Oct 21, 2017

Hungary: Police search Scientology center in Budapest

Fox News
Associated Press
October 18, 2017

BUDAPEST, Hungary – Hungarian police say they are carrying out a search at a Church of Scientology center in Budapest.

Police said the search by members of the National Investigation Bureau is related to an investigation into the suspected misuse of personal information and other crimes, but will not be releasing more information because the inquiry was ongoing.

Online publication riposzt.hu said over 50 police officers surrounded the church's Budapest headquarters on one of the Hungarian capital's busiest roads early Wednesday.

The Church of Scientology is not among the 32 churches officially recognized by Hungary since a widely disputed law on churches and religious matters went into force in 2012.

The church did not immediately reply to a request for comment.


Former Philly neo-Nazi now fighting white supremacy with empathy

Frank Meeink's violent childhood in South Philadelphia primed him to hate and led to his descent into America’s Nazi underground. By the time he was 16, he was one of the most notorious skinhead gang leaders on the East Coast. Two years later, he was doing hard time in an Illinois prison.
Frank Meeink
At 16, Frank Meeink was a notorious skinhead gang leader. Later, out of prison, a Jewish business owner helped him see things differently.

PhillyVoice Staff
October 18, 2017

Frank Meeink remembers rolling into a Lancaster nightclub with one primary purpose: picking a fight with a group of skaters during a concert.

He was 14 years old and his childhood had been anything but easy. But the South Philadelphia native finally had found acceptance – with a group of skinheads.

A fight indeed broke out during the concert, with Meeink safely perched atop the shoulders of a larger skinhead. Yet, he realized their power when his group verbally threatened another skater as they left the venue.

"I saw the look on his face and I absolutely loved it," Meeink said. "... It felt good to see someone have fear of me. That night, someone asked if I wanted to be a part of it, and I f***ing jumped at it."

Soon, Meeink was hating more than skaters.

Meeink quickly ascended the ranks of the neo-Nazi world, even hosting a cable access talk show, "The Reich," on television. But within three years, he was a teenager serving time in an adult prison in Illinois.
Once again, his world began to change – a bit more slowly. He began questioning his white supremacist ideology, eventually abandoning his fellow neo-Nazis not long after being released from prison.

Today, Meeink serves as a vocal opponent of white supremacy, sharing his recovery story at speaking engagements across the country.

An updated version of his book, "Autobiography of a Recovering Skinhead," was published last month by Hawthorne Books, adding an additional nine chapters to history. The new section details his struggles with addiction, his friendships with celebrities and the deaths of his son and mother.

"I end the book saying, 'I don't know what's going to happen,'" Meeink said. "I just know that it's been a long journey and the book is what I've learned."
But Meeink said he'll never return to a lifestyle based on hate.

"Racism is the greatest bait-and-switch ever pulled in the world," Meeink said. "It's a legendary bait-and-switch. It's done on such a horrendous scale. It's something you have no control of – it's your skin."

White supremacy provides its believers acceptance, a feeling coveted by most of the ideology's recruits, Meeink said. But that acceptance comes at a tremendous cost.

Meeink remembers a conversation he once had with Tony McAleer, a former recruiter for the White Aryan Resistance with whom he co-founded Life After Hate, a nonprofit that helps individuals who want to leave a lifestyle of hatred and violence.

"'Frank, we didn't lose our humanity when we joined this group,'" Meeink recalled McAleer saying. "'We just gave it up for acceptance.'"


Meeink was introduced to white supremacy when he moved out to the Lancaster area to live with his cousin, who helped him assimilate into a group of neo-Nazis.

And it came at a moment when he was craving acceptance.
His childhood in South Philly had been difficult. His mother mostly raised him on her own until age 9, when she remarried a man whom Meeink says often tried to "beat the Italian out of me."

"I can't say, 'Abracadabra, I'm not the neo-Nazi whisperer here. I'm just a guy who can relate to a guy who has gone down that path." – Frank Meeink, former Philadelphia skinhead

At 13, Meeink moved in with his dad in Southwest Philadelphia, where he attended a mostly-black middle school. He routinely engaged in fights.

Meeink finally found people who took an interest in his life when he went to live with his cousin.

He accompanied the skinheads to Bible studies, where they'd share ideology. Beforehand, they'd shoot guns together.

Most importantly, the skinheads inquired about his life in Philly.

"They couldn't fathom that I had seen black people all the time," Meeink said. "To me, it was someone asking me, 'How is my life?'"

Finally feeling accepted, Meeink eventually bought into their ideology.

He soon was traveling across the country, recruiting others to join the neo-Nazi movement and espousing his views on television. He rolled with neo-Nazi groups notorious for their violence.

"It changed everything in me," Meeink said. "I grew up a huge Philadelphia Flyers fan, a huge Philadelphia Eagles fan. I could tell you who their draft picks were up until 1988. After 1988, until 1994, I can't tell you who was on the team. This became my life."


One Christmas Eve, Meeink and an accomplice kidnapped a rival skinhead at gunpoint in Springfield, Illinois and spent the evening beating him – all while recording it on videotape. The victim informed the police and, soon enough, Meeink was serving three years in an adult correctional facility.

But that experience provided the seeds for change.
During prison recess, Meeink began playing football with a group of black inmates who welcomed him into their crowd – despite his swastika tattoo.

"Right now, one of their guys is in the White House. They feel empowered by this, definitely." – Frank Meeink

"They let me be a kickoff returner on the first play," Meeink said. "I knew no one was going to block for me. I ran that ball back for a touchdown. After that, they let me play."

And bonds began to form.

"After we were done playing sports with the guys, you talk," Meeink said. "You talk about home life. You talk about girls. I just enjoyed my time with them. ... They were city kids like me."

Upon his prison release, Meeink initially returned to his neo-Nazi crowd in Philadelphia. But a number of experiences, including his time in prison, prompted him to leave.

A Jewish man in Fox Chase not only had given him a job as a furniture assemblyman, but he had treated Meeink with respect. He began cross-referencing his stereotypes with the realities he saw in his life.

But it was empathy that broke him, Meeink said. And it holds the power to do that to others, too.

Today, when he's talking to someone struggling to overcome his or her hateful ideology, that's the tool he uses.

"I can't say, 'Abracadabra,'" Meeink said. "I'm not the neo-Nazi whisperer here. I'm just a guy who can relate to a guy who has gone down that path."


For Meeink, the path to advocacy began with the Oklahoma City bombing, carried out by Timothy McVeigh and Terry Nichols in April 1995.

The explosion at the Alfred P. Murrah Federal Building killed 168 people. Afterward, investigators found excerpts of "The Turner Diaries" in McVeigh's getaway car. The novel, by neo-Nazi William Pierce, describes the bombing of the FBI headquarters with a homemade bomb.

"That whole event tore me up inside," Meeink said. "When I saw the pictures of that dead little girl in the firefighter's arms, it made me go from a guy in South Philly who was hiding from his past to an activist."

Meeink first went to the FBI – not because he had anything to report, but because he knew they would understand his past. The FBI pointed him to the Anti-Defamation League, which kickstarted the speaking engagements he has continued to this day.

"You can't just not do bad s*** and think you should get a cookie for that," Meeink said. "I started thinking, 'I'm always going to do something positive.'"

Meeink partnered with the Flyers to launch Hockey Through Harmony, a hate prevention program, and later developed a similar program in Des Moines, Iowa, where he now lives.

He also helped launch Life After Hate, where he speaks with people grappling with the same hatred he once fostered.


White supremacist groups have gained headlines across the United States during the last year, most prominently during a rally in Charlottesville that left three people dead, including Heather Heyer, who was killed when a car crashed into a crowd of protesters.

Meeink is blunt when addressing the state of white supremacy in America.

"Right now, one of their guys is in the White House," Meeink said. "They feel empowered by this, definitely. "

White supremacist groups also surged after Barack Obama was elected president in 2008, Meeink said. But they lost their momentum when Obama didn't take the myriad actions white supremacists claimed he would. But Trump's campaign awakened them.

Now, many white supremacists groups are identifying as "Alt-Right," an uber-form of conservatism.

"They always have to rebrand themselves from the groups that are before them, because they did really bad s***," Meeink said. "These guys have to change the script a little bit. They have to say, 'We're not the same guys.'

"They're fearful, scared males. It's the same group."

That fear prompts them to resort to violence, as seen in Charlottesville, Meeink said.

"Because you're full of fear, that's what happens," Meeink said. "They lash out violently. What else are you going to get out of the situation?"

That's where Meeink preaches empathy.

