Sep 30, 2017

We’ve banned cancer cures from being marketed to vulnerable people—so why do we allow psychics to peddle their services?

We protect people from those trying to shill cancer cures. Let’s help other vulnerable people, too.
It should be illegal to profit from psychic services. Let’s see if they are so committed to ‘comforting’ the bereaved if they’re not making money doing so.

Felicity Hannah
Prospect Magazine
September 29, 2017

We protect people from those trying to shill cancer cures. Let’s help other vulnerable people, too.

We have strict laws in the UK about how we market ‘cures’ for cancer. The 1939 Cancer Act prevents both legitimate pharmaceuticals and snake-oil merchants from directly targeting the public with advertising. It’s a way to protect the desperate and the terrified.

Cases being brought under this act are relatively rare but recent prosecutions include people promoting colloidal silver, protein shakes and “distance healing services.” (Colloidal silver, if you’re interested, is silver particles suspended in liquid and its use was largely discontinued after antibiotics became mainstream medicine.)

I give these examples because I wish there were a similar law to protect the bereaved. They, too, are vulnerable and desperate—and yet across the UK, a network of self-styled psychics regularly charge upwards of £60-£100 for private readings, during which they claim to talk to customers’ dead loved ones or to receive insights from other spirits.

People disagree about whether there are any “genuine” psychics out there. Personally, I do not believe that being an effective psychic means anything more than relying on the stage magic-style sleight of hand plied by mentalists like Derren Brown—a man who states clearly that his performance is a trick. However, I certainly haven’t tested each one.

Yet there are some useful guidelines for staying safe, including a booklet from the Association for Skeptical Enquiry entitled ‘Before You See a Psychic.’

It’s a must-read for anyone who is seriously considering paying for a session. It outlines the various tricks used by at least some mediums to encourage their customer to feed them information in response to comments that sound specific but are actually incredibly vague.

For example: “In describing someone dying the medium will often point generally to the chest area and say that’s where he/she had ‘trouble’. Apart from something wrong with the brain, it’s fairly likely that any cause of death will involve the upper torso.”

“The most common causes of death in the UK are heart attack and lung disease. But even if they died of ingrowing toenail the psychic can point out that ultimately their heart stopped beating—hence the chest.”

Even those who do believe that the dead are happy to pop back for a chat, and that some people are able to mystically channel their voices, warn that there are some charlatans out there. In fact, professional psychics themselves often talk about the dangers of fraudsters (which sceptics might argue is a highly effective way of using people’s instinctive rationality against them).

One ‘celebrity’ psychic told the Mail Online: “Be careful when you are in [a] time of grief because you can really get ripped off.”

“A good psychic would send someone to a counsellor—but say you’ve got someone who wants to speak to a dead person everyday—there are people trying to milk them for money all of the time.”

There you are—direct from the medium’s mouth.

Dead ends

There are difficult moral questions at work here. Many people, from psychics and customers to sceptics who think it’s just a ‘bit of fun,’ will argue that seeing a psychic will provide harmless comfort.

Many customers are repeat visitors and are also fervent champions of the psychic industry. Debating with those customers is, understandably, a dead end. These people believe that they have spoken to a departed loved one; by arguing that they have been tricked you’re suggesting that they have not contacted the departed and that they have been fooled out of their money.

No one wants to hear they have been tricked, even when it’s about a less emotional topic. But being a believer does not mean they are not also victims. And, just as we protect vulnerable people from cancer “cures”, we should protect those who would seek help and advice from the spirit realm when they are feeling particularly distressed and worried.

One woman, for instance, described to me her visit to a psychic following her third miscarriage. She was told her miscarried babies played together. She was told they had been two boys and a girl. She was told that when she misplaces items, it is the babies hiding them. As she spoke, her story made the hairs on my arms stand up in horror.

But did she at least feel better as a result? “No, it broke my heart all over again,” she told me.

“[The psychic said] said ‘one baby..? No, no two..?’ Then she said three. I must have given her a subliminal sign or something to stop probing because she stopped at three.”

And then, presumably to fill up the hour, the psychic then took a look at her marriage—a marriage no doubt already under strain from the pain of losing pregnancies.

“She said ‘Is your husband faithful?’ When I said yes she said ‘Are you completely sure about that?’ but with a very judgemental look on her face. That felt like she was heavily implying something different; she was horrid and it caused us loads of problems.”

Experimental cheesecloths

There did used to be a law in the UK to regulate the behaviour of psychics: the Fraudulent Mediums Act 1951 prohibited people from claiming to be psychic while attempting to deceive and make money from that deception. It replaced the Witchcraft Act 1735, which made it a crime for anyone to claim they had magical powers.

However, the Fraudulent Mediums Act was not a great law; you had to really catch practitioners out to secure prosecution.

The handful of cases in the last 20 years included one psychic caught using cheesecloth as fake ectoplasm: the case notes report he was “purporting to act as a spiritualistic medium, unlawfully use a certain fraudulent device, namely, a length of cheesecloth”—and yet even he was acquitted.

That act was replaced with new Consumer Protection Regulations—meaning psychics charging for their services or receiving donations are now bound by the same regulations as someone selling hats or GCSE tuition: they have to show they are delivering what they advertise.

However, psychics are not like tutors or milliners, and since the 1951 act, most have simply withdrawn behind the disclaimer of “for entertainment purposes only,” or begun describing what they do as an “experiment.”

But psychics should not be able to call it “for entertainment purposes only” and then tell grieving parents they are communicating with their dead babies. There’s nothing entertaining about that.

Just as it is against the law for cancer patients to be promised undue hope from unproven treatments—whether from big pharma or alternative medicine—we need to protect the bereaved from ghouls who want to use their grief to market their services.

Making it illegal to profit from psychic services would be a good start. Let’s see if they are so committed to ‘comforting’ the bereaved if they’re not making money doing so.

Miniseries on infamous cult standoff with federal agents riles Waco city officials

"Waco" is based on the 51-day standoff between federal agents and the Branch Davidians
Kelsey Bradshaw
San Antonio Express-News
September 29, 2017

WACO on The Paramount Network - Series Premieres January 2018.‎

On Feb. 28, 1993 federal authorities began a siege on the Branch Davidian complex, which ended violently 50 days later.

Flames engulf the Branch Davidian compound April 20, 1993 in Waco, Texas. The standoff between lawmen and militant anti-government "freemen" on a Montana farm is testing FBI Director Louis J. Freeh's determination to avoid repeating the deadly outcomes of FBI sieges at Ruby Ridge and Waco.

It's been more than two decades since 76 people died in a fire following a weeks-long standoff near Waco but the events will soon be back in the public eye as the subject of a Paramount miniseries airing in January.

For the city of Waco, the series is unnecessarily re-opening a wound, said Larry Holze, the city spokesman.

"Anytime you have the tragedy of death, especially of children, that's one of those things you hate to bring up," he said. "It's one of those sad parts of our history."

"Waco" is based on the 51-day standoff between federal agents and the Branch Davidians - which was accused of polygamy, sexual abuse, and possessing illegal weapons - in 1993. The miniseries follows cult leader David Koresh and the events that transpired 24 years ago.

In addition to needlessly bringing up a brutal moment in Waco history, Holze said the series does not include that the siege happened "11 miles outside of our legal jurisdiction," he said.

"That did not happen in Waco."

City officials were not privy to viewing the series early and Holze said he has not watched the trailer.

"What good is it going to do?" he said.

RUSSIA: Jehovah's Witness Bible, Jewish, Christian, Muslim books banned

Victoria Arnold
September 29, 2017

Forum 18

Banned as "extremist": Jehovah's Witnesses' New World Bible, other Jehovah's Witness and Muslim books, an article on the Jewish concept of the Holy Land, a Jewish historical novel claimed to incite hatred of Catholics, a book on "Christian women persecuted for their faith" and an atheist slideshow.

A court in Leningrad Region has outlawed the Jehovah's Witnesses' New World Bible as "extremist". The court imposed the ban despite the Extremism Law's prohibition on such bans in relation to the main sacred works of four religions, after the judge agreed with court-appointed "experts" that the book was not in fact a bible. The ruling means that Jehovah's Witnesses, already subject to a complete prohibition of their activities across Russia, are now also liable to prosecution for possession of this commonly held text. Jehovah's Witnesses have appealed against the decision.

Other Jehovah's Witness literature has also been declared "extremist" in 2016 and 2017, both before and after the Supreme Court ban on their Administrative Centre and all their communities, which came into force in July 2017 (see F18News 18 July 2017

The same ruling which banned the New World Bible also outlawed three other books seized by Russian customs officials, which do not appear to call for any violation of the human rights of others. Online versions of both Jehovah's Witness and other religious material continue to be blocked.

While Jehovah's Witness and Islamic literature predominates among religion-related items on the Justice Ministry's Federal List of Extremist Materials, other belief systems' materials can also be added – most recently, several Jewish texts, an online atheist slideshow, and two Christian books. While these items sometimes explicitly criticise other faiths, none encourages violence towards their adherents (see below).

