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Families say this “healer” cast a spell on their girls

“Dressed in a theatrical felt hat and quilted jacket, this is the first picture of self-styled ‘healer’ Anne Craig to emerge since a Mail on Sunday investigation accused her of helping to tear apart some of the country’s [UK’s] best-connected families. For four weeks Craig has refused to comment despite mounting allegations that she helped isolate a string of impressionable young women from their friends and families. They include highly educated society girls Laura Hue-Williams and Victoria Cayzer.  . . . Through her lawyers, Craig—who is understood not to have any recognized qualifications and is not a member of a professional body—has denied any wrongdoing. . .” The godmother of another former Carig client commented, “The method is to isolate you from friends and family. I told my goddaughter that this was toxic and she agreed that she would stop seeing Craig.”  The Mail on Sunday report continues, “Meanwhile, a businesswoman believes that her daughter was saved because she was older and more skeptical about the ‘healer.’ Her daughter was a friend of Victoria Cayzer, who recommended Craig. She said: ‘My daughter did not see Craig for long because she thought it was ridiculous. When she tried to raise this with Victoria, Victoria said they could not be friends unless she was on “the journey” with Craig.’ Last night, former Home Office Minister Tom Sackville, an anti-cult campaigner, joined the Mail on Sunday’s call for a law to extend the existing protection of children to vulnerable adults too.  . . . Professor Rod Dubrow-Marshall, a director with the International Cultic Studies Association, also called for new protection. He said: ‘Anyone is susceptible to psychological manipulation and mind-control. The guru usually has some kind of psychological disorder, such as a narcissistic personality disorder. They yearn to have people worship them.’″ (Daily Mail, 6/1/16)[IT 7.3, 2016]

Alleged polygamist leader of cult-like Ontario church pleads guilty to “corrections and chastisements”

“It didn’t take much to set off Fred King, the leader of a small, isolated church [Church of Jesus Christ Restored] in Chatsworth Township, just south of Owen Sound, Ontario. Sometimes he’d deliver ‘corrections and chastisements’ by punching, kicking or spitting on parishioners, an Owen Sound court heard Tuesday. Other times he used humiliation or did something such as squeezing a child’s hand with crushing force for fighting with a sister. The victims were his parishioners. In one case when a teen tried to run away, his grandmother tattled and Fred King, who was known simply as ‘The Prophet,’ retaliated fiercely with a beating at a Sunday church service. King, 57, of Chatsworth Township, pleaded guilty before Superior Court Justice Clayton Conlan Tuesday to nine assaults which took place between Dec. 12, 1988 and Aug. 10, 2008, mostly in Chatsworth Township or Grey County, and in one case in Peel Region, involving four church members. Other charges King faces are to be withdrawn when he’s sentenced Sept. 14, Martin said afterward.” (National Post, 05/11/16) [IT 7.3, 2016]

Germany opens files on Nazi pedophile sect in Chile

“Germany is declassifying its files on Colonia Dignidad, a sect in Chile run by a Nazi pedophile. . . Colonia Dignidad was a German commune founded in 1961 by convicted pedophile Paul Schaefer and a group of fellow German immigrants in a remote part of Chile, where residents were indoctrinated and kept as virtual slaves over three decades. . . . ‘The handling of Colonia Dignidad was not a glorious chapter of the history of the foreign ministry,’ said Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier. For many years, from the 60s to the 80s, German diplomats looked the other way, and did too little to protect their citizens in this commune,’ he said as the ministry screened a movie about the case starring Emma Watson and Daniel Bruehl.  . . . In 1997, Schaefer faced a series of lawsuits and fled Chile. He was arrested in Argentina in 2005 and subsequently convicted in Chile for sexual abuse of children, arms possession and human rights violations. He died in a Chilean jail in 2010 while serving a 20-year sentence.” (The Local, 04/27/16) [IT 7.3, 2016]

Germany seeks extradition of Nazi sect pedophile doctor

“A doctor who was convicted in Chile for complicity in child sex abuse at the Nazi-tied Colonia Dignidadcommune  may have to serve out his sentence in Germany. Hartmut Hopp, 76, was the right-hand man of convicted pedophile Paul Schäfer, who in 1961 founded the notorious German commune Colonia Dignidad in Chile where residents were indoctrinated and kept as virtual slaves over three decades. Schäfer also collaborated with the dictatorship of Augusto Pinochet, whose secret police used the colony—which lies around 350 kilometers (215 miles) south of the capital Santiago—as a place to torture opponents. Nazi-hunter Simon Wiesenthal had also reported that infamous concentration camp doctor Josef Mengele, dubbed the ‘Angel of Death,’ had been at the colony. Hopp was convicted in 2011 for complicity in 16 cases of child sex abuse, but returned to Germany before the final court ruling was imposed two years later. But now prosecutors in western Germany’s Krefeld have demanded that Hopp serve out his five-year jail term in his country of origin, a spokesman said.  . . . Former residents of the commune are bringing a lawsuit against the Chilean state for allowing the camp to operate for years, during which they say numerous victims were abused and enslaved. The history of the commune inspired last year’s film Colonia starring Emma Watson. (The Local, 06/08/16) [IT 7.3, 2016]

Evidence contradicts Exclusive Brethren denial that group is antigay

“The Exclusive Brethren (EB) church has denied that it is ‘resolutely anti-gay,’ even though it mistreats its gay members, and has launched numerous political campaigns against the rights of LGBTI people starting over a decade ago. Fairfax Media has reported that the cashed-up separatist religious sect, which donates secretly to the Liberal Party, has ‘virulently anti-gay’ attitudes.” Fairfax Media obtained a number of internal documents, including a note in which EB leader Bruce Hales “tells a young girl she should not live with her father because he is homosexual.” . . . The EB’s PR representative Benjamin Haslem said, “The Church has never campaigned against LGBTI individuals or communities.” (The Age, 06/19/16) [IT 7.3, 2016]

Exclusive Brethren school gets record funding

 “An exclusive private school run by an ‘extremist cult’ that warns children to stay away from the outside world and bans its graduates from physically attending university receives more in government funding per student than up to a third of the state’s public schools. Data obtained by Fairfax Media from the MySchool website reveals that a school [Meadowbank Education Trust (MET)] run by a Protestant religious sect, the Exclusive Brethren, receives $800 more in public funding per student than Homebush West, which has been forced to ban children from running in its playground due to overcrowding.  . . . Private schools that receive a similar level of public funding, such as Emmaus Catholic College in Kemps Creek, have one-twentieth the level of private donations. The combination of a high level of donations and public funding has meant that the Brethren school has been able to guarantee funding of up to $22,000, per student per year, more than many private schools secure through student fees, according to MySchool data.” (Sydney Morning Herald, 7/5/16) [IT 7.3, 2016]

$13.5M award vacated in Jehovah’s Witnesses abuse case

In 2012, Jose Lopez filed a lawsuit at the San Diego Superior Court claiming he was molested at the age of 7 by a leader in a Jehovah’s Witnesses Church. Church elders recommended that Lopez and his mother attend the services because Gonzalo Campos, the church leader, would be a good mentor for Lopez. The church elders recommended Campos even though they knew that he had molested a boy as early as 1982. Lopez said Campos spent months grooming him and then assaulted him one day at Campos’ La Jolla home. The boy told his mother, who reported it immediately to the church leadership. The elders told her they’d handle the situation and discouraged her from calling law enforcement, the lawsuit says. Once the trial began, Campos later confessed to abusing at least eight children between 1982 and 1995. He fled to Mexico around 2010 after San Diego police were notified and is believed to still be there, said Lopez’s lawyer, Irwin Zalkin. “Lopez’s lawyers put on a six-day trial in front of the judge, without Watchtower’s lawyers there to offer a defense. In the end, Judge Lewis handed down a default judgment of $10.5 million in punitive damages and $3 million in compensatory damages against Watchtower.” In April 2016, however, an appeals court threw out the $13.5 million judgment against the governing body of the Jehovah’s Witnesses church. However, the “ruling by the state Fourth District Court of Appeal hits the reset button on the case, potentially leading to another trial but with one major caveat—that documents concerning past sexual abuse cases in the church should be turned over.” (San Diego Union-Tribune, 04/14/16) [IT 7.3, 2016]

Russian Supreme Court refuses to ban Jehovah’s Witnesses branch

“Russia’s Supreme Court on Friday declined to ban the Jehovah’s Witnesses of Tyumen as [an] extremist organization, RAPSI reports from the courtroom. The Tyumen Regional Court ordered the liquidation of the Jehovah’s Witnesses branch in 2015. The court granted a motion filed by prosecutors and declared the group extremist. The Supreme Court thus reversed the lower court’s ruling.  . . . Jehovah’s Witnesses have had many legal problems in Russia.  . . . In January 2014, a court in Kurgan ruled to ban the organization’s booklets as extremist. The books talk about how to have a happy life, what you can hope for, how to develop good relations with God and what you should know about God and its meaning. In late December 2013, the leader of the sect’s group in Tobolsk, Siberia was charged with extremism and the prevention of a blood transfusion that nearly led to the death of a female member of the group. In 2004, a court in Moscow dissolved and banned a Jehovah’s Witnesses group on charges of recruiting children, encouraging believers to break from their families, inciting suicide and preventing believers from accepting medical assistance.″ (RAPSI, 04/15/16) [IT 7.3, 2016]

Jehovah’s Witnesses face £1M legal bill after young girl was sexually abused by one of its members

“The Jehovah’s Witnesses face a million-pound legal bill after a young girl was sexually abused by one of its members. The victim, now aged in her 20s, was molested by an elder, or ‘ministerial servant,’ Peter Stewart, over a five-year period in Loughborough in the 1980s and ‘90s, London’s High Court heard. Last year, a judge ordered the organization to pay £275,000 compensation to the victim for failing to protect her or to warn other parents about Stewart. The church sought permission to appeal the decision. But this week an Appeal Court judge rejected their application to appeal, and said the church should pay Stewart’s victim £275,000 compensation and the massive legal costs of the case, which have been estimated at around £1 million. Stewart, who carried out Bible study sessions and door-to-door evangelical rounds, molested the girl, who cannot be named for legal reasons, on a weekly basis.” (Leicester Mercury, 07/08/16) [IT 7.3, 2016]

Hitler-loving Korean sex cult lures young girls as “spiritual brides” for serial rapist

“A notorious cult which allegedly brainwashes young women into having sex with a serial rapist is luring potential members in major cities across Australia. South Korean group Jesus Morning Star(JMS)—who[se leaders] praise Hitler and preach members will be purified by having sex with their leader—are [sic] believed to be recruiting in shopping centers and universities in Canberra, Sydney, and Melbourne. The quasi-Christian sect was founded in 1980 by Jung Myung-seok (JMS), who is serving a 10-year prison sentence in Seoul for raping and molesting his followers. He is due to walk free in 2017. The highly secretive group, also known as Providence, is believed to have spread to Australia through a number of front organizations, including fashion modelling classes and Bible studies. Members say they are groomed into following a ‘doctrine’ which enforces sleep deprivation and encourages severing ties with family in order to be ‘spiritual brides’ for Jung. Former followers have told Daily Mail Australia of the devastating impact the cult had on their lives and said they were left psychologically and emotionally scarred after leaving.” (Daily Mail Australia, 05/20/16) [IT 7.3, 2016]

FBI raids of Hasidic Kiryas Joel “part of sex-abuse probe”

“FBI raids in the Hasidic village of Kiryas Joel are reportedly part of a child abuse investigation stemming from two recently released videos in which a yeshiva principal intimately touches two young boys. The Journal News reported Friday that an unidentified law enforcement source said Thursday’s raids, targeting the United Talmudical Academy and the town’s public safety building, were investigating abuse allegations. Kiryas Joel, in upstate New York, is an almost exclusively Hasidic community, with the majority of its residents part of a branch of the Satmar sect.  . . . The videos of the principal were reportedly taken several months ago using a ceiling camera hidden in his office. It is not clear who hid the camera and leaked the videos. According to The Journal News, the Satmar school’s board of directors issued a statement Tuesday defending the principal.” (The Times of Israel, 05/13/16) [IT 7.3, 2016]

Danish cult that claims demons cause autism arrives in Spain

“A religious group is staging several ‘spirituality seminars’ this weekend in Barcelona, claiming that its members—through Jesus—can heal people with a variety of conditions, including autism. The Last Reformation, an evangelical Christian group founded in Denmark by Torben Sondergaard, arrived in Spain on Friday for a series of spirituality seminars.  . . . The group will be going out onto the streets of Barcelona . . . to practice ‘kickstarting’; performing ‘miracles’ and healing the sick . . . under the supervision of team members from The Last Reformation,’ according to the seminar guide, published online.  . . . The group is particularly proud of the miracles performed by its members, promoting them across its social media, on Facebook and YouTube. One video shows a member of The Last Reformation laying his hands on a woman with crutches, who immediately discards them and walks unaided.” (The Local, 05/06/16) [IT 7.3, 2016]

Moonies offer olive branch to former cult leader who died in Bedford, UK

Former Moonie Dennis Orme gives tribute to his beloved wife Doris and her work as a spiritual pioneer and as a “restored Eve.” “Doris Orme traveled the world organizing the Unification Church, criticized for its brutal pre-marriage ceremonies, sex rituals and its tyrannous former leader Rev Moon.” The Ormes left the church after a public fallout with Rev Moon. They returned to Mr. Orme’s hometown Bedford in 2014. Doris Orme passed away in Bedford Hospital after a long battle with Alzheimer’s. She published God Speaks to Doris, which contains “seventy revelations from 1993–2006, including a warning to the US that if they live by the sword they will ‘die by the sword’ and criticizing America’s involvement with Iraq.” (Bedfordshire On Sunday, 06/04/16) [IT 7.3, 2016]

Polygamous sect verdict: Religion is not a shield for crime

A federal jury found the two FLDS-run towns of Hildale, Utah and Colorado City, Arizona “guilty of multiple civil rights violations, and the Federal Bureau of Investigation rounded up 11 FLDS leaders on felony welfare fraud charges. The jury found that the towns sabotaged people who were considered threats, that the police departments harassed and intimidated nonbelievers, and that local officials denied services to new residents from outside of the faith.  . . . A federal jury found that the FLDS towns, run from a Texas prison by convicted child molester and bigamist Warren Jeffs, violated child labor laws as well as civil rights laws, which they did by refusing service to nonbelievers, many of whom live side by side with FLDS adherents, who post signs reading ‘Zion’ on their front porches.” (The Christian Century, 03/14/16) [IT 7.3, 2016]

Federal appeals court tosses Sister Wives lawsuit over Utah’s polygamy ban

“A federal appeals court has rejected a lawsuit filed by reality TV polygamist Kody Brown and his four wives, declaring that the family did not actually face a threat of prosecution from Utah authorities. In a ruling handed down Monday, the 10th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in Denver sent the case back to a lower court, essentially dismissing it. The effect means that, for now, polygamy once again is a felony in Utah. The Brown family’s lawyer said in a statement that they were considering their options—including an appeal to the U.S. Supreme Court.  . . . Kody Brown and his wives, Meri, Christine, Janelle and Robyn, filed a lawsuit against the state challenging its historic ban on polygamy (Utah abandoned the practice of plural marriage as a condition of statehood). They argued that it violated their right to privacy and freedom of religion. The family found itself under investigation in 2011 by Lehi police when they began appearing on their TLC reality-TV show Sister Wives. In 2012, the Utah County Attorney claimed he would not prosecute the Browns for polygamy alone—unless there was evidence of other crimes like abuse or fraud.  . . . The case has been sent back to the federal court in Salt Lake City where it is expected to be dismissed, unless the Browns appeal.” (Fox 13, 04/11/16) [IT 7.3, 2016]

Former child bride, polygamous trust settle lawsuit for $2.75M

“Former child bride Elissa Wall has reached a $2.75 million settlement with the United Effort Plan [UEP], the trust that oversees homes and other real estate in the polygamous border towns of Hildale, Utah, and Colorado City, Ariz[ona]. Wall, who originally filed her lawsuit under the moniker ‘MJ’ because she was a juvenile when she was forced to marry, will receive a mix of cash and property.  . . . On March 23, the Utah Supreme Court ruled that the UEP—now a charitable trust under management independent from the FLDS—could be held liable for Jeffs’ role in forcing Wall to marry. The justices then sent the case back to Salt Lake County’s 3rd District Court, where the settlement occurred. In 2001, Jeffs was head of the UEP and Wall’s attorneys argued that he was acting in his capacity as trustee of the UEP when he forced her to wed her 19-year-old cousin that year.  . . . Attorneys for the UEP unsuccessfully countered that ordering a marriage to an underage girl is so far outside the bounds of Jeffs’ duties as trustee that the trust cannot be liable.” (The Salt Lake Tribune, 05/06/16) [IT 7.3, 2016]

“Nearly 200 children from a polygamous sect had to work long hours in the cold, sometimes with little food, as they picked pecans for a Utah contracting company with ties to the group, a federal judge found in a decision that marks the latest blow to the group. U.S. District Judge Tena Campbell held Paragon Contractors in contempt of court, siding with federal labor lawyers who said kids as young as 6 were sent to the harvest. The government said the company had deep connections to the sect led by Warren Jeffs and was under pressure to make money for its leaders before it used 1,400 workers, including 175 children, as unpaid labor. Paragon denied that, saying families from the Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints [FLDS] volunteered to pick up fallen nuts in the city of Hurricane.  . . . Sect members believe polygamy brings exaltation in heaven. It is a legacy of the early teachings of the Mormon church, but the mainstream faith abandoned the practice more than [a] century ago.” (ABC News, 06/02/16) [IT 7.3, 2016]

Feds call for judge to disband police in polygamous towns

“The police department should be disbanded in polygamous towns on the Utah-Arizona border found guilty of violating the constitutional rights of nonbelievers, the federal government recommended Friday in a new court filing.  . . . The government is also asking a judge to assign an independent monitor to watch over municipal staff in Colorado City, Arizona, and Hildale, Utah, and have access to city meetings and documents.” (ABC News, 04/29/16) [IT 7.3, 2016]

Accused polygamist Winston Blackmore loses latest court appeal

In the latest legal decision in a years-long polygamy battle, British Columbia’s (B.C.’s) “highest court has upheld the appointment of special prosecutor Peter Wilson and the decision by Wilson to file polygamy charges against Winston Blackmore. Wilson, the third special prosecutor appointed in the case, decided in August 2014 to [once again] file charges against Blackmore, a leader of the Bountiful community in southeastern B.C.  . . .[The] court heard that allegations first surfaced in the early 1990s that individuals were practicing polygamy in the small community of Bountiful, near Creston. RCMP [Royal Canadian Mounted Police] conducted an investigation and forwarded a report to Crown counsel, with the Crown declining to approve charges.

Further allegations were investigated in the early 2000s, with the result that once again charges were not laid by the Crown. [First special prosecutor Richard] Peck was appointed in 2007 and decided not to file charges, expressing a preference that a ruling on the constitutional validity of polygamy laws be obtained. The following year, Terrence Robertson was appointed as the second special prosecutor. In January 2009, Robertson approved charges against Blackmore, who went to court and challenged that decision. The B.C. Supreme Court [at that time] found the attorney-general had no jurisdiction to appoint Robertson and quashed that appointment and his decision to approve charges.” (The Province, 06/01/16) [IT 7.3, 2016]

Polygamous leader Lyle Jeffs has a network of hiding spots

“Rachel Jeffs didn’t even know where she was living. Somewhere in Idaho is all she knew.  . . . She and the other women there were not allowed to leave, Jeffs said, or even to go outside during daylight. ‘We could go outside at night on the deck and stuff, but not during the day,’ Jeffs said. ‘And we were supposed to sew—everybody—and stay in the house and clean and make meals.’ Jeffs was living in what the Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints [FLDS] calls a ‘house of hiding.’ Her caretaker there, she said in an interview Wednesday, was her uncle—Lyle Jeffs. Former FLDS followers suspect he is now living in such a house—somewhere. The house of hiding network was one reason federal prosecutors asked Lyle be kept in jail pending his trial in October on two counts related to food stamp fraud. U.S. District Court Judge Ted Stewart released Lyle from jail earlier this month. Jeffs became a federal fugitive on June 19 when he ditched his GPS ankle monitor. A warrant has been issued for his arrest.  . . . Rachel assumes Lyle is with one or two other people living in some house of hiding that only a few in his circle know of. Soon a driver will move him to another house in a vehicle owned by a third person. ‘It’s very much thought out how to hide people,’ Rachel said.” (The Salt Lake Tribune, 06/26/16) [IT 7.3, 2016]

India’s Mathura cult clashes raise disturbing questions

“When cops clashed with a cult of 3000 heavily armed men and women at Mathura in the central Indian state of Uttar Pradesh on June 2, leading to dozens of injuries and the death of 24 people, including two senior and celebrated police officers, it came as a shock. Not just for those in khaki, but also the government—which had been caught napping on the intelligence front. When the police entered the illegally occupied enclosure of the cult, Azad Bharat Vidhik Vaicharik Kranti Satyagrahi, on government horticultural land (Jawahar Bagh) on June 2—not really to evict the members, but to carry out an assessment—the cops found themselves confronting a hostile mob. The women stood with batons, while the men were perched on tree tops with guns. They began firing and used cooking gas cylinders to set off blasts. The police had to beat a hasty retreat before regrouping itself and calling for more reinforcements.  . . . About 360 people were arrested, including 58 on serious charges of homicide and attempt to murder.  . . . What is equally disturbing is that Mathura is just 161 km away from India’s capital, and if there has been an intelligence failure in the state, there seems to have been a greater slip-up at the federal level in New Delhi. And in these times of terrorism, such carelessness can be very costly.” (Asia Times, 06/04/16) [IT 7.3, 2016]

Russia arrests Scientologist for stealing $2M and giving to church

“Authorities in Russia say a woman stole money given to her for dream homes and donated it to the Church of Scientology. Ekaterina Zaborskikh allegedly stole 130 million rubles ($2 million) between 2012 and 2014 by selling Russians apartments that were never built by her construction company, an indictment in St. Petersburg alleged last week, as reported by Komsomolskaya Pravda. Part of that money was funneled to her church, prosecutors say.  . . . In January 2015, authorities raided the Moscow church to analyze financial documents.  . . . The raid, however, was only the start of Scientology’s problems in Russia. A Moscow court banned the church in November over its American trademark of its name. ‘The representatives of the Church of Scientology themselves have created many legal conflicts by restricting the religious freedom through the use of trademarks,’ Russia’s Ministry of Justice said, according to RT [TV network]. ‘So it turns out a commercial partnership was spreading the religion, while religion can only be spread by religious organizations.’ But not to be deterred, the Church vowed to appeal and said its trademarks were no different from those appearing on copies of the Bible or the Quran. The European Court of Human Rights has, in fact, ruled in favor of Scientology several times.” (Daily Beast, 04/25/16) [IT 7.3, 2016]

Scientologist must pay damages for “vitriolic” personal attack

“A chiropractor [Zabrina Collins] was ordered by a judge on Monday to pay €5,000 damages for a ‘vitriolic and personalized’ attack on the character of a Co Mayo [County Mayo, Ireland] man who opposes the beliefs and teachings of the Church of Scientology, of which she is a leading member. Judge James O’Donohoe in the Circuit Civil Court said that allegations by Zabrina Collins against Peter Griffiths of criminal activity, hate-mongering and links to gay pornographic movies of teenage boys ‘were largely untrue and grossly defamatory.’ . . . The judge said on Monday that the claim of qualified privilege regarding Ms Collins’s remarks could not extend to protect such ‘a vile attack’ on Mr. Griffiths’s good name. He said there had been a good deal of history and animus between the two parties that accounted for the tone of the email, which he described as ‘malicious in the extreme.’ He said publication of the defamatory remarks had not been extensive and had been directed to the school principal.

