May 23, 2019

Dane jailed by Russia in Jehovah's Witnesses crackdown loses appeal - group's spokesman

MAY 23, 2019

MOSCOW (Reuters) - A Danish adherent of the Jehovah’s Witnesses jailed for six years in Russia after being found guilty of organizing a banned extremist group lost his court appeal on Thursday, a spokesman for the group said.

Armed police detained Dennis Christensen, a builder, in May 2017 at a prayer meeting in Oryol, some 200 miles (320 km) south of Moscow after a court in the region outlawed the local Jehovah’s Witnesses a year earlier.

A Russian court in February jailed him for six years in a case critics condemn as crushing religious freedom.

On Thursday, a court in Oryol ruled on his appeal.

“The three-judge panel denied the appeal and upheld the six-year sentence he received in February,” Jehovah’s Witnesses spokesman Jarrod Lopes said in a statement.

Lopes said 197 Jehovah’s Witnesses in Russia were facing criminal charges, and that 28 men and women among them were being held in pretrial detention and 24 were under house arrest.

Reporting by Andrew Osborn; Editing by Tom Balmforth

May 22, 2019

2 charged in psychic scam; police say lawyer was swindled out of $1.5M

ABA Journal
MAY 16, 2019

A California lawyer who responded to a flyer for psychic readings was swindled out of $1.5 million by scammers who said she had to pay them to clear her chakras and eliminate her bad karma, police say.

Two people have been charged in Las Vegas in the monthslong scam, and a criminal complaint is pending against a third, the Las Vegas Review-Journal reports. Sherry Marks, 52, and David Marks, 48, are charged with conspiracy, extortion and four counts of obtaining money under false pretenses.

Prosecutors were given until early June to file a criminal complaint against the third person, Peaches Marks. But Sherry and David Marks are due back in Las Vegas Justice Court later this month, according to the Las Vegas Review-Journal.

The scam allegedly began more than a year ago, when the lawyer was charged $1,500 for a “chakra clearing,” the article reports. She was told “her chakras were off balance.” By May 2018, she lost hundreds of thousands of dollars in cash alone, according to the story.

After that, the scammers allegedly persuaded the lawyer to finance a trip to New Orleans for David Marks and his girlfriend, Rita Stevens, who has not been charged in the case; pay for two BMWs; make cash payments; and turn over her credit card to Sherry Marks, according to a police report cited by the Las Vegas Review-Journal.

Using the name Paula Williams, Sherry Marks allegedly told the lawyer that her life was in jeopardy and she had to continue cash payments. If the money stopped flowing, Marks allegedly had said, all their work would have been done for nothing.

The Las Vegas Review-Journal identified the victim as a workers’ compensation lawyer in California. She also has a home in Summerlin, Nevada.

Betsy Allen, a lawyer for David Marks, said she couldn’t comment on the case; and Kenneth Frizzell, a lawyer for Sherry Marks, also declined to comment. The victim did not immediately respond to the ABA Journal’s request for comment.

May 21, 2019

The science of why so many people believe in psychic powers

A psychic medium is someone who is believed to have extrasensory powers.
Neil Dagnall (Reader in Applied Cognitive Psychology, Manchester Metropolitan University)

Ken Drinkwater (Senior Lecturer and Researcher in Cognitive and Parapsychology, Manchester Metropolitan University)

The Conversation
February 4, 2019

Disclosure statement
The authors do not work for, consult, own shares in or receive funding from any company or organization that would benefit from this article, and have disclosed no relevant affiliations beyond their academic appointment.

Partners: Manchester Metropolitan
Manchester Metropolitan provides funding as a member of The Conversation UK.

Republish Republish our articles for free, online or in print, under Creative Commons license.

Mind reading and the ability to predict the future are not skills people generally associate with the human race. Yet, research shows many people genuinely believe in the existence of psychic powers.

You would think that instances of proven psychic fraud over the years would weaken the credibility of psychic claims. There have been historical cases, such as Lajos Pap, the Hungarian spiritualist medium, who was found to be faking animal appearances at seances. And then more recently, self described psychic James Hydrick was revealed as a trickster. Hydrick confessed his paranormal demonstrations were tricks learned in prison.

Another notable example involved televangelist Peter Popoff. His wife used a wireless transmitter to broadcast information about sermon attendees to Popoff via an earpiece. Popoff claimed to receive this information by paranormal means and rose to fame hosting a nationally televised programme, during which he performed seemingly miraculous cures on audience members.

But despite such cases, there are still many people who firmly believe in the power of psychic ability. According to a US Gallup survey, for example, more than one-quarter of people believe humans have psychic abilities – such as telepathy and clairvoyance.

The believers

A recent report may help to shed some light on why people continue to believe in psychic powers. The study tested believers and sceptics with the same level of education and academic performance and found that people who believe in psychic powers think less analytically. This means that they tend to interpret the world from a subjective personal perspective and fail to consider information critically.

Believers also often view psychic claims as confirmatory evidence – regardless of their evidential basis. The case of Chris Robinson, who refers to himself as a “dream detective”, demonstrates this.

Robinson claims to have foreseen terrorist attacks, disasters and celebrity deaths. His assertions derive from limited and questionable evidence. Tests conducted by Gary Schwartz at the University of Arizona provided support for Robinson’s ability, however, other researchers using similar methods failed to confirm Schwartz’s conclusion.

Vague and general

Psychic claims are often general and vague – such as foretelling a plane crash or celebrity death – and this is in part why so many people believe in the possibility of psychic abilities.

This is known as The Barnum effect, a common psychological phenomenon whereby people tend to accept vague, general personality descriptions as uniquely applicable to themselves.

Research for example, has shown that individuals give high accuracy ratings to descriptions of their personality that supposedly are tailored specifically to them, that are in fact vague and general enough to apply to a wide range of people. The name references the circus man Phineas Taylor Barnum, who had a reputation as a master psychological manipulator.

Impossible to validate

Many psychic claims have also proved impossible to confirm. A classic illustration is Uri Geller’s contention that he “willed” the football to move during a penalty kick at Euro 96. The ball movement occurred spontaneously in an uncontrolled environment and Geller made the claim retrospectively.

When professed abilities are subject to scientific scrutiny researchers generally discredit them. This was true of Derek Ogilvie in the 2007 TV documentary The Million Dollar Mind Reader. Investigation concluded Ogilvie genuinely believed he possessed powers, but was not actually able to read babies’ minds.

And when scientists have endorsed psychic claims, criticism has typically followed. This occurred in the 1970s when physicists Russell Targ and Harold Puthoff published a paper in the prestigious journal Nature, which supported the notion that Uri Geller possessed genuine psychic ability. Psychologists, such as Ray Hyman refuted this – highlighting major methodological flaws. These included a hole in the laboratory wall that afforded views of drawings that Geller “psychically” reproduced.

Mixed evidence

Another factor that facilitates belief in psychic ability is the existence of scientific research that provides positive findings. This reinforces believers’ views that claims are genuine and phenomenon real, but ignores that fact that published studies are often criticised and replication is necessary in order for general acceptance to occur.

One prominent example of this was a paper produced by social psychologist Daryl Bem in the high-quality Journal of Personality and Social Psychology. It was said the research showed support for the existence of precognition (conscious cognitive awareness) and premonition (affective apprehension) of a future event. But other researchers failed to reproduce these results.

Mind set

So it seems that despite occurrences of fakery, forgery and fraudulence – as well as mixed evidence – people will still continue to believe in psychic phenomena. cIndeed, research has shown that one in three Americans feel they have experienced a psychic moment – and nearly half of US women claim they have felt the presence of a spirit.