Several items of literature of the Chinese spiritual movement Falun Gong have also been banned, including, in 2011, its core spiritual text "Zhuan Falun" (Turning the Law Wheel) (see F18News 14 December 2012

In 2012, an attempt in Tomsk to ban "The Bhagavad Gita As It Is", a key text for Hare Krishna devotees, was unsuccessful after a public outcry both locally and in India (see F18News 21 March 2012

Banning religious literature

Often, publishers and living authors do not know of an attempt to ban their publications until after the court case. Sometimes, however, they manage to mount a defence. On 31 August 2017, the Strasbourg-based European Court of Human Rights began considering two cases brought against Russia by two publishers of Muslim books which have been ruled "extremist", Aslambek Ezhayev and Sözler. Both parties – the Russian government and the publishers – must now respond to a series of questions about the initial lower court proceedings and how the bans affect European Convention rights to freedom of religion and belief, freedom of expression, and freedom of assembly.

The Federal List, which details items which have been declared "extremist" by courts and banned from distribution in Russia, now has more than 4,200 entries. A large quantity of these are far-right nationalist or Islamist materials which are violent and/or racist, but the broad interpretation of "extremism" set out in the 2002 Extremism Law means that items which do not incite violence or the violation of any human right may also come to be prohibited.

Frequently, this takes place on the grounds of "promoting the superiority and exclusivity" of one faith (or its adherents) over another, although conviction of the inherent truth of one's own beliefs to the exclusion of others is, however, common to many religions, and does not in itself constitute evidence of hatred or violent intent (see Forum 18's Russia "extremism" religious freedom survey

The Plenum of Russia's Supreme Court issued a definition of "extremism" in June 2011 – "statements that justify the need for genocide, repression, deportations, violence against members of a nation, race or religion" – in which it acknowledged that "criticism of religious beliefs or religious customs should not be viewed as extremism".

In its report on the Russian Federation of 25 August 2017 (CERD/C/RUS/CO/23-24), the United Nations Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination acknowledged these problems with the Extremism Law. It recommended (not for the first time), that Russia "amend the definition of extremism .. to ensure that it is clearly and precisely worded, in accordance with article 4 of the Convention". The Committee also requested that Russia "do away with the Federal List of Extremist Materials".

Any Russian court can declare a work (eg. a book, leaflet, song, slogan, video, website or webpage) "extremist". The Justice Ministry must then add the work to the Federal List. The List often does not include full bibliographical details, and is irregularly updated. Checking whether a particular item is on the List can therefore be difficult or even impossible. The removal of an item from the Federal List is rare and can be short-lived. In recent years, new titles have been added at an increasing rate (see F18News 27 July 2015

Once a publication has been banned as "extremist", anyone owning the work is subject to punishment under Administrative Code Article 20.29 (see Forum 18's Russia "extremism" religious freedom survey

As of 23 November 2015, an amendment to the Extremism Law prevents some, but not all, sacred texts - "the Bible, the Koran, the Tanakh and the Kanjur, their contents, and quotations from them" – from being ruled "extremist" (see F18News 30 November 2015

Jehovah's Witness Bible banned in Vyborg

On 17 August 2017, after nearly nineteen hours of hearings over two days, Judge Dmitry Grishin of Vyborg City Court ruled that the Jehovah's Witnesses' New World Bible and three brochures – "The Bible and its principal theme", "Has science replaced the Bible?", and "Ways to improve your health" – were extremist materials and should be banned from distribution in Russia.

Consideration of the Leningrad-Finland Transport Prosecutor's suit had taken more than a year and a half since it was submitted in December 2015. Judge Roman Petrov suspended the case in April 2016 and ordered further "expert analysis" of the texts. Proceedings resumed under Judge Grishin in June 2017.

The extra analysis ordered by the court was carried out by Natalya Kryukova, Aleksandr Tarasov and Viktor Kotelnikov of the Centre for Socio-Cultural Analysis, despite the fact that they had produced the reports suggesting the presence of "extremism" on which the prosecutors' suit was originally based. They have repeatedly refused to comment to Forum 18 on their work for this case.

The Centre for Socio-Cultural Analysis was registered in Moscow in 2014. It appears to comprise four specialists in, respectively, art history, mathematics (Kryukova), languages (Tarasov), and political science and religious studies (Kotelnikov). According to their website, they offer, among other services: "the identification in text and images .. of the promotion of extremist activity and direct, indirect and hidden calls to extremism; the determination of extremism in the activities of organisations; and the identification of signs of forced involvement in an organisation whose activities bears signs of extremism".

The Centre states it works with law enforcement and judicial bodies, as well as unspecified other organisations and individuals. In 2015, it produced analysis of two Jehovah's Witness texts which were then banned as "extremist" in Kurgan, although a higher court later overturned this ruling. Kryukova also produced analysis for the criminal case against two Jehovah's Witness elders in Sergiyev Posad, who were accused of inciting religious hatred in their sermons – they were twice acquitted (see 25 August 2017

In court in Vyborg, Jehovah's Witness lawyers Aleksandr Dyubin, Maksim Novakov and Anton Bogdanov claimed that the court-ordered "expert analysis" contained "many mistakes and inaccuracies", and that the experts were not properly qualified. They stressed that Kryukova, Tarasov and Kotelnikov had already produced analysis of the texts at the request of customs officials, and so could not do so again.
Anatoly Baranov, a philologist from the Institute of the Russian Language at the Russian Academy of Sciences, also submitted to the court a comparative analysis of more than 600 randomly sampled fragments from five different Bible translations, including the New World, which concluded that they were identical in meaning.

According to reports of the proceedings on the news website (which is administered from outside Russia), during the hearing on 16 August, lawyer Dyubin questioned Mikhail Odintsov, chair of the Russian Society of Researchers of Religion, on the contents of the New World version. Asked whether the latter was a bible, Odintsov affirmed that it was.

The judge disregarded these statements, and the Jehovah's Witnesses' assertion that none of the titles showed any signs of extremism.

The Jehovah's Witness lawyers submitted an appeal against the "extremism" ruling to Leningrad Regional Court on 21 September. No hearing date has yet been set. The judge ordered the books themselves to be confiscated, but not destroyed.

The verdict: not a bible
According to the written Vyborg verdict, seen by Forum 18, all four texts contain "justification of the need to implement actions aimed at violent change to the foundations of the constitutional system of the Russian Federation; justification of the need to violate the integrity of the Russian Federation .. calls for religious discord .. statements justifying the need for genocide and mass repressions against adherents of other religions .. allegations of the natural superiority of Jehovah's Witnesses and the inferiority of adherents of other religions .. [and] justification of the opposition and incompatibility of the interests of Jehovah's Witnesses with the interests of other religious groups".

The court also concluded that the texts use "manipulative psychological and linguistic methods" in order to inculcate "negative attitudes towards a person on the grounds of attitude toward religion" and encourage Jehovah's Witnesses "to distance themselves from the institutions of civil society, as well as from the institutions of the family and marriage" and "refuse to perform duties in the ranks of the Armed Forces".

Judge Grishin notes the Extremism Law's 2015 prohibition on banning the Bible, the Koran, the Tanakh, and the Kanjur (and quotations from them), but cites the findings of the Centre for Socio-Cultural Analysis as evidence for why the Russian-language New World version should not be considered a bible.

The experts concluded that the New World Bible is not a Bible because "it does not have such a title [but uses the title "Holy Scripture"], it is based on a translation into English from Ancient Hebrew and Ancient Greek texts, [and] significant changes have been made to the text, which are recognised by the authors of the New World translation themselves .. The most revealing example is the use of a tetragrammaton in the form of Jehovah [to refer to God]. In addition, the key texts of the New Testament, affirming the unity and equality of God the Father and God the Son, are changed so that they can be interpreted in the opposite sense".

While Judge Grishin accepted the Jehovah's Witnesses' argument and the experts' own testimony that the New World version contains text "partially coinciding in its content with the text of universally accepted translations of the Bible", he concluded that this "in itself is not grounds to consider all editions of the Bible as such – in connection with which the norms of Article 3.1 of the Extremism Law cannot be applied".

Customs officials at the Svetogorsk border crossing from Finland had impounded millions of copies of the four books on three occasions in May, June and July 2015. On each occasion, customs authorities took Jehovah's Witnesses to court under Article 16.3, Part 1, of the Administrative Code ("Non-observance of Customs Union rules on goods banned or limited 'on the basis of national interests and objectives'").

Customs officials based their case on examination of the texts by the Centre for Socio-Cultural Analysis (their report on the New World Bible concluded that it induced "hostility towards people based on religious affiliation" and contained "justification of the necessity of carrying out aggressive, violent, cruel actions towards a person in connection with religious affiliation").

The Jehovah's Witnesses' Russian and Finnish branches have unsuccessfully tried to challenge the confiscation of their literature through the arbitration courts (see F18News 5 May 2016

In a 16 July 2015 statement, Jehovah's Witness Administrative Centre representative Yaroslav Sivulsky called the block on importing Bibles "the apotheosis of a mindless, unprofessional, and frenzied struggle with imaginary 'extremism'".