Judge O’Donohoe also gave judgment in a second, related case in which Ms. Collins . . . and Scientologist Michael O’Donell . . . sued Mr. Griffiths and embalmer John McGhee, of Armstrong Grove, Clara, Co Offaly, for assault and battery.  . . . The judge awarded Ms. Collins and Mr. O’Donnell a total of €3,500 against Mr. McGhee for assault and battery. Mr. Griffiths, he said, had played a lesser role by videoing the assault, but had nevertheless consorted with Mr. McGhee. For harassment and assault he awarded Ms. Collins and Mr. O’Donnell €2,000 damages against Mr. Griffiths. Mr. Beatty and Mr. O’Tuathail agreed that the question of costs could be dealt with by the court at a later date.” (Irish Times, 04/25/16) [IT 7.3, 2016]

Russia’s Supreme Court dismisses complaint filed by Church of Scientology

“Russia’s Supreme Court has dismissed a complaint the Moscow Church of Scientology had lodged in connection to the Russian Justice Ministry refusal to register this organization’s charter, a court representative told RAPSI on Thursday.  . . . The Moscow Regional Court ruled in 2012 that some of [L. Ron] Hubbard’s books be included on the Federal List of Extremist Literature and prohibited from distribution in Russia.” (RAPSI, 5/5/16) [IT 7.3, 2016]

Woman drops lawsuit against Scientology

“A Texas woman embroiled in a years-long legal battle with the Church of Scientology and its leader David Miscavige filed a motion Tuesday to voluntarily dismiss her harassment lawsuit against the church and some of its top officials. The legal move came as the Texas Supreme Court was poised to review arguments in the case, and months after Monique Rathbun, the wife of a former high-ranking Scientologist, fired her attorneys without explanation. Rathbun claimed in a 2013 lawsuit that the church mounted a three-year campaign of dirty tricks, including surveillance, harassment and ‘ruthlessly aggressive misconduct’ that drove her from her South Texas home and into seclusion in the Hill Country, where she was found again by Scientology operatives.  . . . In what turned out to be their last legal maneuver, church attorneys in February filed a 92-page petition for review to the state supreme court, asking it to take up the First Amendment arguments that had been rejected by the lower court. Rathbun waived the filing of a response, but when the justices requested that she produce one, she filed a motion to end the legal battle instead. ‘I do not have the resources, the time, nor the motivation to litigate in the Supreme Court of Texas against Scientology’s army of lawyers,’ she said in the motion.  . . . Rathbun also blamed her former attorneys for ‘defects’ in her lawsuit that she says Scientology attorneys used to create further delays.” (Courthouse News Service, 05/13/16) [IT 7.3, 2016]

Scientology opens state-of-the-art communications headquarters in Hollywood

“Soaring 45 meters above Sunset Boulevard in the center of Hollywood stands a communications tower adorned with two triangles and a stylized ‘S.’ The logo belongs to the controversial Church of Scientologyand is being used as branding  for the religion’s new hi-tech media complex known as Scientology Media Productions (SMP), which has been created to act as an ‘uncorrupted communication line to the billions.’ Speaking to more than 10,000 Scientologists at the unveiling of the complex, church leader David Miscavige said the global media center would be used to combat biased media reports and allow for the delivery of ‘unadulterated and pure’ teachings of the religion. ‘As the saying goes, if you don’t write your own story, someone else will,’ he said. ‘We’re now going to be writing our story like no other religion in history. And it’s all going to happen right here from Scientology Media Productions.’ Originally built in 1912 and situated on a five-acre complex near the intersection of Sunset and Hollywood boulevards, the motion picture and television studio has been restored for Scientology to create and deliver content across print, broadcast and online media.” (News.com, 05/30/16) [IT 7.3, 2016]

Russia’s feud with Scientology leads to arrests

“The Russian branch of the Church of Scientology has denounced the raids carried out by the Russian police in its Moscow and St. Petersburg locations earlier this week, The Moscow Times reports. Ten church members were arrested in St. Petersburg on allegations of ‘illegal business activity.’ And in Moscow, eyewitnesses said that police officers were not letting people in or out of the Scientology church. ‘It is a disease of our society when government agencies charged with protecting the people and enforcing the law, use the name of the law to persecute the practice of religion,’ the Church said in a statement on Wednesday, saying the authorities had violated the concept of religious freedom enshrined in Russian law. The arrests were made in the wake of a long-running conflict between the Russian government and the Russian Church of Scientology, which the authorities view as an extremist organization. In November 2015 the Moscow City Court ruled to dissolve the Moscow church because the term ‘Scientology’ is an American trademark, Kremlin-controlled RT reported. As a result, the ministry said that the group should be subjected to consumer protection laws.” (Transitions Online, 06/23/16) [IT 7.3, 2016]

Scientology leader threatens UK publisher with legal action

“British independent publisher Silvertail Books has been threatened with legal action by lawyers representing Scientology leader David Miscavige. Silvertail is due to publish an account by Miscavige’s father Ron on 3rd May titled Ruthless: Scientology, My Son David Miscavige, and Me in the UK and Ireland. However, the publisher has received a letter from Johnsons law firm, seen by The Bookseller, warning that if the book is published next week then the company will be sued for defamation. (The Bookseller, 04/27/16) [IT 7.3, 2016]

Public funding revealed for schools associated with Church of Scientology

“Schools associated with the Church of Scientology are receiving more government funding per student than hundreds of Australian public schools, new data has revealed, despite benefiting from generous private donations and hundreds of thousands of dollars in school fees. The Athena and Yarralinda schools receive a combined amount of up to $475,000 in recurrent public funding every year to educate fewer than 60 students. The schools . . . maintain they are a secular part of the tax-exempt Applied Scholastics group of schools worldwide, which has strong public links to the church.  . . .

At the inner-west based Athena school, . . . students are funded through a combination of public funding, fees, and tax-free donations, . . . benefiting from up to $20,000 in funding [per student] per year. According to MySchool data, the school . . . receives just $2,000 less per student in public funding than the nearby Newtown Public School, which has been forced to restrict its enrollment boundaries to stem overflowing classrooms.

At the same time, the Yarralinda school outside Melbourne receives up to $11,000 in public funding for each [student,] . . . more than the amount received by up to 800 NSW and Victorian public schools, and $2,700 more per student than the nearby Rolling Hills school in Mooroolbark.  . . . A spokeswoman for the Church of Scientology said the church does not manage the schools, nor are they a front group for the church.

In a statement, the federal Department of Education declined to comment specifically on the schools but said Productivity Commission data shows that, on average, total government funding for a student going to a public school is over $16,000 per year, while the support for a student attending a non-government school is $9,300.  . . . ‘Under the Australian constitution, the Commonwealth has no specific power in relation to schooling and does not have a direct role in the registration, administration and operation of schools,’ the statement said. The Athena school was contacted for comment.” (The Sydney Morning Herald, 7/12/16) [IT 7.3, 2016]

Man denied security clearance at work for being Scientologist

“A Berlin court ruled that it was okay to deny a man security clearance due to concerns about him being a Scientologist. The man was working for a company that produces helicopter parts, often for the German military.  . . . the court on Tuesday ruled that denying him security clearance for classified materials was justifiable, in particular because Scientologists are required to go through auditing—a sort of confessional counseling in which their thoughts and experiences are kept on record. The court explained that this practice rightly leaves doubt about Scientologists’ trustworthiness with classified materials and their loyalty to the constitution. The court further said that this decision did not violate the man’s right to freedom of religion. The German government does not recognize Scientology as a religion, unlike in the United States, and tends to view the organization with a high level of skepticism. Courts have ruled in the past that the group is engaged in activities that are subversive to freedom and democracy and should be subject to closer surveillance.” (The Local, 7/13/16) [IT 7.3, 2016]


More than 30 burned during hot coal walk

“Fire officials say more than 30 people attending a Tony Robbins event in Dallas have been treated for burns after the motivational speaker encouraged them to walk on hot coals.  . . . The hot coals were spread outside the Kay Bailey Hutchison Convention Center, where Robbins’ ‘Unleash the Power Within’ seminar was taking place.  . . . A statement issued by Robbins Research International said, in part: ‘In Dallas tonight, someone not familiar with the fire walk observed the event and called 911 erroneously reporting hundreds of people requiring medical attention for severe burns. While we are grateful to the quick and robust response from Dallas emergency services, only 5 of 7,000 participants requested any examination beyond what was readily available on site. We are pleased to have completed another successful fire walk for 7,000 guests and look forward to the remainder of an outstanding weekend with them.’ . . . It’s not the first time people have been hurt at Robbins’ seminars. In July 2012, nearly two dozen people reported being burned after a fire-walking exercise at a Robbins’ event in San Jose, California. The event continues through Sunday.” (CBS News, 6/24/16) [IT 7.3, 2016]


Father of New York teen killed in church beating pleads guilty

“The father of a 19-year-old beaten to death during a church [Word of Life Christian Church] counseling session pleaded guilty Wednesday to his role in the attack, describing how he whipped the teenager and a younger son with an electrical cord during a group assault that authorities said went on for 14 hours over two days. Bruce Leonard wobbled and cried and at times had to sit down during an appearance in Oneida County Court, where he pleaded guilty to first- and second-degree assault the day before he was to stand trial on a more serious murder charge. His wife, Deborah Leonard, pleaded guilty to assault in December. As part of his plea, Bruce Leonard, 66, will have to testify against the seven remaining defendants. They include his step-daughter and the church’s leaders, who are awaiting trial for the session that killed Lucas Leonard and injured 17-year-old Christopher Leonard last October.  . . . Bruce Leonard is expected to be sentenced to a total of 15 years in prison.” (CTV News, Associated Press, 06/22/16) [IT 7.3, 2016]

Human Rights Court: Romania must pay €291,000 to controversial yoga-group members

“Romania must pay EUR 291,000 to 26 members of the Movement for Spiritual Integration into the Absolute (MISA), whose rights had been violated during a police operation that took place in March 2004, the European Court for Human Rights (ECHR) in Strasbourg ruled on Tuesday, April 26. MISA is a famous yoga movement founded by controversial Romanian guru Gregorian Bivolaru. MISA and its leader . . . have been accused of various illegal activities over the years and Bivolaru has even been convicted by Romanian courts. However, MISA representatives have always claimed that they were persecuted by the Romanian authorities. On 18 March 2004, the Romanian police carried out an operation in 16 apartment blocks housing members of MISA, who were suspected of using computer software to produce and disseminate pornographic images on the Internet and of sending members of the association abroad for prostitution. Around 130 members of a military anti-terrorist squad took part in the operation, which was aimed at gathering evidence against MISA leader Gregorian Bivolaru.  . . . The allegedly abused MISA members filed complaints in Romanian courts but these were rejected, so they decided to seek justice at the Human Rights Court. The Court awarded EUR 12,000 just satisfaction to 23 of the applicants, EUR 6,000 to another one, and EUR 4,500 to two others.” (Romania-Insider.com, 04/27/16) [IT 7.3, 2016]

High court says ex-Aum cult member not guilty in parcel bombing

Naoko Kikuchi, a 43-year-old former member of Aum Shinrikyo, was released from prison after being found not guilty of a 1995 parcel bombing at the Tokyo metro government building. The Tokyo High Court overruled a lower court sentence of 5 years’ imprisonment. In May of 1995, the parcel bomb was sent to disrupt a police investigation and prevent an arrest of the founder of the Aum Shinrikyo cult, Chizuo Matsumoto. The defense counsel claimed that Kikuchi didn’t have any idea that the chemicals that she took to the cult’s hideout were going to be used to harm anyone. “A number of Aum members including Asahara have been found guilty in a series of crimes, including a sarin gas attack on the Tokyo subway system in March 1995 that killed 13 people and made more than 6,000 others ill.” (Japan Today, 11/27/15) [IT 7.2, 2016]

Montenegro’s deportation of Japanese cult leaves unanswered questions

In Montenegro, 43 Russians, seven Belarusians, four Japanese, three people from Ukraine, and one person from Uzbekistan are reportedly members of the terrorist group Aum Shinrikyo. The individuals have been deported for lacking temporary-residence permits that would allow them to reside in the Balkan nation. The members of the group told police that they were in Montenegro as tourists. No arrests were made; the individuals were just deported. (Deutsche Welle, 03/29/16) [IT 7.2, 2016]

Mass raids, arrests target followers of Aum Shinrikyo in Russia

“Russian police have raided 25 premises linked to the Japanese Aum Shinrikyo cult in Moscow and St. Petersburg, detaining several members. This comes after authorities in Montenegro deported 58 suspected cult followers, 44 of them to be sent to Russia. The raids targeted the homes and places of worship of suspected cultists of Aum Shinrikyo, a doomsday religion that is banned in Russia.” (RT, 4/5/16) [IT 7.2, 2016]

New charges allege religious leader with ties to the Duggars sexually abused women

“Ten women on Wednesday filed a lawsuit against Bill Gothard, who for decades was a major force in the conservative Christian homeschooling movement, charging him and leaders in his ministry with sexual abuse, harassment and cover-up. Gothard, who urged Christians to shun things like short skirts and rock music, is accused of raping a woman. The same woman says she was raped by one of the ministry’s ‘biblical counselors.’ The lawsuit is part of a battle between dozens of women and the Institute in Basic Life Principles, which was until recently an influential homeschooling ministry, and its charismatic leader Gothard, who urged Christians to focus on their ‘biblical character’ and have large families. Gothard has never been married. Gothard, 81, resigned from the ministry in 2014 after more than 30 women had alleged that he had molested and sexually harassed women he worked with, including some who were minors.” Gothard denied the charges. “Gothard’s ministry was once a popular gathering spot for thousands of conservative Christian families, including the Duggar family from TLC’s 19 Kids and Counting. Gothard’s Advanced Training Institute conferences, where families would learn from Gothard’s teaching, were popular among homeschooling families. He has also rubbed shoulders with Republican luminaries like former Arkansas governor Mike Huckabee.” (The Washington Post, 1/6/16) [IT 7.2, 2016]

Victims of German pedophile sect in Chile seek justice

Winfried Hempel, 38, escaped the group Colonia Dignidad 18 years ago and now is a lawyer heading a lawsuit against the German and Chilean states for the suffering that members went through in the group. Hempel says both countries allowed the abuse to happen at the ironically named Dignity Camp, founded by Paul Schaefer, a German later convicted as a pedophile. Schaefer and a group of fellow German immigrants founded Colonia Dignidad in 1961. Hempel says that the group is “one of the worst sects that have existed in the history of humanity.” Hempel “is bringing a joint lawsuit on behalf of 120 former residents of the colony who blame the Chilean state for allowing it to operate for years, during which time they say numerous victims were abused and enslaved.” In one case, “he is seeking $1.0 million from the Chilean state in compensation for each victim. . . He is bringing a parallel case against Germany” for “negligently failing to help its nationals” whom the colony abused. Gabriel Rodriguez, who lives in a nearby village, was held in Colonia Dignidad for a week as a prisoner of the Pinochet regime. Rodriguez said that “promoting tourism in a place whose memory is one of death, torture, slavery and mutilation seems to me an aberration . . . It is an insult to the memory of those who suffered and died there.” (NDTV, 01/27/16) [IT 7.2, 2016]

“Spanking pastor” facing jail after being found guilty of sexual assault

Howard Curtis, 73, former senior minister at Coulsdon Christian Fellowship (CCF), “spanked ‘completely naked’ women in his congregation as part of a doctrine known as ‘Christian Domestic Discipline.’ . . .During a trial at Croydon Crown Court, Curtis claimed the assaults—which included ‘hitting or tapping his victims in the genitals’—formed part of a mental health treatment inspired by a ‘spiritual’ interpretation of the Bible. . . .a jury [has] unanimously found Mr. Curtis guilty of seven counts of sexually assaulting a female and one count of child cruelty during his time at the CCF between the early 1980s and July 2013 . . . Curtis, now of Bloxworth Close, Wallington, was cleared of five further counts of assaulting a child as well as one count of assaulting a female over 13 by penetration. During the four-week trial the jury heard evidence from a former CCF parishioner who said Curtis had physically restrained women during private ‘counselling sessions’ intended to deliver his worshippers from ‘evil spirits.’’’ (Sutton Guardian, 3/29/16) [IT 7.2, 2016]

Hulu to launch TV series on the cult experience 

An International Cultic Studies Association (ICSA) member has told us about a new original Hulu fiction TV series that may interest some readers: “The Path follows a family at the center of a controversial cult movement as they struggle with relationships, faith, and power. Each episode takes an in-depth look at the gravitational pull of belief and what it means to choose between the life we live and the life we want. The series blends elements of mystery-thriller, romance, and mysticism.” More information is available at hulu.com/press/shows/the-path [IT 7.2, 2016]

Sexual relations between cult leaders and followers to be considered assault

The Israeli legislature, Knesset, has passed a law “that would have sexual relations between a religious leader and a follower be considered assault, even if they were consensual. . . The law, proposed by MK Michal Rosin (Meretz), would consider the relationship between a guru or cult leader and a follower, during or soon after the leader provided guidance, to be one of authority over the follower. . . ‘We will continue fighting against sexual violence,’ she vowed. ‘We believe in the justice of our way and are acting to stop this plague.’ The law passed in a third (final) reading with 28 in favor and none opposed.” (Jerusalem Post Israel News, 3/30/16) [IT 7.2, 2016]

Cult-busting bill gets ministerial approval

In Israel’s Knesset, “Legislation defining abusive cults and giving the authorities tools to fight them was approved by the Ministerial Committee for Legislation. . . If the bill becomes law, it will be the first time a cult is defined by law and differentiated from other, non-abusive religious groups.” The bill defines an abusive cult as “a group of people, incorporated or not, who unite around a person or idea in a way that takes advantage of a relationship of dependence or authority or of emotional distress of one or more members by using methods of control through thought processes and behavioral patterns and acts in an organized, systematic and sustained pattern while committing crimes according to Israeli law.” Leadership in a cult would be considered a crime with a prison sentence of 10 years. The bill also includes “a system of confiscating property obtained as a result of an abusive cult’s activities, which is similar to that in the Law to Fight Organized Crime.” The bill also proposes the creation of an “online database of information about cults, their leaders, their activities and location, as well as a department for helping victims of abusive cults.” (Jerusalem Post News, 2/14/16) [IT 7.2, 2016]

The United Kingdom criminalizes the act of controlling others’ behavior

In England and Wales, it is a crime to use repeated threats, humiliation, and intimidation to control people. The presence of violence is no longer necessary to prosecute someone for domestic abuse. Alison Saunders, the director of Public Prosecutions, says that this type of behavior “can limit victims’ basic human rights” and says that many victims say the trauma from psychological abuse is worse than the trauma of physical abuse. (CBS News, AP, 12/29/15) [IT 7.2, 2016]

Canadian beauty queen accuses Ottawa of Letting China bully her

Winner of the Miss World Canada competition, Anastasia Lin, has been denied entry into China for a pageant because of her public support of the Falun Gong religion, which has been banned by the Chinese government. After the Chinese-born Canadian Lin won the Miss World Canada title, her father, who still lives in China, started receiving threats from the Chinese government. Lin has claimed that the Chinese media occasionally publish nasty editorials about her, and that makes life hard for her father. She criticized the Canadian government for not standing up for her and warned that the 2022 Winter Olympics in Beijing might result in China’s denying Canadian athletes entry into the country because of their political beliefs. (CTV News, 12/4/15) [IT 7.2, 2016]