Violence by leftist groups won't halt the hateful rhetoric spewed by white supremacists, Meeink said. Nor will accusations.

Instead, Meeink said, it takes someone to show them the love and empathy they seek. And it helps when it comes from someone like him, who once shared the same identity.

"I'm going to tell them why they believe that way," Meeink said. "Here's the truth to that. Or here's the turning point."

It's what led him out of white supremacism. And he's convinced it's the best tool for leading others out, too.


Costa Rica 'cult' facing deportation, Canadian man safely leaves group

Eligio Bishop, left, is the leader of a group that has been called a cult. Alex Raposo, right, is a young man from Toronto who joined the group three weeks ago.
Eligio Bishop, left Alex Raposo, right
Group leader 'Nature Boy' says he was roughed up by police during arrest

Ryan Cooke

CBC News
October 19, 2017

An alleged cult in Costa Rica may have met its end, after local police detained the group following a traffic stop and held 11 of them for deportation.

The group, dubbed Melanation by its leader Eligio Bishop, has a large online following and follows a back-to-nature philosophy promoted through social media.

Who is Natureboy? 'Cult' leader says Kayla Reid can leave at any time

Corner Brook woman in Costa Rican 'cult', says family pleading for her return

Most of the members were living in Costa Rica illegally, according to Alex Raposo, a Toronto man who joined the group three weeks ago.

"Everything on the car was expired — all the paperwork, the licence plate. So [police] impounded the vehicle," Raposo said. "Along with that, I think six people had expired passports. They overstayed in the country for a long time."

Bishop is among the members who say they are being deported. Raposo has a valid travel visa and was released soon after being detained.

Known to his followers as Nature Boy, Bishop made news last March when a 21-year-old woman from Newfoundland and Labrador quietly left home to join him.
Kayla Reid was listed as a missing person by the Royal Newfoundland Constabulary, until she showed up in a live stream on Facebook from Costa Rica.

Her mother expressed concerns to CBC News, saying Bishop had taken advantage of her daughter's mental illness and that her daughter had joined a cult.

On March 20, Bishop told CBC News that Reid was free to go at any time. He did not deny being a cult leader, but said he also believes all countries and corporations are cults.

The next day, he gave Reid a plane ticket to Florida, where a family member picked her up and brought her home.

While Reid expressed a desire to go back to the group, Raposo said he wants nothing to do with Eligio Bishop anymore.

"He wants to be the big man who stood up for something," Raposo said. "He wants to live free without a passport in nature. But you can't do that."

Detention turns rocky, police get rough
The group was detained near Puerto Limón, the sixth-largest city in Costa Rica, after being stopped at a police checkpoint.

When it was discovered they were in the country illegally, the group members were told to wait for a bus to come and take them to see immigration officials, Raposo said.

When the bus took them to the police station, Bishop told the group to stay put.

A video shows police trying to forcibly remove them from the bus. Bishop is heard repeating "I love you" to an officer as he attempted to pull him out of his seat.
In subsequent videos, some members of the group said they were charged with resisting arrest. Bishop and one other man showed off cuts and bruises to followers during a Facebook live from the police station.

Raposo was allowed to leave the entire time, but felt obligated to stay with the group he considered his family.

Seeing things from different light

Raposo said he now sees the struggle as being futile, but at the time he felt he had to follow Bishop's commands.

After a few days away from the group, Raposo said he feels "awakened."

"[Bishop] created a situation out of nothing," Raposo said of the detaining.

Some members of the group say they were charged with resisting arrest following a traffic stop near Puerto Limon on Oct. 14. (Eligio Bishop/Facebook)

"Just because you're against the system and you don't like paperwork, doesn't mean you can do what he did."

No traveller from North America is permitted to stay longer than 90 days in Costa Rica without a visa.

Raposo said he now feels differently about the man he once revered as Nature Boy.

"He's just manipulative. He knows how to use his words very well ... I'm not going to say he controlled me, but it's just I fell for it."

Travelled to Costa Rica to change lifestyle

Displeased with life in Toronto, Raposo became one of the nearly 37,000 people following Bishop on YouTube and Facebook.

A strong believer in a lifestyle closer to nature, Raposo went to Costa Rica and joined Melanation.

Three people close to Raposo reached out to CBC News before he left and expressed concerns he was joining a cult.

Two former members of the group have said they were asked to turn over their cash upon joining the group, and said Bishop gets donations from his followers online.

'Making a change is not going against a system that is still here.' - Alex Raposo

One member, who left the group last winter, accused Bishop of manipulating his followers into staying with him, adding he is motivated by controlling people's lives.

The former member also labelled the group as a cult.

Raposo said he does not feel like he joined a cult, but did feel manipulated and misled by Bishop before moving to Costa Rica. Upon arriving at the group's headquarters, he realized they were not living a back-to-nature lifestyle at all.

"[Bishop] was still paying rent for a house," Raposo said. "He was still buying materialistic things."

Alex Raposo says he now feels 'awakened,' and despite wanting to continue living a life away from the modern world, he says he will also do it away from Eligio Bishop. (Alex Raposo/Facebook)

Still, the former personal trainer said he has no regrets and was thankful for Bishop encouraging him to leave a modern lifestyle behind.

Raposo said he will stay in Costa Rica for now, and keep pursuing a life closer to nature — but he will do it legally.

"I just want to send a message of peace and love," he said.

"It's time to make a change ourselves. But making a change is not going against a system that is still here, because you pay consequences for it if you try to be a smartass."


Melbourne base of US religious cult sells for $9.5 million

The Institute in Basic Life Principles
THE Australian base of a US religious cult — whose founder quit amid a wave of allegations of sexual assault — has sold for $3.5 million more than its quoted price on Melbourne’s fringe.

Scott Carbines
Herald Sun
OCTOBER 20, 2017

THE Australian base of a US religious cult — whose founder quit amid a wave of allegations of sexual assault — has sold for $9.5 million on Melbourne’s fringe.

The Institute in Basic Life Principles’ 3.36ha “Yarra training ­facility” at 111 Mangans Rd, Lilydale, was on the market for $6 million.

The IBLP has run its home school program and seminars from the property, which features on-site houses, apartment complexes, conference centres and a commercial kitchen.

IBLP Australian director Robin Harrison said he believed developer Westrock had purchased the site to turn into housing lots.

“We were sort of driven out really by the cost of utilities,” he said.

“Mainly electricity got beyond the capacity of the families to support, so we’re looking around for another home for the institute ... the electricity bill just doubled in one year. It was $7000 a month just for electricity, so that’s what tipped it over. It’s a pity to lose the open spaces.”

Mr Harrison said the group would be looking for a new base in the local area and would vacate its Mangans Rd home of 17 years mid 2018.

Westrock director John Delaney would not comment to the Herald Sun on whether it had purchased the site, adding “we’re private people.”

A mix of developers, retirement village operators and church or not-for-profit organisations had shown interest in the site, according to MBA Multisell director Mike Brown.

But Mr Brown would not take a call from the Herald Sun about the sale.

The IBLP claims millions have ­attended its seminars since it was founded by Bill Gothard in 1961.

The group states its purpose is to provide instruction on how to “succeed in life” by following principles found in Scripture — but it has been marred by serious allegations in the US of sexual harassment and abuse as well as cover-ups.

The IBLP incorporates several “programs”, including its advanced training institute, which has a branch at the Lilydale property.

That is a Bible-based homeschooling program whose most notorious alumni are the stars of canned US reality TV show 19 Kids and Counting.

The show was engulfed by scandal in 2015 after the eldest son admitted sexually abusing girls, including several of his sisters.

He is believed to have attended a IBLP-run facility after admitting the abuse.

Mr Gothard resigned in 2014 after more than 30 women made sexual harassment and molestation claims against him.

A lawsuit against him and the cult was launched by ex-members last year alleging physical and sexual abuse.

He has denied all the claims.

The lawsuit alleges that IBLP is liquidating its assets and calls for a trust to be established to ensure alleged victims can be compensated.

The controversial founder is listed as a seminar instructor on the IBLP Australia website.

Marketed as a “developer’s dream,” the 3.36ha Lilydale property includes training areas, two 24-bedroom apartment complexes, two four-bedroom “American-style” homes and one three-bedroom “manager’s home”.

It also features three large office complexes, one large conference centre, two smaller conference rooms and a commercial kitchen with seating for more than 100 people.

The IBLP Australia website advertises seminars at the Lilydale property until January 2018.


