Suppression of Free Speech Report on a Survey

ICSA Today, Vol. 8, No. 1, 2017, 6-7

Suppression of Free Speech: Report on a Survey

Michael D. Langone

On August 2, 2014, ICSA posted a survey that collected data on how former members of high-control or cultic groups, family members, and others may have had their exercise of free speech curtailed or suppressed.

Although the primary goal of the survey was to find out about lawsuits designed to suppress criticism, ICSA was also interested in exploring other ways in which individuals may have at least perceived their free speech to have been curtailed.

An email to 3,580 people on ICSA’s mailing list invited recipients to complete a “free speech survey.” Between August 2nd and August 22nd, 2014, 109 persons completed the survey. A large majority (nearly 80%) were former members of cultic groups.

Given that only a relatively small percentage of people in ICSA’s network are activists (e.g., running websites, speaking out about groups), our sample may be reasonably representative of the activist subpopulation within the ICSA network, though we cannot be sure. In any event, the number of people who responded and the speed of their responses suggests that the topic of free speech concerns many persons within the ICSA network.

After collecting demographic data, the survey asked 13 forced-choice questions, the responses to which are listed in the next section.

Forced-Choice Questions

Yes = 14

No = 95

Yes = 11

Yes = 29

No = 77

Blank = 3

Yes = 24

No = 84

Blank = 1

Yes = 56

No = 52

Blank = 1

Yes = 51

No = 57

Blank = 1

Yes = 14

Not sure = 24

No = 72

Yes = 15

Not sure = 16

No = 74

Blank = 5

Yes = 87

No = 21

Blank = 1

Reduced educational efforts = 24

Significantly reduced = 18

Stopped = 8

Not affected = 29

Not applicable = 18

Former Members (includes SGAs) = 86

Family = 50

Marked family only = 10

Former members with family in group = 40

Blank = 15

Yes = 42

No = 22

Maybe = 31

Blank = 16

Yes = 96

No = 12

Blank = 0

Text Question

The last question in the survey said, “In the box below, please briefly describe how your exercise of free speech has been threatened.”

Although names and other identifying demographic details are not provided in this report, I have decided not to list all of the narrative responses because too many of them implicitly, if not explicitly, reveal the identity of the respondent. Moreover, the comments amount to nearly 10,000 words.

I will, however, try to give readers a sense of the kinds of comments respondents made.

First of all, it should be noted that not all perceptions of suppressed speech rise to the level of actual or threatened lawsuits. Some respondents reported that they felt speech-inhibited, because of

Though these kinds of speech inhibition characterize the majority of respondents, more than 10% of respondents (14) were formally sued, and nearly half were threatened with lawsuits or received intimidating legal letters.

Of 79 who responded to the question asking respondents to rate the degree to which their educational efforts had been inhibited, eight said that they had stopped those efforts entirely, 18 said their efforts had been significantly reduced, and 24 said that their efforts had been reduced. We cannot say which of the 29 who said that they were not affected by speech-suppression threats did not experience harassment or how many continued with their work in spite of harassment.

In some cases, critics may have been suppressed by intimidating legal tactics because they did not have the money to defend themselves, not because they had acted improperly. In other cases, critics may have been injudicious in their speech, though sometimes even irresponsibly articulated criticisms may be valid at their core.

This brief report will not discuss legal intimidation in depth, for to do so would require details about specific cases that this brief survey does not provide. A future study could explore this issue.

It is noteworthy that more than one-third of respondents were definitely interested in education/training on the legal dimensions of exercising free speech, and more than half were open to such education/training.

Those who decry the use of the legal system as a speech-inhibiting weapon can support critics of cultic groups by

If you did not take part in the survey, but would like to share your experiences regarding free speech suppression, please contact ICSA at

About the Author

Michael D. Langone, PhD, a counseling psychologist, received a doctorate in Counseling Psychology from the University of California, Santa Barbara in 1979. Since 1981 he has been Executive Director of International Cultic Studies Association (ICSA). He has written and spoken widely on cult-related topics and is Editor-in-Chief of ICSA Today.