Exit Intervention: A New Approach to Saving Family Members From Destructive Groups

International Journal of Cultic Studies, Vol. 8, 2017, pages 50-59

Exit Intervention: A New Approach to Saving Family Members From Destructive Groups

Steven A. Autenrieth

Arizona State University Sandra Day O’Connor College of Law, Phoenix, AZ

[Editors’ Note: Because of the legal focus and content of this article, we have retained the legal citation style of the original submission (based on The Bluebook system) in lieu of standard APA citation and References style.]


When a family member becomes involved with a destructive group, the courses of action available to families are limited. This article provides a new approach, know as an exit intervention, that enables the family court-granted access to their loved one for a limited time. This model provides a necessary balance between the family member’s First Amendment and Due Process rights, and the family’s interest in the safety of their loved one. If the exit intervention works properly, the family member’s critical-thinking ability will be returned to her, and she can make an informed decision about whether she wants to remain in the destructive group.

On January 21, 1978, two members of the Unification Church approached David Molko, a recent graduate from the Temple University School of Law, offering him a membership to an “international community.”[1] Their interaction began with dinner, and, after 7 continuous weeks of spiritual retreat on the Church’s campground,[2] ended with Molko becoming a member of the Unification Church. It was not until the twelfth day of group activities that members told Molko the truth—the group did in fact have a religious affiliation.[3] When Molko did not return home after his January 21 encounter, his parents grew concerned and decided to visit him at the campground.[4] Not only did Molko refuse to go home, but he also believed his parents were the agents of Satan trying to tempt him away from the Church.[5] His parents left the campground both bewildered and exponentially more concerned for their son.[6]

Although this story may seem extreme, cults[7] are known for using deception to recruit new members into the group.[8] After an initial welcoming period with the group, recruits find themselves under long periods of thought reform, isolation, and physical and mental exhaustion. Thought reform is a manipulative technique whereby the group controls every element of the recruit’s environment, including physical activity, diet, and sleep deprivation.[9] Over time, thought reform creates a feeling of dependency, powerlessness, and fear that cult leaders use against the recruit to instill new attitudes and behaviors. This environment inhibits the recruit’s critical-thinking ability, leaving him completely defenseless against his new authoritarian group leader.[10] Even Molko’s success in graduate-level education was no match for the Unification Church’s manipulative tactics.

By the time the new recruit becomes a member, the family of the new convert are rarely allowed to maintain contact with their loved one because the group maintains control over the person, isolating him from the outside world.[11] Additionally, cults implant an “us vs. them” mentality (i.e., the group vs. the outside world, including family) to exacerbate isolation from outsiders.[12] With such limited access to their loved one, a family must take affirmative action to try to break the group’s control over their son. Although there are variations on the actions families employ, there are three traditional models—seeking a conservatorship, deprogramming the member, and employing exit counseling.

Until the late 1970s, parents successfully sought temporary conservatorships by showing courts that their adult child had become incapacitated by the group.[13] Unfortunately for parents today, doing this required courts to “deprive the believer of his freedom of action and to subject him to involuntary treatment,” a violation of the First Amendment.[14] Thus, without a showing of actions that rendered the believer gravely disabled as defined by state law, the justice system cannot be involved.[15] Without help from the courts, parents are forced to employ the more coercive model of deprogramming. Deprogramming involves forcibly removing the member from the group against his will, detaining him in an isolated area, and denigrating the group’s fundamental tenants by using many of the same thought-reform processes noted previously.[16] The family’s goal is to snap the member out of the cult mindset, returning to him his ability to think critically, and ultimately leading him to denounce his membership with the group.[17]

When a deprogramming is successful, the story ends. The former member goes back to life before the group and occasionally to some continued counseling. However, when the member resists the deprogramming, he has legal recourse for being forcibly abducted and detained against his will.[18] For example, in Scott v. Ross, infamous deprogrammers Rick Ross and the Cult Awareness Network were successfully sued for conspiring to deprive the deprogrammee of his civil rights for four million dollars in punitive damages.[19] With such large damages at stake, cases such as Scott v. Ross resulted in a large chilling effect on the practice of removing group members using deprogramming.

