Freedom of Religion – Part 3

Church Law and Tax 1989-05-01 Recent Developments Freedom of Religion Richard R. Hammar, J.D., LL.M.,

Church Law and Tax 1989-05-01 Recent Developments

Freedom of Religion

The California Supreme Court ruled that two former members of the Unification Church could sue the Church for fraud and outrageous conduct. One of the members (David Molko) had been recruited by the Church in 1979 following his graduation from law school. He was approached by two Church members, while waiting for a bus, and was invited to a gathering of “socially conscious people from different occupations who met in the evenings to discuss important issues.” When asked if the group had a “religious connection,” the two Church members said no. They did not reveal to Molko that they were members of the Unification Church, or that their sole purpose in inviting him to dinner was to recruit him into the Church. Molko agreed to attend the dinner. Following the dinner there was a lecture on social problems after which there was a slide show about a “farm” a few hours away that was described as a “rural getaway where people went for relaxation and pleasure.” Molko agreed to visit the farm, and he was on his way in a Church-owned van within 15 minutes. Molko awoke the next morning expecting to spend some relaxing time in the country. He soon learned that each day’s schedule was tightly planned and left no time for solitude. First came calisthenics, then breakfast, then a lecture on moral issues, followed by small group discussions of the lecture. Next came lunch, more exercise, another lecture and discussion, then a break to take a shower. Finally came dinner, “testimonials” by individuals about their impressions of the day, and group singing followed by yet another small group discussion. At the end of the day, Molko was exhausted and quickly fell asleep. The following days were an exact repeat of the first day. Molko occasionally asked if the group was associated with any religious organization, and he was assured that it was not. On his 12th day at the farm, he was told by a member that the group was in fact part of the Unification Church. He expressed anger at being deceived for so many days, but allegedly was informed that “deception was necessary because people who had heard negative stories about the Church tended to be unreceptive if they knew the group’s identity before hearing what it had to say.” Molko agreed to stay and “work through his confusion.” He soon received nearly seven weeks of “advanced training,” after which he became a member of the Church and was judged “ready to go back to the city to sell flowers and witness for the Church.” Church leaders also encouraged Molko to take the California bar examination. As he left the final session of the examination, he was abducted and taken to a motel room by “deprogrammers” hired by his parents. After three days of deprogramming, Molko terminated his association with the Unification Church, and later sued the church for fraud and outrageous conduct. The second individual was a female college student who also had been “recruited” while waiting for a bus. Her experiences were similar to Molko’s, except that she ended up selling flowers on the streets of Los Angeles from 7AM until midnight. She, too, eventually became a member, and was abducted by deprogrammers (hired by her parents) who successfully persuaded her to abandon the Church. Both former members sued the Church for fraud and outrageous conduct. The court concluded that the Church could be sued for fraud if the former members could prove that the Church intentionally made misrepresentations of fact with an intent to defraud them, and they in fact relied on those misrepresentations. The court rejected the Church’s claim that it could not be guilty of fraud since the individuals both became members of the Church after they had learned its true identity. If the members could establish that the Church’s “brainwashing” activities rendered them incapable of not joining the Church, then they could sue for fraud. In rejecting the Church’s claim that the first amendment guaranty of religious freedom precluded the former members from suing it on the basis of fraud, the court observed: “Although liability for deceptive recruitment practices imposes a marginal burden on the Church’s free exercise of religion, the burden is justified by the compelling state interest in protecting individuals and families from the substantial threat to public safety, peace and order posed by the fraudulent induction of unconsenting individuals into an atmosphere of coercive persuasion.” The court also concluded that the former members could sue the Church for “outrageous conduct” (or intentional infliction of emotional distress) if they could establish that the Church’s conduct was outrageous, and was committed with an intent to cause emotional distress. However, the court cautioned that outrageous conduct could not be based on threats of divine retribution for leaving the Church, since such threats are protected by the guaranty of religious freedom. The case was remanded to the trial court for further proceedings. Further developments in this case will be noted in future editions of Church Law & Tax Report. Molko v. Holy Spirit Association for the Unification of World Christianity, 252 Cal. Rptr. 122 (Cal. 1988).

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