ADELPHI-A governor’s task force Thursday postponed the release of its report about cults on Maryland college campuses to wait for opinions from some public university presidents.
The Task Force to Study the Effects of Cult Activities on Public Senior Higher Education Institutions decided to withhold the report because the presidents of St. Mary’s College and Morgan State University were not given time to comment on it, said task force staff member Maitland Dade.
The few audience members who had come expecting the report to be released were angry at the decision. The panel went through the document making changes line by line, an exercise the witnesses couldn’t understand without a copy to follow along.
“I think this is a mockery of an open meeting, when we don’t even understand what they’re talking about,” said University of Maryland anthropology professor William Stuart. Stuart, who teaches a class about new religious movements, said he has testified twice before the task force and once before the General Assembly.
The task force, made up mainly of educators and state legislators, issued drafts of its report to the University System of Maryland campus presidents on Tuesday, Dade said. Officials from four state universities, including the president of the University of Maryland at College Park, issued responses.
The eight task force members present discussed the campus officials’ comments and then voted to keep them secret, saying the comments contained quotes from the draft of the unreleased report.
Task force Chairman William Wood, a member of the Maryland Board of Regents, was the only member to vote to release the comments. He had said earlier that they were public records and explained his vote by saying he did not want to be “accused of reversing myself.”
Members of the audience said they were discouraged that the report and the campus officials’ comments were not released.
“The idea of having a public meeting in order to discuss a confidential document seems to be oxymoronic,” said Dan Fefferman, executive director of the International Coalition for Religious Freedom.
The coalition is one of the plaintiffs in a federal lawsuit against Gov. Parris Glendening, Wood, and the state Board of Regents, alleging that the task force report is unconstitutional because it infringes on the First Amendment right to practice religion.
Wood would not discuss the lawsuit but said Glendening and state legislators must receive the report before the public.
The task force has been working since May and must file its report by Sept. 30. The next meeting is Sept. 15.
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