts.
Michael Taylor and Roland Church have prepared their affidavits in a desperate attempt to keep fifteen years of lies about the Messianic Communities from distribution and continuing damage. These lies are spread when anti-religionists mail old newspaper clippings of incidents during the initial stages of charges, rather than to send the accurate disposition of the case reflected in court records. Both of them describe in detail how they were ensnared by the anti-cultists to “tell them what they wanted to hear,” despite the fact that the claims did not reflect the truth. It is instructive to read their accounts now to learn that there are “two sides to every story,” but sometimes it is hard for the truth to be heard.
The horrific claims now circulating in Germany and France have found no credibility in the American or Canadian courts. In most instances, the anti-cultists do not tell of the acquittals, findings of religious discrimination, and children returning home to the Community. However, these rulings have come at a great cost. The damage to lives has been high, especially to children, whom, ironically, government agents claim to protect the most.61
Two such examples are Jennifer Mattatall and Paul Gregoire, now 23 and 25 years old, each having been taken from their Messianic Community mother in 1982, when they were 7 and 9 respectively.62 The court gave each child (and their siblings, totaling 9) to the parent who had left the Community, based on unreliable claims of abuse within the Community. Both children have reached adulthood, returned to the Community where they intend to stay, have married and are raising their children in the same manner as they were raised.
B. Calling Michael Kropveld of Infosecte Montreal to Account
Perhaps the most tragic aspect of the activities of the anti-religionists is the effect they often have on the lives of the families and children they ostensibly strive to protect from harm. Cited earlier is the story of Michael Dawson’s life at the hands of governments who gave weight to what irresponsible “experts” claimed was the truth about his father’s faith. Another case where Michael Kropveld and the information he provided had a long-lasting effect is that of Schwiebert v. Schwiebert in Germany, where a father in search of information about his ex-wife’s new religion made inquiry to Infosecte Montreal, enquiring as to effect on his young daughter.
Mr. Kropveld sent a three page letter to Mr. Schwiebert allegedly “documenting” why his daughter would be at serious risk were she to live in the Community. His sources?
News clippings, TV shows, ex-members, and other second or third hand sources coming from the perspective of a special interest or agenda. He relied on old and discredited information provided by Roland Church and Michael Taylor and passed it on. As an “expert on cultic thinking,” ten years after the 1984 Raid, he surely was aware that all these cases were dismissed for lack of evidence. He passed much information on to Mr. Schwiebert (and much of Germany) that was either deliberately, negligently or, at best, recklessly false, libelous and misleading.
I will provide some examples and some evidence to the contrary. As for his claims that “all attention must be focused on the leader” and that “close and intimate relationships are discouraged,” see Appendix “W” which is a brochure printed in 1994 called “Dear Guests,” with letters from relatives and friends documenting who we really are and what the extent of our social life really is.
Also included therein are letters from dentists and doctors who see Community members regularly as patients, commenting on the impressive state of our “collective health.” Medical decisions are the province of family members and no one is forced to take, or not take, treatment against their wishes. Rumors of suspicious deaths of children are nothing but the result of “yellow” journalism. See Appendix “X” for the proof that births and deaths are customarily recorded with the town clerk, thereby dispelling another charge that we have nothing to do with secular authority.
In fact, we are a law-abiding people who teach respect for authority and for government. Our neighbors who know us will attest to this fact. Drivers’ licenses, paying taxes, building permits, zoning variances, marriage licenses, passport applications and fire permits are a part of our daily routine as the need arises and attendance at town selectman’s meetings, participation on the Fire Dept. and Rescue Squad are encouraged. See Appendix “Z” for a series of letters attesting to our civic virtue and participation.
Kropveld, in his 1994 letter, equates corporal punishment with child abuse and notes that allegations have persisted for twenty years, but fails to acknowledge the fact that our children receive outstanding reports from visitors, doctors and friends and that all cases charging abuse have been dismissed for lack of evidence. Maybe there is a reason other than that “no one can prove it”? He actually states that discipline by spanking is abuse per se, which is not even in keeping with the law or common sense. It is not our belief or our practice to abuse children. Quite the contrary, our focus is to make every effort “to raise them up in the way they should go,” as any conscientious and loving parent does.