Whether this is down to lack of analytical skills, genuine experiences, or just in a bid to make the world a little bit more interesting, it seems believers will continue to believe – despite science indicating otherwise.

Can I Be Sued By The Former Cult I Was A Member Of?

William R. Pelger
Civil Litigation
May 17, 2019

Q: I was a member of a cult for decades. They practice shunning and have split up many families over the years. I have created a website to warn potential visitors and current members about the church. I signed a NDA while I was there. I am wondering if that is enforceable, what the line is between stating facts, vs slander/libel and are there any limits on my speech. I am commenting on their 4 churches in PA, OH, and ME. (Cranberry Twp., PA)

A: The Non-Disclosure Agreement must be read. Truth is generally a defense to a libel or slander suit. However, if the NDA is restrictive enough, you could be liable for any sort of disclosure. Some of these cults have lots of money and pursue legal action against former members aggressively.

Don't talk (too much) about religion at work

A British judgment on preaching to colleagues and clients
A British judgment on preaching to colleagues and clients
The Economist
May 19th 2019

BY HER own lights, Sarah Kuteh was evidently convinced that she was doing the right thing. But some of the patients who were interviewed by this devoutly Christian nurse, as they were being prepared for big operations, felt disturbed by her insistence on bringing up her beliefs. One man, facing cancer treatment, said she offered him a Bible and induced him to sing part of a Biblical Psalm with her. It felt like a scene out of Monty Python, an old British comedy show, he complained later.

This week a British employment-law judge reaffirmed that a hospital in the south-east of England had been acting within its rights when it dismissed Ms Kuteh after she persisted, despite warnings, in having rather assertive religious conversations with patients. (It was sometimes part of her job to ask patients what religion, if any, they professed, but she had been told to keep such enquiries very brief.) The verdict was a nuanced one, though, which made clear that its aim was not to ban all talk of religion from the workplace.

In Britain and most other democracies, law and jurisprudence have tried to achieve a careful balance between two things: first, upholding freedom of speech, and the freedom to practise and indeed advocate one’s beliefs; and second, people’s desire to be protected from unwanted or even bullying proselytism, especially when they are in vulnerable situations. Also part of the mix is the natural concern, and indeed duty, of employers to avoid religious discord in the workplace.

In Europe, a conditional right to proselytise (in the sense of advocating the truth of one’s religion) was affirmed by a famous judgment of the Strasbourg-based European Court of Human Rights, the so-called Kokkinakis case, adjudicated in 1993. As was to be expected, lawyers for Ms Kuteh brought up that case, which vindicated a Greek Jehovah’s Witness. (He had been convicted of illegal proselytising, a criminal offence in Greece, after engaging a woman neighbour in a religious discussion which she found confusing; her husband, an Orthodox church chanter, went to the police.)

But as this week’s British ruling observed, the Kokkinakis verdict had made an important distinction between “bearing Christian witness” and “improper proselytism”. As the Strasbourg verdict specified, the latter might take the form of “offering material or social advantages with a view to gaining new members for a church or exerting improper pressure on people in distress or in need; it may even entail the use of violence or brainwashing.” And on the face of things, “exerting improper pressure on people in distress or in need” is a rather accurate description of the activities that were at issue in Ms Kuteh’s case.

In the United States, where religious faith and the sanctity of free speech are generally held in higher regard than in some parts of Europe, there is a similar struggle to achieve a balance. The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, a federal agency that upholds anti-discrimination law, warns employers that if one worker is allowed to preach aggressively to another, that can give the targeted worker grounds to sue the bosses for allowing a hostile work environment. But in practice that doesn’t preclude a bit of casual chat about matters of belief over the water-cooler.

Apart from the constitution, the key legislation in America is the 1964 Civil Rights Act, which tells bosses to give “reasonable accommodation” to their workers’ religious needs as long as doing so does not bring about “undue hardship” for the firm or organisation. A worker who creates an atmosphere of sectarian strife, or falsely implies to the world that an employer is associated with a particular faith, could certainly be accused of causing “undue hardship”, the case law suggests. This implies that a discreet religious sign at a workstation deep inside a building is okay, but a receptionist putting the same sign above the desk seen by everybody entering the premises would be out of line.

A landmark case in 1996 upheld the dismissal of a devoutly Christian worker at a firm in Richmond, Virginia, after she told her supervisor to “get right with God” and warned a subordinate that she was sinning gravely by conceiving a child out of wedlock. But gentler religious language, such as wishing fellow workers a “blessed day”, has been found to be permissible.

In American cases where the employer is the government, another consideration comes into play: the constitutional ban on the state establishment of any particular faith. In recent times this has been interpreted quite broadly to bar any overt identification by any agency of the state, whether administrative or judicial, with a particular metaphysical viewpoint. So in a case from 2001, when a nursing consultant in Connecticut was dismissed for her habit of preaching on the job, the state’s Health Department successfully used the argument that its employees had to present a religiously neutral face to the world.

But bosses looking for a simple rule of thumb to handle religious issues in the work-place won’t find one. International human-rights norms, including the European Convention on Human Rights, affirm the right to manifest one’s beliefs, in public and private. Given the harsh persecution which rages in many parts of the word, that is not a trivial entitlement. But as is noted by Tom Heys, an employment laywer with the London firm of Lewis Silkin, “There is often a fine line between…the manifestation of a belief and its inappropriate promotion.”

Shambhala International fights to survive in face of sex scandal

Sakyong Mipham Rinpoche in 2007. Photo courtesy of Creative Commons
Religion News Service
May 13, 2019

BOULDER, Colo. (RNS) — The sexual misconduct scandal rocking Shambhala International, one of the largest Buddhist organizations in the West, is causing the organization to suffer financially, and many of their properties and programs are being sold off or downsized.

Started in the 1970s by the Tibetan Buddhist teacher Chogyam Trungpa Rinpoche, who also founded Naropa University, Shambhala has been embroiled in crisis since last summer, when Trungpa’s son and the organization’s current spiritual leader, Sakyong Mipham Rinpoche, was accused of sexual misconduct.

Since the initial report, more allegations have been made against other senior teachers in Shambhala, suggesting a pattern of cover-ups and failure to address sexual misconduct at the upper levels of the group’s leadership.

But at the heart of Shambhala’s financial woes is the fact that, since the allegations broke, Sakyong Mipham Rinpoche has stepped back from his leadership role and is no longer teaching. Much of the organization’s revenue was generated from his teachings.

Shambhala’s entire governing board, the Kalapa Council, resigned when the scandal broke in July of last year and was replaced with an interim board that is attempting to hold the organization together. As they attempt to change Shambhala’s culture and regain the trust of their followers, they are also struggling with a drop in revenue.

According to a statement released by the interim board in March, revenue is down almost 60 percent from the beginning of 2018, and the organization has a debt of more than 1.3 million, with the entire amount due in August.

In order to address their debt, the board is looking into selling Marpa House, a Shambhala-owned property in downtown Boulder used as an intentional living community for about 40 people. It is widely beloved by many in Shambhala, and news of its potential loss was met with great dismay.

Marpa House has an estimated value of $5.5 million. Its sale would allow Shambhala to clear several significant debts and provide operating funds for Shambhala for 18-24 months.

