Bill of Rights for Religious Communities and Their Members

Draft for comments by Benjamin Zablocki


In order to preserve two important rights that are often found to be in contradiction, this voluntary contract is proposed. These two rights are:
(1) the absolute right to religious practice according to the dictates of one's own conscience without interference by the secular authorities;
(2) the right of individuals and their families to some form of recourse when subtle methods of coercive persuasion are used that result in personal loss of autonomy.
Religious communities are urged to volunteer to follow the guidelines within this document. By signing, they certainly do not acknowledge in any way that any of the abuse addressed in this Bill of Rights ever has or ever could occur within their community or is common within religious communities in general. They do acknowledge that because of the actions of a few bad apples hiding behind the shield of religion, a document of this sort has become necessary to protect the rights of religious seekers.
It is understood that this agreement may be unilaterally revoked or modified at any time and shall never be considered legally binding or introduced in court as evidence. A widely respected denominational organization (to be announced) will serve as repository for these signed documents. Three lists will be published and widely distributed to the press and public:
(1) a list of those religious bodies that have agreed to all of the provisions of this Bill of Rights; (
(2) a list of those that have agreed to some but not all of the provisions; and
((3) a list of those that have been offered the opportunity to sign but who have chosen not to sign. Any community choosing not to sign but providing, in writing, their reasons for not signing has the right to have these reasons circulated as an appendix to these lists.
The following rights are acknowledged to be inalienable. Thus, they can never be waived, delegated, or modified even at the purely voluntary request of the individual.

I. Right To Leave

Any adult person may leave the community at any time without the need to give a reason and without the need for a waiting period. Where the community is geographically isolated, transportation to the nearest town of 50,000+ population must be provided at the community's expense. Where the community is in a foreign country, transportation to the nearest American consulate or embassy or trade office must be provided instead if that is the wish of the person leaving. No exception is made to this rule for people in novitiate, retreat, intensive meditation, or any other special status within the community.

II. Right to Maintain Contact with Outside World

(IIa) At least once a year a designated family member from the outside world may meet with any relative living in the community in a neutral location near the community for at least 2 hours without witnesses to the meeting or electronic surveillance. The designated family member shall be chosen by the family, not the community. If conflict within the family exists, 2 designated family members may be chosen, each meeting with the community member for 1 hour.
(IIb) Incoming and outgoing first class mail shall not be censored. A community member may never waive the right to have mail received unopened and promptly as it is delivered from the post office. If a community member wishes not to receive first class mail from a certain source, that member shall mark the envelope "return to sender" and initial it in his or her own hand. This task may never be delegated to another person in the community, even by the voluntary wish of the community member. The same rules apply to children except that a parent of the child may serve as intermediary for both incoming and outgoing mail.

IIII. Right of Invalids and the Elderly to Continued Support

Invalids and elderly people who have participated in the productive life of the religious community are entitled to some degree of economic support when infirmity and/or old age makes continued work life impossible. This document is not an appropriate place to define the level of such support. Instead, the religious community acknowledges, in general, its responsibility to plan ahead for such support. It further acknowledges the right of its members' close kin (who might otherwise be legally responsible for such support) to be informed of what plans the community has made for the care of its invalids and elderly. Finally, the right to continued support for invalids and the elderly by the religious community shall be applied evenhandedly both to those remaining members in good standing and those who have chosen apostasy after a productive lifetime within the community.

IV. Right of Children to a Future with Some Degree of Free Choice

Children being raised within the religious community because one or both of their parents are members of the community are entitled to special consideration. It must be remembered that, unlike their parents, they have not freely chosen this way of life. Therefore, every effort will be made to assure that these children learn something of the outside world and of how to survive in the outside world so that they are not deprived, upon reaching adulthood, of the ability to choose freely whether to continue in this way of life. It is also acknowledged by the religious community that it has a special obligation to provide avenues of continuing communication between the child living in the community and close kin living outside the community.

V. Right to an Education

Every child growing up in the community is entitled to an education. This education shall not be limited in such a way to deny the child any effective choice upon reaching adulthood as to whether to stay in the community or to leave. The child's close relatives not living in the community have a right to see the child's educational records at least once a year and to see the results of any standardized tests that the child takes.

VI. Right to Clearly Defined Health Maintenance Procedures and Open Access to Health Records

The community shall define its health maintenance procedures in writing with particular attention to ways in which the community's health philosophy differs from that of the secular society. This document shall be freely available. Interested third parties, especially relatives not living in the community, have a right to expect community cooperation in their efforts to examine the non-confidential health records of community members or children.

VII. Right to Freedom from Sexual or Marital Compulsion

Community members have the right to refuse to participate in any sexual behavior at any time without giving reasons and without regard to any previous history of participation in such activities. Community members have a right to refuse to get married to any person suggested by the community or its leaders without having to give reasons and without regard to any previous consent or promise. The threat of expulsion from the community, in particular, shall never be used in order to overcome sexual reluctance or reluctance to get married.

VIII. Right to Moderation and Common Sense in the Administration of Discipline

Torture (as defined by Amnesty International) will never be used on any person at any time for any reason. Corporal punishment, if used at all by the community, shall be subject to the following limitations:
(a) Never used on a child under the age of one;
(b) Between the ages of one and two, never used except by the child's own parents;
(c) After the age of two, if not administered by the child's own parents: at least
One of the child's own parents plus one other witness shall be present for the
entire punishment.
If one of the child's own parents cannot be present, at least 5 adult witnesses
other than the person administering the punishment must be present.
The date and time of the punishment shall be entered into a log book.
The person administering the punishment and all of the witnesses must sign
the log book next to the date and time of the event.
The log book can be freely examined at any time by any of the following:
(i) The child's close relatives not living in the community;
(ii) Police and/or representatives of the courts;
(iii) Child welfare officer (upon suspicion or cause).

IX. Right to Expect Honesty in Proselytizing

New members or prospective members of the community have a right to expect that they will be told honestly from the very first meeting the aims and procedures of the community. By the same token, members of the community who are asked to do witnessing and/or proselytizing for the community have both the right and the responsibility to present the aims and procedures honestly to all those to whom they are witnessing.

X. Right to Impartial Investigation of Complaints in order to Verify Compliance

If there is a pattern of complaints that this signed agreement is being violated, the community agrees to cooperate with reasonable efforts of a neutral, fact-finding committee to determine whether violations are taking place.
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