Other Jehovah's Witness texts

Several other Jehovah's Witness resources have also been banned. Proletarian District Court, Rostov-on-Don, ruled "extremist" on 24 March 2017 "Questions of Youth: Practical Advice, Volume 2" (2008 New York edition) by request of the Southern Transport Prosecutor's Office. It was added to the Federal List on 15 June 2017.

Customs officials had found a copy in a sailor's cabin on a ship in Rostov's port. A linguistics expert from the Rostov Centre for Judicial Expertise concluded that the book "negatively evaluates" people who are not Jehovah's Witnesses, encourages Jehovah's Witnesses to end relationships with them, and promotes the "superiority" of Jehovah's Witnesses, but also concluded that the text contains no calls for violence and in fact advocates tolerance towards non-Jehovah's Witnesses.

A book of same title, published in New York in 1998 but not divided into two volumes, already appears on the Federal List, having been banned in 2009 in Taganrog.

Serov District Court in Sverdlovsk Region found "Listen to God" and the January 2015 issue of the journal "Awake!" to be "extremist" on 19 February 2016. The first of these texts consists of quotations from the Jehovah's Witnesses' New World Bible, the second, of advice on dealing with anger, discussion of God's culpability in human suffering, information on Costa Rica, and an interview with an ill child. Both also contained links to the main Jehovah's Witness website,, which is itself banned and blocked in Russia.

Jewish texts

Judge Yury Kurin of Sochi's Central District Court ruled on 22 March 2017 that a nineteenth-century Jewish-themed historical novel and an academic article on the concept of the Holy Land should be banned as "extremist".

According to the court verdict, seen by Forum 18, the FSB security service seized both items during a search of an unspecified building in Sochi. Their ownership is unclear, and no representatives of the publishers or the article's author appeared to be party to the case or present at the hearing.

The novel, published under the Russian title "Forcibly Baptised [Nasilno kreshchenniye]" is by Marcus Lehmann (1838-1890), a German rabbi, writer, and civil servant. It tells the story of a Jewish convert to Catholicism who becomes treasurer at the court of the Polish king, and details the experiences of Jews in fourteenth-century Poland-Lithuania, particularly the persecution and discrimination they encountered. According to the verdict, expert analysis by an FSB criminology laboratory concluded that the novel was intended to incite hatred towards Christians, especially Catholics, and to promote the "superiority and exclusivity" of Judaism over Christianity.

As well as the hard copy novel (published in Russian by Izografus, 2001, Moscow), Judge Kurin ordered two websites which host the text to be banned and blocked. The book's entry on the Federal List, added on 17 July 2017, does not specify print or electronic versions. The book appears to have been withdrawn from the Russian National Library, in whose online catalogue it is marked as "Removed from public access. Federal List [of Extremist Materials] No. 4176".

Rabbi Boruch Gorin of the Federation of Jewish Communities criticised the ban, calling it "an absolute mockery of the entire Extremism Law" in a statement on his Facebook page on 17 July. "To say this book is 'extremist,' a book which had dozens of editions, even in Germany in the 19th century, a book about the religious discrimination against Jews in Medieval Europe — that means to ridicule the idea of the 'fight against extremism'."

The banned article "The holiness of the land of Israel", by Zoya Kopelman, was published in the journal "Fathers and Children" (Issue 35, 2001, Moscow), which is produced by the Moscow-based Institute for Jewish Studies in the CIS. Kopelman is a translator and teacher of literature at the Hebrew University in Jerusalem, specialising in the links between Jewish and Russian culture.

The article examines the concept of the "Holy Land", the nature and meaning of "sanctity" when connected with particular geographical space and whether this can change over time, whether such sanctity is original and inherent or dependent on the presence of pious Jews keeping the commandments there, and the importance of Israel in the prayers and practices of Jews even when they do not live there.

The FSB's "expert analysis" reported that the article was intended to incite hatred towards non-Jewish ethnicities and promote the "superiority and exclusivity" of Jews over other peoples; it also allegedly incites religious hatred and "infringes on the rights, freedoms, and legal interests of the person and citizen in relation to their ethnicity, religious affiliation, and attitude to religion".
In his verdict, Judge Kurin concludes that dissemination of Kopelman's article would therefore encourage people "to commit a criminal offence, facilitate the commission [of the crime], aid in its preparation, and foment social, racial, national or religious strife among the population".

Kopelman asks "How are human life and the holiness of the Land of Israel connected?", and in answer quotes Israeli Rabbi Mordechai Breuer, who outlines in his 1993 book of essays "Pirkei Moadot" how God gave different lands to Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob and to Lot and Esau and their descendants: "And the border dividing these lands is nothing but a boundary between the holy and the ordinary, between light and darkness, between the people of Israel and other nations. And the unceasing struggle between the population on different sides of this border is the struggle of the holy and the unholy .. a reflection of the duality inherent in this world - the coexistence of good and evil, pure and impure".

Rabbi Breuer also points out, however, that God told the Jews not to conquer these other lands, that they had a right to them only if their inhabitants gave them up. Kopelman's article makes no call for violence or discrimination against non-Jews.

As with Lehmann's novel, Judge Kurin also ordered the page of the Institute's website containing the article to be banned and blocked, although the Federal List entry (also added on 17 July 2017) does not distinguish between print and electronic versions.

The SOVA Centre for Information and Analysis commented on 17 July that the experts, prosecutors, and court in this case were clearly ignorant of the nature of Judaism as an ethnocentric religion, "for which ideas of the mission of the Jewish people and the holiness of the land of Israel are very important and inalienable".

Jewish Kabbalah texts

Another Jewish text, Mikhael Laytman's "Kabbalah: Secret Jewish Teachings. Part 10 – Fruits of Wisdom" was banned by Kirov District Court in Yekaterinburg on 1 October 2015. The work did not appear on the Federal List until 23 April 2017, however, after an unsuccessful appeal by the author at Sverdlovsk Regional Court on 23 December 2016.

Prosecutors seized the book from the library of Yekaterinburg's Or-Avner Jewish Gymnasium. Expert analysis found it to contain "information aimed at inciting ethnic hatred and enmity, propaganda of the exclusivity and superiority of Jews over other people (non-Jews) .. the idea of the inferiority of other peoples, except for Jews".

Laytman, a Soviet-born Israeli citizen, is the head of the Bney-Barukh International Kabbalah Academy. He has caused controversy among Orthodox Jews by teaching the Kabbalah to non-Jews. Although the book contains the suggestion that Jews are in opposition to other peoples, it appears to have no violent or aggressive content.

Islamic literature banned again

Islamic literature also continues to be ruled "extremist". On 3 March 2017, Svetly City Court in Kaliningrad Region banned "Muslim dogma (Akida)", by Turkish academic Ahmed Saim Kilavuz. The Justice Ministry added it to the Federal List on 7 June 2017, noting explicitly that the many Koranic quotations it contains are not banned, in accordance with the 2015 amendment to the Extremism Law.

Kilavuz's work describes the foundations of the Islamic faith, and does not appear to contain any aggressive or violent statements. It was also among 68 Islamic texts banned in a single 20-minute hearing at Orenburg's Lenin District Court in March 2012 – in 2015, an appeal hearing at Orenburg Regional Court decided that fifty of these, including Kilavuz's book, were not "extremist", and they were later removed from the Federal List (see F18News 27 July 2015

Despite this, these items continue to be subject to bans under the Extremism Law. Another title which has repeatedly fallen foul of the Extremism Law, both before and after it was reprieved in Orenburg, is "Fortress of a Muslim", by Said al-Qahtani. This is a volume of prayers and greetings for everyday occasions, which contains no call for violence or violation of human rights, but which has been blocked across multiple websites as well as in hard copy. It appears seven times on the Federal List (although the exact editions are not always clear), banned in four separate rulings by three different courts between July 2014 and August 2016.

Soviet District Court in Ulan-Ude issued the latest ban of "Fortress of a Muslim" on 22 August 2016, in relation to the 2011 3rd edition from the Ezhayev publishing house. It was added to Federal List on 8 November 2016.

The lifting of a previous ban or an earlier refusal to rule a text "extremist" offers no subsequent protection. On 1 February 2017, Kirov District Court in Ufa banned "Selected Hadith", a Russian translation of several hundred sayings attributed to the Muslim Prophet Mohammed. The collection was compiled by Muhammad Yusuf Kandahlawi (1917-1965), a major figure in the Tabligh Jamaat Muslim missionary movement, which is outlawed as "extremist" in Russia.
Pervouralsk City Court, however, refused to ban the book in December 2015 on the grounds that it contained quotations from the Koran. An appeal judge at Sverdlovsk Regional Court upheld this interpretation of the 2015 amendment to the Extremism Law in March 2016 (see F18News 5 May 2016

In an indication of the inconsistency with which the amendment is applied, five items appear on the Federal List with the note that the ban does not cover the Koranic or Bible quotations they contain – but the entry for "Selected Hadith", added on 7 June 2017, includes no such caveat.

Christian texts

It appears that almost any negative portrayal of another religion or its adherents can lead to a text being declared "extremist", regardless of whether this is accompanied by the incitement of violence or discrimination.

