Sep 30, 2016

Discipline suggested for cops in FLDS towns

Mohave Daily News
September 30, 2016

SALT LAKE CITY (AP) — Arizona regulators have recommended disciplinary proceedings against six police officers who patrol a polygamous community on the Utah-Arizona border.

A subcommittee of the Arizona Peace Officer Standards and Training board voted last week to recommend that the full board discipline the marshals in Hildale, Utah, and Colorado City, Ariz., The Salt Lake Tribune reported.

Hildale and Colorado City are home to the Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints. The investigation is related to accusations that the police force and town governments discriminate against people who are not members of the sect.

“There’s not one specific allegation,” said Jeff Matura, an attorney representing the marshals and Colorado City’s government who attended the subcommittee meeting. “It was a hodgepodge of incidents that were presented to the subcommittee.”

Matura said one of the seven accused officers is quitting and retiring, and if the other six are stripped of their police powers, it would leave only one officer on the force. That officer was hired earlier this year and was not under suspicion, said Matura.

The Arizona inquiry follows a similar investigation in Utah that apparently found no wrongdoing.

The group’s recommendation also comes a month before a federal judge is set to consider a request from federal officials to disband the town marshals, who are certified as peace officers in both Utah and Arizona. That request is based on a jury’s finding that the towns violated the constitutional rights of nonbelievers by denying them basic government services such as police protection, building permits and water hookups.

The towns oppose the idea, calling it a drastic first step.

The four-day federal hearing is set to begin Oct. 24 in Phoenix. A witness list submitted by the U.S. Department of Justice includes four high-ranking leaders in the Utah and Arizona counties that would assume policing duties if the town marshals are disbanded.

The Arizona investigation is thought to include some of the same accusations as those brought by the Department of Justice in a civil trial held in Phoenix last winter. During that trial, former chief marshal Helaman Barlow testified for the Justice Department that he and other marshals obstructed the FBI and altered police reports. Other witnesses said marshals failed to look into reports of vandalism, theft and child sexual abuse.

Matura said the presentation by Arizona investigators raised issues going as far back as 2002.

It's Way Easier Than You Think to End Up in a Cult

September 29, 2016

From Esquire

In a new short documentary, The Atlantic explores the workings of EnlightenNext, a cult led by guru Andrew Cohen who taught evolutionary enlightenment, a modern take on spiritual enlightenment.
EnlightenNext, with almost a thousand followers at its peak, was notorious for patterns of abuse, control, and manipulation, according to a licensed social worker and psychotherapist interviewed in the doc. Still, the ex-cult members in the movie did not get bamboozled or tricked or kidnapped into the cult.

One man named Sam was familiar with Andrew's cultish teachings before he joined, and he made a pact with himself to never become Andrew's student. Then he went to a lecture. An hour and a half later, after looking into Andrew's eyes, which was "like looking into eternity," Sam had a "mystical experience." He was in. He didn't leave for eight years.

That's the thing-no one is ever trying to join a cult. But they connect with something powerful, and it takes another powerful force for them to leave. As the video makes clear, you don't need to drink the Kool-aid to be a cult member.

Sufi Sect of Islam Draws 'Spiritual Vagabonds' in New York

New York Times

On a leafy block of West 72nd Street, a Muslim Sufi order meets each Thursday evening, squeezing into Abdul Latif’s three-bedroom apartment. You don’t have to know Mr. Latif, born John Healy, to attend. Raised in the Yorkville neighborhood on the Upper East Side of Manhattan, he greeted his guests in Arabic with a thick New York accent, inviting them to sit on the floor.

A group of about 10 beloveds, as they call one another, then stood and locked hands, forming a circle. Mr. Latif, 57, weaved around the ring, leading the chants in unison, including the 99 sacred names of God and prayers of adoration.

The participants — mostly American-born converts to Islam — squeezed their eyes shut; some gently swayed, letting themselves be carried away by the rhythmic mantras. The pace of the chants quickened, one man stamped his feet, another wept silently, and after 30 minutes the beloveds were captivated and perspiring.

Sufis call this practice zikr and see it as a way of connecting with God and elevating themselves through communal meditation. Worshipers frequently lose themselves in a spinning frenzy, as with the well-known whirling dervishes.

Sufism, a mystical branch of Islam, has been cloaked in secrecy for most of its existence, having been forced underground by Ottoman rulers in the 13th century. Nowadays, however, many of these spiritual communities, like the beloveds in Mr. Latif’s apartment, are in plain view around the city if you know where to look. Some can even be found through a simple Google search.

The Murid order, for instance, meets in West Harlem and follows the teachings of its Senegalese founder, Ahmadu Bamba. The Tijaniyya group congregates on Fridays in a brownstone in Bedford-Stuyvesant, Brooklyn. The Naqshbandis meet on Saturday nights in a 19th-century church on Ninth Avenue in Manhattan.

Ahmad Khan Rahami, the New Jersey man whom the authorities blame for the Sept. 17 bombing in Manhattan, which prosecutors have said injured 31 people, is believed to have been inspired by radical Islam. American Muslims’ condemnations of the attack were immediate, but some were accompanied by concern that it could provoke anti-Muslim hysteria.