Originally published as US cult’s Melbourne base sells for $9.5m


In 2,500 words on abusive psycho-spiritual group, New York Times buries crucial four-letter word

Mark Kellner
October 20, 2017

Anyone who has followed the history of new religious movements in the United States and elsewhere knows that, since the 1970s, the word "cult" is one four-letter word newspapers have often been loath to apply to controversial groups.

That wasn't the case before and after the 1978 Jonestown massacre, when newspapers saw cults under almost every rock.

But now, there's a great reticence at using this particular four-letter word in many news organizations. What, however, can a newspaper do when a group really and truly has the markings of a, well, cult, at the level of sociology and human behavior? Do you use the word or bury it?

For an answer, consider this front-page story from The New York Times, which reports on what can easily be considered a psycho-spiritual group, called NXIVM (pronounced neks-ee-um). In some cases, this organization literally leaves its mark on adherents, according to the story, headlined "Inside a Secretive Group Where Women Are Branded."

Read this longish excerpt to understand the scene being set:

ALBANY -- Last March, five women gathered in a home near here to enter a secret sisterhood they were told was created to empower women.

To gain admission, they were required to give their recruiter – or “master,” as she was called – naked photographs or other compromising material and were warned that such “collateral” might be publicly released if the group’s existence were disclosed.

The women, in their 30s and 40s, belonged to a self-help organization called Nxivm, which is based in Albany and has chapters across the country, Canada and Mexico.

Sarah Edmondson, one of the participants, said she had been told she would get a small tattoo as part of the initiation. But she was not prepared for what came next.

Each woman was told to undress and lie on a massage table, while three others restrained her legs and shoulders. According to one of them, their “master,” a top Nxivm official named Lauren Salzman, instructed them to say: “Master, please brand me, it would be an honor.”

A female doctor proceeded to use a cauterizing device to sear a two-inch-square symbol below each woman’s hip, a procedure that took 20 to 30 minutes. For hours, muffled screams and the smell of burning tissue filled the room.

Now, this excerpt contains the first 210 words of a 2,500-word story. That larger number is a huge total word count by today's newspaper standards. As readers of the entire piece will find, the story goes into agonizing detail about the secrecy and rituals of this group, not to mention the concerns of family members – including "Dynasty" actress Catherine Oxenberg, whose daughter, India, was caught up in NXIVM – over everything that goes on.

Read the whole story. And see if the description doesn't scream "cult."

So where do we find that designation? In the absolute last sentence of the piece, and uttered by the "branding" victim whose anecdote led things off:

Ms. Edmondson and other former followers of [NXIVM founder and leader Keith] Raniere said they were focusing on recovering.

“There is no playbook for leaving a cult,” she said.

(Actually, if author Steven Hassan, a former Unification Church member, is to be believed, his 2015 book "Combatting Cult Mind Control" is such a playbook. But I digress.)

Why didn't The New York Times call NXIVM a cult or consult an expert in such matters for background?

Well, to be fair, they didn't use the word in obituaries for Unification Church founder the Rev. Sun Myung Moon, rogue Hare Krishna leader Swami Bhaktipada, or Church of Scientology founder L. Ron Hubbard. All three groups gained prominence in the 1970s and all three have been labeled "cults" by critics, either for doctrinal reasons, sociological reasons or both.

NXIVM seems more psychological than spiritual, but there were spiritual elements, it seems:

In March, Ms. Edmondson arrived for an initiation ceremony at Ms. Salzman’s home in Clifton Park, N.Y., a town about 20 miles north of Albany where Mr. Raniere and some followers live. After undressing, she was led to a candlelit ceremony, where she removed a blindfold and saw Ms. Salzman’s other slaves for the first time. The women were then driven to a nearby house, where the branding took place.

Other media have given more prominence to the "cult" claim. In 2012, the Albany Times-Union ran an investigative series, "Secrets of NXIVM," which used the word in a sub-headline, with the text going further:

At least one cult expert said Raniere directs one of the most extreme cults he has ever studied and has likened Raniere to David Koresh, who most Americans link with images of a burning cult compound packed with women and children. Raniere has denied that NXIVM is a cult.

Earlier, in 2003, Forbes magazine called NXIVM a "Cult of Personality," quoting billionaire Edgar Bronfman, Sr.'s assessment:

But some people see a darker and more manipulative side to Keith Raniere. Detractors say he runs a cult-like program aimed at breaking down his subjects psychologically, separating them from their families and inducting them into a bizarre world of messianic pretensions, idiosyncratic language and ritualistic practices. “I think it’s a cult,” says Bronfman. Though he once took a course and endorsed the program, he hasn’t talked to his daughters in months and has grown troubled over the long hours and emotional and financial investment they have been devoting to Raniere’s group. One daughter, Clare, 24, has lent the program $2 million, at 2.5% interest, the senior Bronfman says (she denies this).

In 2014, NXIVM sued some journalists – including a Times-Union reporter – over allegations the writers "hacked" into organizational computers to steal secret information. According to The Nation magazine, the suit cast a pall at the time. But in 2015 a judge tossed the lawsuit.

As I said, there's plenty of skittishness about using the word "cult" in news stories about religious or spiritual communities, but there are perhaps times when the label is deserved. Church historians, sociologists and others debate definitions of this term and much can be learned by paying attention to their discussions.

This might have been one of the times to use the word "cult" and then discuss it. If editors at The New York Times thought the word "cult" was suitable for what was very much the final quoted word in the story, then perhaps it could have been used – and explained – higher up.


Oct 20, 2017

TAJIKISTAN: One more prisoner of conscience

Mushfig Bayram
Forum 18
October 20, 2017

Jehovah's Witness conscientious objector to military service Daniil Islamov has been jailed for six months. And the government has imposed highly intrusive Mourning Regulations ordering among other things: "Crying while grieving for the dead is allowed. But crying and wailing loudly .. is forbidden".

Eighteen-year-old Jehovah's Witness conscientious objector to military service Daniil Islamov was on 13 October sentenced to six months jail, Jehovah’s Witnesses who wished to remain anonymous for fear of state reprisals told Forum 18. Prisoner of conscience Islamov is the first conscientious objector to have been jailed, and his lawyer is preparing to appeal against the sentnce (see below)

Protestant prisoner of conscience Pastor Bakhrom Kholmatov has been moved to a prison about 360 kilometres (about 220 miles) away from his home, and has been placed in solitary confinement. "We do not know when exactly he was put in solitary confinement and when he will be moved to his general regime prison", Protestants who wished to remain anonymous for fear of state reprisals told Forum 18 (see below).

The State Committee for Religious Affairs and Regulation of Traditions, Ceremonies and Rituals (SCRA) and the state-controlled Council of Ulems have issued Mourning Regulations imposing a procedure that all ceremonies mourning dead Muslim people and the expression of condolences on this loss must follow. Amongst their highly intrusive regulations is: "Crying while grieving for the dead is allowed. But crying and wailing loudly .. is forbidden" (see below)

Asked by Forum 18 if the Mourning Regulations were not both a violation of people’s fundamental freedoms, as well as state interference in peoples’ very personal emotional matters, Abdurakhmon Mavlanov of the SCRA replied: "I wonder why somebody in Canada should be interested or concerned for religious issues in Tajikistan." He then refused to speak further with Forum 18 (see below).

And three actors have been given police permission to wear beards in plays (see below).

A Tajik human rights defender who wished to remain anonymous for fear of state reprisals told Forum 18 on 20 October that the "authorities are radicalising Muslims by such actions", noting that "when the authorities attack the hijab and women, local Muslims begin sympathising with the radicals". They also commented that: "This is stupidity! Instead of finding real terrorists they punish innocent people" (see below).

Conscientious objector prisoner of conscience jailed

Eighteen-year-old Jehovah's Witness conscientious objector Daniil Islamov was on 13 October sentenced to six months jail. Judge Alisher Rafikozda, Chair of Qurghonteppa Military Court in the southern Khatlon Region, sentenced prisoner of conscience Islamov under the Criminal Code’s Article 376 Part 1 ("Evasion by an enlisted serviceman of fulfilment of military service obligations by way of inflicting on oneself injury (self-mutilation) or evasion by simulation of sickness or by other deception"), Jehovah’s Witnesses who wished to remain anonymous for fear of state reprisals told Forum 18 on 18 October.

The Jehovah’s Witnesses have been banned in Tajikistan since 2007, military comments at the time suggesting that the ban might possibly be linked to this pacifist community's conscientious objection to compulsory military service. Since 2007 Jehovah’s Witnesses have endured raids on their meetings, prosecutions uing police agent provacteurs and torture whil exercising their internationally-recognised right to freedom of religuon and belief (see Forum 18's Tajikistan religious freedom survey http://www.forum18.org/archive.php?article_id=2138). Prisoner of conscience Islamov is the first conscientious objector to have been jailed.