Bryansk Region Military Prosecutor's Office requested that "Hearts of Fire: Eight Women in the Underground Church and Their Stories of Costly Faith" and "Islam: a look beneath the mask" be outlawed as extremist. Judge Viktor Rukhmakov of Sevsk District Court upheld the two separate suits on 12 April 2016, and the Justice Ministry added both titles to the Federal List on 20 April 2017.

According to the written verdicts, seen by Forum 18, the FSB border service had seized the two books "as part of a planned operation" from two men travelling to Russia from Ukraine, after being tipped off by customs officials who had seen "signs of incitement to extremist activity on religious grounds" in the texts. Igor Balashov and Venyamin Yakubovsky, from whom the books were confiscated, do not appear to have been prosecuted on any administrative charge. It is unclear how many copies of the book the FSB seized.

The books were subjected to psychological and linguistic analysis by the Justice Ministry's Bryansk Laboratory of Judicial Expertise. According to both verdicts, "experts" found them to contain "a combination of linguistic and psychological signs of the incitement of religious enmity and hatred". The verdicts give no further details of the "expert analysis" and quote no parts of the texts which were deemed "extremist". No representative of the authors, publishers, or owners of the books appear to have been present in court.

Neither book appears to encourage violence against non-Christians or support discrimination against them, but prosecutors couched the case in terms of state and societal security.
The verdict claims: "At present, threats to the national security of the Russian Federation are predominantly internal. Therefore, the most important area for ensuring Russia's national security is the fight against organised crime, ensuring state and public security and protecting public order. A significant threat to Russia's national security is the most dangerous form of organised crime – extremism .. combating extremism as ideology, intolerance, incitement of hatred or enmity, humiliation of human dignity on grounds of race, nationality, language, origin, attitude to religion, or membership of any social group is the most important way of ensuring national security".

"Hearts of fire" was produced by Steve and Ginny Cleary of the US-based Christian mission support organisation Voice of the Martyrs, with a foreword by American missionary Gracia Burnham. The Russian edition was published in the US in 2015, shortly before the FSB seized the books on 4 September 2015. As attested on the verso of the title page, the edition was intended for free distribution.

Based on interviews carried out by the authors, the book describes the experiences of eight "Christian women persecuted for their faith" by atheist governments or other religious groups (mostly locals, plus one Australian missionary) in different countries (Indonesia, Bhutan, the Soviet Union, Communist Romania, Pakistan/Iran, China, India, and Vietnam).

Despite depicting often extremely violent actions, committed by Muslims, Buddhists, Hindus, and atheists, the book portrays none of its protagonists as desiring revenge or encouraging hatred of non-Christians.

"Islam beneath the mask", by Dariy Hussein, was published in Kiev in 2012. Its author appears to be an Iranian who converted from Islam to Christianity and is keen to encourage other Muslims to do the same. His book's explicitly stated goal is "to show the real essence of Islam, which, as a rule, nobody publishes .. God put it in my heart to write this book to tell people what true Islam is. I hope that an intelligent person who is capable of sound reasoning will understand and make the right choice of religion – a choice on which depends not only life on this earth, but also life after death".
To this end, Hussein offers a highly negative view of the Koran, the Muslim Prophet Mohammed, and sharia law. He suggests that terrorist atrocities arise directly from Islamic teachings and compares Islam unfavourably with Christianity. For example, he contrasts the Koran with the Bible by claiming that they portray "two different Gods", one calling for "murder, violence, and excess pleasure", the other for love of neighbour.

Hussein is critical of the portrayal of women in the Koran and their position under Islamic law. He notes the right of Muslim men to have four wives and the "right" of girls to marry from the age of nine (while for men it is 15). He then adds: "What can you expect from followers of a religion whose leader was himself a fornicator and all his life fornicated and had a harem? Dear girls and women who want to marry a Muslim, I want to warn you".

Alongside more dispassionate accounts of the history of Islam, Mohammed's early life, and the differences between Sunni and Shia, Hussein also criticises the commercialisation of the haj pilgrimage, compares the veneration of the Kaaba in Mecca to pagan idol worship, and claims that inside the Kaaba are "Satan and evil spirits, but not God".

At no point, however, does the book openly call for violence towards Muslims or their forced conversion – Hussein encourages Christians to conduct evangelistic work among Muslims only with friendship, love, prayer and respect for their culture.

Atheist slide show
As well as religious writings, atheist material can also fall foul of the Extremism Law. On 28 February 2017, Yoshkar-Ola City Court ruled that a ten-minute video of still images on atheist and anti-religious themes was "extremist". It was added to the Federal List on 19 May 2017.

The video consists of a series of cartoons and photographs, with no sound. They include, among others: a picture of Russian Orthodox Patriarch Kirill, captioned "First after God"; pictures of the Bible captioned "I read it. Now I'm an atheist" and "Down with the brain!"; photos of priests and nuns apparently drinking alcohol; an image of Muslims at prayer outdoors entitled "Soon in your city"; cartoons satirising creationist beliefs; and a picture of a man's head captioned "Going to church? Leave your brain at home!"

The video contains no obvious calls for violence or incitement of hatred for believers. A possible exception is a photograph of a burning church bearing a quotation attributed to Spanish anarchist Buenaventura Durutti – "The only church which illuminates is a burning church" – which could be taken as a call to burn churches. The quotation is also linked in the image to Norwegian far-right and neo-pagan musician Varg Vikernes, who was convicted in 1994 of church arson, as well as an unrelated murder.

No verdict is available, so it is unclear whether it was this one slide which led to the ban or whether all the images were considered equally at fault. As the entire video is now banned, however, it is possible that the use of any one image from the series, even outside the context of the video, may lead to prosecution for distribution of "extremist" material. (END)
For more background see Forum 18's surveys of the general state of freedom of religion and belief in Russia at, and of the dramatic decline in this freedom related to Russia's Extremism Law at

A personal commentary by Alexander Verkhovsky, Director of the SOVA Center for Information and Analysis, about the systemic problems of Russian anti-extremism legislation, is at F18News 19 July 2010

A personal commentary by Irina Budkina, Editor of the Old Believer website, about continuing denial of equality to Russia's religious minorities, is at F18News 26 May 2005

More reports on freedom of thought, conscience and belief in Russia can be found at

A compilation of Organisation for Security and Co-operation in Europe (OSCE) freedom of religion or belief commitments can be found at

A printer-friendly map of Russia is available at

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 <> is credited as the source.

Sep 29, 2017

Witch doctors are sacrificing children in drought-stricken Uganda

Doreen Ajiambo
Religion News Service
September 26, 2017

KATABI, Uganda (RNS) — Jackline Mukisa sobbed as she described how her 8-year-old son was found in a nearby swamp in February without teeth, lips, ears and genitals.

“My innocent son died a painful death,” said Mukisa, 28. “How could somebody intend to murder my son?”

A motorcyclist offered John Lubega a lift as he walked back from school, according to fellow students who saw him last. His remains suggest he was slowly killed as part of a human sacrifice ritual performed by witch doctors, apparently to appease the spirits, said Mukisa, who filed a police report.

No arrest has been made so far.

In this landlocked country whose diverse landscape includes the snow-capped Ruwenzori Mountains and immense Lake Victoria, many believe sacrificial rituals can bring quick wealth and health.

Among those rituals, human sacrifice, especially of children, occurs frequently despite the government’s efforts to stop it.

Seven children and two adults were sacrificed last year, said Moses Binoga, a police officer who heads Uganda’s Anti-Human Sacrifice and Trafficking Task Force. Seven children and six adults were sacrificed in 2015.

But experts said the number could be much higher.

Times are tough in Uganda, and people are looking to sacrifices to improve their fortunes. The worst drought in over half a century has hit parts of East Africa, leaving more than 11 million people in this landlocked nation facing food insecurity and 1.6 million on the brink of famine, according to the Ugandan government.

“There is no food due to the ongoing drought, and some believe that this has been brought by ancestral spirits,” said Joel Mugoya, a traditional healer. “So there is a high desire for people to conduct sacrifices so that they come out of this problem.”

Recently, Uganda police arrested 44 suspects in Katabi, a town 24 miles from the capital, Kampala, in connection with a spate of killings of children and women. Half of the suspects have been charged in court, including two alleged masterminds.

Uganda Police Inspector General Kale Kayihura said one suspect confessed to killing eight women. More than 21 women have been killed between May 3 and Sept. 4, Kayihura said.

“The murders were for ritual sacrifices,” he told residents last week. “We are working hard to arrest the remaining suspects and end the practice.”

Francis Bahati’s wife was among the victims. He discovered her body after three days of searching. Her fingers and feet had been cut off for ritual purposes, likely in hopes of securing better fortunes.

“I was shocked and even lost consciousness,” he said.

Last year police arrested Herbert Were, a resident of Busia town in eastern Uganda, for beheading his 8-year-old brother, Joel Ogema. Were, 21, confessed to police that he killed his brother in hopes of attaining wealth.

Church leaders are teaming up with police to end the brutal practice.

Pastor Peter Sewakiryanga, who heads Kyampisi Childcare Ministries, a Christian organization that fights child sacrifice in Uganda, said children disappear in the country every week. They are often found dead, or alive with missing body parts.

Most survivors or victims do not file police reports, Sewakiryanga said, adding that he implores victims to come forward.

