<Picture of Bonnie Woods taken either at Tottenham Court Road demonstration, or in East Grinstead High Street>
<caption : Bonnie Woods: named as one of a team of "deprogrammers" responsible for destroying an Irish man's relationship with his family. >
The High Courts of both Britain and Ireland recently granted injunctions to restrain disruptive behaviour stirred up by anti-religious fanatics.
Odhran Fortune, a member of the Church of Scientology for the last four years, said his family had been manipulated into cooperating with a team of "deprogrammers" in an attempt to destroy his religious beliefs.
Fortune visited his family in Ireland for a few days last Christmas and says that for the next five months he was threatened and kept under constant watch to prevent him leaving or even contacting his church. On several occasions he was physically restrained and twice deprived of sleep for more than 24 hours at a stretch while being grilled and harangued by the hired faithbreakers.
The team called in to verbally and mentally abuse 24-year-old Fortune included Mike Garde from the Dublin Dialogue Centre, Paul O'Kelly from County Offaly, Mary Johnston of Dublin, and Bonnie and Richard Woods from East Grinstead, Sussex.
Fortune described one of the the tactics used to dupe his family: "I was sitting in the living room with my family when O'Kelly, the initial deprogrammer, took one look in my eyes before addressing my family with an air of great authority, proclaiming, "he's brain washed." Each member of my family then looked into my eyes, in awe of this 'profound diagnosis.' The salesman of the 'Emperors New Clothes' couldn't have done a better con job."
The level of "dialogue" practised by the deprogrammers is evident from Fortune's description of one bout he received from Bonnie Woods. "When her attempts to smear my religion and its founder failed to make any impression on me, she resorted to shouting angrily," he said. "She then left the room furious and walked into a glass door, smashing it."
"Deprogramming" is an oppressive procedure developed by a convicted American felon, Ted Patrick. It is designed to induce another to change his or her religious beliefs usually by deceit and persuasion, occassionally by outright force.
In Patrick's own book he wrote that deprogramming "may be said to involve kidnapping at the very least, quite often assault and battery, almost invariably conspiracy to commit a crime and illegal restraint." He called the technique deprogramming for a reason: it makes the barbaric practice sound like the criminal is merely "reversing" something previously done.
"It is like raping someone and calling it 'de-abstaining'," said Fortune. "It is total hypocrisy. If ever there were wolves in sheep's clothing, here they are."
Deprogramming methods have changed in recent years following the criminal conviction of several among their ranks who employed the most violent methods. British deprogrammer Cyril Vosper was convicted and jailed in Germany following a failed attempt to break the faith of a young woman who was physically injured in the assault. Subsequently, other British faithbreakers began to deny using physical force and began to use the term "exit-counselling."
Not "Anti-Cult", but Anti-Religion
The faithbreakers prey on the ignorant with highly selective and distorted information about "cults". Some demand payment from family members, often thousands of pounds, to "rescue" the person. Others appear motivated by notoriety, or just extreme religious intolerance.
Religious authorities throughout Europe say the faithbreakers are not "anti-cult" but, in truth, anti-religion.
"From an original strategy focussed on hitting a few religious communities, the phenomenon nowadays has enlarged into a generalised attack against the realities of belief," said Roman Catholic sociologist Professor Dr Massimo Introvigne. The attacks, he said, "hide a general hostility to different forms of belief." Catholic organisations such as Opus Dei, and "even the nuns of Mother Theresa of Calcutta have all been accused of being 'dangerous'. The recurring but untenable accusation is that they practice brainwashing," he said.
Ted Patrick himself was banned from re-entry to Canada after an assault on a Roman Catholic adult there. Debbie Dudgeon of Orangeville, Ontario. Dudgeon was forcefully abducted, and dragged screaming and kicking into a car.
She later testified that she begged Patrick to understand that she was not a member of a "cult" - she was a Roman Catholic. Patrick replied, "I don't care what you are. Four months with me in the basement and you'll come to think for Yourself. You'll come to see that everything you're doing is wrong."
Evidence disclosed in the court proceedings against Patrick, Vosper, and other deprogrammers who have been jailed makes it abundantly clear that it is the "anti-cult" fanatics who "break up families" by using anti religious propaganda to create upsets and disharmony.
In the case of Odhran Fortune, he has made it known he would like to reconcile with his family and be able to come and go without anymore attempted deprogrammings. "It is my belief that it is the deprogrammers who are responsible for what was done to me," he said.
The idea that religious intolerance is at the root of many problems is not new. Monsigneur Renato Martino, Permanent Observer for the Vatican at the United Nations, recently addressed the UN General Assembly on the subject of religious intolerance in Europe. He described religious freedom as an "indisputable good," but noted that discrimination and political intrusion persist, even in countries whose constitutions recognise freedom of belief as an inalienable right.
The role of Dublin Dialogue Centre spokesman Mike Garde in the Fortune case is doubly hypocritical. While the Dialogue Centre is connected to the Catholic Church, Garde himself is an adherent of the Mennonite faith - an Evangelical Protestant Christian group which suffered extreme persecution in its beginnings as a "dangerous sect."
The increase of religious intolerance in Europe was highlighted recently in a new book published in June called Freedom of Religion and Belief: A World Report. The book was coauthored by Kevin Boyle and Juliet Sheen of the Human Rights Centre of the University of Essex. "Freedom of belief," say the authors, "is not to be interpreted narrowly by states, for example, to mean traditional world religions only. New religions or religious minorities are entitled to equal protection. This principle is of particular importance in light of the evidence reflected in the country entries, including those in the European section, revealing that new religious movements are a recurring target for descrimination or repression."
"Although the objection to new religious movements is often expressed as critism of their methods," the authors add, "It is at bottom a rejection of their freedom of thought which stimulates hostility and restrictions on thier organisations and activities."
In the case of Odhran Fortune, no upset would exist if it were not for deprogrammers inciting others to deny his freedom of thought.
<Picture of Odhran Fortune with caption, "I definately want to be reconciled with my family, but the deprogrammers are making it impossible, because I know they are in the background."