All of these areas of misinformation was sent to Germany in the 1994 letter to Mr. Schwiebert which now is commonplace among the regional “sect” ministers who disseminate it to anyone who asks and encourage pastors to share it from the pulpit and parish meetings. The inaccuracies continue and are multipled.
Mr. Kropveld cites a truancy conviction in Vermont when there has been none. In fact, the Communities have an exemplary working relationship with the State Department of Education, as confirmed by a letter from their attorney in 1994 (Appendix Y), acknowledging that we comply with state law. Many educators who visit our Communities in various states are quite impressed with the calibre of our children’s interest, self-confidence and friendliness.
Also, while casually commenting about the lacks in the educational level of children who have left the Community, Mr. Kropveld makes no reference to those who pass their G.E.D., acquire work as responsible employees, and get good grades if they enter public school.
The errors continue on. He cites that six “children have been kidnapped by a parent who was a member of the Community.” There has been not one kidnapping. The incidents he lists do not provide accurate information, ignoring the fact that in those instances the Community parent had custody of the child. After five years under a charge based upon religious discrimination, Isaac Dawson was exonerated by a jury who heard the facts. He was constantly maligned in the press as a Community member who unlawfully kept the child from his mother, when, in fact, she had surrendered custody years earlier. Kidnapping is a serious charge and a crime that is defined in law. In none of the cases listed by Mr. Kropveld has there been any kidnapping conviction.
Custody issues are determined by the parents involved and no Community policy is imposed upon a parent, as far as the custody and well-being of one’s children.
Kropveld’s claims of property being owned by a hierarchy of leaders is illegitimate and untrue. We share all things in common as a profession of faith and property is individually owned and voluntarily shared.
Mr. Kropveld concludes that we divide society into “two monolithic blocks,” black and white. This principle is quite contrary to the gospel we preach that every man will inherit his eternal destiny, whether it be holy, righteous or unjust and filthy, according to his deeds, as dictated by Revelations 22:11. We wholeheartedly believe that there are innumerable righteous people outside the Community and his black/white framework is his “cultic thinking” being imposed upon us without any basis in fact.
We provided Michael Kropveld with numerous documents in January 1998, showing him proof of the errors he has disseminated over the years, asking him to be accountable. Now that we have recently become aware of the extent that his conclusions have been disseminated in Europe, to our harm and the damage of our reputation, contrary to fact, we are itemizing his specific errors for him, requesting that he make every effort “to get the feathers back into the pillow” that he scattered so irresponsibly.
In the meantime we ask you to do your utmost to purge unsubstantiated information about the Messianic Communities and replace it with data you can trust is true. Much is provided herein and in the Appendix attached.
C. Vermont Social Services Commissioner: Wrong in the Law and on the Facts
Approximately one month after the 1984 Raid, the Commissioner of Social and Rehabilitation Services (S.R.S.) of Vermont, wrote a defense of why that protective action was necessary in Island Pond.63 His thirteen page justification has circulated throughout Germany and is being distributed by pastors, “sect” information officers and the like. It is tragic however, that the recipients of this document do not also receive the judicial opinion that explained why every reason he offers was inadequate and unconstitutional. This is the very reason why social workers need judges. If the social workers were the judges with unchecked power there would be no freedom for individual choices that did not conform to the opinions of the social workers. Maybe that day is coming, or is already here. Democracy and freedom will not rule then.
I respect John Burchard’s job and his concern for children, but he needs to consider the fact that he just might have been wrong about the Church in Island Pond. He is a perfect example of someone who got manipulated and used by the anti-cultists and their agenda. He asks in his paper of those who criticize the Raid:
“Are all these people uncaring, incompetent human beings who are only interested in the abuse of power? Those of us who were responsible for the decsion struggled with the complex legal and human issues involved. But no one who had the opportunity to participate in the decision or the action that followed refused to do so. Why? I do not believe it was because they were coerced, cajoled or brainwashed into taking action contrary to their beliefs. Rather those individuals had some very compelling information which guided their actions; information which was not available to the public. I will provide as much of that information as is legally possible.” “Children at Risk,” p.2.