“It’s a serious problem but we are fighting it with the help of the government,” he said.

Sacrifices often involve removing body parts, blood or tissue while the child is still alive.

“It’s a brutal ritual that destroys the lives of our children and affects their parents mentally,” he added. “We are working with the police to arrest witch doctors involved in the ritual. We are also assisting the survivors financially and with moral support.”

Sewakiryanga said his charity worked with Ugandan police three years ago to arrest a witch doctor and his accomplices who sacrificed a 7-year-old girl named Suubi.

The witch doctor drained her blood and cut out her genitals, he said. He then cut the neck and drained the blood of the girl’s 10-year-old brother, Kanani.

In June, a Ugandan court sentenced the witch doctor to life in prison.

Fears of witch doctors have hurt women who practice traditional medicine, however.

According to KidsRights, a global organization that fights for the rights of children, Uganda has 650,000 registered traditional healers and an estimated 3 million unregistered practitioners. Unscrupulous witch doctors hide among so-called healers, the group said.

“They should arrest people who murdered my son,” Mukisa said. “The government is doing little to protect our children. They must begin to arrest all witch doctors.”

But Sewakiryanga said arresting everyone claiming to practice medicine was going too far. He hoped to end the practice by changing the hearts of those who promote human sacrifice.

Efforts to end the practice need to expand, he said. Other countries in Africa reported to be practicing child sacrifice include Tanzania, Nigeria, Swaziland, Liberia, Botswana, South Africa, Namibia and Zimbabwe.

Cults on campus: UK students being targeted by dangerous groups

Moving targets: Students are considered ideal candidates for cult recruiters
John Shaw
University Paper
September 1,2017

You probably don’t think of yourself as being a target for cults. No one does.

That type of paranoia is normally reserved for conspiracy theorists and those who wear tin foil hats to stop the government hacking their thoughts.

You probably could, however, describe yourself as intelligent, idealistic, well educated or intellectually curious.

According to the Cult Information Centre, a charity which fights against cultic groups, that is exactly the type of person recruiters target.

The CIC’s founder Ian Haworth, a cult escapee himself, estimates there are around 1,000 movements trying to enroll people of all ages – many of those setting up near campuses. Typically, cults fall into two categories. The first are groups basing themselves around religion.

They create the illusion they are making the world a better place, the average age of a new member is in the 20s and communal living is common.

Isis and Al-Qaeda have both been accused of being cultic in nature.

The second are therapy cults, which promise to make their members better people through self improvement.

They might claim to be able to rid you of that smoking habit you picked up while skipping games at school or better yourself through meditation.

Both use psychological coercion to recruit and retain their members and will have a dogmatic and charismatic member at the helm – think Charles Manson or Osama Bin Laden.

And both are looking to engage and enlist students.

‘Cults tend to make life easier for themselves and they go to areas when they’re soliciting funds where you’ve got a high density of pedestrian traffic,’ Mr Haworth told me.

‘And if you’re recruiting people why not go to a campus?

‘And if you’re turfed off campus then fine you’ll recruit just off campus. And they do.’ He added: ‘The easiest person to recruit is somebody who comes from an economically advantaged family background.

‘It’s someone with average to above average intelligence, it’s someone with a good education and it’s someone who’s often described as caring or idealistic and simply want to make the world a better place and have walked through the wrong door.

‘It’s smart people who are particularly easy to recruit. Certainly if cults are going after people who are intelligent and well-educated, well, why leave out university students? I would have thought they would be a key target group. And they are.

‘Students should be aware that cults are here and sadly here to stay.’

Joining him on the frontline in the war against cults is Birkbeck lecturer and former cult member Dr Alexandra Stein, an expert on social psychology of ideological extremism and other dangerous social relationships.

As a 26-year-old she was ‘captured and held’ (as she puts it) in a Marxist-Leninist group, in which she was told what to wear, when she could marry and whether she could have children.

She was put to work in a rather odd mixture of making bread and writing business computer programs with the promise of creating a utopian world.

After eight years, she escaped and penned a memoir of her time, Inside Out. She describes her book as ‘a cautionary tale for those not yet tempted by such a fate to beware of isolating groups with persuasive ideologies and threatening bass notes.’

As a former cult member, she is well versed in the recruitment methods of these groups. ‘You meet someone who invites you to yoga and they say “to really get the best of this you need to come at least three times a week”,’ she explained.

‘And then slowly it’s ramped up, “you need to come to a ten day retreat”, “you need to not hang out with those friends anymore”.

‘That’s the key. The starting to move you away from your friends and family.’

Dr Stein is desperate to see universities do more to protect students, who she says are in a vulnerable time of their lives.

‘I very, very strongly believe that the way to protect people is through education,’ she told me.

‘I would like to see programmes about what cultic relationships look like and how to keep yourself safe from them and there certainly isn’t anything like that.

‘I have tried to bend the ear of various officials and departments and not had a lot of response.

‘What I’d like to see is university courses that teach the stuff in depth. Generally this is not taught and it’s not rocket science, it’s not that hard to explain to people.

‘If I was the [head] of a university I would introduce this education on multiple levels.

‘I would have an introduction, some basic stuff. There are a list of warning signs all over the internet but we’re not using them at universities.

‘I would have courses at all levels – because it’s really interesting apart from anything else, it’s gripping stuff – that should be taught as full courses in psychology, sociology or political science.

‘And then you can also, if you train your professors, bring this into all kinds of other courses and you can also – in student services – train up some people to understand this and give talks or do film series.

‘If you took it seriously as an administration there’s many ways to begin sharing this information so it’s in the public domain.’

Dr Stein is also very clear students are at a sensitive time in their development. They are in a time of experimenting, pushing boundaries and accepting new friends and groups into their lives – that’s what university is about, right?

She said: ‘[Universities] have an obligation [to protect students] because, first of all, the stereotype of cult membership is weak, needy people who are vulnerable and want someone to tell them what to do, but that’s not borne out by reality.

‘People who are vulnerable are people who are in a normal life transition like leaving home or going to university.

‘That’s why students are vulnerable, because they’re in a new environment.

‘They’re quite rightly trying different things – we want people to try different things at that stage of life – but if you are unlucky enough during that period to bump into a clever and seductive recruiter you could be in trouble.

‘Instead of focussing on the false stereotype of a cult member, we need to focus on what the cults look like, what do the recruits looks like? What do their methods look like? ‘Because that we do know – because it’s a predictable phenomena – and then teach people about that so they can protect themselves.’

She added: ‘We don’t know the prevalence but we do know there’s a lot of [recruitment on campus].

‘There are a load of cults and a load of people affected but it’s very hard, no one’s doing that research and it would be hard to do anyway because a lot of these groups are secret. Every time I speak to anyone about cults, within 15 minutes they’re like “oh yeh, funnily enough I once went to a meeting of such and such” or “yeh, my sister joined” or “yeh, my uncle was in some weird Christian thing”.

‘Everybody knows somebody who’s been affected by this but we don’t talk about it because we don’t have a language because we’re not educated about it.’

So how do we tackle the issue?

‘It’s a question of activism and politics,’ Dr Stein said. ‘Look at the history of domestic violence awareness. When I was in my 20s no one really talked about that.

‘Now, forty years later, The Archers talks about it and if you’re a woman and you go to your doctor they ask you if you feel safe at home. It’s become, through activism and public health efforts, a normal part of our discourse. I think in a way we are in the cult awareness field where the domestic violence field was forty years ago.

‘We need to keep on pushing and pushing. Eventually it’s going to become, I hope, understood as being a public health problem that needs to be addressed.’

The Cautionary Tale of Jim and Tammy Faye Bakker

PTL: The Rise and Fall of Jim and Tammy Faye Bakker's Evangelical Empire
Their sins and scandals were extreme, but it’s too easy to dismiss them as an aberration.

Christianity today
SEPTEMBER 19, 2017

PTL: The Rise and Fall of Jim and Tammy Faye Bakker's Evangelical Empire

John Wigger
Oxford University Press

The apostle Paul considered himself the “chief of sinners,” but then again, he never met Jim Bakker.

The latter’s ministry got off to an innocent enough start. Jim and his wife, Tammy Faye, were young, no-name, itinerant Pentecostal evangelists when a puppet show they had developed for children garnered the attention of pioneering televangelist Pat Robertson. Robertson took a chance on the entrepreneurial couple, and they made the most of it, breaking out on their own and developing a signature Christian television talk show program, originally known as The PTL Club (the letters stood for “Praise the Lord”), that endeared them to millions of viewers across the country and world.

The Bakkers hailed from hardscrabble backgrounds. But in the late 1970s and early 1980s they built a Christian entertainment empire that won accolades from the likes of Billy Graham, Jimmy Carter, and Ronald Reagan. Until—as historian John Wigger declares in his riveting new book, PTL: The Rise and Fall of Jim and Tammy Faye Bakker’s Evangelical Empire—“it all fell apart.”