Given the First Amendment issues of conservatorships and the civil liability of deprogramming, the last practical option the family is left with is exit counseling. Exit counseling is a noncoercive intervention model that relies solely on the voluntariness of the cult member.[20] The purpose of exit counseling is to get the member to reevaluate his membership by educating him about the particular group, the manipulative techniques the group uses, and the thought-reform process.[21] Exit counseling also provides psychological and emotional support during the member’s difficult transition out of the group.[22] Although this model proves to be very effective in terms of denouncing membership, the member must voluntarily leave the group or be involuntarily cast out of it to trigger exit counseling. Thus, as long as the member stays faithful to the group and is in good standing, family members have no recourse.

With the problems of each existing model considered, in this paper I seek to propose a new model, called exit intervention. Exit intervention not only strengthens exit counseling, but also avoids impinging on a group member’s civil liberties or constitutional rights. This model allows the court to grant the family of the cult member a 1-month “access period,” for 2 hours per week, to convince the member to denounce his membership with the group. Like exit counseling and deprogramming, exit intervention seeks to reignite the member’s critical-thinking ability by educating him about the thought-reform process and the manipulation cults often employ.

The Proposed Model

Exit intervention begins with a court hearing at which the parents present evidence of the harm their loved one faces by remaining in the group. If the court determines the member is in danger, it can grant the family 8 hours over a 4-week period to have weekly meetings with the member in a public setting. If after this time the cult member decides to stay in the group, his parents have a heavy burden to convince the court that a traditional conservatorship is necessary.

The Initial Court Hearing

When a family finds a loved one in a destructive cult, they must first try to contact him and convince him to exit the group. If access is denied or the loved one refuses to leave, they can seek an exit intervention through a formal court hearing. The family must be able to present evidence about the cult member before he interacted with the cult, evidence of the member after he joined the cult, evidence of the dangers specific to the particular cult, and evidence of failed contact attempts with the member.[23] Evidence may be testimonies from family and friends that display a drastic change in the member’s behavior,[24] former members of the particular group testifying about the potential danger the group poses, or a professional exit counselor or deprogrammer providing the court with an idea of how damaging thought reform can be.

The court will apply a standard similar to a temporary restraining order (TRO).[25] For example, in Arizona the parents would have to show that (a) “it clearly appears from specific facts shown by . . . the verified complaint that immediate and irreparable injury, loss, or [psychological] damage will result to the [group member] before the [group member] . . . can be heard in opposition”; and (b) “the applicant’s attorney certifies to the court in writing the efforts, if any, which have been made to give the notice or the reasons supporting the claim that notice should not be required.”[26] Although courts may be unfamiliar with this kind of evidence, they are familiar with applying the TRO standard. Thus, a strong showing that the cult member is at risk of psychological or physical harm would be sufficient to start the 4-week access period.

The 4-Week Access Period

If the court determines that the group member is in danger, it will grant the family 4 weeks of mandatory access to their loved one. However, the family is limited to 2 hours per week, and the meetings must take place in public.[27] By court order, the group must present or allow the member to attend his weekly meetings, and the family cannot take more than 2 hours of the member’s time each week. The meeting must be in a neutral public place to ensure the meeting is civil, and so that the cult member’s will is not overborne. The overall purpose of these meetings is to allow the family members to voice their concerns with the group, provide an education about how thought reform works, and provide the member with an opportunity to justify his attraction to the group. If things go as planned, the member will critically reevaluate his choices and exit the group.

Pressure on the group member to make his decision will progress over the 4-week trial period. The first 2-hour meeting will be only the parents (or those loved ones who have had a significant impact on the person’s life) and the group member.[28] This week is designed to be conversational in tone, where the parties can neutrally present their concerns, talk about the group generally, and start the education process regarding thought reform.[29] Assuming the group member resists exiting the group after the first week, the second meeting will be between the parents, extended family members, close friends, and the group member. The second meeting will likely be more emotionally charged because close family and friends are telling the member how much they miss him, how worried they are about his health, and how much they care for him. Although this week lacks the educational goals of exit interventions, it will show the member how much support he has if he decides to exit the group. Conversely, this week provides the member with an opportunity to show his family and friends how happy and satisfied the group makes him.[30]

If the member remains in the group after 2 weeks, the third meeting is between the parents, a former member of the group, and the current member. During this meeting, the former member will discuss the following: her experience with thought reform, her reasons for leaving the group, her experience after leaving the group, and the process and resources she used while exiting the group. In addition to being able to relate with the current member, the former member approaches the situation with a different perspective by focusing on things particularly relevant to the current member.[31] Ideally, discussing these issues will force the current member to question certain aspects of the group, which ignites his critical thinking, causing him to realize he can actually leave the group.

