columns from the Christian Research Newsletter, Volume 5: Number 1, 1992.
The Editor of the Christian Research Newsletter is Ron Rhodes.
What's New in the Headlines
An Appellate Court Has Ordered a Retrial in the Robin George--Hare Krishna Case.
In 1977, Marcia George and her daughter Robin (of Cypress, California) brought suit against the International Society for Krishna Consciousness (ISKCON) charging that Robin was abducted and brainwashed at age 14 by the Hindu sect. In June 1983, a jury in Santa Ana, California, ordered the Krishnas to pay the Georges $32.5 million -- most of it in punitive damages.
The $32.5 million judgment against the Krishnas was substantially reduced in ensuing weeks. Judge James A. Jackman reduced the award to about $10 million, and the 4th District Court of Appeal further reduced it to $2.9 million plus interest. The interest accumulated to more than $2 million, bringing the total to over $5 million.
Judge Jackman ordered that five Krishna temples, including the group's Los Angeles headquarters, be auctioned off to satisfy the award. The Krishnas quickly responded and "asked the United States Supreme Court to hear their appeal of the award, and Justice Sandra Day O'Connor asked...that the group's assets remain undisturbed...to give the Justices time to decide whether to hear the appeal," the April 9, 1991 New York Times reported.
The legal battle is not over, for the Supreme Court subsequently sent the case back to the 4th District Court of Appeal. The central issue for the appeals court was whether Robin George and her mother, in seeking punitive damages, should have been required to provide jurors specific figures on the Krishnas' financial worth. According to the January 31, 1992 Orange County Register, "in a California Supreme Court decision last year...it was determined that such financial data were absolutely necessary and that it was up to the plaintiff to produce the evidence." A San Diego appeals court then ruled that the 1991 decision must be applied retroactively to all open cases, including the George-Krishna dispute.
In view of this development, on January 30 the 4th District Court of Appeal overturned a key element of the Georges' award and ordered a new trial. In a 3--0 ruling, the court left intact compensatory damages that total $900,000 with interest. But the court set aside punitive damages that amount to nearly $5 million. The reason? The Georges failed to present evidence of the defendant's financial condition.
"The decision means that a county jury may once again hear testimony about a runaway teenager and her frantic cross-country plane trips and early morning prayer sessions to decide whether the Hare Krishna sect owes her and her mother money as punishment for their ordeal," the January 31 Los Angeles Times reports.
"This is clearly a victory for Hare Krishnas," Sudharma Dasi, spokeswoman for the Krishnas, said in the Times article. "The judgment levied against our movement stood in clear violation of our First Amendment rights."
The retrial of the case will focus on how large a penalty the religious organization can afford without being financially ruined.
The Fear of Satanism's Spread Is Being Exploited by So-called Experts, Observers Say.
"The only thing to fear from satanism is fear itself," David Crumm of Knight-Ridder Newspapers says. In an article that ran in the November 11, 1991 issue of The Sacramento Bee, Crumm says this statement is based on the findings of sociologists, psychologists, and other scholars from across the country who have studied the issue.
"Fear of satanism is on the rise, many experts agree, largely fueled by television talk shows, sensationalized news reports, horror movies, and even a handful of murderers who have claimed the devil made them do it....But the growing army of scholars who have tried to scientifically study satanism has wound up mostly debunking satanic claims as a kind of mass hysteria of the late 1980s and early 1990s," the article reports.
Phillip Stevens, an anthropologist from the State University of New York at Buffalo, is typical of how many of these scholars feel about the issue: "I am losing my patience with people who are making these stupid claims about satanism with very little information."
The current issue of the CHRISTIAN RESEARCH JOURNAL has a feature article entitled "The Hard Facts about Satanic Ritual Abuse," by Bob and Gretchen Passantino. If you would like to subscribe to the JOURNAL, please send your request along with $14.00 (for a one-year subscription) to CRI.
Scientology Can Seriously Endanger the Health and Sanity of Children, Newspaper Reports
A two-part article in the November 10--11, 1991 St. Petersburg Times reports on what it is like to be a child in the church of Scientology. Most of the article focuses on Kristi and Beth Erlich, two sisters who grew up in the controversial church but eventually left.
Kristi and Beth's parents divorced in the early 1970s. Both girls lived with their mother at first, but after their father moved to Clearwater, Florida -- where Scientology's international spiritual headquarters is located -- he invited the children to come live with him. Beth eventually agreed, leaving Kristi to live with her mother.
Beth was just 11 years old when she signed a "billion-year contract" to join the "Sea Organization" -- a group of "highly committed staff members who do the church's business and spiritual work." The contract is "a standard document whose unusual duration is not questioned in a church that believes in reincarnation," the article reports. Members of the Sea Organization "generally work 12-hour days, six or seven days a week, and currently are paid about $30 per week. The church gives them room and board."