Sex and Greed

Drawing on a wide range of interviews, newspaper reports, and court documents, Wigger expertly documents the larger-than-life transgressions that eventually brought the Bakkers and PTL tumbling down. Where to begin a summary accounting? Perhaps with the sex? Jim Bakker’s December 1980 encounter with a young woman named Jessica Hahn in a Florida hotel room—one which she describes to this day as non-consensual, though she prefers not to call it rape—would prove central to his and PTL’s undoing. But as Wigger shows, it was just the tip of the iceberg. Throughout Bakker’s time at the helm of PTL he had sex with at least six of his male employees. These, too, were exploitative relationships, in which Bakker deployed the power of his position to secure others’ silence. Tammy Faye was not abusive, but may well have had dalliances of her own, including with the musician Gary Paxton. While the two denied any sexual involvement, many in PTL’s inner circles assumed they had an affair.

Or perhaps it is best to begin with the greed? As the Bakkers’ ministry grew, so did their insatiable appetite for nice things. In 1982 they used PTL funds to purchase a $375,000 vacation condo in Florida, which they went on to furnish lavishly. As Wigger reports, “The drapes, bedspreads, and headboards cost $40,000 alone.” After a few days, Tammy Faye grew tired of the place, which struck her as “nothing but a hotel suite.” They wound up spending only a total of three weeks there.

Both the sex and the greed drove jaw-dropping levels of deceit. Jim went to extreme lengths to cover up the Jessica Hahn affair, a decision that fit into a much larger pattern of illicit lies. The Bakkers’ meteoric rise to Christian celebrity status was made possible by the faith and generosity of countless ordinary believers, who tuned into PTL’s television programs and donated to its telethons. Jim and Tammy Faye violated their trust early and often. In one August 1978 newsletter, Jim, seeking funds for his ambitious Heritage USA theme park, wrote, “Unless God performs a financial miracle, this could be the last letter you will receive from me. ... Tammy and I are giving every penny of our life’s savings to PTL.” But the truth was, as Wigger observes, “He wrote this at almost exactly the same time he bought [a $30,000] houseboat.” The kicker: He paid the required $6,000 down payment with PTL funds.

The Bakkers’ prevarications grew more grandiose and more illegal as they stretched to finance larger and larger projects. Their supporters were not the only victims. While during times of financial distress Jim, Tammy Faye, and other high-level PTL employees still took home extravagant bonuses, the vast majority who worked for the organization scrimped and saved—if they managed to keep their jobs. As Wigger writes, “From November 1985 through February 1986, PTL laid off 283 people, an annual savings of $3,613,780. [Jim] Bakker’s total compensation for 1985 and 1986, as calculated by the IRS, was $3,946,229.”

Those two matter-of-fact sentences illustrate one of the great strengths of Wigger’s style. He does not over-editorialize. The facts about the Bakkers are often outlandish enough, and throughout the book he lets them speak for themselves. Wigger’s commitment to laying off the cheap shot in no way diminishes the reader’s sense of Jim and Tammy Faye’s deep and abiding flaws. But it does mean that the Bakkers emerge from the book not as moral monsters but rather as flesh-and-blood human beings, complete with some real gifts and winsome traits. More than just a comedy of ethical errors, theirs is a story laced with tragedy.
Sanctifying Hedonism

It is, moreover, a cautionary tale. Alert readers will find in Wigger’s book an invitation not to gawk at Jim and Tammy Faye’s sensational sins, but rather to engage in serious introspection. American evangelicals have long conceived of themselves as embattled, and the Bakkers were no exception. They spun a powerful narrative about how the press, the Internal Revenue Service, and other respectable institutions were arrayed against them and their ministry. It was a narrative that resonated with their viewers and that almost without fail worked to replenish PTL’s coffers. Yet it was divorced from reality. Far from righteous prophets crying into a secular wilderness, the Bakkers were in seemingly every imaginable way conformed to the materialistic, self-aggrandizing spirit of their day. If the mantra “greed is good” never rolled off their lips, it nevertheless emanated from their lives.

Few evangelicals, then or now, have sanctified hedonism with such reckless abandon, and yet it would be all too easy to dismiss the Bakkers as mere aberration. Their erstwhile teachings on the “abundant life” retain gospel status in many prosperity churches, even as evangelicals of all different stripes remain locked in hot pursuit of the ever-more-elusive American Dream. If Christ pronounces “Woe to you who are rich,” then at least in their material aspirations, most American believers tend to favor culture. Yet the sense of embattlement persists, especially among white evangelicals, even in the wake of a half century in which they have enjoyed unprecedented access to the halls of power. This frame of mind can be a godsend during times of persecution. But as the Bakkers’ story underscores, it can also be morally dangerous, functioning to distort the truth and justify all kinds of worldliness. Let the reader beware.

If the book is a spur to sober reflection, it is also an enjoyable read. Engaging storylines and a wild cast of characters keep the pages turning, even as Wigger deftly uses the story of PTL to explore much wider developments: of evangelical involvement with the television industry, the evolution of the prosperity gospel, and more. It is perhaps fitting that this definitive history of the Bakkers and PTL is at once edifying and entertaining—a tribute, in that sense, to what might have been.

Heath W. Carter teaches history at Valparaiso University. He is the author of Union Made: Working People and the Rise of Social Christianity in Chicago (Oxford University Press) and a co-editor of Turning Points in the History of American Evangelicalism (Eerdmans).

Some Worry About Judicial Nominee's Ties to a Religious Group

New York Times
SEPTEMBER 28, 2017

One of President Trump’s judicial nominees became something of a hero to religious conservatives after she was grilled at a Senate hearing this month over whether her Roman Catholic faith would influence her decisions on the bench.

The nominee, Amy Coney Barrett, a law professor up for an appeals court seat, had raised the issue herself in articles and speeches over the years. The Democratic senators on the Judiciary Committee zeroed in on her writings, and in the process prompted accusations that they were engaged in religious bigotry.

“The dogma lives loudly within you,” declared Senator Dianne Feinstein, Democrat of California, in what has become an infamous phrase. Senator Orrin Hatch, Republican of Utah, accused his colleagues of employing an unconstitutional “religious test” for office.

Ms. Barrett told the senators that she was a faithful Catholic, and that her religious beliefs would not affect her decisions as an appellate judge. But her membership in a small, tightly knit Christian group called People of Praise never came up at the hearing, and might have led to even more intense questioning.

Some of the group’s practices would surprise many faithful Catholics. Members of the group swear a lifelong oath of loyalty, called a covenant, to one another, and are assigned and are accountable to a personal adviser, called a “head” for men and a “handmaid” for women. The group teaches that husbands are the heads of their wives and should take authority over the family.

Current and former members say that the heads and handmaids give direction on important decisions, including whom to date or marry, where to live, whether to take a job or buy a home, and how to raise children.

Legal scholars said that such loyalty oaths could raise legitimate questions about a judicial nominee’s independence and impartiality. The scholars said in interviews that while there certainly was no religious test for office, it would have been relevant for the senators to examine what it means for a judicial nominee to make an oath to a group that could wield significant authority over its members’ lives.

“These groups can become so absorbing that it’s difficult for a person to retain individual judgment,” said Sarah Barringer Gordon, a professor of constitutional law and history at the University of Pennsylvania. “I don’t think it’s discriminatory or hostile to religion to want to learn more” about her relationship with the group.

Ms. Barrett, through a spokesman at the Notre Dame Law School, where she is on the faculty, declined several requests to be interviewed for this article.

A leader of the People of Praise, Craig S. Lent, said that the group was not “nefarious or controversial,” but that its policy was not to confirm whether Ms. Barrett or anyone else was a member. Mr. Lent, whose title is overall coordinator and who has belonged to the group for nearly 40 years, said in interviews that the group was about building community and long-term friendships, and that members have a “wide spectrum” of political views.

“We don’t try to control people,” said Mr. Lent, who is also a professor of electrical engineering and physics at Notre Dame. “And there’s never any guarantee that the leader is always right. You have to discern and act in the Lord.”

He later added, “If and when members hold political offices, or judicial offices, or administrative offices, we would certainly not tell them how to discharge their responsibilities.”

By all accounts, Ms. Barrett appears headed for confirmation to the United States Court of Appeals for the Seventh Circuit in Chicago, a post one rung below the Supreme Court. She is often mentioned as a potential candidate for the high court, especially if Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg were to retire.

Ms. Barrett, 45, has never served in the judiciary but has won praise for her legal credentials. A law clerk for Justice Antonin Scalia, she was hired at 30 at Notre Dame Law School.

She is a member of the conservative Federalist Society, a conduit for judicial nominees to the Trump White House. More than 70 law professors across the country signed a glowing letter of endorsement. A separate letter of endorsement was signed by all of her fellow faculty members.

The sight of Democratic senators grilling Ms. Barrett only elevated her profile. A conservative judicial group began running digital ads targeting Senator Feinstein. Cheeky T-shirts and coffee mugs soon appeared for sale emblazoned with Senator Feinstein’s remark about dogma.

Ms. Barrett was questioned in particular about a 1998 scholarly article in which she and her co-author argued that sometimes Catholic trial judges should recuse themselves from the sentencing phase of death penalty cases. At the hearing, Ms. Barrett backed away from that position, saying she could not think of any class of cases in which she would recuse herself because of her faith.