If the member remains in the group after 3 weeks, the fourth meeting resembles a formal drug or alcohol intervention with a professional exit counselor or deprogrammer. The meeting in week 4 places the most pressure on the member to leave the group. The counselor or deprogrammer will directly attack the group’s practices and force the member to answer questions about the group.[32] While the other weeks are focused on emotion and education, the week 4 meeting is designed to force the member to choose either the family or the group, similar to a drug or alcohol intervention when the addict must go to treatment or never see his family again.[33] Hopefully this ultimatum convinces the member to leave the group.

The Formal Conservatorship Hearing

If the member remains in the group after the 4-week access period, the family’s last chance is to remove the member using a traditional conservatorship.[34] The family must be able convince the court that the cult has rendered their loved one incapacitated. Since the family already had 4 weeks to convince the member to leave the group, this outcome should be an especially high bar for the family. Moreover, there are First Amendment protections to consider when the court gets involved with religious groups. As such, the family must prove that the member is “gravely disabled” under state law and cannot make his own decisions.[35] The appropriate standard for this conservatorship hearing is whether the person is incapacitated beyond a reasonable doubt.[36] Satisfying this standard will be difficult, but if the family can present evidence that the group member is unreasonably unresponsive, depressed, mentally unstable, or if there are signs of physical or sexual abuse, a conservatorship may be appropriately granted.

Limitations and Caveats

Because exit interventions force the group member to attend meetings against his will, even if for only 2 hours per week, there must be controls in place. First, if the family or anyone invited by the family violates the court order, it will be immediately vacated. The 4-week period is not a license to coercively deprogram the member.[37] This component applies to the public-place requirement and the requirement of 2 hours per week for 4 weeks. Second, after 2 weeks of meetings, the group member may present himself in front of the same judge and convince her that he is able minded and well informed in making his decision to remain in the group. Doing so will show the judge that a conservatorship is unnecessary because the member is capable of exercising his right to freedom of action and religion. However, the judge has the discretion to order the group member to finish the remaining 2 weeks.[38] At this point in the process, the judge can properly balance the interests of both parties and make a decision accordingly.

Alternatively, if the group fails to present the member for his weekly meetings, the court can use an officer of the law to secure the member’s presence.[39] Because the officer is carrying out a court order, and not targeting the group’s beliefs, the group cannot argue First Amendment violations.[40] Moreover, the focus of exit intervention is to ensure that the group member is making an informed and healthy decision, not merely following the group’s influence. Thus, cults must comply with the court order by making the targeted member available for his meetings.

Objections to Exit Intervention

Although exit interventions are far less coercive, and hence far less impinging on an individual’s civil rights than other approaches, they still affect an individual’s freedom of choice by requiring him to be present at weekly meetings. There are two main arguments against exit interventions: They violate an individual’s First Amendment rights of freedom of belief and expression,[41] and they violate an individual’s due-process rights because the person is not present for the initial court hearing to defend himself.[42]

First-Amendment Concerns

According to the Supreme Court, it is well established that a person’s beliefs, unlike actions, are absolutely protected under the First Amendment.[43] Thus, cult members can argue that exit interventions are unconstitutional because they target an individual’s belief system. However, the goals of an exit intervention are to ensure that the member is informed when deciding to stay in the group, and that he is mentally capable to do so.[44] The exit intervention has nothing to do with his beliefs; it has everything to do with his decision to stay in the group. The decision to stay in the group is an overt act prompted by religious beliefs or principles—overt acts are not “free from legislative restrictions.”[45] Moreover, exit interventions seek to bring back the group member’s ability to think critically. If the program successfully promotes critical thought, and the group member decides to remain with the group, then his beliefs were strengthened, not attacked.

