[Note: WARNING! The Cult Awareness Network (CAN) was recently bankrupted and bought up by Scientology. We strongly recommend you do not contact them for assistance.]
Cult Awareness Network (CAN), a Chicago based secular cult awareness organization, received a devastating blow last year when they lost a $1.1 million civil suit and were forced into chapter 11 bankruptcy. Last September, a Washington State jury awarded United Pentecostal Church (UPC) member Jason Scott $4.8 million in damages suffered during a "deprogramming" conducted by an independent exit counselor, Rock Ross and several aides (Christianity Today, via America Online).
Scott claims he was abducted, (handcuffed and gagged) then held for five days as part of an unsuccessful attempt by Ross to cause him to renounce his faith. In a telephone interview with Watchman Fellowship, Ross admitted that Scott was restrained, but explained that it was at his mother's request by security guards that she hired independently of Ross. Scott was restrained "only because he became violent" Ross said, explaining, "I was present but did not participate in the actual restraining."
Cynthia Kisser, CAN executive director believes that the case, is in reality, an attack from the Church of Scientology which she said had already backed over lawsuits against their Kenneth Moxon, the attorney representing Scott, is a Scientologist. He called CAN "a pretty arrogant group that has a world view that thousands and thousands of minority religious groups are cults." (Christianity Today)
Kisser maintains that no CAN staff were present, had knowledge of or participated in the incident. CAN was, however, found guilty of conspiracy and charged with over a million dollars of the total damages awarded. Although Ross is not a CAN employee, a Washington State CAN volunteer recommended Ross to Scott's mother, Kathy Tonkin. According to Kisser, Ross was never recommended for the Jason Scott case. Ross' name was only mentioned (along with several others) as a potential counselor for Scott's younger brothers who were minors. They were also members of the United Pentecostal Church, a sect that denies the doctrine of the Trinity and teaches performance-based salvation.
According to Ross, the issue in this case was not the UPC as a whole but one UPC minister, Harold Kern, Scott's pastor. Ross claimed that Kern was practicing "extreme authoritarian 'shepherding' the undue influence through coercive persuasion." Ross told Watchman, "The church was not a safe place to worship…One of Scott's brothers, a minor who I successfully counseled in an earlier intervention, had been sexually molested by one of the adult members of the church."
Like Kisser, Ross believes that Scientology was orchestrating the Scott lawsuit. "The jury was not allowed to hear the facts of the case, that Scientology was involved," Ross said, adding, "…had they known all the facts, they would have found me not guilty just like in the [criminal] trial." Ross had already been found "not guilty" of unlawful imprisonment in a criminal trial that preceded the civil suit.
Ross, who also filed for bankruptcy protection, said that court appointed trustees have already determined that he has no assets to pay the nearly $4 million portion of the damages he currently owes. Ross speculates that he spent $6,000 on legal fees in the civil case and about $10,000 on the criminal case but says that judgment has not slowed down his work.
CAN also continues to function under bankruptcy protection. Kisser told Christianity Today, "Barring something that we do drastic here, we probably won't be able to stay in business." CAN lost a post trial motion to set aside the judgment but still plans to fight it. On March 22, a CAN spokesperson told Watchman that the organization was still in business and planning to appeal.