Former Grenville Christian College students tell harrowing stories of abuse

From 1973 until its closing in 2007, Grenville Christian College promised its students an elite boarding-school education. In Ontario, a $225 million, class-action lawsuit claims that the students who attended the school were left mentally, emotionally, sexually, physically, and spiritually traumatized. Nearly 200 students have shown interest in making a claim. One student who enrolled in the college back in 1985 says that, after 2 weeks of being there, he was awakened by a punch to the groin for talking in his sleep. He claims to have been dragged into the washroom and forced to clean it with a toothbrush. He was in the college for 4 years and then left. Now 46, he says he still has self-esteem issues as a result of what he went through at the college. Another former student claims that he was physically abused, put through sleep deprivation, and subjected to forced labor while he was at the college from 1988 to 1999. He was even subjected to an exorcism to “cure” his dyslexia. Grenville Christian College denies these accusations in the suit, which was launched in 2008 and certified in 2014. (Toronto Star, 11/29/16) [IT 7.2, 2016]

Church of Jediism signing up thousands ahead of new Star Wars film

As the premiere of the new movie Star Wars: The Force Awakens was preparing for release on December 14, 2015, a thousand or more fans a day were signing up to join the Church of Jediism. Patrick Day-Childs, a member of the group’s five-strong council, told the Daily Telegraph that the group had more than 250,000 members. The Jedi religion began in 2001 when Commonwealth countries were asked during a census to tell details of their religious beliefs. The New Zealand-based Jedi Church and the international Temple of the Jedi Order are among other claimants having “authority over the mystical energy field imagined by George Lucas in 1977’s Star Wars and its many sequels.” (The Guardian, 12/14/15) [IT 7.2, 2016]

Jehovah’s Witnesses charity loses appeal against Commission inquiry

In regard to recent court decisions concerning the UK Charity Commission and the Jehovah’s Witnesses organization, the Commission spokesman said, “The Commission is pleased that the court unanimously dismissed Watch Tower’s challenge to the Commission’s decision to open an inquiry. This is a significant decision allowing the Commission’s inquiry to continue to progress. The challenge was dismissed because the court accepted the Commission’s argument that the First-tier Tribunal (Charity) was the correct place to hear Watch Tower’s challenge to the inquiry opened by the Commission. The Commission believes that the specialist Tribunal is the right venue for such cases and is pleased that the Court of Appeal has confirmed this. The Commission is disappointed that the Court of Appeal found in favour of Watch Tower in one respect, deciding that the challenge to the Commission’s order seeking documents from the charity should be heard by the Administrative Court rather than the Tribunal. This decision was reached because of the specific wording of section 320 of the Charities Act 2011, which limits the Tribunal’s jurisdiction to hear challenges to such orders.” (Civil Society Media, 3/15/16) [IT 7.2, 2016]

Jury awards $100K to family of Jehovah’s Witness who died after refusing blood transfusion

Miriam Anderson passed away at 27 after refusing to accept a blood transfusion because of her religious beliefs. Anderson gave birth to a baby at the Atlanta Medical Center in Georgia and 10 days later experienced heavy vaginal bleeding. She called 911 and medical personnel offered to take her to the hospital, but she refused. Later that day, she called 911 again and was taken to the ER. She was given an ultrasound and several other tests. The ultrasound revealed that her uterus contained “retained products of conception” following the delivery of the baby. She was offered a blood transfusion to save her life, and she refused because Jehovah’s Witnesses do not believe in blood transfusions: “Both the Old and New Testaments clearly command us to abstain from blood (Genesis 9:4; Leviticus 17:10; Deuteronomy 12:23; Acts 15:28, 29).” The attorney for the plaintiff family said the hospital could have saved Anderson if it had acted sooner and applied its bloodless medicine and surgery program. The attorney sued the hospital and emergency-room (ER) doctor on behalf of the plaintiff for medical malpractice, and the hospital for negligent misrepresentation, among other charges. The ER doctor was exonerated. The plaintiffs’ attorney “was gratified that the jury found for his client on one of 10 claims: negligent misrepresentation against the Atlanta Medical Center.” The jury awarded $101,261 in damages. Attorneys on both sides agreed that jurors laid most of the responsibility for Anderson’s death on her decision to turn down a transfusion. “At the end of the day, the jury obviously felt that she bore the responsibility for her own death,” said the plaintiffs’ attorney. (Daily Report, 02/19/16) [IT 7.2, 2016]

Jehovah’s Witnesses’ Brooklyn headquarters for sale

The sale of a Jehovah’s Witnesses complex totaling more than 733,000 square feet could bring in as much as $1 billion in a sale to the highest bidder. “Over the last decade, the Jehovah’s Witnesses have been slowly leaving Brooklyn, where they have been based for more than a century. In a long-range plan to relocate upstate, the Watchtower Bible and Tract Society, the group’s legal and publishing entity, has gradually been selling off a real estate portfolio of nearly 40 properties in Brooklyn Heights and Dumbo.” The organization has begun construction of a new headquarters on a 253-acre plot in Warwick, New York. (The New York Times, 1/29/16) [IT 7.2, 2016]

Jehovah’s Witnesses “ordered destruction” of notes related to child sexual-abuse inquiry

The UK’s independent inquiry into child sexual abuse has told religious organizations to retain any documents that might be useful to the investigation. Most organizations appear to be complying. However, the investigators have seen documents distributed to Jehovah’s Witnesses congregations around the United Kingdom ordering the destruction of “all agendas and minutes of elders’ meetings (other than business meeting minutes),” “all personal notes taken at elders’ meetings (except those based on discussions of outlines from ‘the faithful and discreet slave’ and that do not mention any particular individual),” and “any other personal records, notes, or correspondence that refer to particular individuals.” The Jehovah’s Witnesses organization says that “congregation elders comply with child-abuse reporting laws and with the data protection principles contained in the Data Protection Act 1998.” (Wales Online, 2/7/16) [IT 7.2, 2016]

Russia wants to persecute “sects,” steps up pressure on Jehovah’s Witnesses

Jehovah’s Witnesses have confronted legal problems in Russia for many years. Many in the country view the religious group as extremist, but the State Duma (the lower house of parliament) has struggled with settling on “a legal concept of ‘sect’ that does not violate the Constitution. . .” On November 30, after 60 hearings and 10 months of trial, a court in Taganrog (southern Russia) condemned 14 men and two women Jehovah’s Witnesses for extremism. The convicted individuals had continued to meet, pray, and read the Bible even after the community was banned in the local area. The 16 convicted persons said they will appeal what they consider “a dangerous precedent for freedom of religion in Russia.” (AsiaNews.it, 12/16/15) [IT 7.2, 2016]

Sect leader slated for release from prison

Wayne Bent, the leader of the sect Lord Our Righteousness Church, will soon be released from prison after serving 7 years. Bent was sent to prison for inappropriate acts with two teenage girls in 2006. The District Attorney’s office says that Bent should be released for proper medical care for his skin cancer. Bent attorney John McCall said there was a chance that a revised order for release could be worked out in time for a Parole Board meeting in early February. Update: Bent was released on supervised parole a few days after the February 5, 2016, Parole Board meeting, once the state Probation and Parole Division approved a parole plan for him. (Albuquerque Journal, 01/26/16; 2/16/16) [IT 7.2, 2016]

Patriarch of Arlington’s Love Israel Family Ranch dies at 75

“Born Paul Erdmann, Love Israel died Feb. 1 [2016] at his home in Bothell, Washington. He was 75. . . Members took the surname Israel ‘right out of the Bible’. . . Serious Israel said first names were discerned by Love Israel and others who witnessed individual virtues. That tradition continued for the next generation. The Love Israel Family has existed for decades, but its history has been troubled by divisions, financial difficulties, and land use regulations. In the early days, some parents even hired ‘deprogrammers’ to remove their children from what they saw as a cult . . . While in the Arlington area, the Love Israel Family became a vibrant part of the community. For more than a dozen years it hosted a summer Garlic Festival, with food and live music. The Israel Family owned The Bistro, a fine-dining restaurant in Arlington, and had a construction business. Israel Family children played sports for Arlington schools. . . ‘While we were all young, it lasted quite a good while,’ Confidence Israel said. When members began having children, differences in values arose. ‘The winds of change blew us in different directions, like a dandelion getting blown and all the seeds flying,’ he said. ‘Love tried to keep it all together. Overall, he was a good man, a compassionate man. But in some ways, he was blind to a lot of things.’” (HeraldNet, 3/29/16) [IT 7.2, 2016]

Maoist cult leader guilty of rape, child cruelty

Aravindan Balakrishnan, the 75-year-old Maoist cult leader who led a secretive London commune from 1975 to 2013, has been convicted of four charges of rape involving members of his group, false imprisonment of his daughter, and child cruelty. Balakrishnan was also convicted of six charges of indecent assault and two charges of assault. Balakrishnan’s daughter, whose name was withheld, was imprisoned by her father until she was 30 years old and escaped in October of 2013. She told the police she was beaten by her father, and that her father told her he was God. (The Guardian, 12/4/15) [IT 7.2, 2016]

Pastafarian marriages approved in New Zealand

New Zealand has approved the right for the Church of the Flying Spaghetti Monster to perform marriage ceremonies. The church members call themselves Pastafarians. The church’s leader, the Top Ramen, told Radio New Zealand that the next step is to nominate a marriage celebrant for approval. Pastafarians are earning legitimacy around the world. Recently, a Massachusetts woman earned the right to wear a colander on her head as a “religious accessory,” noted in her driving license. (The Telegraph, 12/17/15) [IT 7.2, 2016]

Phoenix Goddess Temple leader found guilty on 22 counts

In Maricopa County, Arizona, Tracy Elise, the leader of the Phoenix Goddess Temple, has been found guilty of 22 charges against her. Members of the Phoenix Goddess Temple prided themselves on their temple being a “neo-Tantra Temple” that offered spiritual and touch-based healing services to seekers in exchange for donations ranging from $200 to $600. Some of these healing services included sexual gratification. Elise was found guilty of operating a house of prostitution and of several counts of money laundering. In court, deputy county attorney Edward Leiter displayed a PowerPoint presentation listing the ways Elise’s management of the Phoenix Goddess Temple applied to the prostitution statute and implored the jury to “evaluate (Elise’s) credibility.” Elise’s sentencing date was set for April 8. (Azcentral, 03/2/16) [IT 7.2, 2016]

Utah bill to make polygamy a felony crime fails

A proposal to make polygamy a felony crime in Utah again has failed. The sponsor of the proposal, before legislators this year, said passage of the bill would narrow the definition of the crime and could halt the case now before an appeals court. Polygamy advocates said the potential law would force families like theirs into the shadows. They argue it is unconstitutional to bar consenting adults from marrying whom they choose. (KUTV CBS 2, AP, 03/11/16) [IT 7.2, 2016]

Police vow loyalty to polygamous leader in letters, feds say

The US Justice Department alleges in a lawsuit that the towns of Colorado City, Arizona and Hildale, Utah “discriminate against nonbelievers by denying them housing, water services and police protection.” Community officials deny the allegations. “Attorneys for the towns have acknowledged past problems with the police department but pointed out that the officers who didn’t cooperate in the search for [Warren] Jeffs are no longer working in law enforcement. They say no officers have been decertified since then. . . Some letters professing allegiance to Jeffs were written by then-Colorado City Mayor Richard Allred, other town officials and two police officers, including Fred J. Barlow, who was leader of the towns’ police department.” (St. George News, 1/26/16) [IT 7.2, 2016]

Towns run by polygamist sect discriminated against nonbelievers, jury finds

In a follow-up to the preceding report, “Two border towns run by a polygamist sect violated the constitutional rights of nonbelievers, a jury decided Monday after a dramatic seven-week trial that included testimony from people who said they were denied basic utilities like water and harassed by the local marshal’s office. . . The Justice Department alleged that the leadership of the towns is beholden to Warren Jeffs, the religion’s prophet imprisoned for life for child sexual assault. . . Because the government prevailed, police and government services could be handed over to a receivership that answers to the federal government, but the government hasn’t said what relief it will seek.” (Los Angeles Times, 3/7/16) [IT 7.2, 2016]

Things to know about polygamous-sect food-stamp fraud case

In the sister cities of Hildale, Utah and Colorado City, Arizona, “Federal prosecutors say FLDS church leaders orchestrated a yearslong [sic] scheme instructing members how to use food-stamp benefits illegally for the benefit of the faith and avoid getting caught.” Prosecutors have asked judges to keep the following men in custody, arguing they are likely to flee and try to hide in the group’s elaborate network of houses throughout the United States, Mexico, and Canada: Lyle Jeffs, who runs day-to-day operations in the community by carrying out orders from his imprisoned brother Warren Jeffs; Seth Jeffs, another brother who runs the group’s South Dakota compound; John Wayman, a confidant of Warren Jeffs who handles legal and tax issues; and Nephi Steed Allred, an accountant who set up corporations and helped move around the group’s money. Prosecutors say the polygamists likely would use aliases, disguises, false identification, and prepaid cellphones to avoid being caught—just as Warren Jeffs did in the mid-2000s. (ABC News, 02/27/16) [IT 7.2, 2016]

Fraud arrests may be turning point for FLDS

In Hildale, Utah, Andrew Chatwin, former member of the FLDS, watches as police and agents surround an FLDS outpost; he says he’s been waiting for this moment. “According to prosecutors, the businesses were key players in a high-desert conspiracy that siphoned millions of dollars in food-stamp benefits from the pockets of American families to bank accounts controlled by the polygamist sect, whose leaders—most prominently, the jailed Warren Jeffs—follow a self-styled form of Mormonism and dictate where followers live, how much they eat and whom they marry. . . The arrests are only part of the legal troubles confronting the sect and its home-base communities, accused in a federal civil rights trial in Phoenix of denying housing, utilities, and adequate policing to nonbelievers. In closing arguments. . ., the defense argued that the government was using the towns as scapegoats to seek revenge against a religion it abhors.” (The New York Times, 03/2/16) [IT 7.2, 2016]

Alberta toddler’s meningitis death a warning to parents who spurn conventional treatments

In Alberta, Canada, Ezekiel Stephan was only 19 months old when he passed away from meningitis. His parents, David and Collet Stephan, refused to take their son to seek medical attention. Instead they tried natural home remedies and took him to see a naturopath. A nurse at Lethbridge Naturopath Clinic told them to take Ezekiel to see a doctor because she feared he had viral meningitis. Medical ethicist Arthur Caplan says Ezekiel’s slow and tragic death is an example “of the harm alternative medicine does” and that the child suffered for his parents’ beliefs. The couple finally called 911 after their son stopped breathing. Ezekiel was airlifted to Alberta Children’s Hospital in Calgary and died 5 days later after being taken off of life support. David and Collet Stephan have pleaded not guilty in the death of their son and say they did all they could. They now stand trial and are awaiting a verdict. (National Post, 03/10/16) [IT 7.2, 2016]

Woman says refusal to learn Scientology got her fired

Annie R. Lee is suing her former Pasadena, California-based employer, Lusida Rubber Products Inc., and two company executives, Wayne Chin and William Johonnesson. Annie worked with the company from June through December 2015 as a customer-service representative. Her lawsuit claims religious discrimination, failure to prevent religious discrimination, harassment, and wrongful termination. Annie alleges that she was forced to take a required 30-minute class based on the Church of Scientology teachings of L. Ron Hubbard. The courses were initially given three times a week and then became almost daily. Annie says she began feeling pressured and brainwashed. She was fired on December 18, 2015, for poor performance reviews. Later on, other employees who had the same complaints as she did were fired, as well. “Interestingly, most, if not all, employees who have replaced the terminated employees have been members of the Church of Scientology,” the suit says. (Pasadena Star-News, 12/09/15) [IT 7.2, 2016]

Man accused of threatening to kill Scientology leader, members

Andre Barkanov of Illinois is accused of making threatening phone calls to the Church of Scientology in California, stating that he would kill David Miscavige and every single church member. David Miscavige took over the Church of Scientology after L. Ron Hubbard’s death in 1986. Barkanov called several different times with threats, and the Church started recording the calls. Several calls made to the Church were from a blocked number, but LAPD police were able to track down the number through Barkanov’s Skype account, which led them to the house of a woman in Wisconsin whose wireless Internet account he had been using. The woman lived next to a bar and had no protection on her Wi-Fi, so anyone could use it. The bartender recognized Barkanov as the Russian who lived next door to him in Chicago, and gave the police his apartment address. Barkanov was charged with 12 felony counts of making criminal threats and one count of stalking, according to the complaint filed by the Los Angeles County district attorney’s office; he was extradited and is being held in an LA County jail in lieu of $600,000 bail. Barkanov’s motives are still unclear, although it has been suggested that his actions appear to have been incited by anti-Scientology propaganda. (Los Angeles Times, 01/6/16) [IT 7.2, 2016]

Scientologists Appeal to Texas Supreme Court

“The Church of Scientology asked the Texas Supreme Court to review a judge’s rejection of its First Amendment argument in a lawsuit from a woman they filmed, surveilled and outside of whose home they protested for 199 days . . . Monique Rathbun sued the Church of Scientology International, its leader David Miscavige, and four people she accused of harassing her, in 2013. Her husband, Marty Rathbun, was known as Scientology’s number two executive behind Miscavige, before he walked away in 2004 after 27 years on the inside, according to court records . . . The church acknowledges that it conducted surveillance of the Rathbuns via private investigators who are not Scientologists. It claims it did this to collect information for pre-litigation investigation of the Rathbuns’ alleged trademark infringements . . . The church claims Marty Rathbun defamed it in an attempt to create his own version of ‘Independent Scientology’ using Scientology intellectual property . . . The state Supreme Court is under no obligation to take up the interlocutory appeal for consideration; the nine justices will vote on whether to grant or deny the petition for review . . . A response is due March 21. Rathbun fired her attorneys in January and is representing herself . . . Miscavige did not file a motion to dismiss and is not a party to the appeal.” (Courthouse News Service, 02/24/16) [IT 7.2, 2016]

Watchdog bans Scientology TV ad for misleading viewers

A TV aid aired by the Church of Scientology was banned for misleading viewers into believing that the church has helped 24 million people. The Advertising Standards Authority (ASA) banned the ad because the ASA had not been provided with suitable evidence to back up Scientology’s claim of helping 24 million people. “We concluded that the claim had not been substantiated and was likely to mislead viewers,” the ASA said. “We told the Church of Scientology International to ensure they held adequate evidence for any claims that viewers were likely to regard as objective and capable of substantiation.” (The Guardian, 03/02/16) [IT 7.2, 2016]

Belgian court acquits Church of Scientology of organized-crime charges

Prosecutors accused Scientology’s Belgian branch and European headquarters, and also a number of church members, of forming a criminal organization involving alleged fraud, unlawful medical practice, extortion, and invasion of privacy. However, presiding judge Yves Regimont dismissed all the charges against the Church, criticizing the investigators “for what he said was prejudice, and prosecutors for being vague in their case.” (ABC Online, 04/11/16) [IT 7.2, 2016]

Google gave Church of Scientology nearly $6 million in free advertising 

Google has approved advertising grants totaling $5.7 million for the Church of Scientology, according to a spokesperson for Scientology. Google works with more than 20,000 nonprofits in more than 50 countries. The Church of Scientology was officially recognized as a tax-exempt religion by the IRS in 1993. Because of this decision, Google “may have felt it was not appropriate to distinguish between one officially recognized church and another.” (Business Insider, 01/06/16) [IT 7.2, 2016]

Renowned guru is accused of spoiling New Delhi’s river

Sri Sri Ravi Shankar, the founder of the Art of Living, has been accused of destroying New Delhi’s river. Celebrating 35 years of his work, Shankar hosted a 3-day event March 11–13 that was expected to include more than 3.5 million people and about 37,000 artists. For the event, Shankar built a large tent city the size of six football fields on the flood plain of the Yamuna River. River activists were not happy about this, saying it would cost $1.8 million to restore the floodplains after the event. For the most part, the Yamuna River is trashed, and no one visits unless there is a religious festival going on. Shankar says, “People just want to gain fame by making these allegations. In the heart of heart, everyone knows it is a dead river. It is so polluted, so toxic. There is nothing left to pollute. To say we are damaging the river is the biggest joke of the century.” (Press Herald, 03/8/16) [IT 7.2, 2016]

Three thousand couples from 62 countries tie the knot in South Korea

On February 20, 2016, 3,000 couples from 62 countries, plus 12,000 couples who participated via the Internet, were married in South Korea. The Unification Church conducted the ceremony. The church’s leader, Sun Myung Moon, who passed away in 2012, had done mass weddings since the early 1960s. His wife, Hak Ja Han Moon, coordinated the recent large ceremony. Newlyweds numbered about 1,000, while 2,000 sought to rededicate their marriages and families to God. (In-Depth-Economic Times, Reuters, 02/20/16) [IT 7.2, 2016]