A group member may also raise the argument that exit interventions substantially burden an individual’s exercise of religion.[46] For the sake of argument, assume that exit interventions are a substantial burden on a person’s exercise of religion. Then the government must show that (a) exit interventions are in furtherance of a compelling government interest, and (b) they are the least restrictive means of furthering that compelling government interest.[47] In this scenario, the state has a compelling interest in the health of its citizens.[48] As seen in previous comments, the use of thought reform can result in irreparable physical and psychological harm.[49] Therefore, the state has a compelling interest in preventing the use of thought reform by destructive groups such as cults. Since exit interventions require the group member to be present for only 8 hours in a month-long period, it is hard to imagine a less restrictive means of furthering this compelling state interest. Thus, exit interventions do not violate an individual’s First Amendment rights.

Due-Process Concerns

Although the group member is not present to be heard in the initial court hearing, due process is not offended because there are enough procedural safeguards to prevent error. The Fifth Amendment of the United States Constitution guarantees that “no person shall be deprived of life, liberty, or property without the due process of law.”[50] A group member may argue that the initial court hearing is unconstitutional because it creates subjective, standardless discretion that authorizes drastic relief without notice and without any of the constitutionally necessary procedural safeguards.[51] In general, the Supreme Court holds that “[d]ue process is flexible and calls for such procedural protections as the particular situation demands.”[52] More precisely, the Supreme Court considers three distinct factors: (a) “the private interest that will be affected by the official action”; (b) “the risk of an erroneous deprivation of such interest through the procedures used, and the probable value, if any, of additional or substitute procedural safeguards”; and (c) “the Government's interest, including the function involved and the fiscal and administrative burdens that the additional or substitute procedural requirement would entail.”[53]

Applying these factors to exit interventions assures that the initial court hearings are constitutional. First, the private interest being affected is the 4-week access period that requires the group member to be present for 2 hours per week. Meeting with family and friends in a public place for a total of 8 hours over a 4-week period is not a substantial deprivation of the group member’s liberty. Moreover, the group member is able to present himself in front of the hearing judge after the first 2 weeks to convince the judge the exit intervention is unnecessary. Second, the family must carry the burden of not only showing a drastic change in the member’s behavior and the dangers present in the group, but also must overcome the slight presumption that the member voluntarily joined the group and the court should not interfere. Between the group member’s ability to try to opt out after 2 weeks and the burden the family must carry, an erroneous deprivation of liberty is unlikely. Thus, the procedural safeguards in place appropriately protect the group member’s liberty interest. Finally, there are large administrative burdens if any other safeguards are implemented. The reason the family must rely on an exit intervention is because they have been denied access to the group member. Requiring the group member to be present at the initial hearing would be nearly impossible unless the court issues some kind of subpoena.[54] Moreover, it is unfair to require the group member to appear in court before the family has shown any evidence at all.[55] Thus, exit interventions through the initial court hearing satisfy the flexible due-process standards.

Other Concerns

Some other concerns regarding the exit intervention model include its practicality, its effectiveness, its economic burden, and the family’s evidentiary burden. The main practicality concern is whether the parties can meet civilly for 2 hours each week. The group member is facing family and friends telling him how his life should be run, while the family is confronting their loved one who they believe is in grave danger. This may be a recipe for disaster. Although this is a legitimate concern, the exit intervention may be the family’s last chance to see their loved one for the rest of their lives. Therefore, the family will try their best to make the meetings as constructive and educational as possible. Because any breaking of the rules results in the 4-week trial period being vacated, the family should be given the 4-week access period to try to make things work.

Furthermore, an argument can be made that 8 hours is simply not enough to make any meaningful difference with the group member. After all, some deprogrammings take many full days to convince the member to leave the group.[56] Although 8 hours may not be enough to make exit interventions as effective as the family would like, the group member has constitutional interests in both his liberty and his ability to freely exercise a religion of his choosing. Allotting more than 8 hours may strengthen group members’ arguments and render exit interventions unconstitutional. Thus, the family must be able to work with what they can get. Eight hours may not be sufficient, but the mere chance of reigniting the group member’s critical thinking and denouncing his membership is worth every minute. If the family and the exit counselors carefully craft their plan by making every second count, exit interventions can be just as effective as forcibly removing the member from the group.

