God's law versus man's law
By Tom Tiede
NEW YORK (NEA) - The freakish fringe of religion is developing so rapidly and with such confusion today that the initiated warn anything can happen. Indeed, perhaps even murder in the name.of God.
A reporter in Thailand was recently found shot after writing a series of expose articles on a radical group of theological kooks called the Children of God. The sect denies implication but suspicion is the reporter paid dearly for the news.
The news in essence was that the Children of God in Thailand is not so much different from what it is in France or Georgia: a clan of mostly young and superstitious people led - some say enslaved - by a totalitarian "Godhead" who calls himself King David.
The king is actually David Berg, whose poison pen name is Moses David. He has formed a fanatical following through the flimsiest of philosphical thought. He believes parents are "ungodly," women are at their best in the prone position and followers owe him total allegiance including all personal property.
In one of his "Mo Letters" setting down the structure of his theism, Berg has written sternly to newcomers: "The consequence of holding back money (from me) is the heavy judgment of God - in this case: death."
Curiously, considering the claims of many of today's new redeemers, Berg does not equate himself with God. Rather he acts as if God is his domestic who will do what he is told. And in spite of considerable proof to the contrary - Berg predicted the Comet Kohoutek would hit the earth on or about Jan. 31 - his devotees cling to the notion their redeemer has a hotline to heaven.
Despite their investigation. New York authorites are reluctant to police redeemer Berg and the Children of God. The interim report suggests the leader and his outfit are being probed for a myriad of possible law violations including draft evasion, theft of services, false claims, the involuntary imprisonment of a Texas mother and daughter and the domestic relations statutes.
"I'd like to see them broken up," says one state official, "but since it's a religious' organization we've got to go slow."
Indeed, care is especially important and prudcent in a legal case involving a religion. Despite the objectionable nature of many new redeemer religions today, even the outright nuts are often protected by the Constitutional separation of church and state.
Infringement of the First Amendment in such matters is avoided by the courts unless there is a compelling state interest. "If a preacher shoots somebody," says a Manhattan judge, "that's compelling state interest But if he is just getting rich or is enticing teenagers from their homes - well, there are many gray areas."
There is growing suspicion that a great deal of fraudulent religious activity is being protected by the "grey areas" of constitutional interpretation. Police in numerous towns have received complaints about the philosophy - religion known as Scientology (for a steep fee, the organization promises inner peace).
Other times the religion or redeemers are "small potato" sects or people covering up illegalities: a South Texas citizen once tried to forbid a fourflusher from selling autographed pictures of Jesus Christ but got so enmeshed in the legal question "I had to give up."
Still, there is a dividing line between spiritual and secular legitimacy which religions cross only at risk. Mormons were forced to stop polygamy. Jehovah's Witnesses have lost court cases involving compulsory vaccinations and the Amish have to obey the laws of compulsory schooling.
New York authorites privately believe the activities of the leaders of the Children of God have flagrantly crossed over the grey line of legitimacy and into the black of obvious deception.
But it is a single example in an avalanche of harmful humbug cascading over the nation. Those who follow the religious scene regularly believe "hundreds" of new redeemers and new religions are nothing more than rackets.