Judge spares fraud conspirator jail time, blaming spiritual brainwashing

For 2/12 years, A Virginia Beach, Virginia woman, Bobi Hillman, falsified real-estate settlement forms in order to give money to her Wave Church. Hillman didn’t do this alone; she worked with two other men from the church whom she met through work. With Hillman’s help, Ben Julian and Jared Williams tricked banks out of more than $531,000. In court, US District Judge Arenda Wright Allen was shocked to learn that Hillman didn’t do this for greed, but to be “closer to God.” Hillman pleaded guilty and was sentenced to probation and a year on home detention because her intentions were not malicious. The Williams brothers both pleaded guilty last year and were sentenced respectively to 14 months and 25 months in federal prison. (The Virginian-Pilot, 03/11/16) [IT 7.2, 2016]

Fugitive yoga leader caught in France

Gregorian Bivolaru, a yoga instructor and founder of the Movement for the Spiritual Integration in Absolute (MISA), was taken into custody and is awaiting extradition, according to French sources. Bivolaru escaped from Romania in 2005 after being prosecuted for human trafficking and organized crime. (Romania Journal, 02/26/16) [IT 7.2, 2016]

Yoga guru must pay compensation to former employee, jury decides

The founder of Bikram Yoga, Bikram Choudhury, has been ordered to pay his former employee Minakshi Jafa-Bodden $924,500. In her lawsuit against Choudhury, Jafa-Bodden alleges that she was sexually harassed, suffered gender discrimination, and was fired after she began investigating claims that Choudhury raped a yoga student. Choudhury denies all of these accusations and told jurors that he let Jafa-Bodden go because she didn’t have a license to practice law in the United States. The hearing for punitive damages began on January 26, 2015. Many other women have filed lawsuits against Choudhury claiming sexual harassment and abuse. (Los Angeles Times, 01/25/16) [IT 7.2, 2016]

‘Prophet’ convicted of two sex offenses claims God told him to start ministry

Walter Masocha, a Zimbabwean-born preacher, claims the Lord spoke to him through a “cloud” that appeared at the Balcomie Links Hotel in Scotland. Masocha described his vision of God at the hotel in an “exclusive interview” for a DVD produced by his church, Agape Ministries, which took in more than 3.3 million pounds sterling during the past 4 years. In April of 2015, Masocha was convicted of several sex offenses, which took place between January 2012 and January 2014. The convictions included “sexually assaulting a 32-year-old deaconess of the church” and “kissing and caressing a 14-year-old girl at the church’s base.” Two other charges involving sexual behavior toward minors did not result in guilty verdicts. (Nehanda Radio, 9/29/15) [IT 7.1, 2016]

Court hears that Maoist cult leader “raped female followers and imprisoned daughter for 30 years”

A Maoist revolutionary cult leader, Aravindan Balakrishnan, has been charged with child cruelty and false imprisonment for holding his daughter against her will for 30 years. He is also charged with raping and indecently assaulting two female members of the group. Balakrishnan is the leader of a communist collective, founded as the Worker’s Institute in Brixton. He is accused of brainwashing his women followers into believing that he was all-powerful and all-seeing. Balakrishnan would keep his followers in line by using threats, violence, and sexual degradation. His daughter rarely left the house because of fear of the outside world, which Balakrishnan used as a tool to keep her submissive. The case continues, and Balakrishnan denies all charges made against him. (The Independent, 11/12/15) [IT 7.1, 2016]

“I was God who created Christ”: Whipping cult leader held with $4 million in cash stash and a crocodile

Cult leader Andrey Popov, or “God Kuzya,” has been accused of torturing women from his group. Popov reportedly punished his followers for “offenses” such as communicating with the outside world, taking medicine, or making a phone call to relatives. Popov claims to be the reincarnation of Jesus Christ, Russian saint and spiritual leader Sergey Radonezhsky, 19th century Russian occultist Yelena Blavatskaya, and the Archangel Gabriel. Investigators searched his seven apartments and found more than $4 million worth of items. The Russian Orthodox Church accused Popov’s cult of setting up shops at their fairs and offering to perform various religious services for money. Russian media have compared Popov’s cult with the notorious Tokyo sarin attackers, the infamous religious organization Aum Shinrikyo, which killed 12 people and left 50 others severely wounded and 1,000 visually impaired. (RT, 09/10/15) [IT 7.1, 2016]

A major witness in the rape case against an Indian guru has been shot dead

Kripal Singh, a key witness in an ongoing rape case against Asaram Bapu, was killed in July 2015 following a string of attacks against those testifying against Bapu. Singh was shot by two assailants in the district of Shahjahanpur, in the country’s northern state of Uttar Pradesh. The assailants were on a motorcycle and warned Singh not to testify against the “godman,” Asaram, before they shot him and fled. The 74-year-old self-styled guru had been in prison since September 2013. He and his son had also been accused of a second rape by two sisters at another of his ashrams. (Time, 7/14/15) [IT 7.1, 2016]

Atheist church mocks Christianity by worshipping bacon; attracts members with free weddings

In Las Vegas in 2010, John Whiteside created the United Church of Bacon “to fight discrimination against atheists.” The group has become increasingly popular because it offers free weddings and baptisms as long as the couple who is getting married or person getting baptized stands in front of something that is “real,” which to them is bacon. Within 3 months of creating their organization, the group gained 12,000 members as a result of the free-wedding ad. The group has its own list of rules on its website, which is laid out on stone tablets to mimic the Ten Commandments. The United Church of Bacon is one of a few religious organizations that have named themselves after a food or drug. (Christian Post, 09/18/15) [IT 7.1, 2016]

Alien Jesus cult “has secret Loch Ness base”

The Aetherius Society, founded in 1955 by George King, is a UFO religion that came about as a result of what King described as “contacts with extraterrestrial intelligences” or ”Cosmic Masters.” A cottage on the eastern bank of Loch Ness is owned by the cult, where members apparently cooperate with the gods from space, according to the Herald. The property at Inverfarigaig, which has four bedrooms, is about sixteen miles from Highland capital Inverness and has its own private pier that members launch boats from. The group, headquartered in Fulham, has also confirmed that it purchased the cottage sometime in the 1970s. (Scotsman, 07/24/15) [IT 7.1, 2016]

Court denies copyright for yoga guru’s moves

Bikram Choudhury, the infamous yoga instructor who developed Bikram Yoga classes, has sued Evolation Yoga for copyright infringement, claiming that his “sequence of poses and breathing exercises” are subject to copyright. However, a federal judge found that the sequence was not entitled to copyright protection, and a three-judge panel of the Ninth Circuit upheld the ruling. Evolation attorney Eric Maier with Maier Schoch in Hermosa Beach, California, said, “Evolation is very pleased that the Ninth Circuit has made it clear that yoga belongs to everybody, and no individual owns any particular style or sequence of yoga poses.” Attorneys for Choudhury did not respond to a request for comment. (Courthouse News Service, 10/8/15) [IT 7.1, 2016]

Singapore megachurch founder found guilty of $35-million donations fraud

Kong Hee, founder and senior pastor, and five other church leaders of City Harvest Church have been found guilty of crimes related to the misappropriation of more than $35.5 million of the church’s donations. Some of the donations were diverted to Hee’s wife’s singing career in Asia, and to helping her into the US market, supposedly for evangelization purposes. No date has been set for sentencing. Despite the evidence against the church leaders, members have rallied around them since the case started in 2012. Members felt that the funds were rightly used to finance the church’s “crossover project,” with the stated aim of using pop music to reach out to nonbelievers. Four other members of the group were found guilty of additional charges for falsifying the church’s accounts. A fifth member, like Kong, was found guilty of three counts of criminal breach of trust. (The Guardian/AP, 10/21/15) [IT 7.1, 2016]

Two Germans sentenced in Chile for kidnappings under Pinochet dictatorship

Two German residents, Kurt Schnellenkamp and Gerhard Mucke, and a Chilean, Fernando Gomez Segovia, were each sentenced to 5 years in prison for their role in kidnapping 50 people in 1975. The Germans belonged to Colonia Dignidad, which collaborated with General Augusto Pinochet’s military dictatorship. The victims were interrogated under torture with electrical currents to their bodies. (Deutsche Welle, 10/20/15) [IT 7.1, 2016]

Married church minister “ran bottom-spanking cult”

Seventy-two-year-old Howard Curtis, the pastor of Coulson Christian Fellowship, is charged with five counts of cruelty to children under 16 years of age, two counts of indecent assault, and four of sexual assault. Additionally, he faces one count of assault by penetration. The offenses are said to have occurred between January 1969 and July 2013. Curtis would help people who would come to him by driving out evil spirits in both women and children by having them strip naked so he could spank them for his own pleasure. “The court was told Curtis also had a ‘vision, a message from God’ that he would establish a church with 1,000 members in Cane Hill psychiatric hospital in Coulson, south London.” Curtis denies all charges. (The Telegraph, 09/18/15) [IT 7.1, 2016]

China to prosecute cult leader as crackdown continues

Prosecutors in the southern province of Guangdong are charging Wu Zeheng, founder and leader of Huazang Dharma, and several others on charges of rape, fraud, sabotage and other crimes, state news agency Xinhuasaid, as the government deepened a crackdown on what it views as illegal and dangerous religious movements. A statement on the group’s website said that Wu Zeheng is a purely religious figure facing made-up accusations. The United States Commission on International Religious Freedom agreed that the government is persecuting Wu and his followers. According to Xinhua, Wu has already been jailed at least twice, and he set up his Buddhist-inspired cult in 2010 upon his last release from jail. Wu eventually became a master with supernatural power in the eyes of his followers, according to the news report. The report further says that in the name of charity and life science and through inflammatory preaching, Wu lured a growing number of believers who wished to study Buddhism, seek disease treatment, or ward off ill fortune by joining the cult. Reuters Canada, 07/16/15) [IT 7.1, 2016]

Chinese spiritual guru to the stars arrested on suspicion of murder

Wang Min, a Chinese spiritualist, has been arrested for suspicion of kidnapping and murdering his former disciple Zou Yong. Wang’s self-proclaimed healing powers have earned him cult status among the country’s elite because he has been a mentor to top politicians and celebrities. According to reports in the Chinese state media, Zou and Wang had a prolonged financial dispute that ended up in court because Zou, who was pursued for money that Wang claimed to have lent to him, claimed that he had spent years learning the art of qigong from his master but had yet to acquire any special powers. Wang left China for Hong Kong later that year, claiming that he was facing arrest. Why he chose to return to China is unclear. (Telegraph, 07/17/15) [IT 7.1, 2016]

Exclusive Brethren leader Bruce Hales says man “in torment” should kill himself

At a meeting in the United Kingdom, Bruce Hales, an Australian man who leads the Exclusive Brethren, was asked how to deal with a 25-year-old man with “mind trouble” because he was in contact with “opposers”—people who have left the Brethren. It is believed that the opposers in question are members of the man’s family who left the Brethren. Hales said that the man would be better off committing suicide than dealing with “the opponents of the truth.” Former members of the group, who note that some members are heavy drinkers, see similarities between the comments of Mr. Hales and past instances of outbursts associated with alcohol. A Brethren spokesman said, “Mr. Hales makes it very clear he is not advocating any person taking poison or committing suicide. He is using a common, everyday metaphor … It is hardly unusual for a preacher or minister in any religion to warn a congregation to avoid people who extol certain beliefs and that those beliefs are ‘poison.’” (Sydney Morning Herald, 09/19/15) [IT 7.1, 2016]

Miss World Canada says China is blocking her from final event

Actress Anastasia Lin, who was crowned Miss World in May, is a China-born Canadian who claims that she and her father have been harassed by the Chinese government for speaking out about human rights abuses in China. A practitioner of Falun Gong, Ms. Lin said that she wanted to “speak for those in China that are beaten, burned and electrocuted for holding to their beliefs.” CBC, Thomson Reuters11/11/15) [IT 7.1, 2016]

China issues veiled threat to MPs for attendance at organ-trade forum

China has threatened that its economic cooperation with Australia and New South Wales could be harmed if New South Wales MPs show up at the international human-organ-trade meeting at the Parliament House. China objects to the participation in the meeting of Falun Gong members. (Sydney Morning Herald, 08/10/15) [IT 7.1, 2016]

Beijing irked by Thailand’s decision on Falun Gong

The Chinese government has protested to the government of Thailand because of a Thai decision to register the Falun Gong Study AssociationThe Supreme Administrative Court reversed lower court decisions against the registration of the Falun Gong organization. (The Nation, 08/07/15) [IT 7.1, 2016]

Church’s “faith healing” killed baby

In Oregon, two members of the Followers of Christ Church, Dale and Shannon Hickman, were charged with second-degree manslaughter of their premature newborn son David. The Hickmans didn’t seek any medical attention for their son. He died 9 hours after birth from staphylococcus pneumonia. The Followers of Christ Church believes in faith healing and not in medical healing. When the Hickmans were put on trial for David’s death, they told the judge they didn’t regret what happened and wouldn’t have done anything differently. The Hickmans will be held in separate state penitentiaries until January of 2018. Reports since 1998 suggest that more than 31 children from the Followers of Christ Church died from curable medical issues. The most recent case raises again the question of religious exemptions regarding child neglect; such exemptions vary among the states. (The Daily Beast, 10/14/15) [IT 7.1, 2016]

Mother’s horror after Internet cult brainwashed her teenage son

Barbara Weed’s teenage son Tom Bell cut off all contact with family 6 years ago, following his involvement with an online organization called Freedomain Radio, which is run by a Canadian man named Stefan Molyneaux. Tom had been watching podcasts and participating in chats that convinced him he was the victim of abuse. Barbara says Stefan Molyneaux and his online cult have taught her son ha to hate her. (Daily Mail, 08/20/15) [IT 7.1, 2016]

Hasidic village makes parents choose: smartphone or children’s education

The Hasidic Village of Kiryas Joel in New York has issued technology restrictions to its members. “The notice went on to list several digital commandments: Men may use a smartphone if deemed essential to business and, in that case, only with an approved filter; women may not use a smartphone, only a basic cellphone. Home computers may not be connected to the Internet. All members of the community must have a stamp of approval from religious leaders on their devices, even ‘kosher cellphones’ that have been inspected by rabbis and whose Web browsers have been deactivated.” There are approximately 22,000 people in the village. Kiryas Joel was established in the 1970s by members of the Haredi Orthodox Satmar Hasidic community, whose members have faced numerous legal battles over the years. (Forward [Jewish Telegraphic Agency], 08/13/15) [IT 7.1, 2016]

Influential Christian sect ends protests in Philippine

In Manila in the Philippines, thousands of members of Iglesia Ni Cristo, a politically influential Christian sect, ended a protest after talks with government officials. The protest began after Justice Secretary Leila de Lima took steps to investigate a criminal complaint of illegal detention an expelled Iglesia minister filed against sect officials. The large gatherings worsened traffic jams in a bustling district of shopping malls, offices, and residential high-rises. Commuters vented their ire on social media, prompting a protest spokesman to apologize. The 101-year-old religious group has political power because its members vote as a block in national elections. (Yahoo News, 08/31/15) [IT 7.1, 2016]

Pedophiles repeatedly promoted to positions of authority in Jehovah’s Witnesses church, Royal Commission told

In a Jehovah’s Witnesses church, men who have been accused of sexual abuse have been promoted to high-authority positions in the church despite what they have been accused of doing. Church Elder Max Horley told the Royal Commission that it was mandatory to get rid of all the notes that were taken during meetings between him and elder Bill Neill. When asked by Justice Peter McClellan why he destroyed the notes, Horley replied, “Well, I guess it’s because we don’t want them to fall into the wrong hands and other people to find them and then go through them. We don’t want our wives knowing our stuff, what sort of things we are dealing with. We don’t want other people in the congregation coming across that information.” (The Daily Telegraph, 07/27/15) [IT 7.1, 2016]

Jehovah’s Witnesses face child sexual-abuse investigation in Australia

From 1950 to 2014, the Watchtower Bible and Tract Society amassed 5,000 files detailing sexual abuse of Australian children by 1,006 of its members, who believe that only they—the Jehovah’s Witnesses—proclaim the truth about God. When the abuse victims tried to reach out for help, they were told not to say anything, and were forced to meet their abusers in person. In all, 127 church officials were demoted. No one was reported to legal authorities. All child abuse and complaints, which averaged one a month for 65 years, were carefully recorded and hidden away in sealed files. (Washington Post, 08/14/15) [IT 7.1, 2016]

Jehovah’s Witnesses church says it will comply with mandatory reporting of child abuse

The Jehovah’s Witnesses church says it will comply with mandatory reporting obligations when it learns about sexual-abuse crimes against children in its religious organization. A royal commission into institutional responses to child sexual abuse has heard that the theocratic church records on average one child abuse allegation every month; yet in 60 years, it has never reported any of those allegations to police. The Jehovah’s Witnesses are given a handbook that says they should never suggest not reporting the allegations to the police. The commission chair, Peter McClellan, pointed out there are mandatory reporting obligations when one has reason to believe that a child has been sexually abused.

Rodney Spinks, who runs the church’s community-service desk, said, “the church would accept and comply with mandatory reporting … when there were mandatory reporting requirements with some sort of uniformity across the country … regardless of our strongly held religious belief that individuals should have the right to decide what is done with that information.”McClellan pointed out that uniform laws were not yet in place, and that they would differ from state to state; but that the commission would impose “a criminal sanction on a person who knows [about an abuse crime] and does not report.” The Guardian/Australian AP, 08/04/15) [IT 7.1, 2016]

Jehovah’s Witnesses’ literature declared extremist

A Russian court in Moscow has ruled that the Jehovah’s Witnesses’ book Keep Yourselves in God’s Love and the booklet Resist the Spirit of a Changing World are extremist because they promote religious intolerance of non-Jehovah’s Witnesses. This isn’t the first legal issue that the Jehovah’s Witness have faced in Russia. In December of 2013. a female member of the sect in Toblsk was charged with preventing a blood transfusion for a girl who almost died. In 2004. a Jehovah’s Witnesses group was banned from Moscow for recruiting children, not allowing people to receive medical help, encouraging suicide, and persuading believers to break off from their families. (Rapsi News, 04/09/2015) [IT 7.1, 2016]

Kabbalah Center follower wins sexual-misconduct suit

On November 24, 2015, a Los Angeles County Superior Court jury found Yehuda Berg, 43 (“rabbi to the stars”), liable for inflicting emotional distress on former follower Jena Scaccetti. Berg is a former codirector of the Kabbalah Center, which was founded by his late father, Philip. Scaccetti claimed that Berg gave her alcohol and pain pills, and then groped and attempted to overpower her in an apartment to which he had invited her. The jury awarded her $177,500 in damages. (Reuters, 11/25/15) [IT 7.1, 2016]

Pope Francis grants plenary indulgence to controversial Legionaries of Christ

In observance of the Legionaries of Christ 75th anniversary, Pope Francis granted the group, which has been plagued by revelations of sexual abuse, a plenary indulgence (removal of all temporal punishment). In 2006, Pope Benedict removed the leader, Marcial Maciel, who died in 2008. Francis’s latest move follows the group’s apology to its victims, an independent evaluation of the organization, and the Vatican’s approval of the Legion’s constitutional reforms. (UPI, 10/29/15) [IT 7.1, 2016]

MJB Seminars life coach tells sex-abuse victims to look for ‘blessings’

In Perth, Australia Mitchell Behan, a MJB Seminars life coach, teaches several courses using “quantum physics” to show victims how to find the “blessings” in their trauma. Behan requires people who want help to pay $2,695 per week for his weekend course. Behan says that his “students” would be taught a “quantum collapse” using a “process of equilibration” which would allow them to overcome trauma and achieve success. However, he has no medical or business qualifications. MJB also offers a course in creating “wealth and property gold mines,” and a program that teaches seven steps to “transform your mind and your wealth.” (Perth Now, 08/15/15) [IT 7.1, 2016]

Mormon leader Richard G. Scott dies at 86

On September 22, Mormon leader Richard G. Scott died at the age of 86. Scott passed away at his home from natural causes in Salt Lake City. He had been a member of a church governing body called the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles since 1988. Scott was hospitalized with gastrointestinal bleeding, which he recovered from; but church officials announced in May that he was experiencing fading memory that kept him from taking part in Quorum meetings. Scott had a successful career as a nuclear engineer before being chosen as a member of the Quorum. Scott didn’t speak at the last church general conference in April. His final address came in October 2014 when he spoke about the importance of prayer, scripture reading, family home nights, and going to the temple. “Each of us is intimately aware of our own struggles with temptation, pain and sadness,” Scott said that day. “Despite all of the negative challenges we have in life, we must take time to actively exercise our faith.” (USA Today, 09/23/15) [IT 7.1, 2016]

Nearly a hundred people submit resignation letters to LDS church

Nearly a hundred people marched through the streets of Salt Lake City in late July 2015 to the headquarters of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints. Their purpose was to resign from the Mormon Church. Women’s inequality and LGBT discrimination were among the reasons behind their official resignation from the church. (Fox 13 Now, 07/25/15) [IT 7.1, 2016]

Judge tosses NXIVM hacking lawsuit

In October 2013, NXIVM filed a lawsuit against two journalists and three critics of the organization, accusing them of hacking into the group’s computers. US District Senior Judge Lawrence E. Kahn ruled that NXIVM “failed to file its federal lawsuit within a two-year statute of limitations that began after the corporation discovered suspected unauthorized intrusions into its computer servers in late 2011.” Criminal cases remain pending in Albany, New York against two of the critics, Joseph O’Hara and John Tighe, and against Barbara Bouchey, a former NXIVM financial advisor, who was also indicted in the computer trespassing investigation. (Albany Times Union, 09/18/15) [IT 7.1, 2016]

“Cult” church backs pastor charged in sex assault of parishioner

Peter Rigo, the leader of the One Community Church in Hamilton, Ontario, Canada is facing sexual-assault charges from an incident that occurred with a church member in 2006 or 2007, when the church was known as Dominion Christian Center and had a membership of about 80. A woman from the congregation claims that Rigo sexually assaulted her. On September 4, 2015, the 50-year-old leader, of Hamilton, was charged with sexual assault, and then was let go on a promise to appear at a later court date. The church members stated that they stick by their pastor’s word and are waiting for the police to find the allegation false.