The answer to his question is this: No, the public servants were not uncaring, but they were mislead by bad information, that is information that is not worthy of belief, of leaning on, because it is not reliable, trustworthy, or otherwise proven. The data was found to be basically “a lot of talk with no substance” by both Judge Mahady and also Judge Wolchik, who later regretted the action as a “tragedy for the State of Vermont,” who admitted that he had been “pressured” by State’s Attorney Philip White (on John Burchard’s team) to issue the warrant. While stopping short of calling the raid-seekers “liars,” Judge Wolchik said that “they overstated the situation in an attempt to do something purposeful” about the activities of the Church Community.64 And this is how the bad information generated by the anti-cultists can lead the governmental authorities in your locality to be deceived and thereby abuse their power, albeit unwittingly, to deprive people of their basic rights.
We are not talking here about allowing criminal activity in the name of religious freedom as Michael Kropveld and others portray, but we are saying that individuals need the protection of the law to be sure there is evidence in individual cases and “not just talk.”
The information which guided public officials prior to the Raid was orchestrated by Galen Kelley and those who worked with him like Juan Mattatall, Mike Taylor, and Roland Church who was executing a “sure-fire plan to bust up the Northeast Kingdom Community Church.” The State investigators who got the information were led by the agenda of anti-religionists, whether they knew it or not. The Cult Awareness Network had John Burchard and the State of Vermont in the palm of their hand, having amassed all the might and power of the state to do their will.
Mr. Burchard should be singing the praises of Frank Mahady, the judge, for checking his actions. Instead, Burchard broadcasts these atrocity tales of child abuse stories far and wide, as if they are the truth, which they are not. In his article he itemizes several “bloody” accounts, when he knows that the details of juvenile cases are confidential by law. Instead of obeying the law, he follows the lead of amoral journalists in publishing the accounts, and uses their sensationalistic nature to justify flouting what he knows the law to be. Judge Mahady was speaking to John Burchard when he said, “Even such a goal as avoiding the abuse of children, however, cannot justify the means employed here.”65
Instead of being humbled by the fact that he and his agents and his powerful team of State employees with lofty titles were found to have executed a “grossly unlawful scheme” that was “the worst state-sanctioned violation of children since Herod,” violating the basic Constitutional rights of hundreds of people, Burchard looks for sympathy for his misdeeds and abuse of power and his pleas are heard around the world. It exemplifies my call to the social workers of the world: be careful whom you listen to. And to the judges: be careful what evidence you rely upon.
I believe Mr. Burchard is a decent man, but not everyone on his “team” was so well-motivated. He got bad legal advice and bad empirical data, in social work jargon. He needs to take accountability for his own arrogant attitude when he came to Island Pond pushing his authority on the parents there demanding that he be satisfied, when he so easily accuses Community parents of being “uncooperative.” How cooperative would you be when someone came with an attitude, already judging that you were guilty and they were going to let you know they could take your child?
He needs to come to grips with the fact that it was he and his team that fell short with the evidence on June 22, 1984. He labors in his writings to convince people that there was reasonable evidence to believe that all the children of the church were in danger, but the truth is that when he was called to put forth enough evidence for even one child to be held for examination, he could not do it. This is what the law demands of him before he can exercise his awesome power. The judgment of the Constitution and a judge who enforced it was that he did not follow it and that he did not follow it egregiously.
A second major point that John Burchard needs to be accountable for is his repeated lament (all over the world) that somehow the State had “exhausted” all less intrusive ways to ensure the protection of the children before launching the Raid. He remains blind to a very important reality: once they “failed” (according to his definition) in their efforts by the legal avenues they tried, there is no provision in a democracy to proceed by “illegal means.”66 This is what it means to be ruled by laws and not by men.
The fact of the matter is that, three days before the ill-fated Raid, the Court made it abundantly clear that unless and until the state could produce specific names of people and specific evidence, there was no authority to act under Vermont State law and under the Constitution of Vermont and the United States.
