The United States of America has guaranteed religious freedom to all, regardless of beliefs or practices. Cult groups however, are often victim of limited religious freedom simply because of the negative connotation that the word “cult” carries. As a society, we tend to label small, religious groups, with deviant beliefs and practices, far removed from mainstream religions as cults. With the word “cult” comes a plethora of negative, insulting, and often exaggerated stereotypes which lead to the unlawful treatment of these groups. With that being said, some practices of certain cults do warrant governmental intervention and require the limitation of religious freedom due to ...view middle of the document...
This is significant because it demonstrates how, as a society we allow the stereotypes associated with cults to drive our perceptions and conclusions. Neal also touches upon the idea of illegitimacy. Because of stereotypes, negative connotations, and an often humorous outlook, people tend to regard cult religions as illegitimate and joke-worthy rather than serious religious groups where many people find salvation. Therefore, many are quick to judge and are ready to reduce the religious freedoms of cult groups. It is because cults are not popularly viewed as legitimate religious groups that many are ready to revoke their rights.
When one hears the word “cult”, suicides, delusions, weird clothing, brainwashing, and communal living all come to mind (Neal, 9-12). Some cults do fit this stereotype, but certainly not all. However, the stereotype of “violence” is one that often prevails and is used as the rational for government intervention in the practices of these religious groups. We often fear what is different from ourselves. Because of this, many are quick to put a stop to the practices of cult groups but we must stop and question if their practices are actually unlawful, or if we are simply uncomfortable with them. As can be seen through the examples of Jonestown and Heaven’s Gate religious groups, several cults do practice violence, yet governmental intervention should not be guaranteed.
In an attempt to prevent the unlawful infringement of religious freedom of cults, it is important to remember that the label “cult” is given to deviant groups but it does not diminish their legitimacy as a religious group. Christianity was once considered to be a cult and now it is one of the most widely popular and accepted religions in the world. Yes, the practices of some religious groups and dangerous and self-destructing and do warrant the intervention of the government but this intervention needs to be determined based on the specific situation, not the stereotype and label associated with the religious group. Simply because a cult displays violent behavior does not mean that the government has the right to intervene and put a stop to their practices.
Putting a Stop to Jonestown
The People’s Temple, often referred to as Jonestown, was one extremely controversial religious group with violent practices in which the government should have intervened due to their forced and unwilling nature. Jonestown was a group of people led by Jim Jones who sought to find “heaven on earth”. They began in the United States, yet Jones moved his people several times and eventually established the People’s Temple Agricultural Project in Guyana, better known as Jonestown. Jim Jones sought to control his people. He uprooted his followers from their homes in the states and urged them to follow him to Guyana and forced them to cut ties with loved ones who were not members of the church. Jones staged healings, forced obedience of his people, and demanded...