Due to the ownership structure of different properties, Shambhala has limited options for what it can sell. A separate entity owns Sakyong’s property in Halifax, the organization’s international headquarters. The Sakyong himself owns a second house in Boulder, and according to the board, he has put it on the market. The board initially investigated selling the office of the Nalanda Translation Committee in Halifax, which produces English versions of Buddhist texts, but decided to keep it open in response to protests from the Shambhala community.

According to the board, in July of 2018 the Kalapa Council borrowed $750,000 in restricted donor funds from another financial entity within Shambhala and secured the loan with a third mortgage on Marpa House.

The interim board has not yet made a definitive decision on whether to sell the house and is continuing to solicit feedback from the community. “We recognize that selling real estate to cover operational deficits is not a good idea. Nevertheless, we view this situation as a crisis and an exception,” the memo read.

The situation is complicated by the fact that Mipham’s mother, Lady Konchok Paldron, and her family live in Marpa House, and she, along with the other residents, would have to find other places to live.

A group of supporters is currently putting together a proposal to attempt to purchase Marpa House if it is sold.

Giving to Shambhala International has decreased dramatically from both individuals as well as from the network of more than 200 local Shambhala centers worldwide. Members pledge money to their local center, and each center gives a portion of its revenue to Shambhala International. After the allegations against Sakyong Mipham broke, many local centers decided to stop giving money to Shambhala International.

According to the interim board’s March update, giving from centers dropped from $44,000 a month to $16,000 a month in 2018. Since then, giving has recovered somewhat, to $22,000 a month.

Shambhala’s “land centers,” where summer camps and large training programs are hosted, are also suffering.

Myra Woodruff, executive director of Karmê Chöling, published a statement in April detailing the center’s financial difficulties. Located in rural Vermont, Karme Choling is one of two of Shambhala’s land centers in the U.S.

According to Woodruff, Karmê Chöling faced a 50-percent drop in attendance in the first quarter of 2019, incurring a net loss of $153,330. They started the year in the black but quickly ran out of reserves.

“Between December 2019 and April 2020, we calculate a loss of $254,500 if Karmê Chöling continues normal operations under the current conditions,” Woodruff said. “Such a situation is fiscally untenable and demands prudent, creative measures, thinking outside the box.”

Due to their difficult financial position, the center will no longer be open during the winter months.

Shambhala Mountain Center, the other U.S. land center, located north of Boulder within the bounds of a national park, has also suffered setbacks but is in a better overall financial position.

In the wake of the allegations last summer and facing “significant revenue losses,” the mountain center made reductions in its staff, according to a statement from its director, Michael Gayner. It also lost a grant funder that served as its primary source of scholarships and is now attempting to create an in-house scholarship program.

But as of December 2018, the center was over 99-percent funded, Gayner said. “People are really committed to supporting us,” he said, noting that the center, which has been open for more than 50 years, has a strong community network and donor pool to rely on.

Kalapa Publications, Shambhala’s publishing branch, is also struggling to stay afloat. Kalapa Publications is responsible for publishing many of the teachings of Mipham and founder Chogyam Trungpa and provides the written materials that are required for many of Shambhala’s programs.

“Due to the instability in Shambhala over the last months, sales from Kalapa Publications have decreased substantially,” said Director Emily Hilburn Sell in a statement sent to a community. “At this point, the decline in sales is jeopardizing our ability to continue publishing teachings for the community.”

In order to stay financially viable, the publisher has “significantly reduced” the size of its staff and is increasing the amount of pre-sales for books to better judge the actual amount needed. It is also offering more sales and ebooks.

There is no centralized data on the extent to which local centers have experienced a drop in revenue, but some were already suffering a decline in membership when the scandal hit.

In December of 2018, the Shambhala center of New York City was forced to close its doors due to a lack of funds, but in an interview with the Buddhist publication Lion’s Roar, the New York center’s director, Eric Spiegel, said that, while the sexual misconduct allegations were a factor, the center had already been struggling to keep up with a rent of $3,000 per month. The group is searching for a new permanent location and is currently using space at a yoga center.

Book review: Republic of Lies - American conspiracy theorists and their surprising rise to power

Republic of Lies – American conspiracy theorists and their surprising rise to power
“Republic of Lies – American conspiracy theorists and their surprising rise to power”, by Anna Merlan. Penguin/Random House

Herald Scotland
May 19, 2019

My favourite of the many and varied conspiracy theorists cited in Anna Merlan's Cook's tour of the wild and wacky, has to be our own David Icke. This former BBC sports reporter has a vast and loyal following for what must be the most high concept conspiracy theory since Satanism.

The world is run, he claims, by a tightly-knit group of “reptilian entities” - the Queen Mother was one – who've been collaborating with Rothschild Jewish bankers and climate scientists, to set up a global green dictatorship and enslave humanity. He's published 20 books, and made lucrative career travelling the world delivering lectures on his bizarre passion.

Ickism is so bonkers you wonder how anyone could believe it. But his is a portmanteau conspiracy theory, drawing together a raft of diverse conspiracies, already widespread on the internet, which Merlan explores in this entertaining taxonomy if toxic ideas. Anti-vaxxers, Ufologists, antisemites, evangelicals, Deep State truthers, climate change and holocaust deniers can all find confirmation in his gnomic utterances. Icke is a one-stop shop for the paranoid and the mildly deranged.

The Protocols of the Elders of Zion, a fabricated blueprint for Jewish world-domination that dates from late 19th Century Russia, gets mashed with other conspiracies involving the Illuminati, the Bilderberg Group, the Club of Rome, the CIA, Mi6, and curiously, the London School of Economics. These are all controlled by an entity called the Babylonian Brotherhood, who work on behalf of the lizards in a parallel dimension.

He is not alone in making a good living out of conspiracy. Alex Jones, the shouty vlogger of the alt right website Infowars, doesn't buy the lizards, but he's signed up to most of the rest of the paranoid agenda. His source conspiracy is the Deep State – a bureaucratic/corporate entity at the heart of government, which is secretly controlling our affairs on behalf of remote banking elites. 9/11 was a staged event, a “false flag”. School shootings, like Sandy Hook, are also faked by the government, Jones supporters believe, in order to discredit the Second Amendment and force Americans to give up their guns. Hillary Clinton is a murderer who rapes children. Oh and here's a really great range of health products for you and your family...

You could be forgiven for thinking that conspiracy theories are really part of the entertainment industry, the product of internet hucksters and snake oil salesmen. But of course they’re no joke. A lot of people believe that government is a conspiracy against the people – we find echoes of it among Brexit supporters in the UK.

The anti-vaxxer theory that the MMR vaccine causes autism, launched by discredited medical researcher, Andrew Wakefield, in a Lancet article in1998, has led to the spread of a potentially deadly disease: measles. One of Alex Jones's pet conspiracy theories, that Hillary Clinton was at the centre of a paedophile network that operated from a chain of pizza restaurants, led to one “truther" turning up at a Washington branch of Planet Ping Pong armed with automatic weapons.

Most of us associate conspiracy with the far right, with white supremacists, the Ku Klux Klan and Russian trolls. But conspiracy theories, according to Maran, are deeply rooted in the African American community, and not just among the Nation of Islam extremists. She quotes Barack Obama's own one-time preacher, Reverend Jeremiah Wright, accusing the government of “inventing the HIV virus as a means of genocide against people of color”. She says that rap music, “the black CNN”, perpetuates many racial conspiracies, including claims that the flu vaccine is is a means of controlling black people.

