Patrons of anti-cult group fear sale of files

Chicago Sun Times/December 6, 1996.
By John Carpenter

Thousands of people who called the Cult Awareness Network over the past several years now face the possibility that files of their dealings with the group could be sold.

One, an elderly Chicago resident, said she is afraid disclosure of her dealings with the network could jeopardize her relationship with her grandchildren, whose father, her son-in-law, still is involved in a "cult."

The woman, who asked that her name not be used, said her 16-year-old daughter left to join a religious group 12 years ago.

The woman called the Cult Awareness Network, once based in northwest suburban Barrington, which she said offered moral support as well as advice about how to deal with the situation, though nothing succeeded in persuading the daughter to leave.

Six years later the daughter left the religious group on her own. But her husband and their other children are still members. Now the woman is afraid files about her involvement with Cult Awareness Network could be sold to the highest bidder, perhaps the very group to which her daughter once belonged.

It's all part of complicated bankruptcy proceedings for the organization, which some say was a savior against cults but others call a "hate group" against religious freedom.

The woman's concern is at the heart of the question of how--if at all--more than 200 boxes of files should be distributed. The debate will be played out in federal bankruptcy court.

"People are afraid of harassment," said Cynthia Kisser, the network's founder.

"People who have committed crimes don't want them to be revealed," countered Kendrick Moxon, attorney for the man who won the lawsuit that threw the network into bankruptcy.

The Cult Awareness Network purportedly offered help to people who believed loved ones or friends were involved with cults. But it also drew fire from religious groups, most notably members of the Church of Scientology, who felt their organizations were unfairly tarred with the epithet "cult."

Although several lawsuits were filed by Scientologists, the network was finally brought down by a suit in which Jason Scott, a Washington man involved in a Christian group, said he was kidnapped by "deprogrammers." The $1.8 million award forced the organization into bankruptcy.

Now, in the course of liquidating the assets to pay off creditors, the Cult Awareness Network name has been sold to a Los Angeles attorney who is a Scientologist. The attorney, Steven L. Hayes, has said the network will operate under the same name but will distribute "the truth about all religions."

As for the files, Moxon said he had been contacted by other groups that had been targeted as cults. Moxon said he has told those groups they can pursue the purchase of the files, most likely with the names in them deleted. But Ben Hyink, attorney for the Cult Awareness Network, said he does not believe that offers enough protection.

Another possibility is that Scott could reach a settlement that would preclude the sale of the files.

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