The Council on American-Islamic Relations, or CAIR, a civil liberties organization, issued a statement that said, “Our nation is most secure when we remain united and reject the fear-mongering and guilt by association often utilized following such attacks.”

Annmarie Agosta, who grew up in an Italian-American family in Brooklyn and became a Sufi in 2009 after exploring Paganism, Wicca and Buddhism, seemed to agree with this statement. “I feel a deep responsibility to stand for the true message of Islam, which is peace, tolerance, and compassion,” Ms. Agosta said. “This is the message of Sufism.” As a lesbian advocate for gay rights and a member of a congregation in TriBeCa, she led a service to honor those killed in the Orlando, Fla., massacre this summer.

Many Americans anxious about domestic terrorism, however, are not interested in the nuances of various branches of Islam. And paradoxically, Sufis are often shunned by conservative Islam — the sect is dismissed as a diluted version of the faith, prioritizing the esoteric over the orthodox.

“Sufism has never been embraced by mainstream Islam,” said Daisy Khan, founder of the Women’s Islamic Initiative in Spirituality and Equality and one-half of the couple who in 2010 sought to open a community center in Lower Manhattan, mislabeled the “ground zero mosque.”

For Ms. Khan, the ethereal buzz of Sufism is its great appeal, a faith that is “beyond the realm of this world,” dealing with the “supernatural, the magical and love.”

“Despite bad press,” she said, “people are still becoming Muslim and Sufi.”

It is an interesting time to choose to become a Sufi.

Before he became a beloved among Mr. Latif’s group on the Upper West Side, Bjorn Bolinder had come to New York from Minnesota with dreams of performing on Broadway. His father was a Baptist minister, and his childhood consisted of regular church services and Sunday school. “I didn’t feel connected to the divine there,” he said. “I had no experience of joy or aliveness.” He began seeking religion for himself in his mid-20s and came across Sufism through self-help spirituality books and a healing therapist.

Mr. Bolinder, now 39, described an early spiritual moment as a downpour of light so bright that he had to open his eyes to double-check that the room lighting had not changed. “I suddenly realized that maybe this is God, not whatever I learned in church,” he said. “I felt like a completely different person. It was just so beautiful.”

Over the next few years, between auditions for acting roles, Mr. Bolinder continued his spiritual exploration, fasting, learning prayers and attending conventions. Most of Mr. Latif’s Upper West Side group regularly attended a Sufi retreat in Pope Valley, Calif., where the beloveds would meet with their grand sheikh, Sidi Muhammad Al-Jamal, a Palestinian cleric who died in November at 80. This is where Mr. Bolinder and other members took their “Sufi promise,” a pledge of allegiance to their teacher and God in a formal ceremony, in return receiving their Sufi names. Mr. Bolinder’s is Abdullah.

Tall and blond, Mr. Bolinder doesn’t dress in a way that identifies him as a Sufi or a Muslim, although he occasionally thumbs his prayer beads on the subway. But having a Sufi name makes him part of a spiritual community. Five years after his “coming out as a Sufi,” he said, his parents are supportive, and his father has even taken a Sufi course on Jesus, who appears as a prophet in the Quran.

“I feel sad for Muslims who don’t acknowledge Sufism as part of the breadth of the divine,” Mr. Bolinder said. “We are all one. They’re missing out.”

Sufism cuts across all sects of the faith. “You can be a Shia or a Sunni or any type of Muslim and still be a Sufi,” said James W. Morris, professor of Islamic thought and history at Boston College.

Often caricatured as kumbaya hippies, Sufis seek divine love and connection, but their practices encompass strict worldly rules and commitments: long services, dawn and night prayers, rigorous meditation and frequent fasting — in addition to the common Islamic practices of five daily prayers, the hajj pilgrimage and abstention from alcohol.

Sufis cluster into tarikas, or spiritual orders, that are headed by a grand sheikh who may live in Cairo, but are led day to day by a local sheikh who could live in Queens.

While few reliable estimates exist of the number of Sufis in America, Islam over all is rapidly growing. The Pew Research Center estimates that by 2050, Muslims will become the second-largest religious group in the United States, after Christians, totaling over eight million people.

Discussing that growth, Khalid Latif, chaplain of the Islamic Center at New York University, said that in the city, “there’s an absence of spirituality and stillness,” and that even in times of heightened anxiety in the West about Muslims, the center saw a steady stream of the curious. He said that for many Americans, Sufism was an appealing first step.

Tourists and shoppers in TriBeCa could easily miss the discreet blue plaque on a three-story building on West Broadway between a tavern and a brasserie. It reads, “Dergah Nur Ashki Jerrahi Sufi Order.” Inside is where New Yorkers are most likely to encounter whirling dervishes.

Visitors, once they have removed their shoes, enter a prayer hall with a high ceiling and ornate green and gold Arabic calligraphy spelling out the Prophet Muhammad’s name decorating the walls. Books and prayer rugs are strewed about, and a table is laden with sweet Turkish tea and dates. A woman’s voice drifts across the hall, performing the public call to prayer — a role traditionally reserved for men.