Prisoner of conscience Islamov was forcibly conscripted in April 2017, despite heath problems preventing him doing military service even if he wanted to do it, and has since April been detained in a military unit (see F18News 31 August 2017 http://www.forum18.org/archive.php?article_id=2312).

In May 2013 the United Nations (UN) Human Rights Committee in its Concluding Observations on Tajikistan (CCPR/C/TJK/CO/2) "reiterates its previous concern (CCPR/CO/84/TJK, para. 20) about the State party’s lack of recognition of the right to conscientious objection to compulsory military service, and at the absence of alternatives to military service (art. 18)". It stated that Tajikstyan should "take necessary measures to ensure that the law recognizes the right of individuals to exercise conscientious objection to compulsory military service, and establish, if it so wishes, non-punitive alternatives to military service" (see F18News 31 August 2017 http://www.forum18.org/archive.php?article_id=2312).

Immediately after the court hearing, prisoner of conscience Islamov was taken to a temporary detention prison in the south-western town of Kurganteppa [Qurghonteppa] where is still being held. Where he will be taken for the rest of his jail term is unclear. Prisoner of conscience Islamov’s lawyer is preparing an appeal against the sentence.

Court officials claimed that Judge Rafikzoda was "not available to talk" and his phone was not answered on 18 October. His assistant Izzatullozoda (who would not give his first name) told Forum 18 the prisoner of conscience Islamov will serve his sentence in a general regime prison. He refused to further discuss the case or Tajikistan’s binding legal human rights obligations in international law with Forum 18, claiming that he does not know the case well.

Protestant prisoner of conscience moved further from family, put in solitary confinement

Prisoner of conscience Pastor Bakhrom Kholmatov has been moved to Yavan Prison in the southern Khatlon Region, which is about 360 kilometres (about 220 miles) from Khujand in the northern Sogd Region where Pastor Kholmatov and his family live, Protestants who asked not to be named for fear of state reprisals told Forum 18 on 16 October. While on trial and while his appeal was heard (which he lost) he had been held 80 kms (50 miles) from his home (see F18News 31 August 2017 http://www.forum18.org/archive.php?article_id=2312).

Prisoner of conscience Pastor Kholmatov was jailed for three years for allegedly "singing extremist songs in church and so inciting ‘religious hatred’". The government threatened family members, friends, and church members with reprisals if they reveal any details of the case, trial, or jailing (see F18News 30 July 2017 http://forum18.org/archive.php?article_id=2298). The National Security Committee (NSC) secret police arrested Pastor Kholmatov on 10 April after they raided his Sunmin Sunbogym (Full Gospel) Protestant Church in Khujand, and harassed and physically tortured with beatings its members (see F18News 28 April 2017 http://www.forum18.org/archive.php?article_id=2276).

Prisoner of conscience Kholmatov has been placed in solitary confinement in Yavan Prison, the authorities claiming that this is in accordance with the normal procedure in the Code on Execution of Punishments. Article 77 Part 2 states that convicts are placed in solitary confinement for 15 days before being relased into the main prison. "We do not know when exactly he was put in solitary confinement and when he will be moved to his general regime prison" Protestants said. "He will be allowed to receive parcels and visits from his family", and they also said he has his Bible with him and is allowed to read it.

Prisoner of conscience Kholmatov’s address is:

Ispravitelno-Trudovaya Koloniya, yas. 3/6
6th otryad
Bakhromu Khasanovichu Kholmatovu

State regulations for mourning the dead

The State Committee for Religious Affairs and Regulation of Traditions, Ceremonies and Rituals (SCRA) and the state-controlled Council of Ulems (which controls all permitted public expressions of Islam) have issued Mourning Regulations imposing a procedure that all ceremonies mourning dead Muslim people and the expression of condolences on this loss must follow.

The imposition of Mourning Regulations was announced in September 2017 changes to the Traditions Law, which at the same time saw teachers being banned from attending mosques on the Islamic festival Id al-Adha. They and children were forced to attend school, even though the state declared it a holiday. Officials also banned haj pilgrimage returnees from holding celebratory meals (see F18News 12 September 2017 http://forum18.org/archive.php?article_id=2315). The only expressions of Islam allowed are Sunni Hanafi (see Forum 18's Tajikistan religious freedom survey http://www.forum18.org/archive.php?article_id=2138).

Independent Tajik news agency Asiaplus reported on 18 October that the authorities had issued 500,000 copies of the Mourning Regulations.

"Crying while grieving for the dead is allowed"..

Amongst the Mourning Regulations are orders that:

- Payment of fees for the work of grave-diggers must be made in the presence of an authorised state official;

- Crying while grieving for the dead is allowed. But crying and wailing loudly, casting earth onto one’s head, tearing hair out, scratching ones face [all traditional Tajik customs] are forbidden;

- Only very close relatives and children of the deceased can stay in the same house with the deceased overnight. Close relatives can only publicly mourn for three days;

- Wearing black clothes during mourning is banned;

- Using microphones to amplify prayers during burial is banned;

- After the burial it is "not recommended" to stay in the house of the deceased for many hours.

"I wonder why somebody in Canada should be interested.."

Abdurakhmon Mavlanov of the SCRA in Dushanbe refused to comment on 19 October, when asked by Forum 18 if the Mourning Regulations were not both a violation of people’s fundamental freedoms, as well as state interference in peoples’ very personal emotional matters. "I cannot comment", he said.

When Forum 18 repeated the question, he replied: "I wonder why somebody in Canada should be interested or concerned for religious issues in Tajikistan." He then refused to speak further with Forum 18.

A Tajik human rights defender who wished to remain anonymous for fear of state reprisals told Forum 18 on 20 October that the "authorities are radicalising Muslims by such actions". They noted that "the authorities say that they are for national values, but these regulations are actually getting rid of Tajik traditions which have existed for centuries". They also commented that: "This is stupidity! Instead of finding real terrorists they punish innocent people".

"Total control of Muslim activity"

The state has particularly sought to control and restrict all Muslims who exercise their freedom of religion and belief (see Forum 18's Tajikistan religious freedom survey http://www.forum18.org/archive.php?article_id=2138). Mosque demolitions, surveillance cameras, metal detectors, a ban on state employees at Friday prayers, youth activists to prevent prayers not in Hanafi or Ismaili tradition have all been part of the state’s increasing moves to "establish total control of Muslim activity", human rights defenders have told Forum 18 (see F18News 6 May 2016 http://www.forum18.org/archive.php?article_id=2175).

Actors given police permission to wear beards in plays

Commenting on the authorities’ campaign against women wearing the hijab and men wearing beards, the human rights defender noted that a radical group is using the slogan "Wives and mothers protect your honour", and that "when the authorities attack the hijab and women, local Muslims begin sympathising with the radicals".

President Emomali Rahmon has been attacking women wearing the hijab as well as men wearing beards from at least March 2015. About the same time, police began forcibly shaving bearded Muslim men throughout the country (see Forum's Tajikistan religious freedom survey http://www.forum18.org/archive.php?article_id=2138). In Spring 2017 officials launched a massive renewed campaign against women wearing the hijab (Islamic headscarf). Victims and human rights defenders complain that women have been questioned, threatened and fined, as have some husbands. Some have lost their jobs or been forced to leave school (see F18News 2 August 2017 http://www.forum18.org/archive.php?article_id=2301).

The campaign against hijab wearing women and beard-wearing men continues. Police in the northern city of Konibodom in Sogd Region have given written permission to three actors to wear beards, Radio Free Europe reported on 13 October. Khushnudi Dado, Farrukh Vaitov and Farkhod Tukhtashov of the Musical-Drama Theatre were all permitted to wear beards while performing in the ballet Death of a Usurer. The actors were given permission after police on 7 October stopped and questioned them in a street.

Mavlanov of the SCRA told Forum 18 that the SCRA does not give such permission. "We do not give such permission, but in Sogd Region the police gave this permission", he said.

Interior Ministry Press Secretary Umarjon Emomali Umarjon Emomali on 20 October told Forum 18 that: "I don’t know who made this news [about the actors’ beards]". Asked why men are pressured not to wear beards, he replied: "We want to be a developed country, we don’t want visiting guests to have the wrong impression of us as untidy people". Asked what this has to do with being a developed country, he replied that "we are not against beards but they need to look more cultured and well-groomed".

He denied that the state forcing men not to wear beards and women not to wear hijabs violated their fundamental freedoms. (END)

More coverage of freedom of thought, conscience and belief in Tajikistan is at http://www.forum18.org/Archive.php?query=&religion=all&country=31.

