Alterantive Religions: Government Control and the First Amendment–Preface


In the last decade, this country has experienced a marked increase in the number and types of groups professing to be religious movements. These movements vary in both their doctrines and their rituals. Some groups are communal, some are authoritarian; some require total commitment, some only infrequent participation. Whatever their doctrine and rituals, however, all of these groups have elicited intense reaction from mainstream religious organizations, parents of group members, and members of the medical and legal community.

Critics call for strict regulation or even prohibition of these new religious movements, contending that the groups exploit and physically and psychologically abuse their members. Those opposed to such regulation respond that the first amendment’s protection of the free exercise of religion prohibits interference with these groups and the individuals who join them. In an effort to examine whether these two views could be reconciled, the Review of Law, and Social Change sponsored a Colloquium entitled Alternative Religions: Government Control and the First Amendment. The purpose of the Colloquium, held on November 3, 1979, was to determine if abuses are in fact being perpetrated by these new religions and, if so, what means exist to counter these abuses which would not offend first amendment freedoms.

The Colloquium’s morning session was devoted to the presentation of papers. Participants included clinical psychologist Dick Anthony; U.C.L.A. Law School Professor Richard Delgado; Jeremiah Gutman, Counsel of the New York Civil Liberties Union; Leo Pfeffer, noted authority on constitutional freedoms; author Marcia Rudin; and sociologist Thomas Robbins.

Suggested Reading