What makes the order most unusual is that its local sheikh is a woman: the former Philippa de Menil, 69, part of Texas oil aristocracy. She became a Sufi in the 1970s, and, now known as Sheikha Fariha al-Jerrahi, has led the Nur Jerrahi order since its founder’s death in 1995.

Wearing a flowing white gown, her hair half-wrapped in a blue turban, Sheikha Fariha completes the call to prayer and summons the group’s members to stand side by side, avoiding the more orthodox Islamic practice of positioning men up front.

Sheikha Fariha gives few interviews, and she declined to speak to a reporter, but her longtime secretary, Abdul Rahim, answered questions about the congregation. A female sheikh shouldn’t be viewed as unusual, said Mr. Rahim, who was born Thomas Rippe and grew up in Brooklyn. “We don’t put an emphasis on women; we emphasize equality,” he said. “We think of it as a certain kind of maturity.”

The order has no dress code and no rules on sexual orientation. Indeed, the order is so liberal that some members don’t even label themselves as Muslims.

This kind of unorthodox approach, said Marcia Hermansen, director of the Islamic world studies program at Loyola University Chicago, is both the root of Sufism’s appeal and its weakness. Charismatic leaders like Sheikha Fariha have spurred Sufism’s growth in America, she said, with New York in particular attracting “loosey-goosey liberal Sufism.”

And yet for all its liberal trappings, Sufism cannot be detached from Islam. “Sufism isn’t just a label you wear; it’s a state of being,” said John Andrew Morrow, an Islam scholar and author. “You can’t pick and choose parts of Islam, and you can’t mislead sincere people, drawing them into Sufism without telling them this is fundamentally linked to Islam.”

Part of this problem, he said, is the American tradition of “spiritual vagabonds.”

“They bounce around from one spiritual tradition to another,” he said, “like going to a buffet.”

Like the Shadhili group on the Upper West Side, Jerrahi members participate in long zikr services; theirs last until the wee hours. During a recent session, members formed a sitting circle, perched on low wooden stools and placed their hands on their hearts, swaying as they sang a communal tune. One man lightly tapped out a beat on a Persian drum; another young woman passed around a hymnbook, in English, so that newcomers could sing along.

A few late worshipers trickled in and joined the circle, hastily removing their shoes and respectfully bowing in the direction of Sheikha Fariha, who had the bearing of a slightly bossy school principal. During the service, one man discreetly made to leave the room. Her eyes tightly closed, legs crossed and back straight, Sheikha Fariha snapped, “Where are you going?” The man jumped at being noticed and sheepishly replied, “To the restroom.” She dismissed him with a wave of her hand without ever opening her eyes.

Sitting on the floor of the main prayer hall was Juliet Rabia Gentile, 36, who has belonged to this order for more than a decade. “I was always interested in Sufi culture: music, dance, art and the works of the Persian poets Rumi and Hafez,” Ms. Gentile said. “It was definitely more of a cultural rather than spiritual interest at first.”

Her upbringing in New York City was Christian. “Initially, my family thought I was experimenting and it would probably go away after a couple of years,” she said. “Certain friends were surprised I’d become a Muslim, especially post-9/11.”

The group’s female leadership was a lure for Ms. Gentile, who is proud that American Sufism has cultivated an atmosphere of acceptance. “Our sheikha is an unusual product of American religious freedoms,” she said.

But she is also aware that Sufis are in a difficult position, both within Islam and within American culture. “Sufis nowadays are under attack and called heretics,” she said. “It’s ironic given all the Islamophobia, there’s been a surge of growth of interest. People just want to understand.”

Ms. Gentile doesn’t wear the headscarf outside the Dergah. “I can sense that the vibe here is changing,” she said. “Americans have reached heightened paranoia in the two years since ISIS emerged. People are becoming irrational.”

She said her fellow New Yorkers were less likely to be swayed by panic. But she is nonetheless wary. “Fear is a strong drug,” she said.                                                                                          

A version of this article appears in print on September 25, 2016, on page MB1 of the New York edition with the headline: ‘Spiritual Vagabonds’ of Islam


Sep 29, 2016

Arizona moves toward booting polygamous town's police force while Utah closes its case

September 29, 2016

By NATE CARLISLE | The Salt Lake Tribune

No wrongdoing found? » The two states have different criteria for disciplining officers.

Regulators in Arizona have moved closer to issuing sanctions or revoking the police powers of seven cops from the polygamous communities of Hildale, Utah, and Colorado City, Ariz., though a similar investigation in Utah has apparently ended without finding wrongdoing.

A subcommittee from the Arizona Peace Officer Standards and Training (POST) board last week voted to forward results of an investigation to the full board and recommended it initiate disciplinary proceedings against the officers — or marshals, as they are referred to in Hildale and Colorado City.

However, one of the officers, Curtis L. Cooke, has quit and is retiring, said Jeff Matura, a lawyer representing the marshals and Colorado City's municipal government. Matura said Wednesday that he didn't know why Cooke was retiring and that the accusations against him were no worse than for the other six marshals.

