New York Would Place Children of God Under State Scrutiny
The Washington Post/1974-02-15
Religious News Service
ALBANY, N. Y. —An interim report on the controversial Children of God sect from New York State Attorney General Louis Lefkowitz asserts that the group "should come under the umbrella of state regulation and scrutiny."
The 23-page document presents the preliminary findings of an investigation that was launched in February, 1973, at the direction of former Gov. Nelson Rockefeller. The investigation was designed to determine how the Children of God's activities "affect the public peace and safety. "
In the course of the probe, 50 persons were questioned —28 parents. 11 former members, six members, and five persons "who had special knowledge pertaining to the activities of the group."
After subpoenas were issued several members of the new defunct Staten Island commune gave testimony and financial records of the commune were obtained. The report notes that "all such testimony was in almost direct contradiction to that of former members of Children of God, parents and other witnesses."
Furthermore, it says, "the financial reports were not useful since they only reported the income and expenses for daily living and housekeeping of the particular commune."
The report concludes from testimony and other evidence that there are about 2,500 members of the Children of God, mostly in Texas and the western United States. It says that the sect is incorporated as a not-for-profit corporation in the State of Texas but it was denied tax exemption, although Children of God literature states that "all contributions are tax deductible."
According to the report, there are five categories of "Moses letters" that are written by David (Moses) Berg, the founder of the group. They are (1) those to members of the Berg family only, (2) those for top leadership only, (3) those for leadership training. (4) those to be distributed and read to the 'babes' or new members, and (5) those for public consumption.
Testimony and exhibits received indicate that some "Moses letters" that were originally written for leaders "have since been altered for public consumption, " the report says. It adds their purpose is "to alienate a new disciple from family, school, church and society. "
Parents and former members of the Children of God have testified that it is difficult for former members to readjust after leaving communes because of the psychological indoctrination to which members are subjected.
The report cites the case of one former member who took several months to realize that he was no longer affiliated with the Children of God, and a female ex-member who testified that for several months she had dreams that Jesus was chasing her with an ax.
"It is apparent," the report says, "that all of the intensive brainwashing of Children of God has left its mark upon the psyches and personalities of those who have come in contact with the group."
Some areas of possible illegal activities of the Children of God that are mentioned in the report include the refusal to permit court officers and police officials to gain access to records, possible violation of the domestic relations law through the use of "common law" marriages, and the false claim of tax-exempt status.
There also have been charges of involuntary imprisonment and uncorroborated testimony that a teen-aged girl was assaulted by elders of the now-defunct Ellenvillle, N. Y., commune.
After presenting its interim findings, the report declares: "The actions of the Children of God, as pointed out above, should not be permitted to be hidden behind the facade of religion, even assuming, arguendo, that it is a bona fide religious group. Since it appears that many; of its actions, under the nomenclature of religious belief, conflict with laws expressing the secular interests of the rest of the community, they should come under the umbrella of state regulation and scrutiny."
The investigation is being continued with consideration to the possibility of taking civil proceedings against the group.