Historically, antisemitic and Deep State conspiracies have undoubtedly been the preserve of the right. But Maran, a socialist feminist, has the intellectual honesty to include the liberal left in her demonology of the paranoid. Indeed, she compares the CNN presenter, Rachel Maddow, and the prolific British blogger, Seth Abram, to conspiracists like Alex Jones, in their enthusiasm to believe that Donald Trump was a Russian agent. “The Russia frenzy”, she writes, “produced rhetoric that replicated that on the conspiratorial far right, with conspiracy stars to espouse it”.

Merlan thinks that these ideas fulfil a very deep need among many of us to believe that our lives are controlled by shadowy elites. The internet has dragged these paranoid delusions into the public realm. “Social media, she says.” has created the world's most efficient vehicle of delivery of conspiracy theories...a lightning fast way to spread blame, doubt, enmity and politically expedient rumour-mongering.”.

That is true. Though I'm not entirely convinced that conspiracists like Alex Jones have “risen to power” as the title of her book claims. She concludes with an appeal to “better education in science and media literacy” along with a fairer society. But I think there is a simpler explanation for the persistence of weird theories. As the marketing pundit, Seth Godin, puts it, “facts are boring”.

The NXIVM 'Sex Cult' Story Keeps Getting More Disturbing

Lauren Salzman testified that Keith Raniere envisioned thousands of "slaves" and even one of them running for office.

Sarah Berman
May 20 2019

A woman who said she recruited six branded "slaves" and admitted to confining someone for nearly two years as part of her role within NXIVM testified at length about the self-help company’s inner workings Monday. Among other startling revelations, the court heard a so-called "sex cult" within NXIVM had more members and employed even more violent tactics than previously reported, and that it may have been on the cusp of operating some kind of dungeon.

Lauren Salzman, 42, is a cooperating witness in the sex trafficking and racketeering trial of NXIVM’s founder, Keith Raniere, who has pleaded not guilty on all counts. She previously pleaded guilty to racketeering and racketeering conspiracy, and told a Brooklyn courtroom about how quickly the alleged slave group within NXIVM, known as DOS, was expanding before it was made public.

DOS was active as early as 2015, according to former members, but is said to have begun growing exponentially in January 2017. Women initiated into the group handed over damaging collateral to prove their lifelong commitment to the cause: Salzman testified the material she handed over personally had to be bad enough that she would rather die than see it made public.

Salzman also offered up the names of eight women she described as the inner circle of DOS, which included actresses Nicki Clyne and Allison Mack. She testified that the two women were married to each other in 2017, and both had a sexual relationship with the leader.

Salzman said DOS members who did not complete assigned tasks were physically punished for their failures, usually by whip or paddling. She said she knew of one DOS slave master, Daniela Padilla, who was kicked by Raniere while on the ground, apparently because she was acting "prideful."

A short time before DOS was exposed to the wider public starting about a year and a half ago, Salzman said, the group was working to build a dungeon in the basement of what she called a "sorority house" owned by Mexican media heiress Rosa Laura Junco, a woman described as one of eight original DOS slaves. She said that there were a number of devices planned for the space, including at least one cage.

"It was a type of surrendering," Salzman said of the prospect of a cage, which she feared she would one day be locked in for hours or even days. "You were [going to be] in there until whoever was going to let you out."

Suffice it to say "collateral" women provided before they were involved in sexual punishments allegedly directed by Raniere called into question their ability to consent. "There should never be something hanging over your head, where you have to do something—or else," a BDSM educator told VICE last year when asked about the NXIVM allegations."That totally violates free will and consent."

Salzman read from a DOS rulebook that she said enforced the master-slave relationships. "Your sole highest desire must be to further your Master from whom all good things come and are related," read an opening passage of the book, which was displayed to the court.

"The best slave derives the highest pleasure from being her Master's ultimate tool," read another passage. "It doesn't matter what the command is, it matters that you obey. It doesn't matter that you understand the command, it matters that you obey."

Raniere told Salzman that he envisioned DOS recruiting thousands of members, according to her testimony. She added that he said she should work towards having 100 slaves under her, and that they would work toward eventually electing a DOS candidate to public office.

In one of the more explosive bits of testimony so far in the federal trial, Salzman also said Monday that the first thing she provided as collateral was a confession she had participated in a crime that implicated her mother, Nancy Salzman, as well as NXIVM founder Keith Raniere. She said a woman who was taking one of NXIVM’s self-help programs had a psychotic break during the course and grew agitated. Salzman said that she was part of a crew that, under Raniere's instruction, drove her around, force-fed her Valium, and avoided taking her to a hospital. Salzman said she chose the confession because it had the potential to damage all the important relationships in her life, including with her mom and Raniere.

But Salzman said she was told the collateral couldn't be used because it would hurt Raniere if it were ever released—instead, she told the court, she was instructed to hand over nude pictures. She recalled providing three photos on a USB drive. But DOS members were told to give new collateral every month, and Salzman recalled pledging everything of value in her life, including investments, two homes, two cars, and a commitment to resign from her high-ranking positions within NXIVM if she ever broke her vow to secrecy.

May 20, 2019

Are yoga and mindfulness in schools religious?

Yoga classes are becoming more prevalent in America’s schools.
Candy Gunther Brown
The Conversation - Professor of Religious Studies, Indiana University
May 13, 2019

Disclosure statement

Candy Gunther Brown has received research funding from organizations that include the Lilly Endowment, Packard Foundation, Louisville Institute, Mellon Foundation, and John Templeton Foundation, and compensation from law firms representing school districts for expert witness service.

Indiana University provides funding as a member of The Conversation US.

The number of U.S. children age 4 to 17 practicing yoga rose from 2.3% to 8.4% – or from 1.3 million to 4.9 million – between 2007 and 2017, federal data show. The number of children meditating rose to 3.1 million during the same period.

The rise is due in part to more yoga and mindfulness programs being established in America’s schools. A 2015 study found three dozen different yoga organizations offering yoga programs in 940 K-12 schools.

Yoga and mindfulness could become the fourth “R” of public education. But up for debate is whether the “R” in this case stands for relaxation or religion.

As a professor of religious studies, I have served as an expert witness in four public-school yoga and meditation legal challenges. I testified that school yoga and meditation programs fit legal criteria of religion.

In one case, the court agreed that yoga “may be religious in some contexts,” but ultimately concluded that the school district’s yoga classes were “devoid of any religious, mystical, or spiritual trappings.” In two other cases in which I testified, yoga and meditation based charter schools were found to violate a state law prohibiting public schools from providing “any religious instruction.”

My research and experience leads me to believe that there are problems with how yoga is being implemented in schools. My goal is not to ban yoga or mindfulness from school settings. But I believe there are legal and ethical reasons to work toward greater transparency and voluntary participation in yoga.
A question of religion

Although many Americans believe that yoga and mindfulness aren’t religious, not everyone accepts that the practices are completely secular.

My new book, “Debating Yoga and Mindfulness in Public Schools: Reforming Secular Education or Reestablishing Religion?” examines these issues. The book argues that integrating yoga and mindfulness into public schools could violate laws against government establishment of religion.

The Yoga Alliance, an organization that purports to be the the “largest nonprofit association representing the yoga community,” argued in 2014 that DC yoga studios should be exempt from sales tax because the purpose of yoga is “spiritual rather than fitness.” However, when parents sued a California school district in 2013 alleging that its yoga program violates the prohibition against the state establishment of religion, the Yoga Alliance rebutted that yoga is exercise and “not religious.” Thus, the Yoga Alliance seems to take the position that yoga is spiritual but not religious. Courts have not, however, made this distinction.