"There's not one specific allegation," said Matura, who attended the POST subcommittee's Sept. 20 meeting in Phoenix. "It was a hodgepodge of incidents that were presented to the subcommittee."

Hildale and Colorado City are home to the Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints. There have been accusations for years that the town governments and the police force they share serve the interests of the church and discriminate against nonmembers. The marshals are certified as peace officers in Utah and Arizona.

If the six remaining officers are stripped of their police powers, there would be only one marshal left on the force, Matura said, an officer who was hired earlier this year and who was not under suspicion.

According to minutes from the subcommittee meeting, the marshals are accused of "improper application of the law, biased policing, unlawful detentions/arrests, and [falsified] record keeping." The investigators' report and presentation were not made available Wednesday.

The accusations are a result of an investigation that began in November. That was shortly after the marshals arrested two men at an old zoo in Colorado City. The men had an agreement from the zoo's owner to lease the property and were trying to take possession. But FLDS members were raising vegetables in the zoo, and one member appeared to be living in an outbuilding. The marshals arrested the two men for trespassing. Charges later were dropped.

The Arizona investigation went beyond what happened at the zoo. Matura said the presentation by investigators raised issues going back as far as 2002.

Arizona investigators are thought to have looked at some of the same accusations levied by the U.S. Department of Justice during a civil trial held in Phoenix last winter. Witnesses testified about the marshals failing to investigate reports of vandalism, theft or child sexual abuse. The former chief marshal, Helaman Barlow, testified for the Justice Department that he and other marshals obstructed the FBI and altered police reports.

The jury found that the towns and the marshals discriminated against people who did not follow or were out of favor with FLDS leaders. The jury also found the marshals had a practice of unreasonably seizing property and people and making arrests without probable cause.

A four-day hearing is scheduled to begin Oct. 24 in Phoenix, where a judge will hear arguments about what changes he should order in the towns, including whether to disband the marshals office.

The Arizona POST Board meets again Oct. 19, but it could be months before there is any resolution for the marshals. If the board votes to initiate discipline proceedings, any of the officers can request a hearing before an administrative law judge. Both sides can present evidence to the judge, who will then issue findings.

Once the Arizona POST Board has the findings, it can make a decision ranging from no action to termination of the marshals' police certifications. Matura said his clients plan to contest any effort to discipline or decertify them.

Besides Cooke, the marshals facing discipline are Chief Jeremiah "Jerry" H. Darger and deputies Samuel E. Johnson, Hyrum S. Roundy, Daniel R. Barlow, Jacob L. Barlow Jr. and Daniel N. Musser.

The Arizona POST case is proceeding even though a similar investigation by Utah regulators has apparently ended.

Matura said he recently received written notice that the Utah Peace Officers Standards and Training Council was ending a four-year investigation of the marshals. No wrongdoing was found, Matura said.

"It's just inconsistent to have two police licensing agencies reach two dramatically different decisions," Matura said.

The different outcomes may have to do with each state's laws. Arizona POST can take action against "malfeasance, misfeasance, or nonfeasance," according to its regulations.

Utah once had similar language. Then, in 2010, the Utah Legislature changed the law to limit police discipline cases to a few specific offenses, including criminal conduct, sex on duty, and drug and alcohol problems.

"It's quite possible both of these bodies looked at the same acts by these officers, but one had authority to recommend decertification and the other didn't," said Bill Walker, the attorney representing the men arrested at the zoo.

Despite a jury verdict and Arizona investigators finding the marshals made unlawful arrests and discriminated, Utah appears unable to do anything about it, Walker said with frustration Wednesday,.

"Clearly, the state of Arizona has a better process," he said.

Twitter: @natecarlisle


How the prosperity preachers supporting Trump are using him to sell themselves

When an endorsement is just a business opportunity.

  September 9, 2016 

Anthea Butler is an associate professor of religion and Africana studies at the University of Pennsylvania.


Last weekend, Donald Trump paid a visit to Great Faith Ministries International, the home base of Bishop Wayne T. Jackson, a Detroit prosperity preacher. There, Trump enjoyed Jackson’s adulation, and earned his endorsement. At a crucial point in the service, Jackson declared, “I prayed over this prayer shawl and I fasted” as he draped a gold and white Jewish prayer shawl on Trump’s shoulders, a practice known as the laying on of the tallit. While this did not make sense to many people, for prosperity preachers like Jackson, the practice of bestowing prayer shawls is a symbol of God’s favor and power. And though viewers noted the half-empty church, the whole lavish production made sense: While Trump has struggled to earn the support of mainstream Evangelical leaders, his campaign presents the perfect opportunity for unknown prosperity preachers to boost their brands.


