Regulation of Alternative Religions by Law or Private Action: Can and Should We Regulate


OPENING REMARKS OF DEAN NORMAN REDLICH: Last year we heard why pornography had the effect of degrading women. In response, however, a classic free speech defense against any laws restricting obscenity was offered which refused to explore the extent to which it might be possible for society to combat some of the negative anti-feminist aspects of pornography consistent with traditional first amendment values. This morning, also, some of the speakers spoke of the evils and harms of cults; yet other speakers gave impassioned and eloquent defenses of the first amendment values which prevented the regulation of these cults. I hope that we will attempt to reconcile these positions this afternoon.

For those who are critical of cults (I will call this the “anti-cult” position), I hope that our speakers will try precisely to address the issue, “What would one do about it?” What laws might be passed to deal with what are perceived as the evils, the problems, and the harmful effects of cults? On the other side are those who have expressed so strongly the first amendment values. I would like them to address the question whether enforcement of traditional religiously neutral laws, applying to criminal conduct, is an effective weapon against the harmful consequences of cult activities. The question also must be addressed whether cults pose such a unique problem that such laws are ineffective against them.

The first person I would like to call on is the Director of the Commission of Law and Social Action of the American Jewish Congress, and a distinguished alumnus of the NYU Law School, Nathan Dershowitz.

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