In some legal cases the courts have concluded that yoga and meditation are religious practices. A 1988 Arkansas case known as Powell v. Perry, for instance, concluded that “yoga is a method of practicing Hinduism.” The 1995 Self-Realization Fellowship Church v. Ananda Church of Self Realization case classified the “Hindu-Yoga spiritual tradition” as a “religious tradition.”

The 1979 Malnak v. Yogi case defined Transcendental Meditation as a “religion” and therefore ruled that an elective high school Transcendental Meditation class was unconstitutional.

The Supreme Court has ruled repeatedly that public schools may not endorse religious practices such as prayer and Bible reading, even if kids are allowed to “opt out.” The Court ruled that practicing religion in the classroom is coercive because of mandatory attendance, teacher authority and peer pressure.
Mindfulness = Buddhism?

“Mindfulness” likewise does “double duty.” It sounds like merely “paying attention.” However, promoters of mindfulness, such as Jon Kabat-Zinn, say they use it as an “umbrella term” as a “skillful” way to introduce Buddhist meditation into the mainstream.

In a Buddhist Geeks podcast, Trudy Goodman, founder of Insight LA and a mindfulness teacher, speaks of mindfulness as “stealth Buddhism,” noting that secularly framed classes “aren’t that different from our Buddhist classes. They just use a different vocabulary.”

Founder of Yoga Ed. Tara Guber has admitted to making semantic changes to get her program into a school district where some parents and school board members objected to it, arguing that it was teaching religion. Guber spoke of how yoga can “shift consciousness and alter beliefs.”

Some research shows that yoga and mindfulness have spiritual effects even when they are presented secularly.

One study found that over 62 percent of students in “secular” yoga changed their primary reason for practicing. “Most initiate yoga practice for exercise and stress relief, but for many, spirituality becomes their primary reason for maintaining practice,” the study states.

I propose that respect for cultural and religious diversity can best be achieved through an opt-in model of informed consent. That is to say, it may be constitutional for yoga and mindfulness to be available on school grounds, but students should be able to choose to get into the programs, not – as I point out in various cases in my book – be forced to take extra steps just to get out.

Students and their parents must be given enough information about offered programs – including risks, benefits, alternatives, and potential effects – to make an informed choice about whether to participate.

Meet The 'Raelians'- The Religious Cult That Believes We All Emerged From The Aliens

Youth Ki Awaaz
Shikha Sharma
May 16, 2019

Origin stories of most religions border on the fantastical. Moses ascended to a mountaintop to talk to God. Jesus was born to a virgin mother. Buddha meditated under the Bodhi tree until he received alignment. And a French race car driver was abducted by aliens who told him that aliens were humanity’s one true God.

If you haven’t heard that last story, chances are you haven’t been introduced to Raelism yet. Part comic book, part sci-fi and part new age religio-mysticism, Raelism was founded by Claude Vorilhon (now known as Raël), a French sports car driver and journalist in 1973, after a purported encounter with extraterrestrials.

Since its inception, it has spread rapidly across Europe, Africa, USA and Asia, with millions of followers. Pop superstar Michael Jackson was an honorary Raelian guide. And Hugh Hefner, founder of Playboy enterprise, was an honorary priest.

In India, a small community of 78 registered Raelians exists, among whom a select group of 20 are actively trying to spread ‘the message’.

As far as world religions goes, Raelism is perhaps the most progressive and liberal one out there. Raelists aren’t bound by strict scriptures and worldwide, they renounce marriage, alcohol, nicotine, toxic substances, rituals and actively protest against the Catholic church. They routinely advocate for sex-positive feminism, genetically modified food, free sex, nudity and sensual pyjama parties.

They’re staunchly anti-war and are deeply interested in scientific research. Genetic cloning, in fact, plays a huge role in their belief system and the group even ran into a major controversy when one of the companies that have ties with it claimed to have created the first human clone baby.

In India, however, their practices are limited to cellular transmissions, scientific discussions and telepathic communication with the Elohim.

And Then The Aliens Said: Let There Be Light!

According to Raelists, all life on earth was scientifically created by an advanced race of extraterrestrials called

Elohim. The origin story of the religion begins at a volcano in France where it is believed Volhohim first communicated with a four foot alien from Elohim named Yahweh, who got off a flying saucer and communicated to him the secrets of creating mankind and everything on earth. Vorilhon claimed to have had six meetings with space travellers, after which he promptly formed the religion.

“Unlike other religions, we don’t believe in a human God or prophet, like Jesus or Muhammad. We are more like a higher intelligence’s science project,” says Tapan Naubagh, who works in a gaming company in Mumbai, and who adopted Raelism in 2013.

As believers of life in outer space, Raelists hope that human scientists will follow the path of the Elohim by achieving space travel through the cosmos and creating life on other planets. They also want to build an ET embassy to welcome the Elohim to earth.

Raelism: The India Story

The UFO religion probably found its first proponents in India through Japanese teachers who travelled to India to
spread the message in the early 2000s.

“I was always fascinated by sci-fi, UFOs, anything that had an ET element to it. At that time, I was even writing about aliens. So when I saw this woman talking about Raelism, I was instantly drawn. I read the book that she had and was blown away. It had a host of stuff in it: God, Religion, UFOs, Sex, Love, Spirituality, Science, Poverty, Hunger. Post that, I attended a seminar, and soon converted,” says Naubagh.

If it was love for sci-fi that made Naubagh adopt Raelism, for Sai Subramanium, it was the strength Raelism provided to help him quit smoking. “I was very skinny then, constantly drinking and smoking. It was taking a toll on my health. But deep meditative practices and telepathic connection helped me not only quit smoking but also find focus in my life,” he says, who works as a professional DJ.

Although they call themselves a religion, Raelism has no ‘religious customs’ except a mere suggestion for members to meditate for a minute daily. Raelians are encouraged to ask questions about God and faith and are strongly against those forcing their beliefs on anyone.

The only ritual they follow is perhaps a ‘cellular transmission’ for anyone who wishes to convert to Raelism through which “the cellular plan or the member’s DNA frequencies are transferred to the motherboard”.

“This is done through a guide who dips his hand in the water and places it on the forehead of the convert to download his genetic information to aliens. The ceremony can only occur between 3 and 4 p.m since it’s believed that at the particular time, the connection with the motherboard is the fastest,” says Kumar, who co-heads the Raelian chapter in India.

In addition, Raelians support a sense of complete individualism – an aspect that makes it appealing for many.

“I always had questions, but I never found any answers in my supposed religion Hinduism. Here though, we are encouraged to ask questions, even though we may not have the answers. My wife, my parents don’t get it. They think I have gone crazy, joined a cult. But I don’t care,” says Kumar, who became a Raelist after communicating with Raelist guides for more than a year, to clear his apprehensions.
True Lies Vs False Truth: What Do You Believe?

Even though the cult revolves around a fairly peaceful understanding of science, technology, and love, the movement has received plenty of bad press from, not only for its sensational beliefs but also some of its practices.

To many, the whole idea of criticizing established religion in favour of reason, and then blindly believing in a fake messiah who spouts another creation myth, seems wildly contradicting.

“Sure, you can be happy and support science, technology and love without the guilt of God and religion, but you can also do so without the fiction of Rael’s alternative creation myth, and without adopting an untrue belief system. The Raelian of the story of creation cannot be reconciled with what we know of evolutionary biology and our planet’s geological development,” writes Brian Dunning, in a scathing criticism of the group.

