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Polis Report

What Cult?

By Ami Chen Mills

Whatever happened to cults? Did they give up?

Not likely. Some argue cults are booming, have incorporated, and now their power to sue and sue big has stymied the national discussion on cults and derailed the efforts of cult-awareness advocates. Print the word "cult" and an network's name on the same page, and you'd better have a good attorney.

The Cult Awareness Network, an information clearinghouse, declared bankruptcy last year, folding under the weight of over four dozen lawsuits brought in three years by members of a (we're not scared) quasi-religious-scientific group. Although the suits were either dropped or lost in court, former director Cynthia Kisser sadly says they've depleted the Network's funds, effectively killing it. The group (not a cult! not a cult!) is now attempting to purchase confidential records in the Network's estate, including those of people who called about the group, and records of reporters' inquiries.

Further, the Network's president and Kisser are being personally targeted in a newer suit filed by a nationwide "education" group. "They allege their reputation was hurt because of actions of the Network and defendants, including comments to the media," says Kisser.

If all this doesn't add up to a chill, nothing does. Local cult specialist Margaret Singer cannot comment. She also is being sued by the "education" group.

Although Time magazine recently prevailed in a million-dollar suit brought by the aforementioned quasi-religous group, Kisser says the chill remains. "Reporters feel they'll be singled out for litigation, even for an accurate story that is not libelous. If the First Amendment can be bought through litigation, who will talk about the free speech rights of those who are trying to discuss the actions and reputations of these groups?" she asks.

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From the November 14-20, 1996 issue of Metro

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