The state’s perpetual response when Community members stood on their constitutionally protected rights and on their faith was to accuse church members of being “uncooperative” and refusing to respond to legal process, which was not the case. When Judge Keyser followed the Constitution on Tuesday, June 19th, the state simply ignored the lawfulness of his ruling and chose to go past it, instead of obeying it and respecting it. He was the judge of their legality that day and he found the state fell short.
So, with this ruling by Judge Keyser on June 19, 1984, in favor of the Community parents, why did the state authorities not abide by it? Why? Because the ones who exercised the authority to decide, decided they didn’t have to. Consciousness of this guilt is self-evident by one State’s Attorney’s admission that, “If I had known that Judge Mahady was on the bench, I would have called off The Raid.”67 That is like saying, “If I knew we were going to be judged by the Constitution, I wouldn’t have risked it.” And rightly so. What the court told a team of Attorneys from the Attorney General’s office that they could not do on Tuesday...Judge Mahady told them again they could not do, and should not have done, on Friday. They simply relied on their own judgment rather than the ruling of the court. They took the law into their own hands; they became a government of men instead of a government of laws and exalted themselves beyond what was lawfully given to them. That is the greatest threat to a democratic society.
D. Scholarly Research and Reliable Information is Available
As an alternative to the negative and unreliable information provided by anti-religionists, defectors, or biased journalism about the Messianic Communities, here are some suggestions. We have a Website, www.TwelveTribes.com, so you can check what we really believe if you are interested in that. There are court records available to the public in non-juvenile cases, but it is important to look for the bases that judges make their decisions to gain a better understanding of the essence of the proceedings. Newspaper accounts can be notoriously misinformed, sensational, and biased.
Several scholars of the sociology of religion are acquainted with us and some of them researched us extensively. Note the articles by Susan Palmer, Dawson College, Montreal, and John Bozeman, University of Virginia, cited herein. Others like Gordon Melton, James Richardson and David Bromley are somewhat familiar with us. Eileen Barker from the London School of Economics is beginning to gather accurate information on our history and beliefs and Richard Robbins, an anthropologist from the State University of New York in Plattsburgh, has been bringing students to our Communities for years as part of their course work and field study.
We ourselves regularly produce Freepapers on various topics of current interest to us. They are available to anyone. Also, our homes and Communities make a daily practice of welcoming visitors. We hold public meetings in places where we live in which we encourage dialogue between local residents and us.
We believe people are smart enough to judge for themselves and we invite you to come see or inquire for yourself.
V. FUNDAMENTAL RIGHTS IN THE EUROPEAN UNION AND RELIGIOUS FREEDOM
The Messianic Communities now exist on four continents, focused largely in New England and Western Europe, but also can be found in Canada, Australia, Brazil, and Argentina. With Communities emerging in France, Spain, Germany, and England, the degree of religious protection afforded to non-mainstream religions in the European Community is a major sociological concern, as proclaimed by Drs. Massimo Introvigne and Gordon Melton sounding the alarm in Washington, D.C. last December, 1997. They see reason to fear for religious freedom on the continent as many current denominations are labeled as “cults”, thereby falling in dangerous disfavor with governments and promoting unnecessary fear in the hearts and minds of the public, giving rise to government oppression. The future of social diversity depends upon freedom of religion being protected.
Any country that does not allow parents the right to control the upbringing of their children does not have religious freedom. Methods of discipline and health care are matters of parental responsibility and discretion. Of course, by this, we do not mean to condone criminal behavior and do not condone it. However, spanking, home education, and responsible medical choices should not be criminal in a nation that respects parental authority over children. The governmental authority to protect children, does not transfer the God-given right and responsibility from parents to the State. Rather, it provides the means to intervene where there is evidence to justify intervention because there is somehow a serious harm or serious risk of harm coming to the child. Disagreement with a parent’s religious doctrine does not qualify and is not the province of the State. It is not the role of government or state agents to criticize or find fault with a person’s dogma, except in the course of public debate, but not in their official capacity.