Ardent Raelists, however, say that it’s unfair to compare them to other religions. “Most religions are based on faith – ‘you believe us because we are telling you and don’t question us’. We’re not here to force anyone. We just want to pass on the information we have and then let people decide for themselves,” says Kumar.

Many also believe their theory of creation to be the most ‘realistic’. “It’s not a mere fantasy to believe in an extraterrestrial civilization anymore. Scientists now agree to a high probability of the existence of intelligent life outside our solar system. Humans are creating their own artificial intelligence. Knowing this, why can’t we accept that we could be the brainchild of a higher, more intelligent species? Is it really that far fetched?” Naubagh asks.

It’s a reasonable question. How you answer depends on what you choose to believe.

May 13, 2019

Alleged New York sex cult leader disciplined followers -witness

Brendan Pierson
Joseph Ax
May 13, 2019

NEW YORK, May 13 (Reuters) - The leader of an alleged New York sex cult maintained strict discipline over his followers, forcing those who questioned his leadership to undergo training and excommunicating those who went against the group, a 12-year veteran said on Monday.

The longtime member, filmmaker Mark Vicente, resumed testifying at the criminal trial of Keith Raniere, whom federal prosecutors have accused of using his organization Nxivm to facilitate sex trafficking and child pornography.

Vicente previously told jurors in U.S. District Court in Brooklyn that Raniere's recruits came to view him as "some kind of god," thanks to a sales pitch that portrayed him as a genius of unparalleled insight.

Prosecutors say Raniere traded on that status to force female "slaves" to have sex with him, be branded with his initials and follow near-starvation diets. Women were required to submit "collateral," such as nude photos, that Raniere then used as blackmail to coerce their compliance, according to authorities.

Raniere's lawyer has argued at trial that Nxivm's members, including the "slaves" of a secretive inner sorority who submitted themselves to Raniere's sexual demands, joined voluntarily and were never forced to do anything against their will. Raniere faces life in prison if convicted.
Vicente, who became a self-described whistleblower after leaving the group in 2017, said the controlling atmosphere inside Nxivm successfully intimidated members.

"Many of us became very, very careful of the words we used," he said on Monday.
Once members attained a certain rank, they were expected to accept "feedback" from higher-ranking members - essentially negative criticism, Vicente said. Those who questioned Raniere in any way were accused of acting out of "pride" and required to undergo special training.

Vicente, who became the group's unofficial videographer, told jurors last week he was asked by the group's president, Nancy Salzman, to make videos showing Raniere in a positive light.

"I really would love it if Keith Raniere does not die a criminal in the eyes of the world," Salzman told Vicente, according to his testimony.

Nxivm, which started under another name in 1998 and is pronounced "Nexium," was based in Albany, New York, and operated self-improvement centers across North and Central America.

Five of Raniere's co-defendants, including Salzman, Seagram liquor heiress Clare Bronfman and former "Smallville" television actress Allison Mack, have pleaded guilty to related crimes.

The jury has already heard from one of Raniere's alleged "slaves," and prosecutors have said other victims will testify at trial. (Reporting by Brendan Pierson and Joseph Ax; Editing by Scott Malone, James Dalgleish and Jonathan Oatis)

May 10, 2019

Mark Vicente: Within NXIVM, the word 'cult' doesn't exist

Mark Vicente
Los Angeles filmmaker testifying at criminal trial of Keith Raniere

Robert Gavin
Albany Times Union
May 9, 2019

NEW YORK — A former senior member of NXIVM broke down crying at the Keith Raniere trial Thursday, saying he was "bamboozled" while part of an organization he believes covered up "evil."

Mark Vicente, 53, needed to compose himself on the witness stand as he testified on the third day of Raniere's racketeering and sex trafficking trial in U.S. District Court.

"I'm as ashamed as I've ever been," Vicente, a Los Angeles filmmaker, testified.

He said many people joined NXIVM, a purported self-help organization based in Colonie, to better themselves or promote good in the world. They ended up being exploited.

"It's a fraud. It's a lie," Vicente said, choking up. "It's this well-intended veneer that covers horrible, incredible evil."

Vicente said when he first met Raniere, known within NXIVM as "Vanguard," the defendant suggested he move to Albany — an idea that didn't sit well.

"I said I had no desire to move to Albany. It was an ugly place," Vicente testified. "A lot of people wanted me to move there."

After joining NXIVM in 2005, Vicente rose through the ranks to eventually reach the level of "senior proctor."

Raniere, 58, faces a seven-count indictment that includes charges of sex trafficking, forced labor, wire fraud conspiracy and racketeering charges that include underlying alleged acts of extortion, identity theft, possession of child pornography, and sexual exploitation of a child.

Raniere, clad in a royal blue sweater over a dress shirt, watched the testimony of Vicente attentively with his head rested on interlocked hands. He took many notes while conferring with one of his attorneys, Marc Agnifilo. The defendant has been seated at the defense table between Agnifilo and Albany-based attorney Paul DerOhannesian II.

Vicente testified that it wasn't long after joining NXIVM, where he was recruited by President Nancy Salzman and then-financial officer Barbara Bouchey, that he became suspicious of the organization.

He said he approached Salzman, known as "Prefect" and the figurative mother of the organization, and made his thoughts known.

She quickly turned the tables.

"I said, 'I think you guys are up to something. I think there's something nefarious going on,'" Vicente testified. "She said, 'You just told me about yourself. You're the one with the nefarious intent. You're the one looking for evil.'"

He said he began to wonder if Salzman was right and if Raniere was, as he had been advertised, the most noble man in the world.

Salzman told him he was "disintegrated" and needed more NXIVM training, which he took.

Vicente explained that students in NXIVM could rise in rank through an educational hierarchy called "the striped path," which required students to hit benchmarks and take more classes, which cost as much as $20,000 for "intensive" sessions.

As the students progressed, they would be given sashes to wear to identify their status, once earned. Beginners wore white sashes; "provisional" coaches wore yellow; "proctors" wore orange; senior proctor wore green; blue for counselors and purple for senior counselors. Salzman wore a gold sash and Raniere wore a long white sash.

Vicente explained that certain sessions at NXIVM began with a routine: High-ranking members held their hands up while the rest of the room clapped. They would then bow to each other and exclaim, "We are committed to our success!"

"We would say, 'Thank you, Vanguard,' and begin the session," he said.

Vicente said he divulged his deepest personal secrets as part of a "Level 2" program in NXIVM, which was also called Executive Success Programs or ESP. He said the latter name was used more once negative media stories started coming out about NXIVM, much of it easy to find online.

Assistant U.S. Attorney Mark Lesko asked Vicente how he feels about having shared his deepest, darkest secrets with NXIVM.

"I feel bamboozled," he replied. Vicente said he also feels vulnerable and stupid that he agreed to give up the information under the justification that ridding yourself of secrets was healthy.

It was a "horrible, twisted idea," he said. Vicente said he has no idea where his personal information currently resides.

Vicente said he also took what he though was an anonymous survey when he joined NXIVM. He learned many years later it posed the same questions used to find out if someone has a narcissistic personality disorder.

Vicente said he now believes NXIVM played with his moral compass.

NXIVM's curriculum, he testified, was hypocritical: It preached of speaking with honor and yet members would speak dishonorably of people when it suited the needs of the leadership.

Anyone who spoke out against Raniere was shunned and labeled "suppressive," Vicente said.

That included anyone who used the word "cult": Within NXIVM, members were told "the word doesn't exist," he testified.

"Anybody who uses the word is clearly suppressive as well," Vicente said.

