UK: Cults watchdog faces danger of being shut down

Since he escaped from a brainwashing cult 34 years ago, Ian Haworth has survived character assassination, lawsuits, bankruptcy and death threats.

But, says The Guardian,

now the founder of the Cult Information Centre, which educates the public about the threats posed by pseudo-religious groups, finds himself under attack from an unexpected quarter. The Charity Commission is seeking to withdraw the centre’s charitable status, a move that would in effect end its activities.

“If that happened, donations from trusts — which are our lifeline — would evaporate. We wouldn’t be able to afford our office and we would no longer be able to operate,” said Haworth, who established the centre as a response to his experiences in a Toronto-based cult and to the Jonestown massacre of 1978 that saw 918 people die in a mass suicide in Guyana, South America.

Set up as an educational charity, the centre — whose three trustees are anonymous owing to fear of reprisals — had an income of just over £40,000 last year. “Most people don’t understand cults, so money is hard to come by,” Haworth said. “We don’t make any money. That’s why there are not many people trying to get into this field. Now, if we don’t know whether we are going to retain our charitable status, it makes life doubly hard.”

The problems started when a complaint was made to the commission about the centre’s educational remit. Concerns were raised that the centre was failing to observe neutrality. A suggestion, made by the commission, for the centre to become a mental health charity was accepted, only for a further complaint to be made that has left its future in the balance.

Haworth believes several cults have taken exception to the centre’s website, which once carried links to other websites warning of the dangers of certain groups and which attracted visitors from around the world.

The site still carries those links to a variety of cult information websites that operate from secular, Christian, or non-Christian perspectives.

Last January a web-based Guardian article on the Cult Information Centre‘s difficulties with the Charity Commission initially said:

The commission has not revealed who is behind complaints, but an official let slip at a meeting attended by Haworth and some CIC trustees that it was the Church of Scientology.

The article was later edited, replacing that sentence with this one: “The commission has not revealed who is behind complaints.”

The paper explained that the Charity Commission had asked it “to make clear that it is the commission’s policy not to reveal the source of any complaint and that the complaint came from an individual who did not claim to be making the complaint on behalf of any one else or any other organisation.”

Says the Guardian

Haworth expressed concern that the UK was lagging behind other European countries in raising awareness. France has introduced a law to protect its citizens from cults and has a government-funded unit monitoring them. German children are educated about cults from an early age, while Spain has several organisations that track their development.

A spokeswoman for the commission said its policy was not to discuss the identity of complainants and that it was in talks with the centre about its future. “The charity informed us in June 2011 that it would appoint an independent adviser to the trustees to review the charity’s activities and suggested a framework for future activities to ensure these are exclusively educational and charitable,” the spokeswoman said. “We await the results of this review.”

See also, “The $1,500 Lesson” — a sidebar to the Guardian article.

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Religion News Blog posted this on Sunday March 4, 2012.
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