Additionally, since the group member presumably disappeared, it may be difficult for the family to put together enough evidence to obtain the exit intervention. In an easy case, the family could provide records to the court showing that the group member has recently transferred his capital assets and pension to the group for little or no consideration.[57] This is especially probative of behavioral changes if the person never made similar transfers in the past. However, what happens in a more difficult case in which the group member had no assets, not many friends, and a less-than-perfect family life before disappearing? In a case like this, the parents must rely on the dangers of the particular group, including testimony from former members of the group and experts who are familiar with the group. The more dangerous the group seems, the more likely the family member is in risk of irreparable harm. Families could also rely on photos showing physical changes. Even if access to the loved one is restricted, the family should attempt to capture a photo that evidences dangerous weight loss, sleep deprivation, and other negative physical-appearance differences. Therefore, when gathering evidence is difficult, the family must focus on the particular group in question and any sort of physical evidence the family can gather that is probative of behavioral changes.

Finally, exit interventions will be very expensive for the families seeking the 4-week program. Families must pay for the filing costs and fees, the gathering of evidence and experts for the initial hearing, dinner and transportation costs throughout the 4 weeks, and the cost of hiring a deprogrammer or exit counselor for the final week.[58] However, families routinely pay up to $20,000 per month for alcohol or drug treatment.[59] If the exit intervention is successful and the group member leaves the destructive group, the family will be reunited with their loved one and the process will be worth every penny.


The exit-intervention model properly balances the family’s interest of ensuring their loved one’s safety and well-being with the group member’s interest of making his own decisions and freely exercising his system of belief. It also improves all three of the conventional intervention methods. First, exit interventions are much stronger than exit counseling because they allow the family to intervene instead of waiting for the group member to walk away from the destructive group. Second, exit interventions are much less coercive than deprogramming because they are held at public places and are only for 2 hours per week. The group member is not held against his will in violation of his civil rights. Third, exit interventions do not require the justice system to deprive the group member of his right to exercise his beliefs. Because the court is ordering only a temporary 4-week access period, the group member’s constitutional rights are not violated. Finally—perhaps the best part about this model, it allows the family to educate and inform the group member of what to be aware of with destructive groups, while it allows the group member to make the ultimate decision at the end of the 4 weeks. This freedom of choice gives the group member control over his life while allowing his parents to express their concerns and gain closure on the topic.

About the Author

Steven Autenrieth is a law student at the Sandra Day O’Connor College of Law at Arizona State University in Phoenix, Arizona. He began his studies of cults and other destructive groups as a part of his Cults and Alternative Religions law-school course taught by Professor Linda Demaine. In addition, he is a graduate of South Dakota State University with a degree in mathematics. Email Steven at stevenautenrieth@yahoo.com

[1] Molko v. Holy Spirit Ass’n for the Unification of World Christianity, 762 P.2d 46, 50 (Cal. 1988).

[2] Id. at 50–51. During the weeks of spiritual retreat, the group subjected Molko to an intense exercise-lecture-discussion regimen. The group also kept him under constant surveillance. Id. at 51.

[3] Id. When finally told the group belonged to the Unification Church, “[Molko] was confused and angry, but was informed the deception was necessary because people who had heard negative stories about the Church tended to be unreceptive if they knew the group's identity before hearing what it had to say.” Id.

[4] Id.

[5] Id.

[6] Id. In Molko, the California Supreme Court reversed the Court of Appeal’s grant of summary judgment in favor of the Church, holding that judicial sanctioning of traditional tort liability for fraudulent recruitment is constitutional. The Court stated: “first, its purpose and effect is plainly to advance the legitimate secular goal of protecting persons from being harmed by fraud. Second, it is nondiscriminatory: all organizations, religious or otherwise, may be held liable for damages caused by their fraudulent acts. Were a nonreligious organization—e.g., a group espousing a political or social cause—to deceive a person into unknowingly submitting to coercive persuasion, the same liability would ensue.” Id. at 61. Therefore, Molko was not barred from bringing traditional fraud actions against the Church for inducing him by misrepresentation and concealment of its identity into an atmosphere in which he was “subjected to coercive persuasion.” Id.

