CIFS Australia

Cult Information and Family Support Inc.

About CIFS

Can I Help


In The News

Books + Video




Info Search




Quote of the Day:
'Victims gradually lose their ability to make independent decisions and exercise informed consent.'
- Dr Margaret Singer



| 2020 | 2019 | 2018 | 2017 | 2016 | 2015 | 2014 | 2013- | World |
CIFS' Submission to Religious Freedom Review:
Religous Freedom Review
Federal Government: Prime Minister's Department
March, 2018

Religious Freedom Review Website

The Panel received more than 16,000 submissions from individuals and organisations between 14 December 2017 and 14 February 2018. The Prime Minister announced an extension to the Panel's reporting date until 18 May 2018.



On 22 November 2017, the Prime Minister, the Hon Malcolm Turnbull MP, announced the appointment of an Expert Panel to examine whether Australian law adequately protects the human right to freedom of religion.

The Prime Minister announced the Terms of Reference for the Review on 14 December 2017. In undertaking its Review, the Prime Minister has instructed the Panel to:

  • consider the intersections between the enjoyment of the freedom of religion and other human rights
  • have regard to any previous or ongoing reviews or inquiries that it considers relevant
  • consult as widely as it considers necessary


CIFS' submission to the Panel is copied below:


Monday, 12th February 2018

Attention: Religious Freedom Review,

  • the Hon Philip Ruddock (chair)

  • Emeritus Professor Rosalind Croucher AM

  • the Hon Dr Annabelle Bennett AO SC

  • Father Frank Brennan SJ AO

  • Professor Nicholas Aroney



Freedom of religion is essential to any modern democratic society. It must always be upheld in Australia. Yet Freedom from religion, excesses and prohibitions that limit the ability of followers to engage freely as citizens must also be upheld.  

We uphold the right of people to believe what they will, but society must monitor and moderate behaviours that come from those beliefs. Excessive behaviours from cult-like groups or extreme religious beliefs can on the one hand cause emotional and psychological harm to individuals and families.  At the very extreme end they can produce people prepared to kill innocent children and families because of their beliefs.  It can be a pathway to terrorism.

Freedom of Religion should never be a carte blanche right for groups to behave in ways that harm followers and their families by creating a different kind of citizenship of Australia.  We should not permit harmful restrictions of the freedom of individuals to seek medical intervention nor limit education opportunities for children.

Yet this happens.

There is a vast difference between the theory and practice of religion. Put simply, just like individuals in our society, some practices are good and some not so.

In this submission we will argue that current Freedom of Religion provisions and a lack of accountability, financial and behavioural, for organisations and individuals who claim religious freedom must be addressed to prevent further victim abuse.  The overall standard by which we should operate as a society is our commitment to law and our beliefs in the freedom of human rights of individuals.

Sadly successive governments have not had the stomach to address issues of Freedom of Religion that have allowed excesses and abuses to occur by not clearly defining what we in Australia accept as “Religion” and how behaviours need to equate to the standards expected of those who call Australia home.  

For more than two decades now, CIFS (Cult Information and Family Support) has supported individuals and families severely traumatised by spiritual and physical abuses within religious and other high demand authoritarian organisations.  CIFS remains the primary volunteer organisation in Australia supporting victims and their families and whilst calculating the numbers of emails and calls over that period is difficult, it is estimated that since 2007 alone 50 to 100 emails seeking support have been received every month.  Phone calls from families and individuals average around 10 per week.  This is a huge workload for a small volunteer organisation working in a difficult area where often the abuse is horrendous leaving people damaged for many many years.

Some of the claims of victims and their families have included:

  • A culture of bullying and undue coercion that eventually cowers followers to the demands of the leader(s)

  • Fraudulent accessing of “donations”, “inheritances”, “properties”  with leaders benefiting whilst followers live in penury

  • Occupational Health and Safety violations in workplaces run by the “Cult” or it’s subsidiary where fear of retribution prevents people reporting.

  • Setting up of false “charities” to channel funds to benefit the leaders and not with clear outcomes for the purposes of the charity

  • Isolations from their careers, career choices, educations, families and friends

  • Racist, White Supremacist activities and teachings

  • Beliefs that the Government of the day will always be the enemy because it belongs to the devil etc

CIFS is not alone in the task of supporting victims throughout the world. It partners with organisations in the USA, UK and Europe where the number of abuse victims goes into the many many thousands.

It is estimated that there are some 3,000 cult like groups operating in Australia at any one time. This includes high demand fundamentalist churches, mosques, synagogues and temples that operate in a similar manner - demanding obedience, commitment and financial resources from their followers. Many Pentecostal churches operate in this way where the Pastor is recognised as God’s appointed leader for followers and therefore should not be questioned.

Governments provide tax benefits and legal protection for many religious groups, including support for their schools and whilst many see this is as appropriate we argue that through a lack of public accountability as to how the beliefs of the groups impact and control the lives of their followers, it is not. Do those schools funded by Government grants teach students to become good, moral citizens, who contribute to society and take part in the processes of that society such as the right to vote in elections? Do those schools prepare the students for a role in society, giving them the opportunity to further educations and career choices suitable to their gifts, talents and abilities?

Unfortunately, this is not always the case and a lack of public accountability as to finances, activities and behaviours of the group means that students are in effect abused by a system that does not empower them to achieve their own dreams for their future.