The church already has a reputation with people for being known as a cult and for using the donations it receives to pay for gym memberships and vacations to places such as Hawaii. The church is inviting, with nice interior décor, and food and drinks for all guests. The 2-hour service includes loud music that has the congregation on their feet within minutes. At the end of the service, associate pastor (and Rigo’s son-in-law) Matt Shuttlesworth appear on stage to whip the crowd into a giving frenzy for their weekly tithes and offerings: “The words they print in the paper and on their websites, the stories, they don’t matter. They don’t bother me. I want you to pray for them, that Jesus will come into their lives and heal them,” Shuttlesworth said, amid waving arms. Quiet calls of “Amen” and “that’s right!” arose from his audience in the darkness. And then he said the stories can’t stop the members from doing their work, from being generous to the city that is their home, as volunteers began passing offering buckets down the aisles.

Rigo’s church was stripped of its charity status in 2009 for spending donor money on gym memberships, trips to Hawaii, and high-end fashion. That status has not been reinstated. Rigo’s Twitter account says he was in Vegas in late September; however, after the news broke of his charges, he changed his profile picture. The police did not immediately release information about the charges for investigative reasons. (Hamilton Spectator, 10/1/15, 10/5/15) [IT 7.1, 2016]

Bountiful polygamy case heads straight to trial

The Canadian Ministry of the Attorney General has signed off on special prosecutor Peter Wilson’s request to avoid a preliminary inquiry and head straight to trial against Winston Blackmore. Blackmore is a polygamist leader of a fundamentalist Mormon commune and is alleged to have more than two dozen wives. Blackmore has chosen to be tried by judge and jury. No date has been set for the trial of the Bountiful, British Columbia resident. [IT 7.1, 2016]

Fatal floods expose a delicate balance in polygamous towns in Utah and Arizona

In Utah, two polygamous fathers, Sheldon Black, Jr. and Joseph N. Jessop, have lost their families due to fatal floods in their town. They have been evicted from their homes and are looking for a place to live. “Officials say religion has nothing to do with the evictions, but leaders acknowledge that government officials are usually shunned in the community.” (Business Insider, 09/21/15) [IT 7.1, 2016]

Kids from polygamous sect say they harvested pecans for years at leader’s orders

FLDS bishop Lyle Jeffs and a company who worked with FLDS, Paragon Contractors, have been fined by the government for using children and unpaid labor during harvests at the Southern Utah Pecan Ranch near Hurricane. The case began when CNN aired video of children working at the ranch in 2012, but the Labor Department contends that kids worked there for years. Alyssa Bistline, 21, who left the FLDS in 2014, was one of the nut harvesters; she says she began working at the ranch harvests at age 13. The new court filings have affidavits from other people, some of them still minors, who say they or their family worked at the ranch. One girl who is now 14 says she worked at the ranch when she was 10 to 12 years old. She said that even girls with nut allergies had to work. (Salt Lake Tribune, 10/1/15) [IT 7.1, 2016]

Warren Jeffs’ son won’t pursue sex-abuse charges against the FLDS leader

Roy Jeffs, the son of the FLDS leader Warren Jeffs, shared his story with Fox 13 about the abuse that he endured at the hand of his father. Roy Jeffs says he is not interested in pursuing criminal charges against his father, but wanted to share his story so that others who have been abused by the FLDS won’t be afraid to come out. “I feel like my father’s got what he’s deserved. As far as justice, he’s got a life sentence,” he said, referring to Warren Jeffs’ conviction in Texas. “People need to step up, the state needs to step up,” Tonia Tewell, the executive director of Holding Out Help, a group that helps people leaving polygamous communities, said. “We need to get some funding in place to get some housing and counseling services that can help all the people that want to leave and are waiting to leave.” (Fox 13, 10/2/15) [IT 7.1, 2016]

Scientology detox program being tested by US government on Gulf War veterans

A US government research team is testing L. Ron Hubbard’s controversial “purification” theories on Gulf War veterans suffering from Golf War Syndrome. An article in The Daily Beast states that “Beyond Scientologists, for whom the Purification Rundown is part of their religious practice, the Church credits the program with helping ‘hundreds of thousands’ of others over the past 30 years.” The belief at the heart of the process is that toxins, “which can be anything from LSD to meth fumes or biochemical weapons, slow not only the body, but also weigh down the soul.” The Daily Beast says, “Colored towels are just one of the interesting yet controversial aspects of this study, to which the Department of Defense awarded $633,677 in 2009. The project has faced major delays, but now is finally reaching its home stretch—the researchers say results are expected next year, and [Dr. Crystal] Grant [coordinator of the project] says some 90 percent of the Gulf War vets are reporting health gains. But critics say the soldiers are merely reaping the benefits of plain old exercise and perspiration, and that Scientologists plan to use the skewed results to validate Hubbard’s quack theories—and even push for a Nobel Prize.” The article also says that “Just where the $633,677 from the Department of Defense is going isn’t entirely clear. ‘Budget information is not releasable due to the terms of confidentiality provided in the federal acquisition regulations,’ Ellen Crown, the Army Medical Research and Materiel Command’s deputy of public affairs, wrote in an email. Severna Park Health and Wellness Center, the Scientologist-led group that provides the therapy, charges $2,000 per participant, a substantial discount from the $3,000 price tag for regular folks that was quoted by Grant, the project coordinator… The dosages of niacin and other vitamins are determined by a non-medically trained administrator—in this case, a man named Joe, whom Carpenter describes as a ‘die-hard Scientologist.’ Joe decides, based on the participant’s feedback, just how much of each vitamin and mineral is needed to produce a physical reaction that indicates the treatment is working.” (The Daily Beast, 8/12/15) [IT 7.1, 2016]

Florida theater drops Scientology film Going Clear after pressure from church

In Clearwater, Florida a movie theater has decided not to show Alex Gibney’s film, Going Clear, after being pressured by the Church of Scientology. The film was released in only a few theaters before being aired on HBO, which plans to rerelease the film. Cobb Countryside 12 Theater didn’t release the film either because, according to sources, it had allegedly received threats from the church. “The Church of Scientology responded vehemently to the film, complaining to film critics about their reviews and denouncing the filmmakers and their interviewees.” (The Hollywood Reporter, 09/18/15) [IT 7.1, 2016]

Leah Remini says Scientology is about “us against them”

Former Scientology member Leah Remini says leaving the Church of Scientology after more than 30 years wasn’t easy. She tells interviewer Dan Harris, “The decision to leave is you’re giving up everything you have worked for your whole life. I feel that people need to understand this has been my whole life and I want them to understand how it happens.” She said that one loses touch with the real world as one advances in Scientology. and that the “mindset becomes us against them.” (New York Post, 10/26/15) [IT 7.1, 2016]

Court rejects Scientology motion

In November 2015, a Texas appeals court rejected an attempt by the Church of Scientology to challenge a lawsuit made by Monique Rathbun, wife of church dissident Marty Rathbun. Ms. Rathbun had alleged that the Church relentlessly harassed her. The Church claimed that what it did to Ms. Rathbun was an exercise of its rights of free speech, association, and petition. Marty Rathbun was Scientology’s second-highest ranking official when he left the organization in 2004 and has been an outspoken critic since then. Court documents indicate that Ms. Rathbun alleged the following: (a) Scientologists appeared at Rathbun’s Comal County home after dark to “interrograte her aggressively” and fled when she called police; (b) Scientology operatives approached Rathbun and her husband in a golf cart with up to six cameras, “filming them and shout(ing) insults and rude questions”; (c) the church sent a sex toy to Rathbun at her workplace and published claims on websites that she was a transgender male and a “sexual pervert”; (d) a Scientology private investigator leased a residence across from the Rathbuns’ Ingleside on the Bay home and “installed high-powered still and video cameras pointed at and into” their home; and (e) after the Rathbuns moved to a wooded lot in Comal County, a Scientologist leased undeveloped property next to their home and installed a surveillance camera directed at their property. (San Antonio Express-News, 11/9/15) [IT 7.1, 2016]

Scientology ramps up Going Clear smear campaign, targets academy members

It appears that the Church of Scientology doesn’t want Alex Gibney, the director and producer of the HBO documentary Going Clear, to win an Oscar. Since the film aired, Gibney says that “Scientology has dramatically ratcheted up its corporate campaign against me and those in the film.” The Church has approached a number of Gibney’s peers as they begin to make a film about Gibney. A Scientology magazine will also do a profile on Gibney. (Hollywood Reporter10/7/15) [IT 7.1, 2016]

Russian court bans Moscow branch of the Church of Scientology

The Moscow City Court has supported a justice ministry request to close the Church of Scientology in Moscow. Authorities argued that the Church has registered its name as a US trademark and therefore cannot be considered a religious organization. “In August, Moscow investigators said separately that they had opened a criminal probe after finding hidden microphones and cameras on the Moscow Church’s premises.” These decisions come despite rulings favoring the Church by The European Court of Human Rights, which has accused Russia of violating the Church’s “rights by refusing to register its churches in various regions.” (The Guardian, 11/23/15) [IT 7.1, 2016]

Russia’s “temple for all religions”

Ildar Khanov said that Jesus Christ came to him by the Volga River in the city of Kazan in 1994 and ordered him to build the Temple of All Religions. For 20 years, Ildar and his volunteers lived at the construction site where they built the temple. The idea was not to “merge all religions in one, because they all have their own history and their own cultural necessity, but to bring them together, to give them a meeting and communication place. It is not a place of worship, but of culture.” Ildar told people he was blessed with clairvoyance and healing powers, and the only way into the temple was through an appointment with him. The temple became an attraction for pilgrims seeking advice and healing. Ildar would see around 300 patients per day, and he would only get 4 hours’ sleep a night. When he died at age 73 in early 2013, his funeral was held in the church. (The Daily Beast, 09/06/15) [IT 7.1, 2016]

Work advances on “peace palace” in Rendlesham

Richard Johnson, the national director of the Maharishi Foundation, is working on building a peace palace in Rendlesham, United Kingdom. The palace is being built for beginner and advanced courses in Transcendental Meditation (TM)that include consciousness-based education and natural health care known as Ayurveda and a program of community events. The palace is scheduled to open in September of 2016. (East Anglian Daily Times, 08/13/15) [IT 7.1, 2016]

Elder in Germany convicted of hitting child

In Southern Germany, a 54-year-old Twelve Tribes elder has been convicted of abusing a child in his care by hitting him with a 4-foot switch. He was sentenced to 6 months’ probation and also fined 2,000 euros by the Noerdlingen state court in Bavaria. In 2013, authorities raided the sect in southern Germany and placed 40 children into foster care. The sect denied abuse charges, saying that there was no “direct evidence against any individual.” The group’s website, however, reveals that members believe in spanking their children. (ABC News, AP, 11/23/15) [IT 7.1, 2016]

Survivor of Word of Life Church beatings testifies in court

In New Hartford, New York, Lucas and Christopher Leonard were brutally beaten at a counseling session at Word of Life Church. The beating was initiated after Tiffanie Irwin, the pastor of the church, announced that someone in the congregation was practicing witchcraft. Lucas admitted he was the one who had been practicing witchcraft because he wanted the church elders to die, and that he had considered making a voodoo doll of one of the leaders. Bruce Leonard and his wife Deborah; Sarah Ferguson, the boy’s half-sister; and four other church members then beat Lucas, 19, and Christopher, 17, for at least 12 hours as punishment. The beating was so severe that Lucas died after arriving at the hospital; Christopher survived and recovered.

Daniel Irwin, a church deacon, told investigators about the beatings: “Bruce Leonard, 65, and his wife, Deborah Leonard, 59 … were in court just a few feet from Mr. Irwin. Both have been charged with first-degree manslaughter…. Four other church members, including Sarah Ferguson, the victim’s half-sister, and Joseph Irwin, who is Daniel Irwin’s older brother and also a deacon in the church, have been charged with assault. All six were in court on Friday, including two other congregants, David Morey and Linda Morey, who have been released on bail.” (The New York Times, 10/21/15) [IT 7.1, 2016]

‘Prophet’ convicted of two sex offenses claims God told him to start ministry

Walter Masocha, a Zimbabwean-born preacher, claims the Lord spoke to him through a “cloud” that appeared at the Balcomie Links Hotel in Scotland. Masocha described his vision of God at the hotel in an “exclusive interview” for a DVD produced by his church, Agape Ministries, which took in more than 3.3 million pounds sterling during the past 4 years. In April of 2015, Masocha was convicted of several sex offenses, which took place between January 2012 and January 2014. The convictions included “sexually assaulting a 32-year-old deaconess of the church” and “kissing and caressing a 14-year-old girl at the church’s base.” Two other charges involving sexual behavior toward minors did not result in guilty verdicts. (Nehanda Radio, 4/29/15) [IT 6.3, 2015)

Supreme Court rejects plea for retrial of Aum founder Asahara

The Supreme Court of Japan has finalized the decision not to grant Shoko Asahara, cult founder of Aum Shinrikyo, a retrial. Asahara, whose real name is Chizuo Matsumoto, is on death row for masterminding the 1995 sarin gas attack on the Tokyo subway system, among other charges. (The Japan Times, 3/12/15) [IT 6.3, 2015)

Brazil arrests US cult leader Victor Arden Barnard, wanted on child-sex charges

Victor Barnard, a self-professed minister, was captured on February 27 in an apartment in northeastern Brazil. Barnard allegedly molested two girls in a “Maidens Group” at his fellowship in Minnesota. Barnard was being held in the city of Natal to await extradition to face charges in the United States. He was charged with 59 counts of criminal sexual conduct during his time as leader of River Road Fellowship near Finlayson, Minnesota.

Prosecutors in Minnesota called Barnard a master manipulator for convincing members of the church to let their daughters move out of their homes and fulfill Barnard’s preaching by having sex with him. Two girls, who are now adults but were 12 and 13 at the time, said they were assaulted by Barnard. They told authorities that Barnard preached that he was Christ in the flesh, and that sex with him was okay because it was “in God’s word.”

Barnard left the church and moved to Washington sometime in 2012 when the fellowship of the church broke up over allegations that Barnard was having affairs with married women. (NBC News, The Associated Press, 2/28/15) [IT 6.3, 2015)

Guru denies raping six women from his “hot yoga” classes

Bikram Choudhury, the popular guru who runs Bikram School, has denied rape allegations against him. In his first interview since the rape allegations were made in 2013, Mr. Choudhury told CNN, “I never assaulted them.” He appeared to imply that he did not need to assault women because he had so many offers of sex. “Women like me. Women love me,” he said. “So if I really wanted to involve the women, I don’t have to assault the women.” Mr. Choudhury insisted that he had not assaulted any of the six women nor had consensual sex with them. He said he believed they had been told by someone else to make up the allegations. (The New Indian Express, The Daily Telegraph, 4/3/15) [IT 6.3, 2015)

Bikram Choudhury, yoga guru, sued by instructor for alleged sexual assault

Jill Lawler of Vancouver is the sixth woman who has filed a lawsuit against yoga millionaire Bikram Choudhury for allegedly sexually assaulting her during an instructor-training course in Las Vegas in 2010. The civil lawsuit she filed says she was 18 when she began training with, and then working for, Choudhury’s yoga business. Lawler says she paid $10,000 in 2010 to attend a 9-week intensive yoga instructor-training course, despite the fact that she did not meet the course’s age requirement of 21. The lawsuit alleges that Lawler began massaging Choudhury’s feet and he sexually assaulted her.
“One night about a week later Choudhury insisted that Jill accompany him to his hotel room … where in addition to raping her, Choudury demanded she say disgusting and untrue things…Choudhury assaulted Lawler again during his training session and on other occasions over the coming years while she was working at his studios.

Lawler was afraid to say anything to authorities because she was afraid he would prevent her from working at the Vancouver studios and make it impossible for her to make a living. Choudhury also told her that he knew people with power, such as police.

Lawler alleges that, once she learned of another woman who had filed a lawsuit against Choudhury, he became worried and tried to bribe her to keep quiet. The allegations have not been proven in court, and Choudhury has not filed a response to the lawsuit. Lawler’s lawyer Mary Shea Hagebols is also representing five other women who filed lawsuits in 2013 and 2014 against Choudhury for alleged sexual harassment and sexual assault.

Choudhury is known for developing and copyrighting a sequence of 26 yoga postures that are normally performed in a room heated to 40 degrees Celsius. His chain of 650 yoga studios around the world has made the Beverley Hills resident a multimillionaire. (CBC News, 2/25/15) [IT 6.3, 2015)

Pasadena man believes he is Buddha and is gaining followers despite suspicions

A Pasadena artist known as His Holiness Dorje Chang Buddha III is wanted for allegedly stealing nearly $8 million in China. Chang has built an empire of devoted disciples in California based on the claim that he is the reincarnation of Buddha. Chang’s followers believe he can perform miracles and create masterpieces worth millions of dollars. One follower noted that “Temples, nonprofits, museums and dozens of businesses—many handling millions of dollars per year —exist throughout California and the San Gabriel Valley with ties to Buddha.” However, an expert on Chinese Buddhism called the organization “suspicious” and questioned the money flowing to Buddha.

In March, “the sale of one of his [Chang’s] ink drawings for $16.5 million shocked the art world, with one dealer calling the sale extraordinary.” Some believe that disciples may be behind the huge increase in the sales of Chang’s paintings. Chang’s followers have spent roughly $120,000 on lobbyists. Perhaps as a result, Chang has received many honors from politicians, even though Interpol investigated him (the investigation was later dropped), and the Chinese government claimed that he had committed fraud in China. Chang and his followers call the fraud charges “political.” (The Pasadena Star-News, 4/18/15)
Five from Church of Almighty God cult jailed in China

Following a conviction of six members of the Church of Almighty God in Hubei province for “brainwashing,” a court in Wuhan sentenced five Church members to between 3 and 4 years in prison because they were found guilty of recording “cult training materials,” and using mobile phones, laptops, and voice recorders in September, the Wuhan Evening News has reported. “They spread the materials among cult members and others,” the newspaper said. “They also communicated with each other with handwritten notes taken during the training in order to ‘cultivate dissemination talents.’” More than 1,000 Church of Almighty God members have been arrested over the past year. (ucanews.com, 7/2/15) [IT 6.3, 2015)

Church leader free on bail

Fred King, the leader of the Chatsworth Church of Jesus Christ Restored in Canada, has been released from custody on a $50,000 bond after he was arrested in a hotel without incident following issuance of a Canada-wide warrant for his arrest. King was charged with several counts, including sexual assault, death threats, and weapon possessions. King cannot go near the Chatsworth Church property, he isn’t allowed to possess any firearms, and he must stay in Ontario.

Judson King, Fred King’s brother, was arrested on April 4 and also released on bond. He was charged with “assault with a weapon, uttering death threats, and four counts of assault.” Both brothers are scheduled to appear in court on May 15.

Six former church members, including Carol Christie, who wrote a book about the group, have settled lawsuits against church principals, including Fred King, out of court. (Sun Times, Owen Sound, 4/16/14)
Disappearing act: What happens when your guru disappears?

In June 2013, in response to many allegations of cultic abuse, American spiritual teacher Andrew Cohen relinquished leadership of his worldwide group of followers. After his resignation, Cohen disappeared from public view. There are a few reports of people having seen him in India, but there is still no public response from Cohen. An ardent seeker in India, Cohen so impressed guru Poonja-ji that in 1986 the guru declared Andrew to be his successor. Cohen has been very successful in amassing a worldwide following of spiritual acolytes. In recent years, however, his spiritual empire began to collapse, especially when persons from his inner circle joined the chorus of criticism. Cohen’s mother, Luna Tarlo, who wrote a book, Mother of God, changed her views from adoring to critical; now, according to some reports, they have reconciled. (The Daily Beast, 5/27/15) [IT 6.3, 2015)

Excommunication from Exclusive Brethren costs man his family

Robin McLean, a former member of the Exclusive Brethren, recently described his life inside the group and the price of leaving his family. The 58-year-old was born into the church community known as the Plymouth Brethren. Mclean began to question the rules the group had. He hoped the Brethren leaders would realize that forcing families to separate because of their differing beliefs was too callous to continue, or that governments would force the group to cease. Instead, the church withdrew from and excommunicated him. His family who is still with the group said Mclean chose to leave his family and pursue his own life. For his part, McLean said the small community’s withdrawal brought a pain he would not wish on his worst enemy. “All your support is taken away from you. That’s a terrible feeling.” (The Dominion Post, 5/18/15) [IT 6.3, 2015)

“Pope Francis effect” leads to boom in exorcism

The surge in exorcisms has been attributed in part to Pope Francis, who has frequently made reference to the devil. For instance, in the diocese of Rome, one-third of the phone calls to Catholic officials now have to do with requests for exorcisms. And in April, about 160 priests from around the world attended a weeklong conference on the topic at Pontifical University of Regina Apostolorum in Rome; the conference was endorsed by the Vatican. One British priest in attendance recognized that many cases of alleged exorcism are psychiatric illnesses, but he stated that some involve genuine demonic possession. (The Telegraph, 4/13/15) [IT 6.3, 2015)
Spanish priest arrested for performing exorcism on anorexic girl

In Spain, a Spanish priest and Jesús Hernández Sahagún, the official exorcist of Valladolid, have been charged with gender violence and causing injury and mistreatment after the exorcist performed repeated exorcisms on an anorexic teenage girl. A judge in Burgos called for their arrests after the girl endured 13 exorcisms while she was still a minor. According to the Spanish newspaper El País, the exorcisms began in 2012 when the girl started to suffer from anorexia. Her parents were convinced she was possessed by a devil. She was then tied up and had crucifixes hung above her bed, an ordeal that later led her to attempt suicide. Her uncle and aunt filed a complaint to authorities, but it has taken until now for the case to come to court. The priest reportedly knew that the young girl was receiving medical treatment for anorexia, the court heard, and he had assured her parents that the exorcisms would not interfere with her health.