[7] Commentators, scholars, legislators, and psychologists have all struggled with a precise definition of a cult. For purposes of this discussion, Dr. Arthur Wassmer’s definition is useful: “A cult is an organization whose stated mission is religious, political, philosophical or psychotherapeutic, with a covert mission to accumulate wealth and/or power to benefit its leadership.” See Susan Landa, Children and Cults: A Practical Guide, 29 J. Fam. L. 591, 593 (1990/1991) (citing telephone interview with Dr. Arthur Wassmer (Apr. 3, 1990)).

[8] Richard Delgado, When Religious Exercise Is not Free: Deprogramming and the Constitutional Status of Coercively Induced Belief, 37 Vand. L. Rev. 1071, 1072–73 (1984).

[9] See Catherine Wong, St. Thomas on Deprogramming: Is it Justifiable, 39 Cath. Law. 81, 95 (1999) (citing Margaret Singer).

[10] See Delgado, supra note 8, at 1074–75.

[11] See Douglas H. Cook, Tort Liability for Cult Deprogramming: Peterson v. Sorlien, 43 Ohio St. L.J. 465, 483–84 (1982); Landa, supra note 7, at 608.

[12] Janja Lalich & Michael D. Langone, Characteristics Associated with Cultic Groups, Int’l Cultic Studies Ass’n, http://www.csj.org/infoserv_cult101/checklis.htm (last visited Apr. 14, 2016).

[13] See generally Gretta Spendlove, Note, Legal Issues in the Use of the Guardianship Procedures to Remove Members of Cults, 18 Ariz. L. Rev. 1095 (1976); Note, Conservatorships and Religious Cults: Diving a Theory of Free Exercise, 53 N.Y.U. L. Rev. 1247 (1978).

[14] Katz v. Superior Court, 141 Cal. Rptr. 234, 256 (Cal. Ct. App. 1977) (discussing United States v. Ballard 322 U.S. 78 (1944)).

[15] Id.

[16] See Stephen Kent & Joseph Szimhart, Exit Counseling and the Decline of Deprogramming, 1 Cultic Studies Review 246–47 (2002). An example of a deprogramming appears in Molko, 762 P.2d at 51 when Molko is abducted by hired deprogrammers after leaving his final session of the bar examination and being taken to a motel for 3 days of deprogramming. In that case, the deprogramming was successful and Molko returned home to his parents.

[17] Id. at 245.

[18] See generally Wanda Ellen Wakefield, Civil Liability for “Deprogramming” Member of Religious Sect, 11 A.L.R. Fed. 4th 228 (1982).

[19] Scott v. Ross, 140 F.3d 1275, 1279–80 (9th Cir. 1998). In this case, Scott was abducted and held captive for 5 days. Scott feigned acceptance to Ross’s position and later escaped and filed suit against Ross. Id. at 1279. Interestingly, Scott later denounced his membership with the group and employed Ross to help him adjust to life outside of the group.

[20] See Kent & Szimhart, supra note 16, at 261. Exit counseling typically takes three shapes: (a) the targeted member agrees to talk openly with the exit counselor or family; (b) exit counselors arrange surprise meetings where the targeted member meets the counselor in a public setting; (c) a formal intervention similar to drug counseling occurs if the member agrees to meet with the family.

[21] Id. at 261–62; see also Margaret Thaler Singer & Janja Lalich, Cults in Our Midst 286–87 (1995).

[22] For a discussion on many of the problems former members face when they leave a cultic group, see Patrick Ryan, Post-Cult Problems: An Exit Counselor’s Perspective, Int’l Cultic Studies Ass’n, http://www.csj.org/pub_affnews/affnews12.html (last visited Apr. 14, 2016).

[23] It is recommended that the family seek advice from a professional exit counselor or psychologist before their appearance in court. Many professional exit counselors and psychologists are familiar with testifying in court regarding destructive groups and will be able to strengthen the family’s case. For a useful list of what the family should try to prove, see Rick Ross, Warning Signs, Cult Educ. Inst., http://culteducation.com/warningsigns.html (last visited Apr. 16, 2016).

[24] Although affidavits from family members and friends may be used, the family is better off with live testimony. This testimony provides the court a detailed description of the changes in the individual’s behavior and possible harms present.

[25] Unlike in normal TRO hearings, there should be a slight presumption that the group member voluntarily joined the group and there is no reason for the court to interfere. Thus, the stronger the evidence of a drastic change in personality, or of a particularly dangerous cultic group will help carry the parents’ burden of proof. The slight presumption is because of the balancing of interests when it comes to due-process concerns. Because the cult member chose not to leave the group when contacted by the parents, the court should initially respect this decision.