Current and former members of People of Praise said that Ms. Barrett and her husband, who have seven children, both belong to the group, and that their fathers have served as leaders. The community, founded in 1971, claims about 1,800 adult members in 22 locations in North America and the Caribbean.

The group believes in prophecy, speaking in tongues and divine healings, staples of Pentecostal churches that some Catholics have also adopted in a movement called charismatic renewal. The People of Praise was an early leader in the flowering of that movement in North America. It is ecumenical, but about 90 percent of its members are Catholic.

To fulfill the group’s communitarian vision, unmarried members are sometimes placed to live in homes with married couples and their children, and members often look to buy or rent homes near other members.

Some former members criticize the group for deviating from Catholic doctrine, which does not teach “male headship,” in contrast to some evangelical churches. The personal advisers can be too controlling, the critics say; they may betray confidences, and too often they supplant the role of priest.

Mr. Lent said the group’s system of heads and handmaids promotes “brotherhood,” not male dominance. He said the group recently dropped the term “handmaid” in favor of “woman leader.”

“We follow the New Testament pattern of asking men to take on some spiritual responsibility for their families,” he said.

Adrian J. Reimers, a professor of philosophy at Notre Dame, was one of the founding members of the People of Praise, but he was ejected 13 years later after he said he increasingly questioned the leaders’ authority over members’ lives and deviation from Catholic doctrine. He later wrote a critical manuscript, “Not Reliable Guides.”

Mr. Reimers said in an interview that the breaking point came after he objected to instructions a handmaid had given to his wife. When he took his concerns to his head, he said he was told that his wife was “trying to undermine God’s plan for her life” and that the couple should follow the handmaid’s guidance.

There are some indications that both Ms. Barrett and the People of Praise may have tried to obscure Ms. Barrett’s membership in the group.

Links to issues of the group’s magazine, Vine & Branches, that mentioned her have disappeared from its website, some of them very recently. One included an announcement that Ms. Barrett and her husband had adopted a child; another had a photograph of Ms. Barrett attending a women’s gathering.

A spokesman for People of Praise, Sean Connolly, said the group was sometimes asked by members to remove links to articles about them, but he would not say whether that had happened in this case. Mr. Lent said he was unaware of any such request concerning Ms. Barrett.

Every nominee for the federal bench is required to fill out a detailed questionnaire for the Senate Judiciary Committee. Ms. Barrett did not list any religious affiliations on her questionnaire, though many nominees have in the past.

Administration officials said on Thursday that the White House has been advising all its judicial nominees that they need not list religious affiliations on their Senate questionnaires.

Ms. Barrett did, however, list that she was a trustee of Trinity School from 2015 to 2017, giving no further detail. Many schools have that name, but this one was founded and run by People of Praise, and trustees must be members. Mr. Lent confirmed that Ms. Barrett was indeed a Trinity trustee until very recently.

The Senate questionnaire also asks nominees to list their public speeches, and to supply the committee with recordings or texts. Ms. Barrett listed a Trinity School commencement address she gave on June 11, 2011, but according to a committee aide, she did not submit a copy of that speech.

“I’m concerned that this was not sufficiently transparent,” said M. Cathleen Kaveny, a professor at Boston College Law School who studies the relationship between law, religion and morality. “We have to disclose everything from the Elks Club to the alumni associations we belong to — why didn’t she disclose this?”

A version of this article appears in print on September 29, 2017, on Page A18 of the New York edition with the headline: Links to Religious Group Raise Issues for Nominee

Enthralled: The Guru Cult of Tibetan Buddhism

Enthralled: The Guru Cult of Tibetan Buddhism
When author, Christine Chandler, signed up for a simple meditation retreat, she had no idea she would be severing emotional ties with her ordinary life, in order to obey the intense practices of Tibetan Lamas; becoming one of their many western devotees and 'change agents' to help the lamas overwhelm western values and ethics in order to replace them with a Buddhist-disguised Tantric spirituality.

After nearly thirty years as a Tibetan 'Buddhist,' Chandler finally realized that she had been part of a thousand-year old, guru-worshiping cult that uses mindfulness and other contemplative practices, along with ancient and sophisticated techniques, to recruit, commit and entrap westerners into the Tibetan Lama's medieval, misogynistic world. A world where the Tibetan lamas can secretly keep harems of young women, cuckold the men, and financially, physically and spiritually exploit their students.
Chandler had a front row seat to the Tibetan Lama hierarchy and how it operates, having taken care of the son of Chogyam Trungpa, the notorious 'crazy wisdom guru.' This gave Chandler exposure to not only Trungpa's Vajradhatu/Shambhala inner workings, but also to the dozens of celebrity Tibetan lamas, who have been infiltrating our western institutions with their occult Tantra and their western devotees, for the last forty years.

Deep inside this Tantric net, Chandler found that all Tibetan Lamas teach from the same guru-worshiping, thought-controling plan; whether they call it Shambhala, Mahamudra, Dzogchen or Mahayana Buddhism. It is all Tantra: a cult of mass manipulation and coercive persuasion, designed to undermine the reasoning abilities of educated populations; changing their values and behaviors; turning them into obedient devotees; no longer able to think and act for themselves. If someone does leave Tibetan Buddhism and dares to be publicly critical, that person is labelled 'too angry,' 'crazy' or a 'liar'; their articles or books discredited; until their message is drowned out. Inside the group they are to be shunned as a "heretic.'

Chandler takes the reader through her own experiences, from her first mindfulness meditation weekend, at a Boston Shambhala meditation center, through her next decades, studying with the celebrity Tibetan Lamas and their western inner circles, drawn deeper and deeper into their Tantric net, until she finally breaks free; realizing that being well-educated was no protection but, instead makes westerners more susceptible to the lamas' double-binding techniques; believing they are studying the most esoteric of Buddhist philosophies, while becoming infantilized members of a Tantric cult.

Enthralled: The Guru Cult of Tibetan Buddhism exposes the many levels of deception, used by Tibetan Lamas, and their western inner circles. They collect billions of tax-exempt dollars in donations, recruit wealthy sponsors to their mission, and ensnare new student-recruits into a web of free labor, unquestioning devotion, and for some, sexual exploitation by these Tibetan lamas.

Chandler deconstructs Tibetan Tantric Lamaism according to the criteria of anti-cult experts, Lifton and Margaret Singer, demonstrating how these lamas radically alter a person's perceptions, to create a 'change agent' to further the lamas' globalist ambitions.

Chandler's experience finally led her to Crestone, Colorado, a town where the Tibetan Lamas are part of a 'Spiritual Alliance' of New-age, world citizens, all mindfully meditating, chanting, humming, and drumming their way backward, to create a global, 'spiritual secularism' that is fundamentalist and dangerous to our democratic freedoms.

A bold, brave exposition about one of the most misunderstood and misleading 'new religious movements' in spirituality today, Enthralled:The Guru Cult of Tibetan Buddhism should not be missed by anyone who cares about truth.

About the Author

Christine A. Chandler, M.A., C.A.G.S. trained as a social worker and psychologist, who specialized in the areas of sexual abuse and dysfunctional systems. She earned postgraduate degrees in psychology, counseling and family systems therapy, as well as in school psychology. She has worked as a LICSW social worker, family therapist, and licensed school psychologist in the public school systems of Massachusetts, Vermont, and Colorado and as a licensed protective social worker in Massachusetts.

Chandler spent nearly thirty years studying and practicing the most esoteric teachings of the Tibetan Lamas, before realizing she was involved in an authoritarian cult that had purposely targeted the 'educated' class, in order to infiltrate into academia, psychology, and other 'soft sciences,' to weaken our institutions from within.

She also spent many years taking care of the son of a high-ranking Tibetan Lama, Chogyam Trungpa, giving her a bird's eye view of the more hidden aspects of Tibetan Buddhism that most people, especially the fringe fans of the Dalai Lama, never see.

Church of Scientology headquarters moving to downtown Guelph

Workers clean the front of the building at 40 Baker Street on Wednesday afternoon. The Church of Scientology is moving into the building, renting out the office space and turning it into a headquarters for Scientology activities in Canada.
40 Baker Street is the new Church of Scientology hub of operations for Canada

Chris Seto
Guelph Mercury
SEPTEMBER 28, 2017

The building at 40 Baker St. is to become the new Canadian headquarters for the Church of Scientology.

Yvette Shank, the public affairs director with the Church of Scientology, said the downtown Guelph location is being transformed into a hub of operations, a rallying point for Scientology activities across the country.

She declined our request for a phone interview, but agreed to take questions through email.

“Guelph is very central to us and convenient for Cambridge and Toronto,” she wrote. “Guelph is a great place with all the amenities anyone would want.”

The Church is renting the entire building. The group began moving in earlier this month. Shank wrote there will be no public facilities at 40 Baker. It's not a church — only administrative personnel will work there.

“These offices serve to support the actions of local churches, missions and groups in their respective areas and serve as a co-ordinating and rallying point for all Scientology activities associated with those churches,” she wrote.

“We are at the forefront of spearheading the church’s massive social mission, including the world’s largest nongovernmental drug education campaign, the largest human rights education campaign and other programs.

“We are acutely aware of the world in which we live and we are dedicated to helping mankind.”

