The Cult Awareness Network (CAN), the country's leading anti-cult
advocacy organization, is being liquidated by an Illinois Bankruptcy
Court following a $1.1 million federal court judgment against
The decision has CAN's enemies celebrating the demise of their
most powerful and dedicated foe.
"The group has maintained extremely close ties and condoned
illegal behavior all over the place in acting out the bigotry
they advocate," says Laurie Bartilson, name partner in the
Los Angeles firm of Moxon & Bartilson, which represents both
the successful plaintiff int he action against CAN and the Church
of Scientology International.
But the liquidation also has group officials and lobbyists claiming
they have been infairly silenced by a powerful adversary.
"What's happened here is a miscarriage of justice. It's
knocked out a credible advocate in a controversial and important
issue," says David Bardin, a partner at D.C.'s Arent Fox
Kinter Plotkin & Kahn, who represents CAN's Washington interests.
"It illustrates that the American justice system and American
judges can be manipulated by a determined drive to shut down criticism."
CAN's demise is the result of a verdict in federal court in Seattle
last year, holding the group liable over an alleged kidnapping
and forcible deprogramming of Jason Scott, a member of the Life
Tabernacle Church. Scott was represented in the case by Bartilson
and Kendrick Moxon, who is also a Church of Scientology minister
and a longtime foe of CAN.
CAN executive Director Cynthia Kisser says the group fought off
about 50 suits in recent years without ever being hit by a judgment.
The group strenuously denies that it engages in any improper
But Scott's suit ended with a knockout blow as a jury determined
that CAN had been negligent and had engaged in a conspiracy to
deprive Scott of his civil rights. Last fall, CAN was ordered
to pay $1.1 million to Scott, a burden that - on top of the cost
of defending all the other suits - the group was unable to meet.
Although CAN is appealing the judgment to the US Court of Appeals
for the 9th Circuit and Kisser says she is confident
of a reversal, the trial court refused to stay the judgment against
the Chicago-based group, and CAN filed for bankruptcy protection.
When US Bankruptcy Judge Ronald Barliant rejected its proposal
for a Chapter 11 reorganization, he forced the group to request
a liquidation, which he ordered on June 20.
With a trustee now in charge and a lock on the group's office
door, Kisser and Bardin say they are worried that when CAN's assets
are sold off, they will include the name "Cult Awareness
Network" and files containing information provided by the
group's confidential informants.
"We have phone records with confidential information: we
have letters: we have financial records where people have provided
us with information," says Kisser. "If a hostile organization
buys these and engages in adverse activities, that could harm
the privacy of our sources."
No assets have yet been sold. But Bartilson says that while Scott
has no interest in buying CAN's files or name, she wouldn't be
at all surprised it others are.
Bardin's lobbying activities, however, will apparently not be
much affected by the sudden nonexistence of his client. He also
represents a New York-based anti-cult group called the American
Bardin, who says he lobbies Congress and federal agencies and
tries to involve other interest groups in anti-cult work, says
his goal is "to convey that there are very real issues and
problems and that good people in America have been very badly
hurt and are not getting an adequate hearing."
But if CAN has woes, says Bartilson, it is the group's own fault.
"In some sense, CAN has been primarily an advocacy group,
and in that sense, the particular thing it happens to advocate
is bigotry," she contends. "But when advocacy crosses
the line into criminal conduct, and when that criminal conduct
is levied at someone simply because of their religious beliefs,
that's not tolerable. I can't say I'm upset that they won't be