Sixth formers on cult alert

Waco, Texas: campaigners warn against the dangers of cults

BBC News, July 16, 1999
By Hanna Bacon

As if sixth formers leaving school and about to embark on college life do not have enough to worry about, it seems they also have to guard against cults.

On the principle that forewarned is forearmed, several schools around the UK have already invited the London-based Cult Information Centre (CIC) to give talks to sixth formers on the issue.

Its founder, Ian Haworth, is a former cult member himself and performs around 100 lectures a year, mainly to independent schools like Harrow, Eton and Charterhouse.

He says that around a third of those youngsters he talks to have already been approached by dubious 'religious' organisations.

'Captive audience'

He is keen to stress that young people are enticed to join such organisations.

"They are recruited through deceptive and psychologically coercive methods so we expose what these methods are and we show people how they can be broken down physically and mentally," says Mr Haworth.

He says he targets sixth formers because they are a "captive audience".

"It's mandatory. They have to be there. At college or university they don't have to be there so at that level they don't come along because most students imagine they're immune to this sort of thing."

Raising awareness

One school that invited Mr Haworth to speak was Chislehurst and Sidcup Grammar in Kent after complaints from both pupils and parents that youngsters had been approached on the high street by cults posing as charities or even martial arts groups.

"We feel it is an issue that is relevant to them," says Head of Religious Education, Joy Hadwin, "because from what we've gathered a variety of cults do operate in great strength amongst the universities where a lot of our pupils will go."

"But at the end of the day, they will be the ones making the decision. They are intelligent beings that have the ability to think and the idea is that we help them to think some issues through ... it's just to raise awareness."

'He's talking nonsense'

However some of the new religions which have been criticised are none too happy about Mr Haworth's talks. "He's talking absolute nonsense," says John Campbell of the evangelical Christian group, The Jesus Army.

"In my view he shouldn't be allowed into schools. If it's an issue of giving unbiased information, he cannot do that. We wouldn't feel it would be right for us to push a point of view in a school. That would be an unethical position."

He denies that the Jesus Army brainwashes its followers, a quarter of whom live in "Christian communities", and insists they have good relations with other Christian churches and that their organisation is "totally above board".

The Church of Scientology, founded by American science fiction writer Ron Hubbard in 1950, also feels its message has been misrepresented.

"The emphasis of scientology is you've got to find out about it yourself," says Graeme Wilson, who himself joined the church while at university in Edinburgh.

He admits his own mother was deeply worried at first because of "scaremongering" generated by the media.

He adds: "I think we should let the schools know that we're available to give the other side of the coin and we're happy to come and do lectures just to give them the truth," he says

"That way they can take it or leave it and decide for themselves."


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