40X Mobile

The yellow stucco building is the former home of the Out of Poverty Society and Chalmers Community Services Centre — organizations that served the city’s marginalized, homeless and at-risk population.

In April, the building was vacated. Chalmers moved into a building on Carden Street and the Out of Poverty Society transformed into 40X Mobile, still serving the downtown population by setting up tables just outside the building at 40 Baker St.

Ed Pickersgill, the Out of Poverty Society founder and co-ordinator, said the new tenants have been supportive of the 40X program. As workers bring items into the building and clean up the space, they’ve made sure to leave room for the 40X tables near the sidewalk offering food, water and personal hygiene items.

No one has complained about the daily service offered between 12 and 3 p.m., Pickersgill said, but every few days he’s usually asked by someone working in the building if 40X Mobile has found another location to set up the program.

Pickersgill said the group is actively looking to find a ground floor unit for rent somewhere in the downtown, but so far, every offer made has been turned down. The group has been setting up in front of 40 Baker every weekday since April and typically sees 70 to 100 people drop by each day.

The Church of Scientology was founded by the American science fiction author L. Ron Hubbard, who died in 1986.

The nearest church of Scientology to Guelph is in Cambridge, at 1305 Bishop St. N. According to a spokesperson at the Municipal Property Assessment Corporation, this property is classified as a place of worship and is entitled to exemption from property taxes.

According to the latest national household survey in 2011, there were 1,745 people who marked Scientology as their chosen religion. The Church itself does not have status as a registered charity, but a Freelton chapter of its addictions treatment program, Narconon, does.

Shank did not respond to a question as to whether the organization had any plans of establishing a church in Guelph.

“We look forward to being a part of the City of Guelph and do our share to help this community we find ourselves in,” she wrote.
by Chris Seto

Chris Seto is a reporter/photographer with the Guelph Mercury Tribune. He can be reached at or on Twitter at @topherseto


Sep 27, 2017

As China's Economy Slows, 'Business Cults' Prey on Young Job Seekers

As China’s Economy Slows, ‘Business Cults’ Prey on Young Job Seekers
As China’s Economy Slows, ‘Business Cults’ Prey on Young Job Seekers

New York Times
September 27, 2017

TIANJIN, China — Some look like high-tech firms, promising young college graduates a fast track to riches. Others pose as charitable groups on a membership drive, or companies building a sales network for a new product. Tens of millions across China are signing up — and learning that all is not as advertised.

Behind these groups is a looming challenge for the ruling Communist Party: A proliferation of pyramid schemes that have attracted enormous followings and huge sums of money, exploiting — and exacerbating — widespread anxiety over a slowing economy.

More than 40 million people are now ensnared, perhaps many more, according to the China Anti-Pyramid Selling Association, a nongovernmental group. One scheme shut down this summer was reported to have registered more than five million people alone, while another in southern China took in at least $54 million. Last year, the authorities investigated more than 2,800 cases, a 19 percent increase from 2015.

New recruits are asked to hand over cash and persuade others to do the same. The more people they bring in, the more they and their bosses earn. But if too many people quit or the schemes run out of new members willing to pay, the pyramids collapse, bankrupting families in a chain reaction and adding to the strains on the Chinese financial system.

The schemes take many forms, but China’s news media has labeled the worst of them “business cults” because they masquerade as elite companies or start-ups hiring college graduates, use high-pressure indoctrination tactics and demand cultlike loyalty. Sometimes, they resort to kidnapping and violence to keep the money coming in.

“They promise the dream of making a fortune,” said Liu Libing, a former victim who runs a business helping families find missing relatives. “In reality, they brainwash you and hold you against your will.”

The government announced a nationwide crackdown on the schemes in August after the death of Li Wenxing, 23, a recent college graduate whose body was found in a pond in the northern city of Tianjin.

Mr. Li had moved to Tianjin for a position as a software developer, desperate for a job his parents in rural China would deem worthy of the education they helped pay for. But when he showed up for work, the people there demanded he borrow hundreds of dollars and hand it over, according to his family and the police.

Mr. Li’s death and a spate of similar cases have prompted a national uproar, in part because college graduates have long enjoyed special status in Chinese society. For many Chinese, the groups preying on them are a symptom of broader problems in the country: vast inequality, a crisis of values and a freewheeling economy that can sometimes resemble the Wild West.

The party has long worried about the destabilizing impact of pyramid schemes, which have thrived in China since it began loosening controls on the economy in the 1980s. For many years, the authorities even banned multilevel marketing tactics, likening companies such as Amway and Avon to “secret societies,” before lifting the prohibition in 2006.

But the government recently warned that pyramid schemes were spreading faster and getting bigger, in part through social media. The high returns they promise are all the more enticing as economic growth has slowed, especially given the dearth of reliable investment options for ordinary Chinese.

A key concern has been the unflinching loyalty that some groups inspire, threatening the party’s tight grip on society. A recent mass protest in Beijing reinforced such fears: The demonstrators were not demanding compensation or an investigation into a pyramid scheme but protesting the arrest of its founder.

The state-run Legal Weekly newspaper later reported that in the span of a year, more than five million people had enrolled in that scheme, Shanxinhui, or Kindness Exchange, which had presented itself as a sort of charitable enterprise.

While pyramid swindlers in China have traditionally focused on older people, the business cults exploit highly educated youth from poorer families, law enforcement officials say. In doing so, they are seizing on the anxieties of a generation willing to go to great lengths to avoid the shame of unemployment.

After expanding access to higher education, China now suffers a glut of college graduates and a scarcity of high-paying jobs. While a college degree was once a ticket into the middle class, many recent graduates are now stuck in low-paying positions or have given up looking for work.

Hundreds of young people across China have been caught in the schemes in recent months, according to Chinese news reports, including many in Tianjin, a cosmopolitan port city and tech hub near Beijing.

The groups have grown skilled at playing into the ambitions of young Chinese eager to join start-ups. Victims are often lured to remote rural areas, where they live in closed communities and are indoctrinated with rags-to-riches tales. Some groups advertise on popular job-hunting sites and explain drab facilities and cramped conditions by saying they are cultivating a “start-up environment,” former members said.

Several participants have died under mysterious circumstances.

Zhang Chao, 25, suffered heatstroke and died while being held by swindlers in Tianjin in July, the police said. His body was dumped alongside a road.

Lin Huarong, 20, who had fought with organizers of a pyramid scheme, was found dead in a river last month in the central province of Hubei.

Qu Pengxu, 24, was discovered floating in a lake in March. The police said he appeared to have been fleeing a group near Tianjin.

Many young people join and stay in the groups voluntarily, excited by promises of fancy cars, overseas travel and lavish meetings where money is handed out in dramatic fashion.

China Youth Daily, a state-run newspaper, recently reported on hordes of young people with “dreams of a gold rush” flocking to a hot spot of pyramid schemes near Beijing. Leaders of one scheme told participants they could turn an investment of $7,500 into nearly $700,000.

In reality, law enforcement officials say, many of the investment schemes are sophisticated ruses with the sole purpose of enriching the founders.

Liu Jinpeng, 22, a student in the southern province of Guangdong, said he was excited when his girlfriend got him a summer internship at her company, which she described as a biotechnology firm. But he realized something was wrong when he arrived for work in early July.

She suddenly told him the company actually specialized in cosmetics. The company then took his phone and asked him to pay a membership fee of more than $400.

Mr. Liu said the group assigned someone to guard him round the clock for nearly three weeks and packed his schedule with activities to brainwash him.

“Every single day your mind wouldn’t have time to rest,” he said in a telephone interview. “They don’t give you any alone time.”

He tried throwing a note out a window with the words “Save me.” Eventually, he managed to retrieve his phone and get a message to the police, who rescued him but did not make any arrests, he said.

To win the trust of new members, the groups often deploy loved ones and trusted friends to offer testimonials.

Li Zhengliang, a college student in eastern China, said he gladly accepted when a high school friend invited him last year to visit Tianjin. But his friend then introduced him to young men who spoke about making millions of dollars by tricking people into investing in a mysterious product. When he tried to leave, the men blocked his way and threatened him with a knife.

“I was so desperate and so scared,” he said in a telephone interview. “I thought I was doomed.”

Mr. Li escaped three days later and reported the group to the police in Tianjin, he said, but they dropped the case after only chastising the young men.

Li Wenxing, the young man found dead in a pond, was duped by a posting for an $800-a-month position as a Java programmer at the Tianjin branch of a real Beijing technology company.

Mr. Li had hoped the job would allow him to repay his parents for the money they spent on his programming classes, according to a friend, Wang Xing. He was so determined to save money, Mr. Wang said, that he skipped going out to meals.

The police have detained five members of a 7,000-person group known as Diebeilei in connection with Mr. Li’s death, according to the state news media.

The authorities have said it was unlikely Mr. Li was murdered, but they have not determined how he died, according to an uncle of his who asked not to be named. Friends and relatives of Mr. Li said the government considered the case politically sensitive.

In his final phone call home in July, the uncle said, Mr. Li told his parents not to give money to strangers.

Karoline Kan contributed research.

Follow Javier C. Hernández on Twitter: @HernandezJavier.