If governments practice the discriminatory treatment and selective prosecution of those with whose religious beliefs they differ, we are in trouble. If state agents, officials and social workers rely on such matters as the basis for intervening in people’s lives, there is no religious freedom in that place. If governments exterminate us because we stand on the Word of God in the “raising up of our children in the way they should go,” ( matters of discipline, health care and education are a parent’s duty), that place will be cursed, according to His Word. “Honor your father and mother (which is the first commandment with a promise) that it may go well with you, and that you may live long on the earth.” Ephesians 6:2 And so we train our children as the spiritual descendants of Abraham, the father of our faith, who was chosen to “command his children and his household after him to keep the way of the Lord by doing righteousness and justice; in order that the Lord may bring upon Abraham all that He has promised him.” Genesis 18:19
We take issue with the anti-cultists admonition that “you cannot trust what you see” and urge you to the truth that, “You will know them by their fruits. Grapes are not gathered from thorn bushes, nor figs from thistles, are they? Even so, every good tree bears good fruit; but the bad tree bears bad fruit. A good tree cannot produce bad fruit, nor can a bad tree produce good fruit.” Matthew 7:16-18 So, we stand on being known by our fruit and on the Word of God that “he who tells lies will perish.” Proverbs 19:9 “A lying tongue hates those it crushes.” Proverbs 26:28 “A liar pays attention to a destructive tongue.” Proverbs 17:4
We want to acknowledge the judges everywhere who stand in the gate to protect the religious liberties of minorities from the awesome power of the government. We are grateful for their courage and their commitment to the rule of law, even in the face of public pressure to act on the basis of lies and misinformation. We plead with men and women of conscience everywhere, whatever your public or professional role, to practice courage and respect your fellow man, whatever his or her religious affiliation, unless there is reliable evidence to the contrary.
An Historical Footnote: A Prophesy
In conclusion, a comment on where we are in the history of the world’s social order. At the Montreal Conference on World Sociology last month, association President Immanuel Wallerstein reminded the 5000 gathered sociologists of the vision of one of that discipline’s fathers, Emile Durkheim, when he looked forward to the inevitable merger of history and sociology, since they are essentially inseparable. Noting that this merger has not happened, he posed the question, “Was Durkheim wrong in suggesting the union, or have we made some mistakes en route to this destiny?”
My response to that provocative question is as follows. Durkheim was not wrong, nor will man’s mistakes hinder that destiny from occurring. Indeed, it is inevitable and undeniable, as prophesied in the Book of Daniel, chapter2, that a fifth and final Stone Kingdom will emerge that will belong to God, as his possession, and it will be chiseled from the mountain of the world “without human hands.” It will strike the statue of the existing world kingdoms, crushing them like chaff, so that not a trace of them will be found. The dream is true and its interpretation trustworthy. Daniel 2:45.
A true fact of current history is the social and legal conflict we continue to experience in North America and Europe, because of the practice of our faith according to obedience to the Word of God as commanded in the Bible. An uneasy alliance between favored religions and government exists and is increasing. This combination represents the iron and the clay in the feet of the statue envisioned by King Nebuchadnezzar in his dream 2500 years ago. The conflict or discrimination we experience with both government and religion is not insignificant or an accident. The new social order that is emerging in the Communities where we live should cause you to take a serious look at the statue in all its splendor, even down to the mixture of iron and clay in the feet and toes, as well as the emerging Stone Kingdom described in Daniel 2 in the Bible. It is prophesied that “In the days of those ten kings [when the iron mixes with the clay] the God of heaven will set up a kingdom which will never be destroyed…” Daniel 2:44.
Historically, the world empires depicted in the statue represent the development of Western civilization, which dominates the political, social and economic direction of the world. We are living in a time where the whole world is moving toward globalization, depicted in the union of iron and clay in the feet and toes of the statue, which will unite the world in a political and religious alliance more powerful and all-consuming than anything the world has ever seen, squeezing out anything outside that does not wish to participate in it. As globalization causes the world to shrink due to technological advancement in this information age, citizens of the world will increasingly be ruled by universal laws, or at least universal approaches to law making. Consider the formation of the European Union and the present crisis of religious intolerance.
The relationship between this political confederation and the ecumenical movement in Christianity is the most important and profound sociological dynamic of the next half-century.