Exorcisms are on the rise across many Catholic countries. Hernandez says he has performed more than 200 of them. And in 2013, it was reported that the Catholic Church in Spain had recruited eight specialist exorcists to combat an ‘unprecedented rise” in cases of “demonic possession.” (Newsweek, 3/19/15) [IT 6.3, 2015)

Wife of Utah polygamist leader files for divorce; describes disturbing, allegedly “illegal” practices

Charlene Wall Jeffs, the legal wife of Lyle Jeffs, who is the leader of the FLDS group and brother of imprisoned Warren Jeffs, has filed for a divorce and wants custody of her minor children. Lyle and Charlene have been married since 1983 and have had 10 children. Two teenage children, a boy and a girl, are still minors and the object of her custody claim. Charlene has been excluded from the teens’ lives for 3 years.

Charlene filed a petition on April 10, 2015, in the 5th District Juvenile Court in St. George, Utah. The petition asks that her two children in Lyle Jeff’s compound in Hildale be placed with her or into protective custody. The documents show that Judge Paul Dame didn’t view the children to be in immediate danger and declined her request to remove them immediately from Jeffs’ compound. The divorce petition was filed April 17, 2015, in a separate case in 3rd District Court in Tooele.

Documents filed by Charlene discuss her life in the group. Charlene was sent away in November of 2002 to repent because she didn’t know how to properly treat the Priesthood—i.e., FLDS leaders. In her first year of exile, she was allowed to live in the family home, but she couldn’t mother her children. In the second year of exile, she was moved into a guesthouse in Hildale. After two years of repenting, she returned to the family home but wasn’t allowed to rear her children. In September of 2014, Charlene was ordered to leave her husband’s compound for being “unrighteous” and hasn’t seen her children since then.

In the papers filed, Charlene described what she says are two illegal practices. One, adopted in recent years, is the “seed bearer” doctrine, in which men no longer are allowed to have children with their wives. Instead, a group of seed bearers have been chosen to impregnate other men’s wives. The second practice she describes is the “Law of Sarah,” in which FLDS women perform sex acts on one another to prepare for an encounter with a man in the Priesthood.

Warren Jeffs, 59, is serving a sentence of life plus 20 years in Texas for convictions related to taking two girls as child brides. He is still considered the president and prophet of the church and communicates orders through his family. (The Salt Lake Tribune, 4/24/15) [IT 6.3, 2015)

Mob of Utah polygamists stands off against woman seeking custody of child

In Utah, Sabrina Broadbent, a former FLDS polygamist, obtained custody of her children. Broadbent then went back to the FLDS compound to get her children. But Flora Jessop, a former polygamist, told ABC 4 in Utah that 600 devout polygamist followers of former FLDS leader Warren Jeffs refused to release Broadbent’s children. They surrounded the van Broadbent was in and vandalized her vehicle. Then when police came, the children were released. When Broadbent returned home she discovered that someone had broken in and destroyed nearly everything she had. The Sheriff’s department later learned that Broadbent’s own children vandalized the home. The department says this struggle is one children face when they leave the compound. (KTRK-TV Salt Lake City, 4/8/15) [IT 6.3, 2015)

Two couples tell of leaving religious cult

The Gloriavale Christian Church Community has more than 500 members and is located in Haupiri, New Zealand. Rosanna and Elijah Overcomer told of their experience in the Gloriavale Community and why they left. The leader of the Community, Neville Cooper, kicked out Elijah Overcomer for questioning him and refusing to follow his rules. Elijah told TV One’s Sunday program that he had asked Cooper about his sexual-abuse charges from 2 years ago. Cooper responded that Elijah had no right to ask those kinds of questions and that he had evil spirits in him. Elijah’s wife Rosanna, a member of the Community for 27 years, told TV One she left the Community to be with her husband and her children. She said Cooper told her she could never be with her husband because he was evil. Rosanna’s sister Joy Courage and her husband Mordecai also left the group in 2013 after their secret relationship was discovered. (New Zealand Herald, 4/20/15) [IT 6.3, 2015)

Woman arrested in attempt to resurrect child

Araceli Meza, the head of the church Iglesia Internacional Jesus es el Rey, was arrested for allegedly starving a 2-year-old boy to get rid of a demon and then, after he died, holding a resurrection ceremony to try to revive him. Investigators believe the boy died on March 21, 2015, or early the next day, and that the ceremony was held March 22 at Meza’s home. The police received an anonymous tip and went to the Meza house. When they arrived to check on the boy, they discovered his parents had returned to Mexico to bury his body. Meza was charged with injury to a child causing serious bodily injury by omission. The 49-year-old was being held on $100,000 bond at the local jail, where records didn’t list an attorney. (NBC 5 Dallas-Fort Worth, 4/14/15) [IT 6.3, 2015)

Jehovah’s Witnesses charity’s attempt to delay inquiry led to “Ongoing Risks” to children, says judge

Judge Alison McKenna denied a Jehovah’s Witnesses charity more time to appeal against a Charity Commission statutory inquiry. The judge said that the Watch Tower Bible and Tract Society of Britain had caused prolonged delays to the regulator’s investigation, leading to “ongoing risks” to children. In May 2014, the Charity Commission opened an inquiry to determine whether adequate safeguarding procedures were in place following revelations that trustees of the charity had allowed a convicted pedophile to question his victims. (Civil Society Media, 3/10/15) [IT 6.3, 2015)
Jehovah’s Witnesses to compensate woman over sex abuse

A woman, now in her 20s, who claimed that elders of the Jehovah’s Witnesses neglected to protect her from sex abuse perpetrated on her between 1989 and 1994 when she was a child, has been awarded £275,000. The abuse came at the hands of a pedophile, Peter Stewart, who had previously admitted to the organization that he had abused another child. A judge ruled that the organization was liable for the abuse because it failed to take “safeguarding steps” after Stewart admitted abusing another child. This is the first civil case in the UK of historical sexual abuse brought against the Jehovah’s Witnesses. The organization will appeal. (BBC News, 6/19/15) [IT 6.3, 2015)
Guatemalan schools request publications from Jehovah’s Witnesses

In Guatemala City, three schools have requested publications from Jehovah’s Witnesses in an effort to curb youth crime in the country. Jehovah’s Witnesses are one of the few publishers of content in Quiché, an American Indian language spoken in the western highlands of the country. Also, an official document from the Official Rural Coeducational Elementary School in Paraje Xepec stated that the publications were requested “to rescue the values and moral principles that are much needed in society.” The publications requested were My Book of Bible Stories in Quiché and Volume 1 and 2 of Questions Young People Ask—Answers that Work in Spanish. The school has also added the video The Prodigal Returns to the school curriculum. (Digital Journal, 5/10/15) [IT 6.3, 2015)
Russian court denounces Jehovah’s Witnesses as “extremist”

In southern Russia, a court has publicly declared a local organization of Jehovah’s Witnesses as “extremist” and ordered it to stop meeting. The group’s building and surrounding land will be confiscated by the local government in the town of Abinsk, Krasnodar region, the court ruled. The group had been distributing publications titled “Humanity in Search of God” and “What Does the Bible Really Teach?,” which were included in the federal list of extremist materials and are banned for distribution in the country, the news report said.

The group’s founders, Igor Soroka and Albert Belikov, were already fined for distributing banned literature in 2010 and 2012. The group’s lawyers have called the court’s decision ungrounded and unconstitutional, and they plan to file an appeal with Russia’s Supreme Court. (The Moscow Times. 4/4/15) [IT 6.3, 2015)

Former Jehovah’s Witness accuses church of hiding child abusers from congregations

Candace Conti, now 28, alleges that she was sexually abused at the age of 9 by Jonathan Kendrick, a popular member of her small Jehovah’s Witnesses congregation in Fremont, California. For many years, Conti was afraid to tell anyone of the abuse out of fear. Years later, after she grew up and left the church, she found out that Kendrick was on a sex-offender registry for molesting his own granddaughter. After seeing Kendrick’s name on the registry, Conti hired an attorney, Rick Simmons. When they began to gather evidence from the local church leaders in California, they made a shocking discovery. Simmons and Conti learned that Kendrick had abused his own stepdaughter. Furthermore, the elders of the church knew about this and never said anything. The elders of the congregation said nothing about Kendrick’s abuse because they were following the strict guidelines of the church leaders at the Jehovah’s Witnesses headquarters in New York City, known as the Watchtower.

Conti and her attorney took the case to court. The attorneys for the Jehovah’s Witnesses argued that it is not the church’s responsibility to protect children from abuse by other members. Also, they claimed that Conti was never abused on the church’s property. Ultimately the jury sided with Conti, and in 2012 she was awarded $15 million. Conti has moved on with her life and is now engaged and graduated from college.

During Conti’s trial, Kendrick was absent and denied any requests for an interview. He says he never touched Candace Conti. He is still a member of Jehovah’s Witnesses, although he was removed from leadership.

After Conti’s case was brought to light, other cases around the country involving Jehovah’s Witnesses started arising. Once all these cases were public and members and church leaders were found guilty of sexual abuse, several churches made changes to their policy concerning child abuse. Conti, however, says it’s still not enough. (ABC News, 3/12/15) [IT 6.3, 2015)

In childhood sexual-abuse case, California Appellate Court finds church has no duty to prevent members from harming each other

In Conti v. Watchtower Bible & Tract Society of New York, Inc. (filed 4/13/15, A136631), the California Court of Appeal, First District, reversed an award of $8 million in punitive damages, on the ground that a Jehovah’s Witnesses’ congregation and church leaders had no duty to warn members of the congregation (known as Witnesses) that another member had previously molested a child. The plaintiff in Conti sued her abuser, the Witness, her former congregation, and the Watchtower (the Jehovah’s Witnesses’ corporation), contending that the Watchtower’s policies permitted the Witness to molest her repeatedly during church-sponsored activities over a 2-year period.

The Witness had admitted to his congregation’s elders that he had sexually abused his stepdaughter. Although the elders informed the Watchtower, the Watchtower did not notify the police or warn the congregation. With respect to the punitive damages claim, the plaintiff argued that the Watchtower acted despicably and with conscious disregard for the safety of others by maintaining a “secrecy policy” regarding child sexual abusers, despite knowing of their high recidivism.

On appeal, the reviewing court found that the alleged duty to warn could not be justified on the basis of a special relationship because there is “no authority for any such broad duty on the part of a church to prevent its members from harming each other.” The court also applied the factors of Rowland v. Christian to determine whether a duty existed. The court concluded that the burden that the duty to warn would create, and the adverse social consequences that the duty would produce, outweighed its imposition. Finding that such a burden would be unworkable, the court remarked, “The burden would be considerable because the precedent could require a church to intervene whenever it has reason to believe that a congregation member is capable of doing harm, and the scope of that duty could not be limited with any precision.” The Conti Court nonetheless upheld the compensatory damages award on the ground that the congregation and Watchtower failed in their duty to supervise the Witness and protect the plaintiff during their field service (a church-sponsored activity in which members go door-to-door preaching in the community). (JD Supra, 4/20/15) [IT 6.3, 2015)

Pregnant woman’s decision to refuse treatment “harrowing” for hospital staff

A pregnant Jehovah’s Witnesses woman and her baby have died after a woman refused a blood transfusion in a Sydney, Australia hospital. Doctors described the harrowing effect on staff at the Royal Hospital for Women and Prince of Wales Hospital in Randwick. The woman refused a transfusion when, nearly seven months into her pregnancy, she developed complications related to leukemia. The 28-year-old’s religion forbade her from accepting the blood transfusion she needed to save her life and that of her unborn baby. Hematologist Giselle Kidson-Gerber said her experience treating cancer patients and her Christian faith had helped her understand the woman’s choice, but it was difficult, knowing that choice would affect the unborn child. “They were unable to do a Caesarean for the sake of the baby without putting her at risk.” But the baby died, and shortly afterward the woman suffered a stroke and multiorgan failure.

Sascha Callaghan, an expert in ethics and law at the University of Sydney, said the law as it stands allowed the mother to make decisions that would affect the fetus, even if it probably would have been able to survive outside her body. “This isn’t to say it isn’t a tragic event … but we live in a society where, within reason, we let citizens be the authors of their own lives,” she said. “If you are going to grant women full rights as citizens, are you going to dilute those rights for women who are carrying fetuses?” (Sydney Morning Herald, 4/6/15) [IT 6.3, 2015)

Report: Lev Tahor children’s best interests not respected by public system

A Quebec Human Rights Commission report concluded that youth-protection officials took far too long to intervene on behalf of 127 children in the Lev Tahor community in Ste-Agathe-des-Monts. In November 2013, about 250 members of the ultra-Orthodox Jewish sect fled from Quebec to avoid a hearing in youth court concerning allegations of child abuse and neglect. Charges included corporal punishment in school, underage marriage, sexual abuse of minors and squalid living conditions.

It took 17 months for youth protection officials to seize the children, and 15 months to get proper schooling for the children in the community, whose education had been strictly religious and who spoke neither English nor French. The president of the human rights commission, however, acknowledged that even quick action might not have been able to prevent the group’s flight.

The Lev Tahor members left for Chatham-Kent. There, Ontario courts ruled against a Quebec court order to place 14 of the children in foster care. Child services in Chatham-Kent also refused an order to remove all 127 children from the community. The report recommended that Quebec act swiftly to come to an agreement with Ontario so that youth court cases can be applied in that province, as well. The report also recommended that the province develop a guide for best clinical and administrative practices for youth-protection interventions within sects or “closed communities,” and that the guide be widely distributed to all those involved. (Montreal Gazette, 7/9/15) [IT 6.3, 2015)

Mormons win battle to distance themselves from BC polygamist

The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (LDS) has succeeded in getting its name back. On January 12, 2015, the British Columbia Supreme Court, by consent, issued an order prohibiting Winston Blackmore and his followers from using the name The Church of Jesus Christ of LDS Inc. or any similar names. The order also forbids any attention that would confuse Blackmore’s group or the LDS in anyway. Furthermore, the order prohibits Blackmore and his followers from questioning, attacking, challenging, objecting to, or opposing in any way the Church’s trademarked names. Those names include The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, Latter-day Saints, and Mormon. Blackmore was ordered to immediately change his group’s corporate name to the Church of Jesus Christ (Original Doctrine) Inc.

In August 2014, Blackmore was criminally charged for practicing polygamy. He has also “had to pay for back taxes, fines, and court costs after failing in his attempt to have Revenue Canada tax him and his followers not as individuals but as a religious commune.” (Vancouver Sun, 1/13/15) [IT 6.3, 2015)

Raëlians push White House for alien embassy to save humanity

A press release on April 2 (which led some to think it was an April Fool’s prank) announced that the Raëlians “were delivering a project file to the White House with plans to construct an embassy for extraterrestrial visitors.” The Raëlians have maintained for decades that the survival of Earth requires the creation of such an embassy. They believe that we will destroy ourselves if we do not prepare for the arrival of benevolent aliens who will bring an era of peace. (Religion Dispatches, 4/6/15) [IT 6.3, 2015)
Group proposes construction of an embassy for extraterrestrials

The Raëlian Movement formally requested that the government of Portugal build an embassy for extraterrestrials, with the proposed structure covering more than an acre and including a lawn, swimming pool, meeting rooms, and accommodations for intergalactic visitors. (Folha.com, 7/17/15) [IT 6.3, 2015)
Father falsely accused of satanic-cult abuse speaks out

According to a BBC interview, a father in the UK has been falsely accused of being part of a satanic cult and sexually abusing his two children. A High Court Judge ruled the claims as “baseless” and “evil and/or foolish” after it became evident that his two children, ages 8 and 9, had been forced to “provide false accounts of horrific events” while they were being filmed. Through the course of the case, it was discovered that the children’s claims had “come about as the result of relentless emotional and psychological pressure as well as significant abuse,” according to Justice Pauffley. The father still receives death threats from people who believe the children’s stories to be true. He is still concerned about his children’s welfare and the long-term impact the events will have on them, but he says he thinks things are going to be okay. (The Independent, 4/20/15) [IT 6.3, 2015)
Satanic killing was to send victims to another planet

In Ontario, Canada on May 2, 2012, Mark Dobson admitted to the murder of his girlfriend, Mary Hepburn, and their friend, Helen Dorrington, in a motel room. Dobson met the women on an Internet chat site called The Joy of Satan. Dobson says the killings were supposed to be a suicide-cult pact, and that it was part of his job to do the other two and then kill himself. Dobson said that he was trying to send himself and the women to another planet, and that it had to be done before dawn or “they” wouldn’t take them. After killing the two women, Dobson slashed his neck and arms, and then went to take a warm bath. The hotel staff was alerted when the bath water overflowed into the hallway.

Robin Dobson, Mark’s sister, says that her brother was a sweet kid who wouldn’t hurt anyone. Dobson pleaded not guilty to two counts of first-degree murder; his lawyer wants the court to find him not criminally responsible for the killings. The trial will explore the nature of Satanism, Wicca, and witchcraft, and also mental illness as it applies to the term “not criminally responsible.” (Toronto Sun, 9/23/14) [IT 6.3, 2015)

Court records link Scientology to convicted email hacker

U.S. District Court for the Southern District of New York gave Eric Saldarriaga a 3-month prison sentence for conspiring to engage in computer hacking. The Scientology connection was discovered when Mike Rinder, a former spokesman for the organization, and journalist Tony Ortega said they were both victims of Saldarriaga. Prosecutors had asked both men for victims’ statements in the case. Ortega wrote to the court, “It would strain credulity to accept that Mr. Saldarriaga’s targeting of Michael Rinder and myself was coincidental, given that we are both high-profile targets of Scientology’s surveillance and harassment campaigns.” The Church of Scientology did not respond to interview requests or emailed questions from the newspaper. (Tampa Bay Times, 6/26/15) [IT 6.3, 2015)
How much does scientology pocket from its tax-exempt status?