Republican presidential candidates have always sought prominent pastors for endorsements and votes from their loyal congregants and followers. Unlike his predecessors, Trump has not received the usual slate of well-known evangelicals for endorsement.  Rather, Trump has received endorsements from lesser-known prosperity gospel pastors who admire his business acumen. These relatively unknown pastors, like Mark Burns, Jackson and Darryl Scott, are the most prominent in the Trump campaign. Though these kind of churches don’t publish membership numbers, their churches are typically smaller than the stadium-sized spaces that major prosperity preachers enjoy, and their congregations are smaller as well. While better-known prosperity preachers like Joel Osteen have followings in the thousands, multicity meetings and New York Times bestsellers, Trump’s preachers are not at that level. They are the D-list prosperity preachers. Connecting to Trump gives them a huge boost in national visibility. In return, Trump gets photo-ops with black congregations and pastors and credibility with white voters and some evangelicals. It may be tempting to think of these relationships as solid endorsements, but they are best seen as “entrepreneurial relationships” benefiting both parties. Here’s why.


First, Trump has allied himself most closely not with mainstream Evangelical pastors  but with lesser-known prosperity preachers. The prosperity gospel, formerly called the health and wealth gospel, attracts entrepreneurial types of religious leaders. They are fond of lavish religious ceremonies, such as the laying on of the tallit. These types of preachers intentionally create many opportunities for followers to give money to their ministries, emulating motivational speakers rather than Bible expositors. All use television and the Internet to preach and spread their unique take on the prosperity gospel. Burns has a small television studio and a regular show on Bishop Jackson’s Impact network, which bills itself as the largest African American founded and operated national Christian Network. No surprise then that  Omarosa Manigault, director of Trump’s African American outreach  and a former contestant on Trump’s first season of “The Apprentice,” is a pastor as well.

These networks of prosperity preachers, with larger luminaries like Osteen, Paula White and Creflo Dollar commanding millions of dollars, represent a different type of religious endorsement than Evangelicals typically do for GOP candidates. These prosperity preachers are often neo-Pentecostals or charismatics who believe in healing and “gifts of the spirit,” unlike predominately mainline white Evangelicals. Their congregations are often, but not always, interracial. While many prosperity preachers are against abortion and same-sex marriage, their major concerns and messages are about the financial prosperity of themselves and their flocks. They are more apt to have schools about running businesses, obtaining home loans and investing. For these churches, Trump is the living, breathing proof that God’s blessings have financial rewards. Endorsing and promoting Trump is a way for them to gain visibility on an international scale, and more followers, opportunity and money.

Both of Burns’s faux pas generated much press, but in this election cycle, Trump seems to be sticking with his “pastor” for now. That has not been the case in other cycles.

In 2008, both Sen. John McCain and President Obama had problems. Obama had an issue with the Rev. Jeremiah Wright, whose sermon line “God Damn America” ran on a nonstop loop during the campaign. Obama responded by repudiating Wright and giving his now-famous “Race Speech” in Philadelphia.

McCain was not well-liked or trusted by evangelical leaders at the beginning of his campaign. As a result, he went outside Evangelicalism to Pentecostals for endorsements, such as  from the Rev. John Hagee, pastor of Cornerstone Church and founder of Christians United for Israel, and the Rev. Rod Parsley, megachurch pastor. Both hailed from large voting states, Texas and Ohio, and McCain was forced to repudiate both pastors after segments of their sermons regarding Jews and Muslims were made public.

In 2012, Mitt Romney struggled with Robert Jeffress regarding Romney’s Mormonism, but in the end received Jeffress’s endorsement. Romney also garnered Billy Graham’s endorsement and a promise to do “all I can to help you” in October 2012. Graham helped Romney by removing Mormonism from the list of cults on the Billy Graham Evangelical Association website.

So while Burns, Trump’s pastor, may have embarrassed the campaign, there is a very good chance he will not be jettisoned. For Trump, the optics of having a black preacher or two at his side far outweigh the problem of a racist tweet. With support among black voters registering in the low single digits in some polls and zero in others, Trump needs Burns to help him recover from a reputation for racism that’s also putting off young and white voters.

It is also worth mentioning that this recent black church visit was likely the suggestion of Manigault, who is savvy enough to know that sending Trump to a social justice-oriented black church is out of the question. By aligning with black prosperity churches that are focused on economics and that downplay racial tension, Trump can gain the optics and credibility with white Christian voters who may be on the fence about voting for him.

While Trump’s visit to  Jackson’s church may be the beginning of a counter to Hillary Clinton’s well-publicized visits and embrace of African American pastors and churches, it is also an investment in the future. If it is true that Trump really wants a media empire instead of being president, than who better to court than prosperity preachers who love the camera, love money and want to be famous? Trump and his black prosperity preachers are a match made in media heaven, but it remains to be seen if they can bring him any miracles at the polls come November.


Why Ireland won’t ‘ban’ Louis Theroux’s Scientology film

A speculative media story has suggested a new documentary 'might' be banned under Ireland's blasphemy laws. It won't


Irish Times

Tue, Sep 27, 2016

Donald Clarke


A bizarre fog of rumour has clouded around the decision by Altitude Film Distribution not to release Louis Theroux's My Scientology Movie in Irish cinemas. News organisations have suggested the distributor is concerned the documentary, which finds Theroux investigating that controversial "church", may fall foul of the nation's blasphemy laws. At least one newspaper argued that the film "could be banned in Ireland".