For more background see Forum 18's Tajikistan religious freedom survey at http://www.forum18.org/Archive.php?article_id=2138.

A compilation of Organisation for Security and Co-operation in Europe (OSCE) freedom of religion or belief commitments can be found at http://www.forum18.org/Archive.php?article_id=1351.

A printer-friendly map of Tajikistan is available at http://nationalgeographic.org/education/mapping/outline-map/?map=Tajikistan.

Twitter: @Forum_18
Follow us on Facebook: @Forum18NewsService

All Forum 18 material may be referred to, quoted from, or republished in full, if Forum 18 <www.forum18.org> is credited as the source.


Oct 19, 2017

Glenn Close says growing up in a cult motivated her to be a better parent

Glenn Close
Fox News
October 19, 2017

Before Glenn Close became a Hollywood star, she was a member of a religious cult known as the Moral Re-Armament (MRA). But the 70-year-old insisted her traumatic childhood has helped her become a better parent to 29-year-old Annie Maude Starke.

“You’re totally pulled up from what your roots were, what you love and your family is pulled apart,” Close recalled to Closer Weekly Thursday. “It was very destructive.”

Close said her controversial past has made her determined to give her daughter a stable and loving upbringing.

“She’s wonderful and makes me incredibly proud,” explained Close. “I’m also proud that I have a great friendship with her father [producer John H. Starke], and when she turned seven she was living in the same house that she was taken home to when she was born, and we still have that house.”

Back in 2014, Close told The Hollywood Reporter she was just 7-years-old when her father, a Harvard-educated doctor, joined MRA, a group founded during the late 1930s. The publication added it was led by Rev. Frank Buchman, who was recognized as a “violently anti-intellectual and possibly homophobic evangelical fundamentalist.”

“You basically weren’t allowed to do anything, or you were made to feel guilty about any unnatural desire,” said Close at the time. “If you talk to anybody who was in a group that basically dictates how you’re supposed to live and what you’re supposed to say and how you’re supposed to feel, from the time you’re 7 till the time you’re 22, it has a profound impact on you. It’s something you have to [consciously overcome] because all of your trigger points are [wrong].”

Close wouldn’t reveal how she manage to leave MRA at age 22, but she did share how her memories impacted her over the years.

“I would have dreams because I didn’t go to any psychiatrist or anything,” she said. “I had these dreams, and they started with betrayal, a sense of betrayal, and then they developed into me being able to look at these people and say, ‘You’re wrong. You’re wrong.’ And then the final incarnation of those dreams was my being able to calmly get up and walk away. And then I didn’t have them anymore.”


Hungary: Police search Scientology center in Budapest

Associated Press
October 18, 2017

BUDAPEST, Hungary –  Hungarian police say they are carrying out a search at a Church of Scientology center in Budapest.

Police said the search by members of the National Investigation Bureau is related to an investigation into the suspected misuse of personal information and other crimes, but will not be releasing more information because the inquiry was ongoing.

Online publication riposzt.hu said over 50 police officers surrounded the church's Budapest headquarters on one of the Hungarian capital's busiest roads early Wednesday.

The Church of Scientology is not among the 32 churches officially recognized by Hungary since a widely disputed law on churches and religious matters went into force in 2012.

The church did not immediately reply to a request for comment.


Oct 17, 2017

Netflix's One of Us Reveals the Fight of Hasidic Jews to Break From the Sect

One of Us, the new documentary from Jesus Camp filmmakers Heidi Ewing and Rachel Grady, is a nuanced and moving illustration of the dilemma facing doubting members of the growing Hasidic community in New York City.
L.A. Weekly
OCTOBER 16, 2017

One of Us premieres Oct. 20 on Netflix

New Yorkers will immediately recognize the opening shots of One of Us, the new documentary from Jesus Camp filmmakers Heidi Ewing and Rachel Grady: ultra-Orthodox Jewish families roaming the big city, the women and girls in skirts and tights, the men and boys in long black coats and hats, looking as if the cast of Fiddler on the Roof broke for lunch and forgot to change into their street clothes. The film is a nuanced and moving illustration of the dilemma facing doubting members of the growing Hasidic community in New York City, home to the world’s largest population of Jews outside of Israel.
One of Us offers a rare peek into the insular world of ultra-Orthodox Jews through the eyes of three young adults who are struggling to leave it behind. Etty, in her early 30s, has seven children and an abusive husband whom she’s trying to divorce. Stalked and harassed by male friends of her husband, who was removed from her home by the police, she faces a custody battle in which her own parents and siblings are testifying against her. We meet the brooding 18-year-old Ari in a barbershop, having his sidelocks, or payot, shaved off; he began asking questions as a teenager and found he couldn’t stop. Wikipedia, he says, “was a gift from God” — which is ironic, considering that he was taught to believe that his God forbids internet access. Finally, we meet Luzer, an energetic, wiry man in his early 30s who left his wife and young children eight years earlier to pursue an acting career in Los Angeles, where he lives in an RV and drives for Uber.

The theme of religious indoctrination echoes the Oscar-nominated Jesus Camp, released in 2006, which centered on an evangelical Christian summer camp in North Dakota. But that documentary had a wider, and somewhat more sensational, purview, with a focus on the spectacle of the fervent young campers speaking in tongues and the potential political impact of a generation of children tasked with “tak(ing) back America for Christ.” One of Us is both more somber and more intimate, concentrating on a handful of individual lives and only briefly touching on the issue of political mobilization of religious groups.

Ewing and Grady spent three years with their subjects, and the filmmakers reveal the details of this trio’s stories slowly. Their subjects are often partly obscured by shadows or visible only in the blurry reflection of a subway window, a fitting approach for a film about a group of people hiding in plain sight — conspicuous and yet somewhat ethereal. “I’m invisible,” Etty laments. These are portraits of isolation; like refugees, those who have left the Orthodox community are stuck between worlds, faced with the daunting prospect of learning how to live a normal life.

In many ways, One of Us is a story of technology seeping, inevitably, into an insular Old World culture. In one scene, a bearded man reprovingly asks Ari, sitting with his laptop at a Williamsburg playground, if the park has free Wi-Fi; Ari responds that there’s not much you can do in 2015 to block people from accessing it. Luzer describes his early, furtive dalliances with the outside world, when he’d rent movies like Crossroads from Blockbuster and watch them in his car.

Although the focus remains squarely on its three subjects, One of Us effectively contextualizes this strange, backward community thriving in the middle of one of the most multicultural cities in the world. New York’s Hasidic community grew out of a post-Holocaust anxiety about the future of the Jewish people; Chani Getter, a counselor with the support group Footsteps, for former ultra-Orthodox Jews, explains that the Eastern European Jews who survived the Holocaust believed the only way to rebuild the Orthodox way of life in the wake of World War II was to make it stringent and insular.

And so a diaspora that has disproportionately contributed to the development of what we think of as post-war modernity gave birth to this fundamentalist, and fast-growing, group. Like post-Occupation Israel, this measure that once was a method of a people’s survival has morphed into something that’s too often ugly and authoritarian, another wedge driven between two opposing strands of the larger Jewish community. “Judaism has wanted a lot from me,” Ari reflects. He and Etty and Luzer aren’t out to destroy this way of life; they are still deeply connected to Judaism, a religion that, ironically, encourages questioning. As Luzer remarks, they’re searching for something that religion — and religion alone — was supposed to provide: “Purpose and meaning.”


Why are Scientologists setting up a European hub in Ireland?

David Miscavige, who heads the Church of Scientology, is expected to be in Dublin on Saturday to open the organisation’s new premises. Photograph: AFP/Getty Images
David Miscavige
Centre opening in country with only 87 Church of Scientology members
Mario Danneels
Irish Times
October 13, 2017

One year after launching a “National Affairs Office” on Merrion Square, the Church of Scientology is opening an “Ideal Org”, not dissimilar to a mother church, in the Dublin suburb of Firhouse.

The organisation is turning Ireland into a European hub, and a former high-ranking member believes that Scientology’s operations here might gain even more significance as pressure mounts in the United States.

There was a flurry of activity at the former Victory Centre on the Firhouse Road on Thursday evening. Scientologists were building a stage alongside a big screen for Saturday’s grand opening of their church’s latest Ideal Org.

Any visitors walking towards the gate prompted security guards to block the view, while a UK-registered car slowly crawled up and down the road.

Meanwhile, ex-Scientologist John McGhee was dropping hundreds of leaflets inviting local residents to attend Saturday afternoon’s protest against his former religion’s increasing presence in Ireland. McGhee was greeted with enthusiasm and curiosity by the customers of a nearby pub.

