Discussion about Cults in the Family Committee
Representatives for the continuation of Interior Ministry cult positions
February 21, 2002
Vienna (PK) - In today's session, the representatives of the families committee were heavily engaged with the topic of cults. The cause of this had taken form in the third report of activity from the Federal Center for Cult Issues, which had recently been presented to the National Assembly by Welfare Minister Haupt. In the session the representatives rated the Federal Center's work as markedly positive, and the view was expressed that the activity in this area needed to be stepped up. Representatives of the SPOe and the Greens in particular supported the continuation of the cult center under direction of the federal police, a desire that had also been supported by Welfare Minister Haupt. Because of the committee's recommendation in this regard he would explicitly mention this to Interior Strasser, he stated.
Deliberations in the committee were introduced with a short report from the operating manager of the Federal Center for Cult Issues, German Mueller. According to him, there was no evidence to indicate that the conflicts accompanying the appearances of cults and cult-like organization were on the decline. He said the steadily increasing number of contacts with the Federal Center for Cult Issues demonstrated just the opposite. He said that, on the average, the center was confronted almost every day with questions about another new group.
Mueller went on to say that the Federal Center's consultation part of operations had nearly doubled since its report last year, and that in many cases providing information alone was not enough. During the consultations it came up that people joining a cult was often just a symptom of a more general problem. People were looking for recognition, security and intellectual improvement, and those were the pressure points around which cults operated.
Mueller said one of the main drives of the Cult Center in the present year was conducting "multiplier training" to sensitize people in various areas to the topic. In addition, he considered the construction of a technical assistant network as especially important. In this sense, the Federal Center for Cult Issues is in constant contact with other professional centers, like youth welfare and custody courts, but not with parents' associations in schools. It would be regrettable, as Mueller said, if the cult center was done away with during the reorganization of the Interior Ministry, because the cooperation with specialized groups in the Austrian states had been functioning well.
To wrap up, the Federal Center operating manager briefly went into the phenomenon of Satanism and expressed the view that young people, in turning to Satanism, were primarily expressing a protest against parents, schools, or other authority figures. In many of these cases, this action concealed a call for help, because the person involved felt there was no other way to communicate. Mueller believed that the periodically appearing problem of adult Satanism was more of a danger than youth Satanism.
During the discussion, concern was expressed by many representatives for the transfer of the cult center in the Interior Ministry. Representative Karl Oellinger (G), for instance, emphasized how important it was for there to be a competent executive post that knew what was going on during investigations. He said it would be very regrettable if this post could not be continued in the scope of the ongoing police reform, and he pled with Welfare Minister Haupt to take this up with Interior Minister Strasser. The representative also expressed scepticism as to the extent to which the agency could effectively deal with developments such as suicide pacts over the Internet.
Representatives of the SPOe directed numerous, detailed questions to the cult experts whereby Ludmilla Parfuss and Gerhard Reheis expressed an interest in whether the existing situation with personnel and the budget was adequate for the federal center. Representative Gabriele Binder expressed the view that the wide variety of "cult guises" made cults very elusive, Representative Gabrielle Heinisch-Hosek brought up a "project instead of brochures." In her opinion the first defense should be "strengthening" children by immunizing them from cults, whereby she acknowledged that this would pose a problem to children born into cult families.
On the OeVP side of the house, Representative Ridi Steibl remarked that increased coverage by the media of drug problems was edging out coverage of cult issues. Her faction colleague Gerhart Bruckmann made the point that the line between communities rated positively and cult-like-communities vacillated.
Representative Wilhelm Weinmeier (F) spotted several breeding grounds for cults and cult-like operations not only in social areas, but also in the media, through which articles on individual cases turned indirectly into advertising for groups such as Satanism. Representative Sigisbert Dolinschek (F) urged a campaign that motivated young people not to associate themselves to cults and cult-like movements.
German Mueller agreed with the representatives that the core prevention work centered on critical discussions with children. He said that official bans would be of little use, because the very act of banning could prove an enticement to young people. As far as dealing with children born into cults, he said that based on experience, he would recommend communicating to these children that the "normal world" was capable of sustaining life and was not necessarily evil.
Concerning the personnel and finances of the Federal Center, Mueller indicated that the budget was raised in 2001, allowing the cult center to expand their consultation activity.