Measles Outbreak: Opposition to Vaccine Extends Well Beyond Ultra-Orthodox Jews in N.Y.

New York Times
Sharon Otterman and Sean Piccoli
May 9, 2019

Noah Abdullah hasn’t immunized his 4-year-old son, Michael, saying that he’d read vaccines might be “no good” and that he’d “rather do natural things” to strengthen his child’s immune system.

“I need to see more information before I start shooting him up with stuff,” Mr. Abdullah said.

Donna Mosley said her 3-year-old grandson also did not have his vaccinations, though she wishes he did. His mother is afraid the shots could cause autism, she said, and his father’s Muslim beliefs have made him “totally against it.”

The two boys attend Sister Clara Muhammad Elementary School in Harlem, a small school where most children had a religious exemption to immunization in the last school year, according to city health department data.

As the measles outbreak deepens in New York City, health authorities have been focusing on schools affiliated with ultra-Orthodox Judaism, because those are the only city schools within which measles transmission has occurred so far. But immunization data, reported annually by every school to the state, suggests that reluctance to vaccinate in New York is much more widespread.

The majority of the dozens of New York City schools that had less than 90 percent of their children vaccinated for measles in the last school year were not ultra-Orthodox Jewish, according to the data, which is reported by the schools themselves.

Several were Muslim schools, while others were Bible-centered Christian academies. Some were schools that hew to nontraditional philosophies, including the Waldorf education movement, which tends to attract parents who favor alternative medical practices. Some served autistic or special-needs children.

Because the schools’ immunization data is self-reported in mid-December of each school year, it offers only a snapshot that can change as students are vaccinated. But the data can serve as a guide for finding pockets of vaccine reluctance that was borne out in interviews with parents.

Vaccines have been proven to be safe and effective against the spread of disease, and there is no evidence that they cause autism.

For now, the ban on unvaccinated children attending school in New York City applies only to children who attend Orthodox Jewish schools in the four most affected ZIP codes in and around Williamsburg, Brooklyn, the center of the outbreak.

There were 31 new cases in Williamsburg last week, bringing the total measles cases in the city since September to 466.

If the outbreak reaches beyond the Orthodox Jewish community in Brooklyn, as public health experts fear, other schools with low vaccination rates could also become hotbeds for the disease.

In a worrying sign, two cases of measles reported this week occurred in students with religious exemptions who attend public schools in Sunset Park, Brooklyn.

Dr. Oxiris Barbot, the city health commissioner, said Tuesday that both of the children had spent time in a part of Brooklyn with measles activity, and were not in school while they were contagious. She urged people to remain calm and get vaccinated.

Daniel Salmon, the director of the Johns Hopkins Institute for Vaccine Safety, said that the clusters of parents who are refusing vaccines, in New York and elsewhere, were making him worry that the measles outbreak could turn into a measles epidemic.

“The story with measles for the past 20 years is that it starts among refusers, it spreads predominately among refusers, and along the way it picks off other kids,” he said. “Up until now, we have been able to put a stop to it. But I’m nervous. I’m afraid what happened in Europe is going to happen in the U.S.”

Sister Clara Muhammad in Harlem is part of an Islamic school system affiliated with Warith Deen Mohammed, who transformed the original Nation of Islam movement into an African-American-centered Sunni Muslim community in the 1970s.

The tiny school is on the upper two floors of the Malcolm Shabazz Mosque in Harlem, on a site where Malcolm X preached. Eleven students are enrolled this year, state data showed, and last year, two of the three enrolled students had religious exemptions.

Mr. Abdullah, 38, the parent at the school who is reluctant to immunize his 4-year-old son, Michael, said he was concerned about the measles outbreak and would seek out more advice.

“I was going to talk to his doctor at the next visit to find out what’s going on,” he said.

The modern-day Nation of Islam movement has been outspoken about its anti-vaccine beliefs, but less is known about patterns of vaccine refusal in Sister Clara Muhammad schools around the country. The school’s administration did not respond to a request for comment.

At Charles H. Churn Christian Academy, which operates out of a storefront in Brownsville, Brooklyn, 34 percent of its students had religious exemptions from vaccination in 2017-18, the state data showed. The school enrolls about 100 children from kindergarten to 12th grade.

The principal, Linda Hunt, stood in the doorway of the school the other day, with a group of young children seated at a small table behind her. She said both Muslim and Christian families had claimed religious exemptions.

“I believe everybody should be immunized, but you can’t make people if that’s their belief,” Ms. Hunt said.

The New York City health department said that, in general, it did not have the authority to challenge religious exemptions, which are legal under state law. An effort to curtail them is now stalled in Albany.

Some schools that reported very low vaccination rates in 2017-18 have now improved them, showing that city efforts to audit schools and promote enforcement can have an impact, the city health department said.

St. Brigid Catholic Academy in Bushwick had the lowest vaccination rate in Brooklyn in 2017-18, with only 51 percent of its students completely immunized.

Now, said the Diocese of Brooklyn, which oversees the school, 96.5 percent of the students at the school are fully vaccinated.

The database includes vaccination rates of 5,557 public and private schools in New York, including 715 private schools in New York City. Immunization data for the city’s public schools is reported directly to the city, which then sends it, grouped by borough, to the state.

On Monday afternoon at the New Amsterdam School, a small Waldorf school on Avenue B in the East Village, parents and children filed out of a gated walkway at dismissal past a hand-lettered chalkboard advertising an open house for fall enrollment.

Nationwide, schools associated with the Waldorf education movement have some of the lowest vaccination rates, public health experts said. While the movement does not take a formal position on vaccination, and has no religious affiliation, its philosophy tends to attract bohemian families.

A handful of parents outside New Amsterdam said they were surprised to learn the school’s religious exemption rate for immunizations was 35 percent in the 2017-18 school year — higher than they thought it would be.

Roughly 40 students were enrolled that year.

“It might be idealistic, but I guess we respect each other as a community enough to let people make their own choices,” said Amy Joyce, who has two children at the school, both fully vaccinated.

Two parents who said they had not vaccinated their children declined to give their names, citing privacy concerns.

One, a mother of a first grader, said that her choice had never been an issue at New Amsterdam.

“There is more of an open-mindedness about it, or just acceptance,” she said.

A father of two girls at the school said, “I’m not totally anti-vaccine, but I think giving it to kids at such young age when they haven’t really developed a strong enough microbiome on their own is detrimental to their health.”

He said that after noticing “significant personality changes” in his eldest daughter after her early vaccines, he stopped vaccinating her and did not vaccinate his younger daughter.

The Brooklyn Waldorf School, which enrolls about 200 children, is in the Bedford-Stuyvesant area of Brooklyn, near the measles outbreak in Williamsburg.

Twenty-four percent of the children had religious exemptions from immunizations last year. Last Friday, some parents expressed concern about the anti-vaccination views of fellow parents.

“It makes me angry that people are not following the doctor’s advice — and society’s,” said Maria Jarnit-Bjergsoe, 39, who is pregnant. She said that both of her sons at Waldorf were vaccinated. “It’s just putting other people in danger unnecessarily.”

Denese Giordano, the Brooklyn Waldorf School’s administrative director, said that if there were a case of measles at the school, “we would close the school that day and work in compliance with the Department of Health and any other regulatory agencies.”

For now, children with vaccine exemptions are permitted to attend.

“It’s not a matter of latitude,” Ms. Giordano said. “We follow health department guidelines.”

Sharon Otterman has been a reporter at The Times since 2008, primarily covering education and religion for Metro. She won a Polk Award for Justice Reporting in 2013 for her role in exposing a pattern of wrongful convictions in Brooklyn. @sharonNYT

A version of this article appears in print on May 10, 2019, on Page A1 of the New York edition with the headline: Low-Vaccination Clusters Add to Measles Fears

Who's Watching the Kids?

This is a very informative and  high-quality documentary on the troubled teen industry.

Motion for mistrial denied in Nxivm founder’s sex trafficking case

Keith Raniere, center, depicted in a courtroom drawing with his lawyers
NY Post
Emily Saul and Lia Eustachewich 
May 8, 2019

A Brooklyn judge on [May 8, 2019] denied a motion for a mistrial in Nxivm founder Keith Raniere’s sex trafficking case.

The request from Marc Agnifilo, the lawyer representing the 58-year-old alleged sex cult leader, centered around witnesses in the trial testifying using only their first names.

He said the procedure makes it look as though Raniere is guilty.

“There was no sex trafficking, in my view,” Agnifilo said in court before jurors were called in for the day. “The problem we have now is I am being forced to adopt to the system. It is repugnant to my theory of the case.”

Several of Raniere’s alleged “slave” victims are expected to testify against him. Over the weekend, Brooklyn federal Judge Nicholas Garaufis ruled that only their first names would be used in court to protect their identities.

On [May 8, 2019], prosecutor Moira Penza noted “extreme privacy concerns” in the case.
“The nature of this case is so extreme and this is the heartland,” Penza said about the alleged slave witnesses. “[Raniere] should not be allowed to further humiliate these people.”

In denying Agnifilo’s motion, Garaufis said “any issue can be cured by a jury instruction.”

A hearing over the technicality came just before the trial’s first witness, Sylvie, returned to the stand to continue testimony. On Tuesday, the 32-year-old Briton gave jurors an in-depth look into how she was coaxed into joining Raniere’s exclusive harem of slaves.

May 9, 2019

Unpleasant meditation-related experiences in regular meditators: Prevalence, predictors, and conceptual considerations


So far, the large and expanding body of research on meditation has mostly focussed on the putative benefits of meditation on health and well-being. However, a growing number of reports indicate that psychologically unpleasant experiences can occur in the context of meditation practice. Very little is known about the prevalence and potential causes of these experiences. The aim of this study was to report the prevalence of particularly unpleasant meditation-related experiences in a large international sample of regular meditators, and to explore the association of these experiences with demographic characteristics, meditation practice, repetitive negative thinking, mindfulness, and self-compassion. Using a cross-sectional online survey, 1,232 regular meditators with at least two months of meditation experience (mean age = 44.8 years ± 13.8, 53.6% female) responded to one question about particularly unpleasant meditation-related experiences. A total of 315 participants (25.6%, 95% CI: 23.1 to 28.0) reported having had particularly unpleasant meditation-related experiences, which they thought may have been caused by their meditation practice. Logistic regression models indicated that unpleasant meditation-related experiences were less likely to occur in female participants and religious participants. Participants with higher levels of repetitive negative thinking, those who only engaged in deconstructive types of meditation (e.g., vipassana/insight meditation), and those who had attended a meditation retreat at any point in their life were more likely to report unpleasant meditation-related experiences. The high prevalence of particularly unpleasant meditation-related experiences reported here points to the importance of expanding the scientific conception of meditation beyond that of a (mental) health-promoting and self-regulating technique. We propose that understanding when these experiences are constitutive elements of meditative practice rather than merely negative effects could advance the field and, to that end, we conclude with an overview of methodological and conceptual considerations that could be used to inform future research.

Citation: Schlosser M, Sparby T, Vörös S, Jones R, Marchant NL (2019) Unpleasant meditation-related experiences in regular meditators: Prevalence, predictors, and conceptual considerations. PLoS ONE 14(5): e0216643. doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0216643
Editor: Dusana Dorjee, Bangor University, UNITED KINGDOM
Received: August 24, 2018; Accepted: April 26, 2019; Published: May 9, 2019
Copyright: © 2019 Schlosser et al. This is an open access article distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution License, which permits unrestricted use, distribution, and reproduction in any medium, provided the original author and source are credited.
Data Availability: All data are available at the Open Science Framework:
Funding: The authors received no specific funding for this work.
Competing interests: The authors have declared that no competing interests exist.

Ayodhya land dispute: Three-member mediation panel submits report in SC; matter to be heard on 10 May

First Post
May 9, 2019

The Supreme Court-appointed three-member mediation committee in Ayodhya’s Ram Janmabhoomi-Babri Masjid land dispute case has submitted its interim report in a sealed cover

Ayodhya land dispute: Three-member mediation panel submits report in SC; matter to be heard on 10 May

New Delhi: The Supreme Court constituted three-member mediation committee, tasked with exploring the possibility of an amicable settlement in the decades-old, politically sensitive, Ayodhya’s Ram Janmabhoomi-Babri Masjid land dispute case, has submitted its interim report in a sealed cover.

Sources aware of the development said the interim report was filed with the apex court Registry on 6 May, and the matter has been listed for hearing on Friday.

The apex court on 8 March had referred the matter to mediation for exploring the possibility of an amicable settlement.

It had appointed former apex court judge FMI Kalifulla, spiritual guru and founder of Art of Living foundation Sri Sri Ravishankar and senior advocate Sriram Panchu, a renowned mediator, as members of the mediation committee.

A five-judge Constitution bench comprising Chief justice Ranjan Gogoi and Justices SA Bobde, DY Chandrachud, Ashok Bhushan and S Abdul Nazeer will now peruse the report and decide the future course of action.

The matter will come up for the first time on Friday since the 8 March order of the top court. It had said that the mediation process would commence within a week and the panel would submit the progress report within four weeks.

The panel was asked by the apex court to hold in-camera proceedings and complete them within eight weeks. The Constitution bench had said that it does not find any “legal impediment” to make a reference to mediation for a possible settlement of the dispute.

The bench was told earlier by Hindu bodies, except for Nirmohi Akhara, and the Uttar Pradesh government that they oppose the court’s suggestion for mediation. The Muslim bodies supported the proposal. While opposing the suggestion of mediation, Hindu bodies had argued that earlier attempts of reaching a compromise have failed and provisions of Civil Procedure Code (CPC) require public notice to be issued before the start of process.

The top court had directed that the mediation proceedings should be conducted with “utmost confidentiality” for ensuring its success and the views expressed by any of the parties including the mediators should be kept confidential and not be revealed to any other person.

However, it had refrained from passing any specific restrain order at this stage and instead empowered the mediators to pass necessary orders in writing, if so required, to restrain publication of the details of the mediation proceedings.

The top court had fixed the seat for mediation process in Faizabad of Uttar Pradesh, around 7 km from Ayodhya, and said that the adequate arrangements including the venue of the mediation, place of stay of the mediators, their security, travel should be forthwith arranged by the state government so that proceedings could commence immediately.

It had also directed that the mediation proceedings be held in-camera as per the norms applicable to conduct the mediation proceedings.

Fourteen appeals have been filed in the apex court against the 2010 Allahabad High Court judgment, delivered in four civil suits, that the 2.77-acre land in Ayodhya be partitioned equally among the three parties - the Sunni Waqf Board, the Nirmohi Akhara and Ram Lalla.

On 6 December, 1992, the Babri Masjid, constructed at the disputed site in the 16th century by Shia Muslim Mir Baqi, was demolished.