Ain't Nobody's Business If You Do



I believe there is
something out there
watching over us.
it's the government.
Woody Allen

WE ARE SHOCKED and saddened by the events in Waco, Texas. We grieve with the families on both sides who lost loved ones.

The federal government is conducting investigations to find out what happened at the Branch Davidian compound in Waco to prevent similar occurrences in the future. While we think such an investigation is appropriate, we oppose any attempt to define what is a valid religion or set the parameters of a proper church.

Under the religious liberty provisions of the First Amendment, government has no business declaring what is orthodox or heretical, or what is a true or false religion. It should steer clear of inflammatory and misleading labels. History teaches that today's "cults" may become tomorrow's mainstream religions.

The United States is a religiously diverse country. We treasure its religious pluralism. Such diversity is a natural and expected result of our constitutionally protected religious liberty and is a source of strength, not weakness. These religious contours add to the American landscape, they do not detract from it. In the midst of our national mourning, we must fend off any inclination to shrink from our commitment to religious pluralism or to seek security at the expense of liberty.

This heady freedom is not absolute. It should be exercised responsibly. Religion is no excuse for violent or criminal conduct that harms other people or threatens public safety or welfare. Absent some compelling justification, however, government should not restrict religious exercise. And force—if ever appropriate—must be employed as a last resort.

A way of life
that is odd or even erratic
but interferes with no rights
or interests of others
is not to be condemned
because it is different.

Public discourse should be conducted with integrity. The nation's leaders ought to measure their words carefully and temper their passion with reason. Government must resist any temptation to retreat from our "first freedom." To deny religious liberty to any is to diminish religious liberty for all.

I didn't write the opening of this chapter. It was taken, verbatim, from a document released just after the events in Waco, entitled "Religious Liberty at Risk," and signed by American Baptist Churches in the U.S.A.; American Civil Liberties Union, Washington Office; American Conference on Religious Movements; Americans United for Separation of Church & State; Association of Christian Schools International; Baptist Joint Committee on Public Affairs; Church of Scientology International; Center for Theology/Public Policy; Episcopal Church; First Liberty Institute; General Conference of Seventh-Day Adventists; Greater Grace World Outreach; National Association of Evangelicals; National Council of Churches of Christ; Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.), Washington Office; Union of American Hebrew Congregations.

Quite a diverse list. I have very little to add to their comments.

As much as I may personally dislike the political meddlings of church groups or the thought control that seems to be a central activity of cults, the answer is not to be found in more, new, and better laws.

Who says I am not
under the special protection
of God?
If a religious group is gathering money under false pretenses (telling its followers the cash is going to feed the poor while it really goes to the campaign fund of conservative candidates, or collecting money to build a "retreat center" for the use of all members while the money goes to support the cult leader's forty-some horses with nary a retreat in sight), it may be appropriate for the government to step in. Certainly, religious groups should be subject to the same laws as any other organization or corporation. For the most part, however, facts—not government acts—will keep at bay those who use the name of God to support their own personal mammon.
Organizations such as the Cult Awareness Network (CAN) provide an invaluable service by maintaining open files on thousands of cults and cult-like groups around the world. These files are available to anyone wanting to research the background and methods of any cult.
CAN has now been sued into submission by Scientology, which now owns CAN For cult information, please contact the American Family Foundation in New York.
But as much as I personally dislike cults, I despise any organization or individual that robs people of their individuality. I still feel the entire Waco incident was the result of an overfed federal bureaucracy gone mad, not an example of "the danger of cults." (William Sessions, the director of the FBI, told Congress, "Were we supposed to stand by and suck our thumbs?") And then we saw what many consider the (admittedly insane) backlash in the Oklahoma City bombing.
Ultimately, cults ain't the law's business. If adults want to destroy their lives by believing a cult leader is God, that is their unfortunate choice. Retribution must come through civil litigation. It is not the government's business to bring Armageddon to their door—even if our government does have God on its side.

What kind of government is this?
It's getting more like California
all the time.
Woody Allen


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