Welfare Minister Herbert Haupt thereupon indicated that that finances for the Federal Center for Cult Issues had increased. Thus in 2001, the budget was 370.151 Austrian shillings, this year it was 436.037. This had allowed the addition of personnel.
With regard to the Center for Cult Issues under the federal police, Haupt assured the committee that he would approach Interior Minister Strasser and support a continuation of the position.
The minister expressed regret that few youth organizations had broached the topic.
The third annual activity report from the Federal Center for Cult Issues was unanimously accepted by the families committee. It said that in 2000, 1,807 people had approached the federal center, whereby the information and counseling services were used mainly by experts, private persons, and government agencies. 55 cases were identified as inquiries made by the cult-like organizations themselves. Questions related to 231 various groups, most of which concerned Scientology, Satanism, Occultism and Esoterica (divination).
In general the report showed that the area of responsibility for the Federal Center for Cult Issues was constantly increasing, and that the center had established itself as a competent, central point of contact for questions about so-called sects, psychogroups and esoterica.
Today's session marks the acceptance of the cult report. It will no longer be discussed in the Plenum of the National Assembly.
At the beginning of the families committee session, Representative Gerhart Bruckner had been elected chairman of the committee.
Commentary from Joe Cisar
So there you have an Austrian understanding of cults. The USA understanding of cults is slightly different. In America cults are called "religions." "Religions," for all practical purposes, are not only gaining privileges unavailable to an old entity called "human beings," but they are gaining the Constitutional rights that "human beings" used to have. And this just in from an AP press report "The board of the National Religious Broadcasters has accepted the resignation of N-R-B President Wayne Pederson, who was criticized for wanting to steer the group away from politics."
From the Washington Post, circa February 16, 2002:
GOP Aims to Broaden Churches' Politicking
By Alan Cooperman
Although the House passed a campaign finance bill last week aimed at plugging a major source of special-interest money, it is considering another measure that could open a new pipeline from an unlikely source: churches.
Analysts say the bill, sponsored by Rep. Walter B. Jones Jr. (R- N.C.), would allow churches to endorse candidates and spend money to help elect them. Under current law, churches may address political issues and invite politicians to speak, but they risk their tax-exempt status if they specifically call for a candidate's election or defeat.
The Houses of Worship Political Speech Protection Act has 112 co- sponsors, nearly all of them Republicans. They include Majority Leader Richard K. Armey and Majority Whip Tom DeLay, both of Texas. The bill would exempt churches from a 1954 provision -- inserted into the tax code at the urging of then-Sen. Lyndon B. Johnson -- that prohibits nonprofit groups from directly supporting or opposing candidates.
Jones said his bill is not intended to affect campaign finance. "It is strictly a speech issue," he said. "This does not do anything but allow churches to say 'George Bush' -- by name -- 'is pro-life, Al Gore is pro-choice.' "
But the lawyer who drafted the bill, Colby M. May, said it would allow a church to spend money on political campaigns as long as the spending did not amount to a "substantial part" of the church's activities. The IRS and courts have interpreted similar language in a related portion of the tax code to allow nonprofit groups to spend anywhere from 5 percent to 20 percent of their revenue for lobbying.
"We took that language because there's already a history of the courts interpreting that language on lobbying," May said. "You take it from lobbying and apply it to political campaigns."
"I believe that the churches, synagogues and mosques in this country are protected by the Constitution so they may have political speech," he said. "They had political speech, there was never a problem, until Johnson put this amendment into the law."
His bill is pending in the House Ways and Means Committee. Jones said the panel may hold a hearing in April, perhaps in conjunction with a similar bill offered by Rep. Philip M. Crane (R-Ill.). Crane's bill, also supported by the House GOP leadership but with only 14 co-sponsors, would replace the substantiality test with a "bright line." It would allow churches to spend up to 5 percent of their gross revenue on political campaigns and up to 20 percent on lobbying, with the total not to exceed 20 percent.
Barry Lynn, head of Americans United for Separation of Church and State, said it would "open a gigantic new loophole for funding candidates without public scrutiny." But James Bopp Jr., general counsel to the James Madison Center for Free Speech, called such fears "fantasyland."
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