In fact, any prosecution for blasphemy would be close to impossible. The Irish Film Classification Office has not refused certification on a theatrical release – the closest thing to a ban under the current legislation – in more than a decade and has not yet considered My Scientology Movie.

"It's a non-issue for us. Because it hasn't been submitted to us," Ger Connolly, the Director of Film Classification, told The Irish Times. "This notion of being 'banned' in abstentia is ludicrous."

Is blasphemy a consideration when issuing a certificate? "The opening line on our website states we believe the public should, within the law, be free to view what they choose," Connolly says. "It would be wrong of me to say that we don't consider it. It would be accurate to say it hasn't arisen yet."

The story says more about the dynamics of modern media than the state's unsettled business with blasphemy law.

In May of this year, reporting on Altitude's acquisition of My Scientology Movie at Cannes, the website (part-owned by The Irish Times) wondered if the Church of Scientology, a famously litigious organisation, might use the blasphemy laws to stop the release.

Last weekend, Graham Spurling, managing director of the Movies@ chain inIreland, tweeted about rumours concerning the film's possible suppression. "Regret that after much trying [My Scientology Movie] will not get an Irish release. Our blasphemy law to blame?" he said.

The Defamation Act 2009 defines an indictable criminal offence of "publication or utterance of blasphemous matter". Conviction can result in a maximum fine of €25,000.

Phone calls to Altitude, the UK-based distributor of such admired films asAmy and Green Room, initially failed to generate any response. Eventually a gnomic statement arrived. "Altitude Film Distribution currently has no plans for a theatrical release of My Scientology Movie in Ireland, and has no further comment to make at this time," it read. It is not unusual for British distributors to release films only in the UK.


Terrifying bodies

Meanwhile, Louis Theroux, the mischievous British documentarian who has previously reported on such terrifying bodies as the Westboro Baptist Church, had retweeted a more recent report on "Wow, bummer … Looks like My Sc'tology Movie won't get an Irish release due to blasphemy laws," he added.

Yet, to this point, there had been no formal confirmation from the distributor that they were concerned about blasphemy. The story reached an acme of absurdity when the Daily Star suggested: "My Scientology Movie Could Be Banned in Ireland due to Blasphemy Laws".

The prestigious British magazine the New Statesman magazine then picked up the story. "Is Louis Theroux's new film 'banned' in Ireland?" it asked (using giveaway inverted commas). It's hard to ban a film that nobody is seeking to release.

Dr Neville Cox, associate professor of Law at Trinity College Dublin, told The Irish Times: "There are three reasons why the blasphemy laws are of no relevance here." It is significant, he agrees, that the state does not define the Church of Scientology as a religion with charitable status.

"Secondly, for blasphemy it has to deal with issues held sacred by a religion and, thirdly, there is an exception within the blasphemy laws for something that is of literary, political, artistic or scientific merit. There is no way a documentary could not fall under that."

In My Scientology Movie, Theroux works with Mark Rathbun, a former church official, to create dramatic reconstructions of alleged incidents involving David Miscavige, current leader of the Church of Scientology. The church responds by placing Theroux and his team under close surveillance.

Were those represented unhappy with their depictions then a potential action for libel would be of more concern than any attempted blasphemy conviction. A 2015 documentary on Scientology, Alex Gibney's Going Clear, had its broadcast delayed on Sky TV due to concerns about the libel laws in Northern Ireland.

This week's chatter has, however, focused almost exclusively on the blasphemy legislation. Professor Cox explains: "My view is the 2009 act fulfilled a constitutional obligation on the crime of blasphemy, but skilfully rendered the law completely unenforceable. I am not saying that was the intention."

My Scientology Movie opens in the UK on October 7th. It will be broadcast on the BBC at a later date. The inflated controversy will do the film no harm at all.


County must turn over documents tied to Scientology-connected property

·        September 28, 2016

Frederick News Post


Frederick County will have to turn over more than three dozen records it withheld from a public records request filed by a Church of Scientology-affiliated real estate group.

Frederick County Circuit Judge Scott Rolle ruled Monday that the county will have to turn over 39 documents or redacted portions of documents within the next 10 days.

Rolle concluded that the county did not knowingly and willfully violate the Maryland Public Information Act in responding to the request.

The records dispute is connected to a second lawsuit, in which Social Betterment Properties International, the Church of Scientology's real estate arm, alleges religious discrimination by the County Council in a land-use decision.

The Frederick County Council voted in June 2015 and again in April of this year against a historic designation for Social Betterment's property at Trout Run, a 40-acre Catoctin Mountain fishing camp.

The designation would have paved the way for a special exception under the county's zoning ordinance. That exception would let the Church of Scientology open a group home for drug and alcohol abuse treatment, to be operated by Narconon, a program based on the writings and techniques of L. Ron Hubbard, Scientology's founder.

In an August hearing, Jennifer Kneeland, an attorney representing Social Betterment, said seeing the redacted portions of the records in the Public Information Act dispute could help the organization understand whether there was discriminatory intent behind the council's decision to deny the necessary zoning changes.