At this stage of its development, the European Parliament is playing an ever-increasing role in defining the place of religious freedom and the policy of the confederation concerning “new religious movements.” There is a tremendous need for education and understanding to be given to the Parliament by the academic community and especially to social scientists, so that the laws that govern the nations of the European Community will protect religious freedom and diversity for all.
It will take decades for all of this to unfold in a way where its true nature can be seen, but it is precisely this dynamic between government and religion, that now gives fuel to the anti-cult movement. Anti-cultists work back and forth between government agencies (especially social services agencies and law enforcement) and fearful parents in the religious mainstream (by propagandizing in pulpits) to convince both that new religions are evil and dangerous and therefore should be eliminated, even at the expense of people’s fundamental rights. It is especially at the expense of people’s right to choose who their God is and how they worship. As it happens, the religious freedoms of those outside the mainstream will become less and less protected. But most importantly, from the vast diversity of “new religions” will emerge the Stone - which is outside the ranks of Christianity, is separate from the iron and clay, and must be given the room to exist. Remember, it was the alliance between Rome and the established Jewish religious leaders that crucified the man, Yahshua, the Son of God. In fact, it was the established church of his day that called for his death, while the civil government let it happen. Individuals must have the freedom to grope for God and to find Him without governments’ interference, deciding what religions are acceptable in their land and what ones are not.
Therefore, one of the greatest missions of sociologists into the 21st century is to be on the alert for religious persecution, sound the alarm, and defend the constitutional rights of conscience and religion, in order to uphold the divine mandate of religious freedom in free societies all over the globe, but especially on the continent of Europe.
A. Information Package about the Messianic Communities distributed throughout Germany by anti-religious information organizations
B. News article “All You Can See is Happy Children,” 10 April 1997, Schwaebische Post
C. Letter from Dr. Loeffelmann, 9 June 1997. Re: Official Medical Exam of the Children of the Community in Oberbronnen
D. Letter from Family Judge, Custody Court, County Court, Ellwangen, 5 August 1997.
E. Letter from Detlef and Christine Markeli to Mr. Werner, Ministry of Education, Youth, and Sports, 11 February 1998.
F. Pineau v. Vergnon, Superior Court of Appelation of Digne, Family Judge Order, 3 August 1995.
G. Judge Mahady Opinion, In Re: C.C., June 22 1984
H. Judge Wolchik, Caledonian Record, 11 February 1987.
K. Jennifer Mattatall Cohen affidavit, 1997; “Apostates and Their Role in the Construction of Grievance Claims Against the Northeast Kingdom/Messianic Communities,” Susan Palmer, The Politics of Religious Apostasy by David Bromley, 1998.
L. Burlington Free Press, Oct 25, 1983
M. UPI Press Release, Nov. 28, 1982, Orleans, VT.
N. State v. Wiseman, Decision to Dismiss, June 13, 1985
P. Massachusettes Department of Social Services, 1997, Dismissal
Q. “The Northeast Kingdom Community Church of Island Pond, Vermont: Raising Up a People for Yahshua’s Return” Journal of Contemporary Religion, Vol. 12, No. 2, 1997, John Bozeman & Susan Palmer; “Messianic Communities, Sociologists, and the Law,” Communities Magazine, Fall 1995.
R. “My Son Michael”, Communities Magazine, Fall 1995, pp.34-38, E.F. Dawson Affidavit, 1997.
S. Chronicle Herald, 6 November 1997, “Police Visits Terrified Child;” 7 November 1997, “No Abuse Seen at Sect’s Farm.”
Sch. Family and Children’s Services of Kings Co. v. E.F. Dawson; 12 R.F.L. (3d) 104 (NS CA 1988)
U. Paul Gregoire Affidavit, 1997; Luke Wiseman & Paul Gregoire Interviews, Barton Chronicle, 1994.
W. “Dear Guests” brochure, 1994, letters from friends and relatives documenting who we really are
X. Town of Brighton and Probate Court letters documenting recording of births and deaths
Y. Department of Education, State of Vermont, letter, 1994, confirms compliance with State Law.
Z. Series of letters, evidencing our interaction with local communities, governmental authorities and civic activities, 1994.