Jeffrey Augustine, author of the blog The Scientology Money Project, says that the church has a book value of $1.75 billion. Real estate, mostly at the church’s headquarters in Clearwater, Florida and in Hollywood, California, accounts for about $1.5 billion of that value. Augustine estimates that church income is about $200 million, with about $125 million coming from auditing services. Currently, that income is tax-exempt, as are most of the church’s real estate holdings. (Fortune, 4/8/15) [IT 6.3, 2015)
Meet Scientology’s lobbyist who works the halls of Congress

US Senate and House disclosure documents reveal that Scientology paid more than $1 million to Greg Mitchell for lobbying services since 2003. The disclosure documents indicate that Mitchell has focused on “pursuing federal funding for Scientology’s educational programs and disaster-relief efforts, promoting efforts to help prisoners reenter society, working to promote programs to help religious workers immigrate to the US, and working to make ‘international religious freedom’ a priority for the government.” Mitchell is a member of the church and founder and CEO of The Mitchell Firm. Religious freedom is the current focus on his lobbying efforts. (Business Insider, 4/8/15) [IT 6.3, 2015)
Parliament member requests inspection of Scientology churches

Following numerous inquiries from residents of St. Petersburg, Russia concerned about the Church of Scientology center in that city, Vitaly Milonov, a member of the St. Petersburg Legislative Assembly, sent a letter to Federal Security Service Director Alexander Bortnikov. The letter requested an in-depth inspection of Scientology churches in St. Petersburg and other Russian regions. Milonov claims that Scientology poses a threat to the state and Russian citizens, and that this organization must be banned. (Rapsinews.com, 2/19/15) [IT 6.3, 2015)
Report: Scientology spy pretending to be a Time reporter tries to interview Paul Haggis

Filmmaker Paul Haggis, whose story was central to the documentary Going Clear, alleges that a spy from the Church of Scientology pretended to be a reporter from Time seeking an interview. When Haggis’s staff researched the man, who gave the name Mark Webber, they discovered that nobody with that name works for Time. Further investigation found that an email had been sent from a building owned by the church. (Salon, 4/17/15) [IT 6.3, 2015)
Federal judge sides with Scientology on refund issue

In Tampa, Florida, U.S. District Judge James D Whittemore ruled in favor of the Church of Scientology, saying two former church attendees, Luis and Rocio Garcia, must go through the Church’s internal arbitration process to get a refund from more than $1.3 million they donated to the church. Judge Whittemore issued an order stating that the Garcias are bound by contracts they signed during their 28 years with the Church that requires them to use the arbitration process. However, the judge sided with the Garcias in acknowledgement that the Church “failed to provide any convincing evidence” that a Church “Committee of Evidence” is the process in place to oversee arbitration. (Tampa Bay Times, 3/16/15) [IT 6.3, 2015)
Church of Scientology’s statement in response to Going Clear documentary

The Church of Scientology released a response to the allegations made by Alex Gibney, the filmmaker of the HBO documentary Going Clear. The church sent more than a dozen letters to Mr. Gibney asking for an opportunity to address the allegations made in the film. Mr. Gibney, they say, refused to answer and shunned 25 people who worked with Gibney’s sources, including children, colleagues, former spouses, and superiors who traveled to New York to meet with him. The Church says it has evidence on a website it has set up (freedommag.org) to debunk claims made in Going Clear. (Las Vegas Fox 5, 4/2/15) [IT 6.3, 2015)
Six “insane” ways the Church of Scientology has tried to silence its critics

After discussing Scientology’s “fair game” strategy, L. Ron Hubbard’s 1966 policy letter on handling investigations, and the expected reaction to the HBO documentary, Going Clear, Harmon Leon in an article for AlterNet has identified the following notable instances of Scientology’s response to critics:
Scientology vs. South Park: In 2005, Matt Stone and Trey Parker, the creators of the Comedy Central show South Park, take on Tom Cruise and John Travolta and the entire philosophy behind the planet Xenu cult. Corporate Scientology’s Office of Special Affairs (OSA) operations searched for “vulnerabilities” in the pair’s personal and business lives to get back at them. Isaac Hayes, who played the character Chef on the show, quit over the controversy and stated that he couldn’t support a show that disrespects religion. In true South Park fashion, Matt and Trey responded by brutally killing off Hayes’ character. 
Scientology vs. Los Angeles Times: In 1990, Joel Sappell and Robert Welkos wrote a series on Scientology for the Los Angeles Times. After the series appeared, the church fought back. “The Sea Org-ers bought space on 120 billboards and 1,000 bus placards around Los Angeles, publishing ads featuring the journalists’ bylines, the newspaper’s name, and context-free quotes from their articles that made it seem as if their series was endorsing Scientology.” The Church hired private investigators to get information on Sappell and Welko’s financial records, phone records, and other data. Welkos also received an envelope that had information about planning your funeral before you die. 
Scientology vs. Time Magazine: In 1991, Time Magazine published a cover story about Scientology called “The Thriving Cult of Greed and Power.” According to Associate Editor Richard Behar, Scientology and its followers sent several attorneys and private detectives to harass and discredit him. Scientology’s investigators contacted Behar’s acquaintances and neighbors to look for negative information about him. According to the author, Behar’s home mortgage, home address, credit-card transactions, and Social Security number were illegally taken from a national credit bureau. Furthermore, the organization tried to correct the “falsehoods” in the Time article by spending more than $3 million to run daily ads in USA Today.
Scientology vs. St. Petersburg Times: In 1998, Stephen Koff investigated L. Ron Hubbard’s Church of Scientology for Florida’s St. Petersburg Times. While he was working on his story in Los Angeles, Koff received calls from people who said they worked for credit-card companies, and they asked for his personal information. His wife also received obscene late-night calls from strangers. A week after his series appeared, he noticed a man in a parked car watching his home. Koff learned through police that the car had been rented by a private investigator. When the St. Petersburg Times planned to run a review of a biography critical of Hubbard, the publication received a letter from a Church attorney threatening a lawsuit. The newspaper published both the review and the threatening letter. 
Scientology vs. Newkirk Herald Journal: From 1989 to 1992, the publisher of the Newkirk Herald Journal (in Oklahoma), Robert W. Lobsinger, wrote biting editorials criticizing Scientology. Lobsinger reports that, as a result, private investigators went to the sheriff’s office to get “the goods” on him and his family. Scientology put an ad in another paper attacking Lobsinger. Then the organization sent that ad to all of Newkirk’s 2,500 residents. 
Scientology vs. Paulette Cooper: In 1972, New York author Paulette Cooper wrote The Scandal of Scientology, a scathing book on the church. Cooper subsequently became the object of an intensive harassment campaign known as Operation Freakout. The end goal of the campaign was to have Cooper institutionalized or to ruin her reputation. Cooper also was framed by the Church, using paper with her fingerprints on it and using her typewriter, for a forged bomb threat. On May 9, 1973, she was indicted on charges of making bomb threats against the Church. The Church’s scheme was exposed when the FBI raided the Church’s office and found documents related to Cooper’s framing. (Salon, 3/15/15) [IT 6.3, 2015)
Church of Scientology revenues slump

Loans from abroad appear to be keeping afloat the Irish branch of the Church of Scientology. News accounts suggest that the Dublin branch experienced a revenue drop from about €73,000 to just under €50,000 last year. And these figures pale in comparison to 2006 revenue of €603,000. (Irish Independent, 5/5/15) [IT 6.3, 2015)
Police reports reveal how Scientology leader’s father was spied upon

According to police records, private detectives tracked every move made for 18 months by Ronald Miscavige Sr., the father of David Miscavige, the leader of the Church of Scientology. The Church paid two detectives $10,000 a week through an intermediary. The two investigators were hired out of a concern that David’s father, Ronald, who is now an ex-member of the Church, would talk about the Church’s activities.

Dwayne Powell, one of the investigators, was approached by the police while he was spying on Ronald because of a report of suspicious activity in the neighborhood. At the police station, the records state that Powell told Detective Nicholas Pye that he was hired by the Church of Scientology to conduct full-time surveillance of the elder Miscavige, now 79, who lived in a nearby town. Powell told police the church paid him through another Florida investigations firm, Terry Roffler and Associates. Although he reported directly to that firm, “the main client is a David Miscavige, who is the son of Ronald Miscavige,” the records note. The Church of Scientology denies hiring Powell or having any knowledge of him. (Los Angeles Times, 4/9/15) [IT 6.3, 2015)

Narconon setbacks

A Church of Scientology drug and rehabilitation center linked to the Church of Scientology has lost a bid to operate in central Warburton, Australia in the face of more than a year of intense community opposition. The Association for Better Living and Education has appealed to the Victorian Civil and Administrative Tribunal. (Sydney Morning Herald, 2/9/15) [IT 6.3, 2015)

A class-action suit filed against Narconon of South Santa Cruze County in northern California alleges that its drug-treatment center near Mount Madonna gave participants a path to joining the Church of Scientology rather than a way out of drug and alcohol abuse. (Santa Cruz Sentinel, 5/5/15) [IT 6.3, 2015)

Two years ago, local opposition stymied Narconon’s attempt to open a facility in Hockley Village near Orangeville in Ontario, Canada. Narconon is now trying to open in Milton, where Comprehensive Zoning Bylaw 144-2003.led the town committee to declare that the proposed facility did not fit the town’s definition of a group home. The decision is being appealed. (Toronto Star, 2/9/15) [IT 6.3, 2015)

A drug-rehab center linked to the Church of Scientology has been “fined and ordered to remove unsubstantiated claims made online about ‘curing’ patients.” Narconon owns the program’s site in East Warburton, Australia. (News.com.au, 5/11/15) [IT 6.3, 2015)

The Frederick County Council in Maryland voted against rezoning a fishing retreat that some wanted to use for a Narconon drug-rehabilitation program. Narconon is expected to appeal. (The New York Times, 6/2/15) [IT 6.3, 2015)

Three arrested on suspicion of kidnapping member of religious commune

Andres Martinez-Manso, Eliza Martinez, and Robert Harry Matthew were arrested in Vista, California on June 5, 2015 on suspicion of kidnapping Robert Martinez, a relative from the Twelve Tribes community/church. The men feared that Martinez was being brainwashed by the group. The incident began with what looked like a hit-and-run, according to Sgt. Patrick Yates. A deputy stopped two vans that were speeding, and Martinez was released unharmed. A June 12 report said that the District authorities had decided not to pursue charges because they did not believe they could prove them beyond a reasonable doubt. (Los Angeles Times, 6/6/15) [IT 6.3, 2015)

Controversy over children’s safety at religious community

A Queens Bench Justice in Manitoba, Canada was so concerned for the safety of children in the religious group called the Twelve Tribes that she banned a member of the group from bringing her child into any of the group’s Manitoba locations. The case came to light when Jo Hawkins (former husband of a Twelve Tribes member) learned that the group practiced corporal punishment and had hosted a man who was previously convicted of possessing child pornography in 2013 in British Columbia. Upon his release, the man had been ordered not to be around children for 3 years unless accompanied by a preapproved adult. After his release, he moved to Winnipeg to join the Twelve Tribes. Mr. Hawkins provided sworn affidavits from witnesses who said they had seen the man in the presence of children and other affidavits attesting to corporal punishment.

Child-welfare officials confirmed they had launched an investigation into allegations of corporal punishment. CBC learned that discipline sometimes involves a balloon stick, which is a “thin, reed-like rod.” Twelve Tribes says that the man convicted of possessing child pornography no longer lives with them. (CBC News, 3/18/15) [IT 6.3, 2015)

Twelve accused of beating children in France

The French chapter of The Twelve Tribes Christian fundamentalist sect was closed down in June after members were accused of “abusing children in a climate of violent and racist extremism.” Police raided the group chateau in the Pyrenees, arrested 10 adults, and placed four children in foster care. Doctors found evidence of bruises on the children. Maitre Jean-Francois Blanco, attorney for a former member of the group, alleges that “children were beaten from the age of two by adults for even the slightest infraction or hint of defiance.” Blanco’s client, who has sued the group, said, “I was beaten until I gushed blood. Once, I couldn’t get out of bed for two weeks.” (International Business Times–UK, 6/20/15) [IT 6.3, 2015)
Unification Church couples wed in mass ceremony

On March 3, 2015, 3,800 Unification Church members took part in a mass wedding ceremony at the South Korean headquarters of the church in Gapyeong, outside Seoul. This mass wedding is the most recent of the many that the Unification Church has performed since the 1960s, many in sports stadiums. About 800 of the participants were newly married, and the rest renewed their vows. In past years, Sun Myung Moon, founder of the church, had matched the couples. Since Moon’s death, parents have performed much of the matchmaking. Participants must swear under oath that they are virgins and must not have sexual relations for the first 40 days of marriage. (Economic Times, 3/3/15) [IT 6.3, 2015)
Westboro Baptist Church continues “hater” tradition

After the leader of the Westboro Baptist Church, Fred Philips, passed away on March 19, 2014, in Topeka, Kansas, many people were hoping the church would stop its extreme activities such as protesting at funerals and dooming everyone who isn’t part of the church to hell. But even though Fred Philips may have passed on, his spirit still hates on through his children and congregation.

The followers of the Westboro Baptist Church believe that homosexuality is a sin and hate anything and anyone they consider supportive of the “homosexual agenda.” This perspective includes gay and lesbian events, churches, organizations, and the funerals of soldiers (who fought in a war they say was caused because of America’s tolerance for homosexuality) that they feel do not follow their beliefs. And still, Westboro’s website (godhatesfags.com) listed several protests that were scheduled for the month of April. The protests were to be held at The White House and several different schools and churches in the area. (The Daily Star Journal, 4/2/15) [IT 6.3, 2015)

Televangelist asks followers to buy him $65 million jet

Pastor Creflo Dollar of the World Changers Church International in College Park, Georgia, preaches that the more you give, the more you receive. Dollar owns a multimillion-dollar mansion and condo. The finances of his 30,000-member church are under close examination after he posted a plea on his website asking his followers to buy him a $65 million private jet. After receiving a lot of criticism from his church, he took down the posting. (CBS News, 5/21/15) [IT 6.3, 2015)

Spiritual leader of African Hebrew Israelites Dies 

According to spokeswoman Yafa Baht Gavriel, the spiritual leader of the polygamous vegan African Hebrew Israelites, Ben Ammi Ben-Israel, has died in the southern Israeli town where he brought his followers four decades ago. Born Ben Carter in Chicago, Ben Ammi was 75. 

Ben Ammi maintained that some black Americans were descendants of the biblical tribe of Judah. He said they migrated to West Africa after the destruction of the Jewish Temple in Jerusalem in 70 AD and were eventually sold as slaves to the United States. Baht Gavriel said that, following his vision in 1966 that the angel Gabriel told him to “return to the holy land by way in which we came,” Ben Ammi gathered and led his few hundred followers, mainly from Chicago, to Liberia and later (1969) Israel. 

Many of the group entered Israel as tourists and were in the country illegally until the interior ministry granted them residency status in 2003. Living mostly in Dimona, they established businesses in crafts and tailoring, formed a respected choir, started a factory producing tofu ice cream, and set up several vegan restaurants. Members dress in colorful, self-made clothes, practice polygamy, shun birth control and refrain from eating meat, dairy products, eggs, and sugar. The group also has thousands more members in the United States, the Caribbean, and Africa. (The Guardian, 12/28/14)  [IT 6.2, 2015] 

Cult Continues to Influence Sarin Nerve Gas Suspect 

Kimiaki Nishida, a social psychologist and professor at Rissho University, met former AUM Shinrikyo member Katsuya Takahashi at a detention center in October and said Takahashi is still influenced by the [cult’s] doctrine and looked like a believer[,] … being unable to be free of brainwashing even though he has led a social life for a long time” since he departed from the group. It is the first time since his arrest in June 2012 after being on the run for about 17 years that the condition of 56-year-old Takahashi has been revealed. Takahashi’s appearance has not changed since the time of his arrest, the professor said. 

The former AUM member, set to go on trial in January, has been charged with murder over the cult’s deadly sarin nerve-gas attack on the Tokyo subway system in 1995, which killed 13 people and left more than 6,000 people ill. 

Nishida has also met many other former cult members, and his assessments of some AUM members have been admitted as evidence. (South China Morning Post, 12/8/14) [IT 6.2, 2015] 

Surveillance of Aum successor cults extended for 3 years 

The Public Security Examination Commission (an external organ of the Justice Ministry) has said that two spinoffs of Aum Shinrikyo will remain under surveillance for 3 more years starting February 1, 2015. This extension is the fifth since surveillance began in January 2000 and will apply to Aleph, as the cult is now known, and Hikarinowa, or Circle of Rainbow Light. (The Japan Times, 1/24/15) [IT 6.2, 2015] 

A Look Inside the Secret Group in Murray Hill 

According to its leader Tom Baer, 73, and former followers, Congregation for the Light has about 200 members in New York, and other congregations in Washington, DC, and Atlanta. They describe the group as “the cult next door to every New Yorker, and no one even knows that it’s there.” The Light dates back to at least the 1960s and has met in Murray Hill, New York since the 1970s, although members are taught that the church dates to the 19th century. 

Former followers say the Light’s teachings are shrouded in secrecy and rooted in 19th-century England, where a husband and wife—known only as “the Wyeths”—woke from the same dream and wrote down the karmic tenets and symbols they remembered. “They don’t give you any sources. There’s no dogma you can reference. It’s just word of mouth,” a former member said. “You just believe what you’re told.” 

Known simply as “the Light” to members, the group claims that its followers descended from a “master Aryan race” on Atlantis, and that humans once lived on the moon. But leader Baer said, “It’s not a cult. It’s not a scam. You can come 3,000 times and you’re not going to have to pay a dime.” 

The group has banned homosexuality, which it reportedly considers “a hangover from the Roman Empire.” It encourages corporal punishment, although Baer denies this while saying, “If I want to spank my kids, it’s no one else’s business…” And members atone for bad karma in past lives. Former members say that young women are denied higher education and are often married off to older men in the group. 

A former worshipper who spoke anonymously out of fear of retribution said Baer talked to her of battling evil people in lucid dreams, and of how cancer and other illnesses were the result of karma, not health habits, genetics, or environment. “Everything is ambiguous,” she said. “And if you ask, you’re told, ‘You just don’t remember. You’ll remember when you’re supposed to … Try to control your dreams, and tonight you’ll remember a symbol.’” 

Another former member born into the group, Paul Arthur Miller, said he “felt like a prisoner, … an indentured slave.” At 18, he was one of a dozen young men secluded for 3 days in the Adirondack Mountains on a training mission for elite members of the “Light Patrol.” The trainees were taught survival skills that included firing M14 automatic rifles and practicing hand-to-hand combat in preparation for the apocalypse. Miller explained the group’s belief that the end of “Planet Earth” was “…imminent, weeks or months,” although “they changed the doomsday date at least twice.” Miller was there across 30 years and two leaders, each with his own agendas and “personal beliefs.” 

Morris Kates, chairman during the 1960s and 1970s, taught that once the world ended people would be reincarnated on another planet called Nay. Joseph Denton, Kates’ successor and a former Southern Baptist, tried banning the Internet and some TV. Current leader Tom Baer took over when Denton died in 2001. An Ohio native, Baer is a charming, sharply dressed man who uses a cane and believes he was an Apache in a past life. 

Miller said the three leaders had one thing in common—they tried to erase his homosexuality, which they considered “a hangover from the Roman Empire.” Despite this, he said he was a favorite of Kates, who used to announce that “Paul and I have been friends for thousands and thousands of lives.” Miller finally left the group in the 1990s. 

Another former follower who requested anonymity endured brutal beatings by his parents, who he believes were instructed by Kates. “I had this reputation of being a bad kid when I wasn’t,” he said. “I was an abused kid. … Children are taught to fear.” He said that he struggled with post-traumatic stress disorder because of his upbringing in the group. 

According to one former member, the Light also teaches that children aren’t human until they reach the age of 13. Baer said that children aren’t indoctrinated until they are teens, and that if a child dies before age 13, it’s because the child committed suicide in a previous life. 

Congregation for the Light runs a nonprofit named after Kates. Tax forms show the group’s revenues at $116,860 in 2012 and $338,429 in 2011. Baer said the nonprofit gets 10 percent of its funds from donations and the rest from estates when members die. The group pays for members who are down on their luck and for their home care. (New York Post, 11/2/14) [IT 6.2, 2015] 

China to Publish List of Legal Places to Worship 

Citing Xinhua, the country’s official news agency, Reuters reports that Chinese officials will soon publish a list of all the legal places where people can conduct religious activities. The purpose is to identify unsanctioned groups the authorities typically refer to as cults and to “root out illegal religious activities” in the country. Toward that end, the report indicates that Wang Zuoan, director of the State Administration for Religious Affairs, said in a conference the Chinese administration will declare the names and addresses of “all Buddhist and Taoist venues” in the coming 2 years. 

The country has discouraged the growth of unsanctioned religious movements, including such groups as the illegal Quannengshen (Almighty God) and the Falun Gong church, which has also been banned by China, Reuters reported. Moreover, Beijing is involved in a long-running dispute with the Vatican over the appointment of Catholic bishops, and it has removed the crosses from Christian churches and banned Christmas symbolism. In addition, Muslim Uighurs in China’s Xinjiang autonomous region are of concern to the Chinese. (International Business Times, 12/27/14) [IT 6.2, 2015] 

China Executes Father and Daughter for McDonald’s Murder 

The Yantai Intermediate People’s Court in the eastern province of Shandong has announced the execution of Zhang Lidong and his daughter Zhang Fan, two members of what authorities called an “evil cult,” for beating a woman to death in a McDonald’s restaurant. They were among five cult members tried on murder charges last August. Two other cult members who were relatives of the executed pair were sentenced to 10 and 7 years in prison, respectively. 

China is thought to carry out the most executions annually of any country in the world. The actual number of deaths is a state secret, but estimates range between 2,000 and 4,000 a year. In its 2015 report, Human Rights Watch said that, although the national constitution guarantees freedom of religion, the government restricts religious practices to officially approved mosques, churches, temples, and monasteries organized according to five officially recognized groups. “Any religious activity not considered by the state to be ‘normal’ is prohibited,” the report says, with activities, publications and financial records of all bodies strictly controlled. (The Independent, 2/2/15) [IT 6.2, 2015] 

Indian Guru Allegedly Encouraged Hundreds of Castrations 

Indian police and the Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) are investigating a popular self-styled god-man, Gurmeet Ram Rahim, known as the “guru in bling” for his penchant for garish clothes and jewelry, for criminal intimidation and causing grievous bodily hurt. The charges are for Rahim allegedly encouraging 400 followers to undergo castrations at his ashram so they could get closer to God. The country’s top crime-fighting agency has registered a case against Rahim over the operations in the country’s north. 

The 47-year-old guru, who heads the Dera Sacha Sauda organization based in Haryana state, is already facing trial for conspiracy over the murder of a journalist in 2002, along with claims of sexually exploiting female followers. The latest case was filed after one of his devotees, Hans Raj Chauhan, lodged a complaint in court alleging he was manipulated into having the “painful” operation at the ashram. 

“They were told that only those who get castrated will be able to meet God,” Chauhan’s lawyer Navkiran Singh said. He said doctors carried out the castrations over a period from 2000, but for years his client had been too scared to come forward. 

The Dera Sacha Sauda says it is a social welfare and spiritual organization with millions of followers in India and abroad. On its website, the group describes Rahim as a saint and also an author, inventor, scientist, philosopher, philanthropist, peace activist, and “the ultimate humanitarian.” Rahim also stars in an action movie to be released in early 2015 called MSG: Messenger of God, in which the guru fights criminals, sings songs, and is shown dousing himself in water in slow motion after a rugby game. (The Sydney Morning Herald, 1/9/15) [IT 6.2, 2015] 

Why Does God Kill so Many Children in Idaho? 

In Idaho, authorities do not investigate or prosecute faith-healing deaths, which occur largely without scrutiny from the public or media. Parents who believe prayer is the only acceptable treatment in matters of health, even if it means letting their children die, are immune from prosecution. All of the dozen documented cases in which children have died at the hands of faith-healing parents in the past 3 years—and there are likely many more that have gone unreported—were members of the Followers of Christ, a group with a doctrine nearly identical to the Church of the First Born. The Followers are also active in Oregon, where they gained notoriety in the 1990s after a series of high-profile child deaths. 