[26] 16 Ariz. Rev. Stat. R. Civ. P. 65(d) (2016). The brackets in the statute indicate the only changes made to the existing TRO statute in Arizona. It is important to note that the court will not be looking into the group’s belief system, just the irreparable physical or psychological harm present.

[27] The recommended public setting is a restaurant where the family has shared family birthdays or celebrations—this brings back positive memories the family members share and will hopefully reignite any love that has been lost. However, a public park, coffee shop, or shopping mall would satisfy this requirement.

[28] Alternatively, the time for the first week could be simply a 2-hour period away from the group instead of meeting with the family. Theoretically, this option gives the cult member time away from the group to reflect on his choices without inside pressure. However, this model seems too passive because nothing is preventing the cult from following the member around; and without any pressure from outside the group, he may spend his 2 hours obsessing over his authoritarian leader.

[29] The group member will also be told of the 4-week program during this meeting. It should be noted that this week may not go as planned. This may be the group member’s first time away from the group in months, which may cause separation issues. Also, the group member may be angry about his parents’ involvement, which could stall progress for the week. Moreover, if the thought-reform process has run its full course, the group member may be too zombielike to be conversational. Regardless of how the meeting progresses, the parents get 2 full hours of access.

[30] The neutral, public forum is especially important this week because the cult member will be up against five to 10 people trying to convince him of something against his beliefs. If the meeting were at a private residence, this would be giving the family a license to coercively deprogram the member.

[31] If the parents cannot find former members of the particular group, they are encouraged to reach out to former cult members who can relate to their loved one. It is important for the current member to interact with someone who has defeated the thought-reform process.

[32] Keep in mind that this meeting is still at a public place. Thus, the deprogrammer still has to be civil with the member and cannot be abusive.

[33] Although making the member choose between the family or the group seems harsh, the family had limited to no access to the member before the 4-week trial. Assuming the cult maintains its isolation practices, this decision will likely amount to whether the member wants to maintain a relationship with the family and leave the group, or stay in the group and lose his family.

[34] For purposes of this paper, see Ariz Rev. Stat. Ann. § 14-5101 (2016). According to the statute, an incapacitated person means “any person who is impaired by reason of mental illness, mental deficiency, mental disorder, physical illness or disability, chronic use of drugs, chronic intoxication or other cause, except minority, to the extent that he lacks sufficient understanding or capacity to make or communicate responsible decisions concerning his person.” Id.

[35] See Katz v. Superior Court, 141 Cal. Rptr. 234, 256 (Cal. Ct. App. 1977). This standard seems to appropriately balance a believer’s right to freedom of action and the family’s argument that he is incapable of making his own decisions.

[36] According to Ariz Rev. Stat. Ann. § 14-5304(B) (2016), an applicant must prove an individual is incapacitated by clear and convincing evidence. The more stringent beyond-a-reasonable-doubt standard accommodates the First Amendment issues and the fact that the family failed to convince the member over the 4-week period.

[37] If the family ignores the order and attempts to coercively deprogram the group member, this evidence will be admitted against the deprogrammer if the deprogrammee later attempts to bring a civil action.

[38] Most importantly, this feature allows the family dispute to be adjudged by a neutral third party. If the judge feels the family is being unreasonable about the group member making his own decisions, then she can vacate the order. In contrast, if the judge believes it is beneficial for the parties to finish the remaining time, she can order the member to continue meeting with the family.

[39] For an example of how cults deny access to family members by transferring the cult member to various locations, see Today Show: Cathryn Mazer and the Unification Church (NBC television broadcast, Nov. 15, 1993), https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=zcu3Ty4golY

[40] See Sherbert v. Verner, 374 U.S. 398, 402–03 (1963) (“the Court has rejected challenges under the Free Exercise Clause to governmental regulation of certain overt acts prompted by religious beliefs or principles, for ‘even when the action is in accord with one's religious convictions, [it] is not totally free from legislative restrictions.’”) (quoting Braunfield v. Brown, 366 U.S. 599, 603 (1961)). Assuming exit interventions would be enacted through legislation, an officer of the law can carry out the court’s order without impinging the group’s free exercise under the First Amendment.