Kneeland questioned the county's basis for redacting the information, saying the county didn't meet the state's standard for withholding the information under the exceptions for deliberative process, interagency communications or executive privilege.

She pointed to one withheld record that was disclosed by a different county attorney in the other court proceeding.

Linda Thall, a senior assistant county attorney, said that missed disclosure was an error and the county would not contest handing over a second copy of the record.

She said Social Betterment's information request was very broad, yielding more than 1,300 pages of records from the county from before, during and after the council's meetings on Trout Run.

Some documents in question are emails between council members. Others include interview requests from members of the media and internal discussions about executive branch policy changes during and after the council's decision.

Rolle reviewed 64 disputed records to decide whether they should be turned over. He ruled that 18 remained privileged and that 39 records should be turned over. Rolle's written opinion did not outline his conclusions on seven records.

Rolle concluded that some documents were not privileged because they did not contain deliberations between council members, which could be shielded, or were purely factual.

The judge also ruled on a complaint that the county violated the Maryland Public Information Act by failing to provide attachments to emails and by taking 48 days to respond. Rolle concluded that the county did not willfully and knowingly violate the public records law.

Under Maryland law, an agency generally has up to 30 days to meet or deny a request.

"Given the large number of documents, coupled with the presence of potentially privileged material, the Court finds that the Defendants acted as expeditiously as possible in responding to Plaintiff under the circumstances," Rolle wrote.

He said that in addition to 1,300 documents that were turned over, the county provided an extensive log explaining the documents that are withheld.

"All of these acts, when taken together, show considerable effort ... to accommodate the Plaintiff's MPIA request and comply with all applicable law," he wrote.

Thall declined to comment Wednesday, citing a policy of not commenting on pending cases.

SBPI operates as a nonprofit organization that develops and maintains properties for the church's social betterment programs. It purchased the land at Trout Run in September 2013.

Follow Danielle E. Gaines on Twitter: @danielleegaines​.


Mexico Sees Spike in Death Cult, Demonic Possession, Exorcisms

Breitbart News

The incidence of exorcisms and Satanic deliverance rites in Mexico has risen sharply in recent months, reportedly driven by the growth of the cult to Santa Muerte, a personification of death.


One cleric who regularly performs exorcisms, Pastor Hugo Alvarez, attributes the rise of demonic possessions to increased dabbling in the occult, including black magic, santería, witchcraft, sorcery, Satanism and especially the cult of Santa Muerte.


Alvarez, author of Deliverance: A Ministry for the Church, said that “Santa Muerte is one of the trickiest and most dangerous practices, since they present a saint, but there’s a demon behind it.”

“Satan’s greatest deceit is making people believe he doesn’t exist,” he said.

According to José Gil Olmos, journalist for the Mexican magazine El Proceso, “the cult of Santa Muerte is the most important popular devotion in the past half century, with no other devotion growing so fast.”

Estimates of the current number of Santa Muerte devotees “range from 8 to 10 million,” Gil Olmos said.

Tied to violent movements and especially the drug trade, the Santa Muerte devotion has experienced prodigious growth in recent years, drawing a reaction from both political and religious leaders. Many of the latter believe that this new religious movement has added to Mexico’s rise in violent crimes as well as demonic possessions.

In his visit to Mexico last February, Pope Francis denounced the devotion to Santa Muerte, telling the Mexican bishops that he was particularly concerned about “those many persons who, seduced by the empty power of the world, praise illusions and embrace their macabre symbols to commercialize death.”


Andrew Chesnut, professor of religious studies at Virginia Commonwealth University, and author of Devoted to Death: Santa Muerte, the Skeleton Saint, said that the Pope’s remarks were “an obvious reference to the saint of death.”


As “the fastest growing new religious devotion in the Americas,” Chesnut noted that the Pope “called out Santa Muerte as a dangerous symbol of narco-culture.”

“The Church views veneration of the Bony Lady as tantamount to Satanism since death is the antithesis of the eternal life that Jesus Christ made possible to believers,” Chesnut said.

The President of the Pontifical Council for Culture, Cardinal Gianfranco Ravasi, has also condemned the cult of the skeleton saint as “sinister and infernal” and called for both Church and society to mobilize against devotion to Saint Death.


“It’s not religion just because it’s dressed up like religion; it’s a blasphemy against religion,” he said.


“Everyone is needed to put the brakes on this phenomenon, including families, churches and society in its totality,” Ravasi said, adding that the Santa Muerte cult “is the celebration of devastation and of hell.”


Rupert Murdoch's antagonistic history with Scientology

September 29, 2016

Rupert Murdoch was a "person of interest" to Scientology and therefore a target for spying.

ABC Europe correspondent Steve Cannane’s book on Scientology, Fair Game, is out in a few days — Ms Tips found it chilling and very sad, but brilliantly reported. Rupert Murdoch makes several appearances. In 2012, Murdoch made his views on Scientology known:

But Cannane covers many details about the mogul’s long relationship with the group. It was the Truth newspaper that first began critical coverage of Scientology, paving the way for the organisation to be banned in three Australian states (the bans were overridden by attorney-general Lionel Murphy under the Whitlam government). From the point on, Murdoch became a person of interest to Scientology’s upper hierarchy, an interest that culminated in Murdoch being spied on by the organisation through a private detective.