“We don’t want them here,” said a woman who took out her phone to share the protest page on Facebook. “That building should’ve been a school.”

Bar staff complained to McGhee that in recent weeks, foreign Scientologists had come to the business questioning why alcohol was being served early and why sports games were being shown on TV, while eavesdropping on conversations. One member of staff called their presence “intrusive” and said she had already barred a Scientologist from the pub.

Paul Preston, who is closing up the local butcher’s shop for the day, was more relaxed, however. “I haven’t really got a strong opinion about them. Hopefully they’ll bring some money into the community. It would be good if the building were open to the public though; it’s a huge place.”

Scientology was founded in 1953 by the American science-fiction writer L. Ron Hubbard. The US and Spain are among the countries that recognise it as a religion, while other governments have declared it a cult.

Ideal Orgs are a relatively recent phenomena, thought up in 2002 by David Miscavige, who succeeded Hubbard upon his death in 1986 and was best man to Tom Cruise, the organisation’s most famous devotee, at two of his weddings. Miscavige is expected to cut the ribbon in Firhouse on Saturday.

‘Billion-year contracts’

The philosophy behind the Ideal Orgs is “if you build it, they will come”, explains Chris Shelton, who grew up in Scientology and was heavily involved with the Ideal Org scheme in the US. For 17 years, Shelton was a member of the Sea Org, Scientology’s elite organisation whose members sign billion-year contracts dedicating multiple lifetimes to their religion. He left in 2013 and became an outspoken critic.

“The Ideal Org strategy has been a top priority for Miscavige for well over a decade now,” he tells The Irish Times. “The idea is that these orgs will be a living, breathing embodiment of Hubbard’s technology and policy. People will walk into them and won’t be able to help themselves but start doing Scientology. The AV displays, staff appearance and swankiness of the quarters will convince doubters that Scientology is the real deal.”

Census figures put the number of Scientologists in Ireland at a mere 87 but up to 250 members from around the world have recently moved into the country to operate the Firhouse premises. This is more than double the usual number of foreign support staff, says Shelton.

The Merrion Square premises is only the second National Affairs Office opened by the organisation internationally. The first one sprung up in Washington D.C. a year ago.

The reason for selecting Ireland as a base is unclear, given the low level of Irish membership, but it may be designed to create a tax haven for the Church of Scientology International in case the organisation was to lose its religious tax exemption status in the US.

Scientology has been under increasing scrutiny in the US. Defections from high-ranking members, and books and documentaries alleging brainwashing and emotional and physical abuse, are drawing unwelcome attention to the organisation.

Perhaps most damaging has been a TV series with actress Leah Remini who, like Shelton, grew up in Scientology. She left in 2013 after questioning the disappearance of Shelly Miscavige, the leader’s wife who vanished from public life over ten years ago.

Remini’s show gives a platform to former members, attracting two million viewers and winning an Emmy last month. Calls to have Scientology’s religious and tax exempt status revoked have been growing in the US.

Front groups

In response, the organisation is attempting to clean up its image through its front groups and community programmes. One of those, the Volunteer Ministers, has been visible helping out in the wake of the recent hurricanes in the US. In Ireland, the Way to Happiness has been organising clean-ups of Sheriff Street over the past year.

Critics claim these front groups are merely recruiting and propaganda tools for the organisation.

Fiona O’Leary is an autism advocate from Cork who in that capacity stumbled across the Citizens Commission on Human Rights (CCHR), a Scientology offshoot denouncing psychiatry, conventional mental health services and most prescription drugs. Over the past year CCHR has been handing out literature in front of medical practices in Dublin and sending out letters warning professionals of the “dangers” of psychiatry.

O’Leary says she made contact with the CCHR but the more she learnt about its core principles the more she became alarmed. She says she was told by the organisation that psychiatrists are “above the law” and “rape patients as a form of treatment”, that vaccines can cause autism in children, and that schizophrenia is “a symptom of an underlying physical issue”.

“They told me they were planning to work in the area of autism, and then out it came, all the quackery and the anti-vaccination stuff,” O’Leary says.

“This is why I’m so worried about this new building.”

Scientology’s front groups do operate from the Ideal Orgs, says Shelton. “In practice this hardly means anything because most of these Ideal Orgs are so introverted into their own problems, like paying their bills, that they don’t have the time or staff resources to do much running of these front groups. Just buying a new building and giving it a facelift does nothing to change how empty and struggling these orgs remain.”

The Church of Scientology did not respond to requests for comment.


Oct 16, 2017

Levitating Over The Church-State Wall?

Transcendental Meditation In Public Schools
Hollywood Celebrities, Ex-Beatles Join Forces To Push Transcendental Meditation In Public Schools

June 2009
By Rob Boston

Public school officials in Marin County, Calif., may have thought they were doing something non-controversial when they suggested starting a Transcendental Meditation (TM) club for students and teachers in 2006. Instead, they quickly learned they had stepped into a minefield.

Angry parents lined up to speak at school board meetings. Several threatened litigation. One agitated parent denounced TM as a “cult.”

Facing unrelenting public backlash, officials quickly dropped the idea of bringing TM to Terra Linda High School in San Rafael.

In Arizona, however, TM received a different reception. Officials at the Tucson Unified School District implemented the practice in several high schools and say there have been no complaints from parents. They insist the program has helped some students boost their academic performance.

Slowly but steadily, TM seems to be gaining a foothold in public schools across the country. The trend has alarmed some advocates of church-state separation, who point out that the practice is based in Hinduism and that the federal courts removed it from New Jersey public schools on church-state grounds in 1979.

This latest push for TM in public schools features a new wrinkle: It’s being backed by a formidable combination of star power and big bucks. Leading the charge is avant-garde filmmaker David Lynch, a committed TM devotee who claims the practice can lead to world peace. Backed by remaining Beatles Ringo Starr and Paul McCartney and other celebrities, Lynch has formed a foundation that is offering public schools generous cash grants to implement TM programs.

The David Lynch Foundation for Consciousness-Based Education and World Peace, based at the American headquarters of the TM movement in Fairfield, Iowa, is a multi-million dollar entity. It exists to “provide financial support for Consciousness-Based educational initiatives at public, private and charter schools…to specifically enable all students…to learn the Transcendental Meditation Program and its advanced techniques.”

TM advocates are fanning out across the country, promoting the program as the solution for everything from poor academic performance and fidgety kids to unruly student behavior and gang violence.

How many public schools have taken the bait?

It’s hard to say, due to the decentralized nature of the U.S. educational system. Reporting on the spread of TM last year, Newsweek said Lynch’s foundation has provided funding for more than 2,000 students at 21 schools and universities.

A search of several news databases by Americans United uncovered references to TM being taught in public schools (including charters) in San Francisco, Detroit, Washington, D.C., and Hartford.

That may be just a start.

Lynch, director of such offbeat films as “Blue Velvet,” “Wild at Heart” and “Mulholland Drive,” has grand ambitions and is targeting public schools nationwide. His followers have recently proposed TM programs in Elgin, Ill.; Worchester, Mass.; Providence, R.I.; and Lexington, Ky.

News accounts about the proposals often cite an April 4 event titled “Change Begins Within,” an all-star concert featuring Starr and McCartney at Radio City Music Hall in New York City. The music festival seems to have been the kickoff for a full-court TM press – with public schools as a big target.

A story in the Providence Journalnoted that Lynch has vowed to raise $20 million to bring TM to inner-city school children considered “at risk” nationwide and that a $625,000 grant has been offered to Providence schools. (A spokesperson for the Providence school system told the Journal she has seen no such proposal.)

Americans United is urging school officials to turn down the money, reminding educators that TM in the schools can spark litigation. In 1976, Americans United and other groups joined with Roman Catholic and Protestant parents to bring a lawsuit against the use of TM in five New Jersey public schools.

Funding for the New Jersey program came from what was then called the U.S. Department of Health, Education and Welfare and was pitched as an “experiment.”

A federal court struck down the TM classes in October of 1977, a decision that was affirmed by the 3rd U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in February of 1979.

Ruling in Malnak v. Yogi, the federal appeals court declared that TM is grounded in Hinduism. Students, the court pointed out, were assigned the name of a Hindu god to chant, and even went through a type of religious initiation ceremony called a puja.

During the puja, a TM teacher sits before a student and recites in Sanskrit a long list of Hindu deities, stating in part, “Guru in the glory of Brahma, Guru in the glory of Vishnu, Guru in the glory of the great Lord Shiva, Guru in the glory of the personified transcendental fullness of Brahman, to Him, to Shri Guru Dev adorned with glory, I bow down.”