[41] See U.S. Const. amend. I (“Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the government for a redress of grievances.”); NCAAP v. Button, 371 U.S. 415, 444–45 (1963) (“For the Constitution protects expression and association without regard to the race, creed, or political or religious affiliation of the members of the group which invokes its shield, or to the truth, popularity, or social utility of the ideas and beliefs which are offered.”).

[42] See U.S. Const. amend. V (“No person shall . . . be deprived of life, liberty, or property, without due process of law; nor shall private property be taken for public use, without just compensation.”).

[43] See, e.g., Sherbert, 374 U.S. at 402–03; Braunfield v. Brown, 366 U.S. 599, 603 (1961); Cantwell v. Connecticut, 310 U.S. 296, 303–04 (1940); Reynolds v. United States, 98 U.S. 145, 166 (1878).

[44] The only meeting that could be argued as an attack on the member’s belief is week 4 when the deprogrammer is present. However, having a 2-hour disagreement about whose belief system is correct does not seem like the kind of attack that warrants First Amendment protection.

[45] Sherbert, 375 U.S. at 403.

[46] See Religious Freedom Restoration Act, 42 U.S.C. § 2000bb (2015); Holt v. Hobbs, 155 S.Ct. 853, 859–860 (2015) (“RFRA provides that ‘[g]overnment shall not substantially burden a person’s exercise of religion even if the burden results from a rule of general applicability,’ unless the government ‘demonstrates that application of the burden to the person—(1) is in furtherance of a compelling governmental interest; and (2) is the least restrictive means of furthering that compelling governmental interest.’”). For purposes of this discussion, assume the RFRA applies under state law.

[47] Religious Freedom Restoration Act, 42 U.S.C. §2000bb (2015).

[48] The Supreme Court has demonstrated that the state may have a compelling interest in preventing fraud under the guise of religion. See Wisconsin v. Yoder, 406 U.S. 205, 221–29 (1972); Sherbert v. Verner, 374 U.S. 398, 403 (1963); NAACP v. Button, 371 U.S. 415, 438 (1963). Because the use of deception is not the focus here, it suffices to say that the state has a compelling interest in the health of its citizens and protecting its citizens against thought-reform techniques.

[49] See Wong, supra note 9, at 95; see generally Singer & Lalich, supra note 21.

[50] U.S. Const. amend. V.

[51] To see how this argument fared in a TRO hearing regarding a guardianship of a 100-year-old woman, see In re Guardianship of Carlsmith, 151 P.3d 717, 720 (Haw. 2007).

[52] Matthews v. Eldridge, 424 U.S. 319, 321 (1976) (quoting Morrissey v. Brewer, 408 U.S. 471, 481 (1972)).

[53] Matthews, 424 U.S. at 335.

[54] Using a subpoena in this way is likely more of a burden on the group member’s private interest because it would require him to appear in court and then go through 4 weeks of intervention.

[55] It can be argued that, after the parents have satisfied the court with enough evidence, the court would hold another hearing that requires both parties to be present. Although this may be an effective safeguard, it seems like an unnecessary use of time and money when considering that the hearing is for only 8 hours of the group member’s time.

[56] See Scott v. Ross, 140 F.3d 1275, 1279–80 (9th Cir. 1998) (deprogramming lasted 5 days); Kent & Szimhart, supra note 16, at 246–47.

[57] For an example of this, see Andree Brooks, ‘Cults’ and the Aged: A New Family Issue, N.Y. Times, Apr. 26, 1986, http://www.nytimes.com/1986/04/26/style/cults-and-the-aged-a-new-family-issue.html?pagewanted=all (last visited Dec. 12, 2016).

[58] Deprogrammings typically cost around $10,000, and a 3- to 5-day exit counseling will cost anywhere from $2,000 to $4,000. Michael D. Langone & Paul Martin, Deprogramming, Exit Counseling, and Ethics: Clarifying the Confusion, Int’l Cultic Studies Ass’n, http://www.icsahome.com/articles/deprogramming-ethics--langone (last visited Apr. 17, 2016).

[59] How Much Does Rehab Cost?, Rehabs.com, http://www.rehabs.com/about/how-much-does-rehab-cost (last visited Apr. 17, 2016).