In the late 1960s, the Guardian Office (which protects Scientology from attack) hired Rex Beaver, a private investigator, to spy on “persons of interest”, including Rupert Murdoch. Beaver spoke to Cannane for the book and told him he figured he could boost his income by acting as a double agent for the people Scientology asked him to spy on, which included a Liberal MP, the editor of The Daily Mirror, and Murdoch himself.

“Rupert was rapt,” Beaver told Cannane. “He even volunteered to have a photograph taken of himself emerging from a motel with his secretary!”

Beaver spent several months quietly gathering intelligence before going public in the Sunday Mirror. That led to another round of condemnation of Scientology in the Australian Parliament — needless to say the intelligence operation, intended to intimidate Scientology’s critics, spectacularly backfired.

Later in the book, Cannane reports on a plot to use James Packer, a one-time Scientologist, to recruit his friend Lachlan Murdoch, which would have been seen as quite a coup for the organisation. The plan doesn’t appear to have had much success — Packer himself drifted away from the group after a few years.

Cult leader Dimas ends his mystical journey in detention

Wahyoe Boediwardhana
The Jakarta Post
September 29 2016

Cult leader Dimas ends his mystical journey in detention

In custody: A police officer escorts Dimas Kanjeng Taat Pribadi  in Probolinggo, East Java, on Wednesday. Dimas was arrested for allegedly ordering murders of two of his followers and fraud on Sept. 22 by police in Probolinggo. His followers believe that he can double bank notes with his magic powers.

Not many people had heard of Dimas Kanjeng Taat Pribadi until recently, when East Java Police declared him a suspect of murder.

Dimas was the cult leader of a ritual group, Padepokan Dimas Kanjeng Taat Pribadi, in Probolinggo, East Java, who claims to have the ability to multiply banknotes. His supposed mystical power attracted hundreds, if not thousands, of supporters, who regularly gathered at his secluded residence.

Surprisingly, among his followers was Marwah Daud Ibrahim, a US doctoral graduate who once led the Indonesian Muslim Intellectuals Association (ICMI).

On Wednesday, East Java Police named Dimas a suspect in the murder of his former students Abdul Gani and Ismail Hidayah.

“The police are investigating his motive. Both victims were known to be students of his,” East Java Police spokesman Sr. Comr. Argo Yuwono told The Jakarta Post on Wednesday.

Aside from the murder case, Dimas is being investigated for alleged fraud and money laundering.

Adj. Sr. Comr. Cecep Ibrahim, an officer with the East Java Police’s general crimes unit, said Dimas had been reported for fraud causing total financial losses of Rp 1.5 billion (US$115,500). The plaintiff was no other than Dimas’ former adviser. “He is scheduled to provide an explanation to the police,” Cecep added.

Dimas’ ritual group was the latest cult phenomenon in the country. In a rather similar case, Gatot Brajamusti, the leader of Padepokan Brajamusti, was arrested recently over drugs. Gatot was a nobody until some actors and singers, such as Elma Theana and Reza Artamevia, made him their spiritual teacher.

Reza reportedly got closer to Gatot shortly after her marriage was in trouble, but it was surprising to find Marwah joining Dimas’ group.

“I don’t understand why Marwah became trapped in this. She is a very rational person,” sociologist Imam Prasodjo said.

More than 20,000 people reportedly became supporters of Dimas. Videos showing him sitting on a chair, dressed in white and pulling out Rp 50,000 and Rp 100,000 banknotes from his back, have gone viral on social media.

Imam explained that people’s rational views were often overshadowed by their beliefs.

“Poor people are trying unconventional ways of making money, whereas rich people are often under pressure to find shortcuts to make more money,” he said.

Former Constitutional Court chief justice Mahfud MD recalled his experience of being invited by Marwah to visit Dimas’ place in Probolinggo in 2014. He said the visitation had been unplanned and he had just gone along out of respect for Marwah.

“It looked more like a martial arts school,” he told The Jakarta Post.

Then, when Dimas started the recitation, he introduced Mahfud MD as one of his Islamic school students, which offended him. He was of the opinion that Dimas did not look like a Muslim cleric at all because he could not recite prayers fluently or pronounce Arabic words correctly.

Mahfud urged law enforcers to investigate the case further. He added he read the news Tuesday, showing a picture of Dimas standing besides police with wads of cash inside boxes. The news stated that the money from Dimas had been taken to a bank and proven to be real.

“That means the money was stolen from some place. Thus, there should be further investigation into how he acquired that money,” he said.

Natsir Zubaidi from the Indonesian Ulema Association (MUI) said the MUI had issued 10 criteria to determine if a teaching was deviant. “If the public think a teaching they hear is included in those 10 criteria, then it is a deviant sect and they need to be careful,” he said. (win)