Have things changed in 30 years? Has TM somehow become secularized?

Americans United says that’s not likely. The roots of TM remain religious. The movement came to America in 1959 through the efforts of Maharishi Mahesh Yogi, an Indian mystic whose popularity soared after he converted the Beatles in the late 1960s. (See “The TM Trip.”)

The Maharishi died in 2008 at age 91. He was living in semi-retirement in the Netherlands, but the movement he sparked now has a worldwide presence. Increasingly, TM adherents are seeking to ingratiate themselves with U.S. public schools and other government entities – an approach often duplicated in other countries.

TM officials have insisted all along that their movement is not religious, usually labeling it a type of science. In 1978, a TM attorney refused to concede that the group’s beliefs and practices are grounded in religion, calling TM a “true science.”

The 3rd Circuit Court didn’t buy it. TM practitioners, the court ruled, were attempting to “take a cow and put a sign on it that says ‘horse.’”

Today, TM’s Web site refers to it as “a technique,” an “experience” or a “process.” The site continues to link TM to science, calling it a series of “Maharishi Vedic Science programs.” The site steadfastly denies that TM is a religion.

But an academic who has studied TM believes differently.

J. Gordon Melton, a longtime scholar of religion and director of the California-based Institute for the Study of American Religion, says TM is firmly anchored in Hindu meditation.

“There is a specific way of doing Hindu meditation, and it’s supposed to accomplish certain altered states of consciousness,” Melton said. “It’s pretty much done in a religious context…. The religious practice is seen as basic.”

TM’s claims not to be a religion, Melton believes, are mainly a public relations ploy to make the practice more attractive to people – especially those who have been turned off by traditional dogmas.

“There is a certain group of people who want to do spiritual things but don’t want to be burdened, as they would call it, with religion,” Melton told Church & State. “They don’t want the religion they have left behind. Much of New Age religion is sold this way. People say, ‘We’re a spiritual teaching but not a religious teaching.’”

Melton, who frequently testifies in legal cases as to what constitutes a religion, said he believes courts would say TM fits the definition because it attempts to address what the philosopher Paul Tillich called the “ultimate concern” – questions such as why are we here and how are we to live.

What about TM’s claims to be a science?

Barry Markovsky, a University of South Carolina sociology professor, is skeptical of those. He points out that much of the research done about its alleged effectiveness does not stand up to scrutiny.

“They’re drawing conclusions about large-scale social effects of meditation using weak research designs and inappropriate statistics,” Markovsky said. “I don’t know anyone outside the TM organization who is qualified to assess the work and also believes it to be good science.”

Markovsky adds that the claims to be a science tend to be more common in the American branch of TM.

“This is sort of an American phenomenon, at least at the outset,” he said. “I think this was how they sought legitimacy in this country.”

In 2007, the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services commissioned a study on the effectiveness of a variety of meditation techniques, including TM. The report included a meta-analysis of various studies of meditation over several years. It concluded that most of these studies were of poor quality.

“Overall, we found the methodological quality of meditation research to be poor, with significant threats to validity in every major category of quality measured, regardless of study design,” asserted the report.

Aside from church-state concerns, TM has been criticized on other grounds.

Adult TM courses, for example, are not free. It costs $2,500 to learn the system. Many parents are wary of their children being drawn into a system through public school that will lead to more classes with expensive fees.

TM has also been scored for making hyperbolic, pseudo-scientific claims. Over the years, advocates have insisted that TM can reduce stress, lower the crime rate, bring down high blood pressure, lower the rate of disease, reverse the aging process, end gang violence, lower the number of auto accidents, reduce terrorism, assist people in finding jobs, stop inflation, help cardiac patients recover and foster world peace – among other things.

Last year, Lynch told reporters he hoped to bring TM to Rio de Janeiro, a large Brazilian city plagued by a high rate of violent crime. He vowed that TM “would end the stress among youths and free the country of violence.”

In 2007, Lynch said TM could bring peace to the Middle East. According to Lynch’s calculations, Israel would need 268 trained meditators – reportedly the square root of 1 percent of the population – to generate peace. He reiterated the scheme at a press conference last month in New York.

“I’m not going to back off until they get a peace-creating group. Tell them!,” Lynch snapped at a reporter from the Jerusalem Post.

(Despite the hype, TM advocates have a spotty record in this area. In the summer of 1993, a band of TM devotees promised to reduce crime in Washington, D.C., by meditating for eight weeks. Crime did not drop overall, and although the murder rate reached a record high, the TM advocates claimed success anyway. It was later revealed that an “independent scientific review board” was stacked with TM boosters.)

TM promoters even claim they can overcome the law of gravity. Supposedly, some practitioners can learn to rise into the air while sitting in a lotus position – a practice TM boosters call “yogic flying.” The Maharishi also claimed he could teach people how to become invisible, have supernormal powers of vision and hearing and to “bilocate,” that is, be in two places at once.

These claims may seem absurd to many people, but Markovsky said the TM followers he has talked to over the years are truly convinced that their system is effective. The zeal many practitioners feel, he said, helps explain why so many are eager to promote it in public schools and other institutions of government.

TM followers, Markovsky continued, are convinced that their system of meditation is affecting individuals all over the planet, whether people are aware of that or not.

“They don’t think of it as trying to take over the world, they think of it as enlightenment,” Markovsky said. “They will bring their enlightenment to the world. You can ask them, ‘What if someone doesn’t want to be enlightened?’ They will say, ‘There’s nothing negative about it, there’s no downside.’ Their response to me has been, ‘It’s all good, there are no possible negative effects from this.’ To call that presumptuous is an understatement.”

Most recently, TM boosters have been criticized for playing hardball with critics.

John M. Knapp, a former TM practitioner who broke with the organization and now runs a Web site called TM-Free Blog, had to drop a planned Web-based symposium titled “Tell TM: Hands Off Our Schools!” The event was scheduled to take place two days prior to the New York concert, but Knapp cancelled it after receiving a severe letter from William Goldstein, general counsel for the David Lynch Foundation.

“The listed presenters at your event appear all to have a similar negative mission,” wrote Goldstein. “Therefore, I wished to give you the courtesy of an advisal that we intend to review the global web presentation of the event carefully for any false, defamatory, tortious, breachful, malicious or otherwise unlawful statements or materials made or published by you or the presenters.”

Markovsky, who was scheduled to participate in the symposium, said he found the Lynch Foundation’s approach heavy handed. Although he has made statements critical of TM in the past, Markovsky told Church & State his relations with people in the movement have generally been good. He thought the letter from Goldstein went too far.

“It had that chilling effect of short circuiting the presentation, and nothing got out to the public at all,” Markovsky said. “I thought that was really unfortunate.”

Staff members at Americans United are monitoring the spread of TM in public schools. AU has received some anonymous complaints about the matter, but that’s not enough to go back into court. It may take new litigation to uphold the Malnak ruling.

Not all forms of meditation, AU points out, are religious. But if there is a tie to a larger religious movement, the practice can and should be removed from public schools.

“Public schools are not supposed to be in the business of promoting religion – and that means any religion,” said Barry W. Lynn, executive director of Americans United. “Advocating for a Hindu-based religious practice in public schools is the same as pushing Christianity or another faith. It’s equally unconstitutional.”

Americans United
for Separation of Church and State
1310 L Street NW, Suite 200
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Oct 15, 2017

Manipulative people brainwash their partners using something called ‘perspecticide’ — here are the signs it’s happening to you

October 16, 2016

People in abusive relationships may become victim to something called "perspecticide."It occurs when their abusive partner has made them believe so many things that aren't true, they no longer know what is real.They are effectively a prisoner in their own life, not being allowed to do anything or even think on their own terms.

Living with a controlling or abusive partner is confusing and draining. They blame you for things that weren't your fault, or that you didn't even do, and you become isolated from your friends and family in an attempt to keep the abuser happy.

The way you see the world can also completely change, because it may be dangerous for you to know the truth.

Lisa Aronson Fontes, a psychology researcher at the University of Massachusetts Amherst and author of "Invisible Chains: Overcoming Coercive Control in Your Intimate Relationship," told Business Insider the word for this is "perspecticide."

She said the word, which basically means "the incapacity to know what you know," was first used in the literature on the brainwashing of prisoners of war, and has also been applied to people in cults.

"In an abusive or controlling relationship, over time the dominating partner changes how the victim thinks," Fontes said. "The abuser defines what love is. The abuser defines what it appropriate in terms of monitoring the partner. The abuser defines what is wrong with the victim, and what she needs to do to change it."