The article points out that the "ideal" Scientology parent does not pamper children. "In fact, several former members said Scientologists believe children are 'adults in small bodies' who shouldn't be ordered around....'In order to be a good Scientologist,' says former member Adeline Dodd-Bova, 'you're allowing your child to be responsible for themselves. I don't have to tell my 5-year-old son if he's hungry or not, he knows. I don't have to make him dinner, he can go get food.'"
Eventually, when Beth was 14, her father got in trouble with the cult. She recalls that "he had been declared a 'suppressive person' -- an enemy of Scientology -- after pushing for improvements in staff conditions and for refusing to be demoted." This confused Beth, for the organization her father had wanted her to be a part of was now telling him to leave. Even though he was leaving, however, he still believed in Scientology's doctrine. He therefore would not urge his young daughter to leave the group with him. He told Beth to make her own decision, and she did just that -- she stayed.
"She had more allegiance to the cult than she did to me," her father said. "And I can only say that that's my doing. Because I was less a father than I was a cult leader to her," the article reports.
Within a year, however, Beth decided she wanted to leave Scientology. And soon after this, all of Beth's family -- including Kristi and her mom -- had left the cult.
Recovering from their years in Scientology has been very difficult for Beth and Kristi. Their father recently wrote: "I don't know if anyone can comprehend the remorse I feel for subjecting my children to this alienating, warped, repressive environment. I pray our story serves as a warning: SCIENTOLOGY IS DANGEROUS TO THE HEALTH AND SANITY OF YOUR CHILDREN."
Eight years have now passed since Beth left Scientology. But even now, she has recurring nightmares. "I'm still not over it," she said. "I'm still not. I still have nightmares."
Beth says it has been difficult building a meaningful relationship with her father -- but she is trying.
THE GROWTH OF JEHOVAH'S WITNESSES
|Year||-||U.S. (Peak)+||-||World (Peak)||-||Worldwide Memorial Attendance++|
+ "Peak" refers to "Peak Publishers" -- the highest number of active, baptized JWs during the year.
++ "Memorial Attendance" refers to those attending the annual "Memorial celebration," the Witnesses' version of the Lord's Supper. The figure includes non-Witnesses, and is more indicative of their influence than mere membership figures.
Nichiren Shoshu Cult Split by Battle with Priesthood
What the Los Angeles Times calls "a sometimes ludicrous, yet historic religious battle" is taking shape in the foothills of Mount Fuji in Japan as the priesthood and laity of Japan's ancient Nichiren Shoshu Buddhist sect struggle for control of the group's members and heritage.
According to a December 16, 1991 article in the publication, the Soka Gakkai lay movement "began as a small study group affiliated with the Nichiren Shoshu order. But beginning in the early 1960s, under the leadership of the charismatic and dictatorial Daisaku Ikeda, the group brought in millions of converts by using high-pressure tactics. Many Japanese have told of being pushed into a car, carried into a Soka Gakkai meeting hall and subjected to hours of intense indoctrination."
The sect's high priests are now fighting Ikeda and those loyal to him "with every weapon available to them," claiming that "Ikeda has drifted too far from orthodox teachings" and behaves like a "spiritual king." Their attempts have included unseating Ikeda from his position as head of Nichiren Shoshu's lay organizations, followed by "a note to the leaders of the Soka Gakkai advising them to disband" -- thereby excommunicating the Soka Gakkai, "breaking the group's affiliation with Nichiren Shoshu and its 600 temples."
The Times notes that this drastic move "will cut the organization from its religious underpinning as a lay group of the Nichiren Shoshu faith," with severe consequences for its members.
The Soka Gakkai has responded defiantly, encouraging "open rebellion against the Buddhist priests" and beginning "a campaign of harassment" against them. The cult's considerable power in Japan is both spiritual and political. According to the Times, the Soka Gakkai-controlled Komeito ("good government party") "effectively has the swing vote in the upper house of the Japanese parliament."
The Soka Gakkai has a membership of 10 million in Japan and "claims 1.26 million overseas followers in more than 100 countries." The movement has often been described as one of the fastest-growing religions in North America.
Well-known American members of Soka Gakkai include singer Tina Turner and jazz pianist Herbie Hancock. Many know the cult as an offbeat, "name-it-and-claim-it" form of Buddhism that openly promotes the acquisition of material wealth through chanting.
For now, the Santa Monica, California-based U.S. organization has changed its name from Nichiren Shoshu of America (NSA) to SGI-USA (short for Soka Gakkai International-USA).
End of document, CRN0042A.TXT (original CRI file name), "Headline News" and "International" release A, June 30, 1994 R. Poll, CRI
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