Unification News for August 1999

Anti-Sect Group Withdraws Suit Against Church in Russia

by Konstantin Krylov—St. Petersburg

In a victory for religious freedom in Russia, on July 21, 1999 the Dzerzhinsky Federal Court of St. Petersburg closed a civil lawsuit initiated by the Inter-regional Committee for Salvation from Totalitarian Sects (ICSTS) against the St. Petersburg branch of the Collegiate Association for the Research of Principles (CARP). The ICSTS withdrew its claims against CARP, a college student organization founded by the Rev. Sun Myung Moon, who is also the founder of the Unification Church.

Four years earlier, on the exact same date, July 21, 1995, the ICSTS launched its suit demanding $3.3 million in compensation for moral damage allegedly inflicted by CARP on the adult children of the ICSTS's members. The amount of compensation they demanded gradually grew and reached $10 million. The ICSTS also demanded the liquidation of CARP, which they said "brainwashed" its members and destroyed their brain functions. The suit even made the absurd allegation that CARP, and by implication, the Unification Church was, "responsible for diluting the genetic pool of Russia." In addition the suit claimed that the organization prevented its members from fulfilling their social responsibilities as required under the Russian Constitution.

The absurdity of the allegations and the juridical machinations were obvious from the beginning. Nevertheless, enjoying the support of the state organs and above all the Department of Justice of the City of St. Petersburg, the anti-cult ICSTS prolonged the case using every possible pretext.

During this time CARP, busy with Unification Principle studies and charitable activities, experienced many examples of the questionable application of Russian law. In 1995, about twenty Tax Police officers, armed with automatic guns, expropriated all the organization's documents from the CARP offices and conducted a search of CARP members' private belongings. After all this, no tax violations were found.

Since the anti-sect ICSTS depicted CARP members as "brainwashed" and demanded their forced psychiatric hospitalization for the treatment of "brainwashing," the CARP members who are the children of the leaders of the ICSTS were compelled to undergo a court-appointed psychiatric examination. Psychiatric experts found them to be perfectly sane, recognizing that any conflicts with their parents had its roots in their families long before they ever became involved with CARP. So-called "brainwashing" theories were once used by some groups in the US in an attempt to discredit new religious movements. Today, both the academic community and the courts recognize these theories to be groundless.

Referring to the above court case, the Justice Department of St. Petersburg had refused to register the local branch of the Unification Church and also accused CARP of violating its charter. The Justice Department of St. Petersburg was later ordered by a court to rescind its warning.

During the past four years many publications referred to this court case as evidence of the negative influence of foreign missionaries. Later the same sources ignored the fact that the anti-sect ICSTS had withdrawn all its claims.

The ICSTS case provides a vivid example of how authorities can take advantage of some people's fear of new religions. Its activities ignore basic human rights, namely freedom of conscience and the inviolability of private life, and provokes inter-religious strife. The ICSTS's activities direct many complaints to various authorities demanding the liquidation of a number of religious organizations and the prosecution of their leaders and members in accordance with criminal law. Although all examinations have proven the absence of any violations, the process of the investigations, accompanied by supportive media interviews of the anti-sect activists, creates negative publicity for new religions in Russia.

Such activities are widely supported by the Russian state. During this entire court case the St. Petersburg anti-sect group continued to receive financial support from the Administration of the City of St. Petersburg. The issue of money and the anti-sect group's leadership style created controversy within the ICSTS itself. Calling the style of its chairwoman, Mrs. Ninel Russkikh, "totalitarian" during one of its meetings, the majority of members finally left the ICSTS. Besides financial issues, the break-up of the ICSTS was due to its members' realization that it actually aggravates the conflict between its members and their children who are members of new religious movements.

At present the ICSTS's chairwoman, Mrs. Russkikh, and her deputy, Mr. Babkin, have submitted to the court individual suits against CARP demanding $0.8 million each, on the same basis of experiencing moral distress through their children's membership in CARP. A few months ago they had already sued the Unification Church with the same claims for $333,000 each at Kuzminsky District Court of Moscow. The court declined their demands, having found that their children had made their free choice of conscience according to the rights granted them by the Russian Constitution. A similar outcome is expected for the current suit.

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