In contrast in Oregon, however, Travis and Wenona Rossiter, members of the General Assembly Church of the First Born, a faith-healing Christian sect, were convicted last November in the Linn County, Oregon courthouse of first- and second-degree manslaughter in the 2013 death of their daughter Syble, from complications of a chronic and undiagnosed case of Type 1 diabetes. The verdict carries a 10-year mandatory minimum sentence and was the latest in a series of similar convictions in the state, where officials have been empowered by some of the strictest laws in the country. Oregon has successfully prosecuted three similar cases since 2011. 

There have been 20 documented faith-healing fatalities of minors since 2008 in 10 different states outside of Oregon and Idaho, including Texas, Colorado, and Pennsylvania, according to Children’s Healthcare Is a Legal Duty (CHILD), a national advocacy group. Currently, 32 states provide a religious defense to felony or misdemeanor crimes specifically against children. Most of these laws are remnants of a 1970s federal decision granted at the urging of the Christian Science Church to withhold funding for child-abuse programs in states that did not enact some form of religious immunity for parents who favored spiritual healing over medical care. The government late rescinded the regulation, but most states left the laws in place. 

At this time, 38 states also provide religious exemptions in their child-abuse and neglect civil codes that discourage reporting and can prevent Child Protective Services from investigating and monitoring cases of religion-based medical neglect. Of the six states that provide a religious exemption to manslaughter, negligent homicide, or capital murder, Idaho is the only one where children are known to have died at the hands of faith-healing parents in the past 20 years. Six states have now struck all religious protections for crimes against children, but Oregon’s reforms are the most extensive. And to date, the state has now won every faith-healing child death case it has prosecuted. 

Rita Swan, cofounder of CHILD, and other child advocates argue that Idaho’s laws and those like them directly contradict the Supreme Court’s 1944 decision in Prince v. Massachusetts, which ruled that parental authority cannot jeopardize a child’s welfare, even in cases of religious expression. Yet the result of the profound chilling effect Idaho’s religious exemption laws have had on the authorities who might enforce them is that those claims have never been put to the test. 

Few with power or political will in Idaho have been compelled to stop the growing body count. Earlier in 2014, a proposal was introduced in Idaho’s state legislature to amend its religious-shield laws, but it never got to the floor. There is currently no sponsor for a new bill, and the chance of one gaining traction in the 2015 legislature is slim. 

Advocates are praying that they will find a way to make the issue resonate with lawmakers and the public in Idaho. “If we can change the laws there, we might be able to give some of these kids a chance at growing up,” says Martin. “The torture of these children has got to stop.” (Vocativ, 11/17/14) [IT 6.2, 2015] 

Falun Gong Loses Court Case over Permanent Protest Structure at Chinese Consulate 

A British Columbia Supreme Court judge has sided with the City of Vancouver in its dispute with Falun Gong protesters, ruling that amended city bylaws prohibiting permanent structures are constitutional and place a “reasonable” limit on the group’s right to freedom of expression. The bylaw requires groups who want to erect structures for political protests on city streets to first obtain a permit. “The amended bylaws provide guidelines for obtaining a permit to use a structure that conveys political expression,” Justice Bowden wrote in the ruling, released Thursday. 

At issue is a protest vigil first erected in 2001 near the Chinese Consulate-General in the 3300-block Granville Street. It included a large sign on the sidewalk supported by scaffolding and a meditation hut on the boulevard. The protest was maintained 24-7 until the City of Vancouver requested and received a court injunction to remove the structures. The protesters challenged that decision and the Court of Appeal agreed the city’s bylaws were unconstitutional, but suspended the effect of its decision for 6 months to allow for a revision in the bylaws. In the end result, the deciding judge stated that “I find the amended bylaws to be constitutional and the petition is dismissed.” 

Grace Pastine, litigation director for the BC Civil Liberties Association, which was an intervener in the case, said the bylaw does pose an unreasonable limit on freedom of expression, and that the organization is disappointed by the ruling. She said, “…if the city can safely allow sidewalk cafés and sandwich boards on our public streets, surely, it seems, we can make room for the type of political expression that lies at the very heart of a democratic society.” (The Province, 12/4/14) [IT 6.2, 2015] 

Falun Gong Trial Lawyer Describes Mistreatment from China Courts 

Authorities in the northeastern province of Heilongjiang, China have put on trial four members of the banned Falun Gong spiritual movement amid tight security that also has targeted the members’ defense lawyers. 

The trial at a court in Heilongjiang’s Jiansanjiang city has charged the defendants with “using an evil cult to undermine law enforcement,” according to a defense attorney. But according to defense attorney Wang Yu, the first day was delayed with tight security measures, procedural issues, and repeated security checks. 

Wang said some “very serious problems” still remain. “The indictment wasn’t legally drawn up. The indictment the prosecutor read out in court wasn’t the same as the indictment that the defendants and the defense attorneys had been given, and the evidence that it referred to was different from the evidence that we had access to.” 

At the same time, Wang and the other prominent defense lawyers on the case were keeping close together and checking up on each other’s safety during the trial in light of the serious mistreatment of four defense attorneys related to the case in March 2014. Those attorneys were detained for more than two weeks in Jiansanjiang by the authorities before being released after they had traveled there to investigate claims that the Falun Gong practitioners were being held illegally in a “black jail,” or extrajudicial detention center. Two of them detailed extreme physical abuse while in detention and a third described torture while in custody. 

Wang Yu said that so far in the current trial the authorities hadn’t made any attempt to detain her, although she was being watched and followed. “There are plainclothes police officers watching my hotel, and they were following me all the way after I left court today,” she said. “Last night, nobody searched my room, but that doesn’t mean they won’t over the next few days,” she said. All four defendants pleaded “not guilty” to the charges at the trial, which is set to continue, Wang said. (Radio Free Asia, 12/17/14) [IT 6.2, 2015] 

Cult Leader Denies Miracle Mineral Solution is Dangerous 

As the Immigration Department reviews whether Genesis II Church of Health and Healing American leader Jim Humble is a “danger to the Australian community” and should be allowed to sell his product here, he claims it is a “crime against humanity” for people to criticize the potentially deadly bleach, Miracle Mineral Solution (MMS) he promotes as a miracle cure. The solution has poisoned at least 10 Victorians, prompting calls for it to be banned amid investigations by health authorities. 

Humble refused to accept the Herald Sun’s independent analysis of the untested, homemade concoction as an unstable and harmful chlorous acid. He defended it because “no one died after taking MMS.” He has claimed the bleach “can save people’s lives and stop their suffering” and also has tried to argue that MMS, which is sold in Australia through a legal loophole as a “water purification” treatment, had “never been known to cause blood diseases or kidney failure.” But data shows that at least four Victorians were hospitalized after suffering severe gastro­intestinal issues when they took the solution. The cultic group he leads recommends MMS to treat diseases including cancer, HIV/AIDS, asthma, and autism, and has even suggested it could treat Ebola. 

Mr. Humble was to visit Melbourne this past November, but the planned seminar that had been planned was shut down. Mayor Geoff Lake said Mr. Humble’s cult was not welcome because public health could have been affected. Mr. Humble refused to be interviewed and did not respond to questions. (Herald Sun, 1/4/15) [IT 6.2, 2015] 

Suspected Cult Leader Charged in Brixton Slavery Case 

Aravindan Balakrishnan, the alleged leader of an extreme left-wing Maoist cult in south London, has been charged in connection with suspected domestic slavery and a string of sexual offences. The 73-year-old was arrested last November and charged after a lengthy police investigation into allegations that he held a number of women against their will at a house in Brixton. The police said he had been charged with one count of cruelty to a person under 16 years, one count of false imprisonment, 19 counts of indecent assault, and four counts of rape. The alleged offenses relate to three women. He was scheduled to appear before Westminster Magistrates Court in December 2014. 

Mr. Balakrishnan and his wife, Chanda Pattni, 67, had been arrested in November 2013 on suspicion of holding three people as slaves and forcing them into domestic servitude within a Marxist cult for more than 30 years. Mrs. Pattni was subsequently released without charge, but Mr. Balakrishnan was re-arrested on suspicion of sexual offenses. 

At the time of the arrests, the police said the group would have appeared to the outside world to be a normal family, but detectives moved in after one of the women decided to report her ordeal to a charity that helps people in slavery. Officers from the Metropolitan Police’s human trafficking unit said at the time that the case was “completely unique” in their experience. (The Telegraph, 12/11/14) [IT 6.2, 2015] 

Jehovah’s Witnesses Ordered to Pay $13.5M to Alleged Victim 

A $13.5 million judgment was awarded in December to Jose Lopez of San Diego, who according to his lawsuit was one of 8 childhood victims of “very aggressive abuse” between 1982 and 1995 at the hands of his Jehovah’s Witnesses Bible study teacher, Gonzalo Campos. Although the alleged molestation happened on one occasion, Lopez’s attorney explained that the high amount awarded reflects the severe consequences Lopez has faced as a result, including post-traumatic stress disorder, addiction, and trust issues. 

The lawsuit names the defendant as the Watchtower Bible and Tract Society of New York, which oversees Jehovah’s Witness churches. The judgment includes $10.5 million in punitive damages relating to Watchtower’s response to the Campos scandal, and “…how they covered this up for years and allowed multiple children to be injured. They protected and harbored a criminal.” Watchtower plans to appeal the judgment. (NBC 7 San Diego, 10/30/14) [IT 6.2, 2015] 

Russia’s Supreme Court sustains Ruling Against Jehovah’s Witnesses 

Russia’s Supreme Court has sustained the ruling of Samara’s regional court declaring the Jehovah’s Witnesses from Samara is an extremist organization. In May 2014, the regional court ruled in favor of the prosecutor in the case against the Jehovah’s Witnesses based on the discovery of extremist materials seized from the community premises that the organization had kept for mass distribution. 

Jehovah’s Witnesses have long encountered difficulties with Russian authorities and have repeatedly been banned from circulating their literature. Between 2009 and 2013, various Russian regional courts found 68 Jehovah’s Witnesses publications to be extremist, according to Lenta.ru. In 2014, a prosecutor warned members of the organization about the prohibition of extremist activity, and the Prosecutor’s office of Russia’s Tver region wants the organization’s website shut down. In January of this year, the Kurgan municipal court also handed down a decision that Witness publications are extremist. TASS reports that the Kurgan court decision will be appealed. (Itar-Tass, 11/13/14; The Moscow Times, 12/3/14) [IT 6.2, 2015] 

Judge Stops Children of Jehovah’s Witnesses Mother from Going to Church 

A New Zealand judge has stopped the children of a Jehovah’s Witnesses mother from going to church and attending Witnesses meetings, and has allowed them to attend birthday parties and Christmas celebrations. The High Court ruling, released publicly in December 2014, comes after the children’s separated parents appealed against Family Court orders regarding custody details. 

After the parents separated in 2010, the mother became an “adherent of the Jehovah Witness[es] faith,” the ruling said. Without the father’s knowledge, she introduced the children, then aged 4 and 6, to the religion. A Family Court ruling at that time ordered that the children’s father be their main caregiver and placed constraints on the children’s participation in the Jehovah’s Witnesses faith. Both parents appealed the ruling. In the appeal process, the children told the court they would be “angry” and “sad” if they were not allowed to worship Jehovah by attending services. 

Even so, the recent ruling said the children had a right to be exposed to each of their parents’ religious beliefs, but that their involvement should be curtailed: “…the children should not attend Jehovah’s Witness[es] meetings or church activities including seminars or witnessing.” And although “such a direction is at odds with the children’s express wishes … the evidence persuades me that … there should be a dilution in … their exposure to their mother’s faith.” The judge said they could engage in Bible study, watch videos, and read passages from the Watchtower with their mother in her home; but they also could attend birthday parties, and Easter and Christmas celebrations—all of which are prohibited in the Jehovah’s Witnesses faith. (New Zealand Herald, 12/16/14) [IT 6.2, 2015] 

Doctors Can Ignore “Deeply Held Views” of Two Jehovah’s Witnesses to Treat Their Burns-Victim Son 

A judge in the Family Division of the High Court in London has ruled following a hearing that the son of two devout Jehovah’s Witnesses can be given a blood transfusion despite religious objections from his parents, and a health trust with responsibility for treating the boy, who suffered severe burns in an accident, has been told it can ignore the religious objections from his parents. In his detailed written ruling, the judge did not name anyone involved and did not give the child’s age. The judge said he was “extremely grateful” to the boy’s parents “for so clearly and calmly explaining to me” their position on the matter, and that he hoped “they will understand why I have reached the decision which I have, governed as it is by [their son’s] welfare.” 

Two other High Court judges were asked to consider similar issues earlier this year and reached differing conclusions based on the details of the respective cases. In one case, the judge gave permission for a baby boy to undergo blood transfusions during an operation, notwithstanding his parents’ objections. In the other case, the judge granted the permission to doctors who had requested it to withhold a blood transfusion from a 63-year-old woman who was a Jehovah’s Witness. He concluded the woman had made a decision when she had the mental capacity to do so and was “adamant” that she wanted no treatment with blood products, which was her right. He ruled that the doctors rightly considered and had to respect those wishes. (The Telegraph, 12/8/14) [IT 6.2, 2015] 

Alberta Government Continued to use Landmark Education Despite Employee Complaints 

Internal Alberta Health Services (AHS) documents obtained by CBC News in late 2014 detail several complaints to human resources from IT employees who felt pressured, even harassed, to attend personal-development company Landmark Education Corp. seminars, and to reveal personal details of their lives at the seminars and at staff meetings. A for-profit, employee-owned, private US company with hundreds of paid employees and thousands of volunteers around the world, Landmark has been criticized for employing high-pressure recruitment tactics, intense psychological methods, and conformist ideology. 

“They are manipulative, they are controlling, they involve coercive persuasion,” said Steve Kent, a University of Alberta sociology professor and internationally recognized expert in deviant ideological and religious groups. Kent said many people will say they benefited from Landmark training, or were not harmed by it. “And then there are the others,” he said. “And it is the others that any workplace environment has to be concerned with.” 

Landmark’s director of public relations, Deb Beroset, told CBC News her organization does not employ psychology or ideology in its training. She stressed that “customers” are free to reveal whatever they wish. Beroset said Landmark training has been endorsed by top American psychologists, and the company has provided training to thousands of high-profile companies such as Reebok, Mercedes-Benz USA, and even the U.S. navy. 

Both Guy Smith, president of the Alberta Union of Provincial Employees, and Wildrose member of the legislature Kerry Towle said there should be an immediate investigation to determine whether Landmark is still operating not only within AHS, but anywhere within the Alberta government. (CBC News, 10/15/14) [IT 6.2, 2015] 

Mexico’s Flourishing LLDM Church Loses its Apostle 

The announcement came on December 7, 2014, that Samuel Joaquín Flores, leader of Iglesia La Luz del Mundo (LLDM), the largest Protestant church in Guadalajara, Mexico, had died. His worldwide group of followers, who considered Flores a living apostle of Jesus, responded instantly with a mix of screaming, weeping, and falling to the ground in shock and prayer. 

Flores’ father, Eusebio Joaquín González, founded LLDM in 1926, 11 years before Samuel’s birth. Born into a poor family in rural Jalisco state, Eusebio had left a distinguished military career at the age of to follow a pair of ascetic pentecostal preachers; he was accompanied by his wife, Elisa. 

The story is that a divine voice had told Eusebio to change his name to Aarón, and that he would soon be asked to go to “a land that I will show you.” In time, his new Israel was revealed to be Guadalajara. 

Guadalajara, Mexico’s second largest city, was an unlikely base for a Protestant movement because it also was the country’s most Catholic city. But Aarón had military connections in local government and soon built a following among the poor, in part by offering social services. He secured a piece of land on the eastern outskirts of the city in 1954, which he named Hermosa Provincia—beautiful province. Aarón died 10 years later, and Samuel took over as the church’s president, father in faith, and living apostle. 

Samuel globalized LLDM over the next 50 years, and today it has significant temples throughout Mexico and Central America, and in Chile, Colombia, Spain, and the United States. California has around forty churches, and there are major congregations in Houston, Atlanta, and New York City. 

Pinning down precise numbers for LLDM is almost impossible. The church claims to have more than 3 million members abroad and 1.5 million in Mexico; if these numbers are accurate, LLDM is the country’s largest non-Catholic religious institution. Independent scholarly estimates for LLDM’s worldwide population range as high as 7 million. 

LLDM is firmly pentecostal and charismatic: Church members receive baptism in the Holy Spirit as adults, undergo ritual healings, and occasionally speak in tongues. In its history, aesthetics, and social structure, though, LLDM’s closest relative is probably the Mormon Church. In addition, there are Catholic overtones, echoes of Hasidic Jewish sects, and a strong streak of Mexican nationalism. The overall effect is of a kind of structured, elaborate Protestantism. Both churches fashion themselves a kind of new Israel and hold up living apostles, and neither uses crosses in worship. Both situate latter-day revelations in the New World, both have centralized authorities headquartered in unlikely towns, and both movements favor dramatic temples. 

Eva García, Samuel’s wife, is prominent in the church. But LLDM hierarchies offer few roles for women, who appear on the street in the ankle-length skirts required by the church and sit separately from men during services. 

LLDM has thrived among the poor, particularly the transients who flow into Mexico’s cities from the rural districts. In Hermosa Provincia in the face of the twin threats of Catholicism and secularism, one can see how LLDM has responded through the production of mass spectacle. The Church backs up this spectacle with genuine material support and political heft. 

Surrounding the temple in Hermosa Provinica are some of LLDM’s social service agencies, and a church-run hospital is a few blocks away. The church bans drinking and smoking. For decades, church members have voted as a bloc for the powerful PRI party, which gives them substantial sway in local politics. Joaquín’s insight, perhaps, was that his church didn’t need to remain a close-knit community bound by enforced norms and geographical proximity to stay viable. In many ways, the church functions like a kind of landless state, with baptism as its passport. 

Much of LLDM’s power has been concentrated till now in Samuel Joaquín, and whether he abused it is an open question. Certainly, the family is wealthy. And former members of the church have accused Samuel of sexually assaulting minors. In 1998, the Los Angeles Times reported that four people had filed accusations against him with the prosecutor’s office in Guadalajara. The Times also spoke with a young man who, after going public with allegations against Samuel, was kidnapped and slashed 57 times with a knife. 

LLDM authorities have denied any involvement in these assaults. At the time, much of the negative publicity about the church was driven by an obscure, cult-busting preacher whose motives, to put it gently, may not have been strictly humanitarian. Still, when asked whether she believed that Samuel was guilty of sexual abuse, Patricia Fortuny, a social anthropologist familiar with the group, did not hesitate: “I am sure these allegations are true.” She had met Samuel, whom she described as a megalomaniac, at once a charismatic leader and a scandal-tainted liability. (Religion Dispatches, 12/11/14) [IT 6.2, 2015] 

Blogger Pleads Guilty to Charge of Hacking Self-Improvement-Group Computers 

Saratoga in Decline blogger John Tighe has pleaded guilty to a computer-hacking-related felony charge for unauthorized access to a computer system owned by NXIVM, a self-improvement organization based in Albany County. State police confiscated computers and electronics from Tighe in October 2013 after a search warrant was executed to probe for material related to NXIVM, a group many define as a cult. Tighe served as a local watchdog over NXIVM and its founders, Keith Raniere and Nancy Salzman, who also run a unique training program for professionals, Executive Success Programs, among other enterprises. (The Record, 11/05/14) [IT 6.2, 2015] 

Victims Demand Paedophile Cult Leader Go Back to Jail 

The victims of Australian cult leader William “Little Pebble” Kamm are demanding the notorious paedophile return to jail after he was released in November 2014. Kamm is believed to have fathered more than 20 children, telling his young female followers they were among 12 Queens and 72 Princesses chosen to create an immaculate race. He was jailed for 10 years for the rape of two 15-year-old girls in the early 1990s. During his time prison, Kamm remained unrepentant and has refused to show remorse for his actions, still claiming he is not guilty. 

Former cult member Claire McAuliffe told A Current Affair that she witnessed the daily manipulation of Kamm’ followers and that he “shouldn’t be out of jail … he just thinks that he is above the law.” Ms. McAuliffe lived with her husband and eight children at the Nowra compound of the self-professed prophet’s cult, Order of St. Charbel, on the New South Wales south coast for 9 years. 

Kamm was seen publically just several days after his release from Long Bay jail, holding hands with a young female companion on George Street. The now 65-year-old is currently on parole until October of 2015 and is restricted from visiting the Shoalhaven area, contacting his victims, and approaching children under the age of 16 unless accompanied by a responsible adult. (9news.com.au, 11/28/14) [IT 6.2, 2015] 

Op-ed: Smith Polygamy Essays Commendable, but still not the Full Story 

Gary James Bergera, columnist and the author of six published studies of early Mormon polygamy, has offered insightful and thought-provoking perspective on the Latter Day Saints (LDS) Church’s publication of essays about its practice of plural marriage, which represent a good first step in acknowledging the history of the controversial doctrine (see Peggy Fletcher Stack, “New Mormon Essay: Joseph Smith Married Teens, Other Men’s Wives,” Salt Lake Tribune, Oct. 22, 2014). The essays, presented as news releases, exhibit an informed grasp of the growing number of relevant scholarly articles and books that have appeared since the 1980s. 

The anonymous authors of the essays tackle head-on some of the most problematic aspects of the church’s embrace of what it once called “celestial marriage.” This term includes church founder Joseph Smith’s marriages to young women, at least one of whom was 14 (the essays characterize her as just shy of 15); