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News Watch

by William M. Alnor (and others)

a column from the Christian Research Journal, Fall 1989, page 5. The Editor-in-Chief of the Christian Research Journal is Elliot Miller.

TM Continues to Flourish, Despite Legal Battles

Despite a growing number of lawsuits and legal troubles, Maharishi Mahesh Yogi's Transcendental Meditation (TM) empire is continuing to flourish.

In recent months TM officials have launched an especially ambitious enterprise: the Maharishi Heaven on Earth Development Corp. Its leaders have been crisscrossing the country contacting real estate developers. The reason? Maharishi wants partners to help him build 50 "noise-free, pollution-free and stress-free communities" throughout North America.

Plans are already in the works to build communities in Los Angeles, Toronto, Hartford (Connecticut), and Austin (Texas). What's more, Maharishi wants to place his "Heaven on Earth" communities in 108 countries worldwide.

Montague Guild, Jr., president of Maharishi's development group, said the communities will be housing clusters from 100 to 200 homes where residents will live on chunks of land in areas with an abundance of streams, flowing water, and greenery. Guild, who was quoted in the March 11, 1989 Philadelphia Inquirer, said the homes would be designed using the techniques of Sthapatya-Veda, which is "an ancient science of architecture that emphasizes the constant flow of fresh air, the use of non-toxic building materials, and orientation of the home with respect to the passage of the sun."

Each community will also have a Maharishi School of Enlightenment, Maharishi Ayur-Veda Health Centers, and Maharishi Festival Halls, Guild said.

Despite such grandiose plans, trouble for the TM empire has been steadily building for the past three years. In fact, the biggest onslaught of all against the TM empire was formalized in August when a Los Angeles woman sued Maharishi's far-flung empire on the basis that it caused her psychological damage. Although nine others have sued TM since 1986 making similar charges, this recent case is distinct in that the plaintiff is going after Maharishi using federal racketeering (RICO) statutes which are usually reserved for mobsters who run corrupt organizations.

Attorney Gerald Ragland of Washington, D.C., who has handled most of the recent cases against TM, said the suit marks the first time the RICO statutes have been used in litigation against a religious organization. "We used the RICO act because it provides for triple damages and attorney fees," Ragland said, adding that the statute can be used in criminal or civil cases. "In this case the U.S. mail was used for fraudulent activities and embezzlement was involved," he said.

Ragland added that RICO was also necessary because Maharishi operates many nonprofit "front" organizations -- medicine clinics, travel agencies, clothing firms -- all of which funnel money, he claims, into the TM empire, which he considers a "corrupt organization."

The other nine lawsuits were all lodged against the organization in 1986 by former meditators from the Philadelphia area. The defendants claimed they were psychologically harmed by the movement and "seduced" into a lifestyle based on Hindu principles.

Following a lengthy trial in January 1987, a Washington, D.C. jury awarded Robert Kropinski, 39, $137,890 to pay for his psychiatric treatment. Kropinski was an 11-year member who was part of Maharishi's personal entourage. According to the January 14 Philadelphia Inquirer, the jury in the precedent-setting case found that the TM movement "defrauded him with false promises of mental bliss and neglected to warn him about the possibility of adverse side effects." It was the first time an award for psychological injury had been made against TM.

"I felt like a dead person living in a human body for years," Kropinski said in a Philadelphia Inquirer article. He added that he didn't know that TM mantras invoked Hindu gods until he became a TM teacher in 1976. Later he saw videotapes in which the Maharishi told followers to sell TM to Americans on the basis that it is a science, not a religion.

According to media reports of the trial, the jury gave considerable weight to the testimony of two prominent psychiatrists. Leon Otis, a staff scientist at the Stanford Research Institute, testified that after surveying hundreds of meditators he concluded that "TM may be hazardous to the mental health of a sizable proportion of the people who take up TM." And Gary Glass, senior attending psychiatrist at the Philadelphia Psychiatric Center, testified that Kropinski's 11 years in TM triggered a "pathological state" that left him disoriented and depressed.

But Kropinski has yet to collect his judgment. TM appealed and the case is scheduled to be heard in September in Washington, D.C., said Ragland. He noted that of the original nine cases, two others are still active; TM settled the remaining cases out of court by offering undisclosed cash settlements.

TM officials have viewed the Kropinski case -- as well as the others -- as examples of religious bigotry. "He's scapegoating TM, stereotyping it," TM attorney Dwight James told the Philadelphia Inquirer during the Kropinski case. "He's playing on the American idea that alternative lifestyles and minorities are inherently suspicious, like the way scapegoating has hurt communists and blacks in this country. It's a way to see yourself as a victim by blaming others."

Just after the nine suits were filed, Maharishi also found himself with tax troubles. In December 1987, Indian authorities raided four TM offices in New Delhi and confiscated $30,000 in currency and about the same value in jewelry that had not been reported to the government. Though the 77-year-old guru is headquartered in Switzerland, Indian officials have said that since he is an Indian citizen he is subject to strict controls on imported and exported wealth. He faces further possible legal action from his own country.

TM was relatively unknown to most Americans until 1968 when the Beatles went to India to study with him. Nine years earlier Maharishi had gained a small following in Los Angeles by incorporating the "Spiritual Regeneration Movement," a group that offered "peace and happiness through a system of deep meditation." Today TM loyalists claim that three million people worldwide have learned TM, including one million Americans. TM's U.S. headquarters is located in Washington, D.C., and the group has established the Maharishi International University in Fairfield, Iowa. They also have communities in Switzerland and England.

Eckankar Building Its First Church Near Minneapolis

Residents of Chanhassen, Minnesota, have been rallying against Eckankar in a bid to prevent the Eastern/occultic sect from building its first church in the suburban Minneapolis area.

But on May 22 the Chanhassen City Council ruled to issue a conditional use permit, which would allow Eckankar to build an 850-seat step pyramid-shaped church on the sect's 174 acres. If built, it will mark the first time in Eckankar's history that it has constructed a church on a specific site. According to a sect spokesman, they have rented offices and other facilities until now.

Based in New Hope, Minnesota, Eckankar has been headed by Sri Harold Klemp (the reputed Eck Master) since 1983, according to literature published by the sect. The group claims to teach "the ancient art of soul travel."

In the words of a sect publication, ECKANKAR: A Way of Life, "The ECK is spirit. It is the force that sustains and supports all life throughout the worlds of SUGMAD (God)....In ECKANKAR, contemplation is the spiritual exercise that opens the door to expanded awareness. And the Inner Presence of the Living ECK Master [Sri Klemp] is the Spiritual Guide." According to founder Paul Twitchell, an Eck Master is "omnipotent, omniscient and omnipresent."

Eckankar claims to be mankind's oldest religion, Klemp being the 973rd Eck Master. But cult experts disagree. David Lane, perhaps the foremost authority on the sect's history, argues that Eckankar cannot be traced further back than 1967. In an interview with the CHRISTIAN RESEARCH JOURNAL, Lane said that before founding Eckankar, Twitchell was a one-time member of Self-Realization Fellowship, the Ruhani Satsang Yoga group, and then Scientology, where he eventually became the late L. Ron Hubbard's press secretary. As a result, Eckankar became a "rehash of yoga" and other elements, he said. Lane added that portions of the 1939 book, The Path of the Masters, also became Eckankar dogma after Twitchell plagiarized it and worked it into his own books and teachings.

Eckankar has a large following throughout the U.S., and is found in portions of Europe and Africa. An Eckankar spokesman would not say how many followers it has, but Lane estimates its strength at 40,000 to 60,000 members.

Dave Pedersen of the Chanhassen Villager said that after the sect moved its headquarters from Menlo Park, California, to the Minneapolis area in 1986, there was immediate controversy. Eckankar bought the 174 acres in Chanhassen and tried to place a business campus on it. The community beat back those efforts when the City Council refused a rezoning request. Pedersen said there are about 400 Eckankar members in the Twin Cities area, many of whom work in the sect's headquarters.

When the sect announced plans to build the church, "there were a few very vocal people who were able to gather a lot of support," Pedersen observed. "[But] opposition from the religious community was conspicuously absent."

Eckankar has not said how much their new complex will cost. At press time construction had not begun.

Witches Asserting Their Rights in Three Cases

Witches (or practitioners of "Wicca") are increasingly "coming out of the (broom) closet" to demand recognition and their First Amendment rights of freedom of religion. And they have generally been successful.

In August a Rhode Island tax administrator ruled that witchcraft is a legitimate religion that is entitled to the same nonprofit tax breaks as established churches and religions in that state. The new ruling was issued after an American Civil Liberties Union lawyer intervened on behalf of a Wiccan coven whose tax exemption request was denied in the fall of 1988.

Earlier this year, the right to practice witchcraft in the U.S. military was sought by Air Force Airman Patricia Hutchin, 21. According to the Associated Press, Hutchin demanded the right to celebrate her religion's holidays, including Halloween. Citing Air Force regulations guaranteeing freedom of religion, her superiors at Lackland Air Force Base in San Antonio, Texas, quickly granted her petition.

In a third case a witch in Mississippi sued the Salvation Army for firing her solely because of her Wiccan faith. Jamie K. Dodge, 28, was employed at the Army's domestic violence shelter in Pascagoula, which had been receiving federal, state, and local funds. But on August 27, 1987, an Army supervisor saw Dodge working at the copy machine and noticed she was making a copy of a document. Retrieving a paper from a nearby wastebasket the supervisor found "what appeared to be a description of a Satanic or occult ritual," according to the June 1989 issue of Church & State magazine.

Salvation Army officials questioned her about the paper, and she admitted she practiced Wicca as her religion. She was promptly fired. The officials said that when they hired Dodge they thought she was a Catholic. "We recognize other denominations as Christian. But we don't recognize Wicca as a religion; it's contrary to everything we believe in," Major Floyd Langley was quoted as saying. Dodge countered that she could still be a Catholic or Methodist and "be a Wiccan....We believe in one God-force and there are different ways to worship."

In early 1988 she sued the Salvation Army for $1.25 million, citing Title VII of the federal law that prohibits discrimination on the basis of religion. And earlier this year, a federal judge in Biloxi, Mississippi, agreed, arguing that because the Army received public funds they could not discriminate on the basis of religion. Later this year, Dodge accepted a cash settlement from the Army, reported at $30,000.

In Brief

It's not safe to get "slain in the spirit" these days. This practice, which involves faith healers causing people to swoon by laying their hands on them, has become a costly issue for two major charismatic ministries whose "catchers" were not quick enough on their feet. In June, 67 year-old Evelyn Kuykendall of Marshville, North Carolina, won a $300,000 jury verdict from Texas faith healers Charles and Frances Hunter. The Hunters testified that the woman had swooned in a "peculiar" way during one of their rallies and their "catchers" were not able to reach her. The woman, who had been afflicted with spinal disease, broke her back during the incident.

In another incident in September, 1986, Ella Peppard, 85, died 15 days after someone "slain in the spirit" fell on her and fractured her hip during a Benny Hinn rally. The woman's family sued Hinn, pastor of the Orlando Christian Center, for $5 million (it was Hinn who was touching people on the forehead that night which caused the fall). Carl Hughes of Oklahoma City, attorney for the victim's family, said Hinn's ministry recently awarded the family a large but undisclosed cash settlement a day before the trial was to begin. Hughes said videotapes of the incident disclosed that Hinn's ministry failed to quickly summon an ambulance, despite repeated calls to do so.

The West African nation of Ghana banned the Mormons and Jehovah's Witnesses, ordered their meeting places closed, and gave their missionaries one week to leave. The government charged the two sects with disturbing public order and threatening the nation's sovereignty. But in July, a month later, a ban on Jehovah's Witnesses was lifted in Hungary. There are 76 Jehovah's Witnesses imprisoned in Hungary for refusing military service.

A spokeswoman for channeler J. Z. Knight (who claims she channels a 35,000-year-old warrior from Atlantis named "Ramtha") is blaming "a Christian" for repeated bomb threats that cut short a two-week conference last March. After the second day of the conference, the YMCA of the Rockies in Estes Park, Colorado, cut the event short -- sending 1,100 participants home after repeated telephone threats from a male caller who claimed the conference was a "ripoff." No arrests were made in the case, and Knight's spokeswoman said she didn't know what denomination the "Christian" belonged to. She added that threats against Knight's organization have since ceased.

Christian Scientists William and Christine Hermanson were found guilty of third-degree murder last spring for denying their diabetic daughter insulin injections. In a related development, the U.S. Supreme Court refused to hear an appeal by Christian Science follower Lauri Walker of California who faces involuntary manslaughter and felony child endangerment charges in connection with the 1984 death of her four-year-old daughter. These were among six cases across the country where authorities were pressing manslaughter, murder, or child abuse charges against Christian Science parents. (See the Winter/Spring 1989 CHRISTIAN RESEARCH JOURNAL for more background on these cases.)

End of document, CRJ0093A.TXT (original CRI file name),
"News Watch"
release A, May 10, 1994
R. Poll, CRI

A special note of thanks to Bob and Pat Hunter for their help in the preparation of this ASCII file for BBS circulation.

Copyright 1994 by the Christian Research Institute.

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