Consider one example. The Exclusive Brethren claims to be a church, and no doubt is under current guidelines. The church continues to receive very large financial support from the Government for its schools – set up to comply with the law of educating children, yet to segregate children from the rest of society. (One of their beliefs is that Brethren should not eat and drink with non-believers - making participation as equals in the world around them very difficult for children and adults alike). Those children educated in Brethren schools to High School level will however be prevented from going on to tertiary studies. None can aspire to be doctors, lawyers or even`` teachers because of the religious beliefs accepted by their parents and proclaimed by their leaders, particularly the current “supreme leader, the Man of God” Bruce Hales.

Denying access to education is against the UN Declaration of the Rights of the Child, of which Australia is signatory. Clause 28 of the Declaration specifically obligates states to make higher education accessible to all and education and vocation information and guidance available and accessible to all. Currently, we expect that Freedom of Religion provisions would be used by Brethren to exclude them from any need to comply with this.[3]

Similarly businesses created by the Exclusive Brethren, of which there are many, operate with a very tight control that means workplaces abuses will not be reported for fear of retribution. As much as possible all disciplinary actions are kept within the church and its leadership which means that Government authorities do not hear of abuses. Is that the way Freedom of Religion should operate?  Allowing one organisation to gain tax benefits and lack of public scrutiny of their behaviours and finances whilst at the same time violating core beliefs held by Australian citizens?  Such denial of children’s and employees rights is in itself also abuse.  Perpetrators are guilty but then so is general society when Governments do not ensure that protection of rights is given to all Australians.

Conservative religious supporters argue that religious schools should be able to exempt staff or students on the basis of faith or sexuality?  This is a vexed area and we would argue that to do so opens a Pandora’s box whereby religious organisations exist within our borders accepting different laws and different lawmakers as their authority.  It is a small step to extend this discrimination to medical professionals who choose to deny medical care to others because of religious beliefs.

Any effective inquiry into Freedom of Religion must examine a failure of law to protect the innocent that allows organisations to fly under the radar of public accountability and the expectations of membership in Australian society.  Membership that should require commitment to our laws and to human rights and values.

In addition to this, we note that many religious, spiritual or ideological organisations claim tax benefits as not for profit or religions and that their financial dealings remain hidden from public and even the Australian Taxation Office review.

Evidence of the failure of current Freedom of Religion provisions does not stop at Cults.

Implications from the Australian Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse should provide a wake up call that is not limited to the period of the Commission or the time of the release of its findings.  It should be a marker that determines how we deal with those who abuse, whose silence permits abuse, and whose actions permit abusers to remain free.

In the report of the Royal Commission brought down in December last year, The Commission reported it had dealt with 1,200 witness accounts and more than 8,000 private sessions with survivors.  The majority of these complaints related to abuses within established and respected religious organisations.

In light of this, we find it conflicting that some conservative politicians and religious leaders argue so strongly not only for the preservation of existing Freedom of Religion provisions but extensions of these, when it can be argued that it is current provisions that allowed this horrendous abuse of many decades to thrive causing heartbreak, suicide and ruined lives to many of our citizens.  Again, this is a failure of law and lawmakers where one of the reasons for laws is meant to protect citizens from harm.

Much of this abuse was enabled to occur and for the perpetrators to escape justice simply because those organisations claimed “Freedom of Religion”, that in some way they operated separate from wider society and its expectations.  

A continuance of the Royal Commission or the establishment of a new one to examine the psychological, spiritual and financial abuse of people within religious, spiritual or ideological groups would we believe reveal the extent of harm done not only to individuals and families but to the whole of society with the added costs of medical and psychological care and social welfare for people highly traumatised by abuse that is not necessarily sexual.

The author recently heard of the plight of many families in a small Australian town whose lives had been controlled to the point of who they should marry, how finances should be managed, where employment should be sought and even parenting of children. This is not unfortunately an isolated occurrence. CIFS has a number of examples of church and cult groups that have controlled followers lives all through the fear of a kind of eternal punishment and an authority vested in the leaders from “God” that puts the leader beyond question.

To conclude we can only hope that this Inquiry will provide recommendation to Government that our commitment to Freedom of Religion remain, but that some form of monitoring and accountability be introduced at a Federal Government level for all groups that claim benefits as Religious organisations.  This could be by extending the powers of the Charities Commission to cover all not for profit groups including religious organisations, schools and business run on their behalf

Former Senator Nick Xenophon who assisted CIFS in setting up a Conference in the Old Parliament House Canberra in 2011 said at that time: “There are no limits on what you can believe, but there are limits on how you behave, it is called the Law and no one is above it.”

David Ayliffe, CIFS Member, Melbourne 0425733361

Ros Hodgkins, President CIFS 0423 332 766



Disclaimer:This news page is about groups, organizations or movements, which may have been called "cults" and/or "cult-like" in some way, shape or form. But not all groups called either "cults" or "cult-like" are harmful. Instead, they may be benign and generally defined as simply people intensely devoted to a person, place or thing. Therefore, the discussion or mention of a group, organization or person on this page, is not necessarily meant pejoratively. Readers are encouraged to read widely on a topic before forming an opinion. Never accept information from a single source at face value. This website only holds a small amount of information and should not be relied on as a complete source. For example, if you find older information, this should be weighed up against newer information as circumstances can change.
S i t e   S e a r c h :

1 0 0 0 +   p a g e s






ABC Radio:
5 Apr 2018
16 Oct 2010
14 Oct 2010


CIFS Conference:
Brisbane 2012 *
Canberra 2011
Seminar 2011
Brisbane 2010


Visions of Paradise


Cults: After-Effects




Top of Page
| Home | About CIFS | Can I Help | Contact | In The News | Books + Video | Stories | Articles | Events | Info Search | Links |