Over time, the victim — or survivor, if that is your preferred term — loses sense of what their own ideas, goals, and thoughts were. Instead, they start taking on those of their dominating partner.

"Through perspecticide, people give up their own opinions, religious affiliations, views of friends, goals in life, etc," Fontes said. "I am not talking about the natural mutual influencing that occurs in all intimate relationships — this is much more nefarious and one-sided."

Someone can fall into an abuser's trap in a number of ways, but it's often through psychological, emotional, or physical abuse. Once the victim has been hooked and reeled in, their partner starts to bring them down with belittling comments and insults.

However, they often pause the abuse with intermittent periods of kindness and warmth. This means the victim is trauma-bonded to their partner, constantly trying to make them happy, because they believe they deserve to be punished if they don't.

Victims become prisoners in their own lives.

The controlling partner might cut off resources like money and transportation, practically keeping the victim a prisoner. By living in fear, the victim changes how they view themselves and the world.

Fontes recalled several stories of people who had been controlled by their partners. All her examples were from women who were being abused, but it's important to note that emotional, psychological, and physical abuse can happen to anyone.

One man convinced his wife she could not have her own toothbrush, because married couples share these things. He also never let her have any privacy — she wasn't even allowed to close the door when she was using the bathroom.

Another husband slept all day so he could keep his wife up at night. He deliberately didn't let her sleep, controlled what she ate, and hid her medication, which all made her physically weak. Eventually, she even forgot her age because everything down to the way she walked was managed by someone else.

Other stories involved a woman who believed her partner could read her mind, when really he was spying on her with cameras in her house and trackers in her belongings. Another man actually told his wife he had inserted a microphone into her fillings to monitor where she went all day.

"He was actually monitoring her through other routes, but she believed what he said — she had no other explanation for why he knew everything about her days," Fontes said. "Of course, anyone who she told this to thought she was crazy. This isolated her further."

For the victim, their life is overwhelmed with wondering how to appease their controlling partner. Fontes said they may even experience physical signs of stress over time such as changes to eating and sleeping, head or back aches, and digestive problems, because they are too worried about their partner's wrath.

"A person who is being coercively controlled — even without physical violence — does not feel free to live their own life on their own terms," she said.

If you think you might be a victim of abuse of any kind, you can talk to your GP in confidence, or contact organisations such as Women's Aid and Victim Support.


Records reveal how money from Utah and U.S. Mormons props up LDS operations overseas

 The Church Office Building, located at 50 E. North Temple St, Salt Lake City, is home to the headquarters of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints
Nate Carlisle
Salt Lake Tribune
October 15, 2017

Among the distinctions the LDS Church is known for are its missionaries in white shirts, its towering temples and saying next to nothing about its money.

After all, the Utah-based faith doesn’t have to reveal much about its wealth in the United States and many other locales around the globe.

But, in a few countries, The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints must make public at least some basic information about the revenue it collects, the money it spends and the assets it owns.

In the United Kingdom, for example, the church reported to the government there that it baptized 1,951 British, Scottish, Welsh or Irish converts in 2010. That equated to $605.29 per convert, according to a line item for what the LDS Church said it spent on missionary work.

“Even not many church members in the U.K. know about these reports,” says Chris Mace, who for about 10 years has monitored Mormon finances from his home in Huddersfield, England.

For his new book, “The Mormon Hierarchy: Wealth & Corporate Power,” noted historian D. Michael Quinn obtained the LDS Church’s financial disclosures for 2010 in six countries that require churches or charities to make such filings: Australia, Canada, New Zealand, the Philippines, Tonga and the U.K.

The reports discuss only church finances in those countries and are not uniform. The U.K. filing was 40 pages, Quinn notes in the book.

The New Zealand document had just three pages, providing the accounting basics — income, expenses, assets and a few subcategories of each.

But the reports are enough to offer a peek at how the Salt Lake City-headquartered church spends money abroad. The combined assets in those six countries added to $1.8 billion in 2010. They include cash, investments and real estate like a stake center (regional meetinghouse) in view of Australia’s Gold Coast, the Mormon temple south of London and hundreds of chapels across the six countries.
Help from abroad

The Salt Lake Tribune converted all the figures in the reports to U.S. dollars based on the exchange rates Dec. 31, 2010. There are more recent reports available, Quinn says in an interview, but he chose to compare 2010 for a variety of reasons, including it being 180 years after the church’s founding.

The historian, who was excommunicated from the LDS Church in 1993 for his writings about early Mormon polygamy, says he was most struck by the money church leaders in Utah directed overseas. Of the six countries, only Australia did not report a supplement from headquarters in 2010.

The church in Canada received $166,728, while the Philippines got $63.8 million — 85 percent of its revenue.


  • Canada: $166,728
  • New Zealand: $17.1 million
  • Philippines: $63.8 million 
  • Tonga: $12 million
  • United Kingdom: $1.8 million 
Source: D. Michael Quinn

Even in a developed country like the United Kingdom — home to almost as many Mormons as in Canada — headquarters sent $1.8 million in 2010, indicating that the church infrastructure exceeds what the locals can support. That and the other subsidies lead Quinn to assume the U.S.-born church is subsidizing its work and wards in Africa and Latin America, too.

Based on some general statements Mormon apostles have made through the decades about the church’s income from profit-making corporations and members’ tithing, Quinn says, the source of those subsidies must be offerings from Americans and the businesses the faith owns.

Every time a meatpacker buys cattle from a church-owned ranch in, say, Florida, a retailer leases space at downtown Salt Lake City’s City Creek Center, or a Mormon purchases a novel at Deseret Book, Quinn explains, they are helping the nearly 16 million-member faith expand overseas.

“My conclusion,” he adds, “is the international church could not exist to the extent that it does with buildings and services were it not for the commercial investments and for-profit businesses of the LDS Church.”

A spokesman for the LDS Church declined to comment for this story.

Mace agrees with Quinn’s conclusion. In the U.K., he says, the church is trying to support between 1,000 and 2,000 missionaries and a slew of meetinghouses in one of the most expensive countries in the world.

Mace notes the church recently bought a site for a chapel near the Tower of London. The land alone cost about $15 million in today’s U.S. dollars.

“If they want a chapel in prime real estate,” Mace says, “they’re going to have to pay for it, and U.K. members aren’t paying enough tithing to pay for that.”
On the payroll

None of the reports specifies what individual LDS Church employees earn. (Congregations are staffed by lay leaders.) However, in Canada, the church was required to give the salary ranges for the 10 highest compensated employees.

According the report, one earned up to $299,999; another received up to $199,999; six received up to $159,999; and two got up to $119,999.

While the reports offer far more detail than what the LDS Church shares about its U.S. finances, they still leave some Mormons wanting.

Gina Colvin is a Mormon scholar and research fellow at the University of Canterbury in Christchurch, New Zealand. She reviews her faith’s filings in that country.

Colvin points to figures showing how, some years, the church has reported about nearly half its expenditures are for employees and contractor pay. The average church worker appears to be making more than $56,000 a year (U.S.), about 2.5 times the average New Zealander’s income.

Colvin also questions what happens to local tithes. She has found the average ward in her country tithes about $100,000 a year in New Zealand currency. Yet many congregations have budgets of only $5,000.

“So where’s the other $95,000?” Colvin asks.

The LDS Church website explains that members give their tithing donations to their local lay leaders.

“These local leaders transmit tithing funds directly to the headquarters of the church, where a council determines specific ways to use the sacred funds,” it says. “This council is comprised of the [governing] First Presidency, the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles and the Presiding Bishopric.”

These funds, the website adds, “are always used for the Lord’s purposes — to build and maintain temples and meetinghouses, to sustain missionary work, to educate church members, and to carry on the work of the Lord throughout the world.”

Still, Colvin worries that member money is being steered toward real estate projects, especially one in which the LDS Church closed the Church College of New Zealand, in Hamilton, and has plans to develop the property for private purchase. Many locals were critical of the decision to shutter the school.

“While I don’t have any questions about the accounting responsibilities [in the church reports], I do have questions about the ethical and moral responsibilities to its member stakeholders, which seem not to be a question anyone in church leadership is willing to answer,” Colvin says. “We are supposed to give without question, and right there are some red flags.”

Quinn understands the desire for more transparency, but he cautions Mormons against criticizing the LDS Church’s commercial ventures. Apostles long have preached that making profits builds the overall church, Quinn says, and the foreign filings appear to support that.

“Theologically,” he says, “the business of Mormonism has always been business.”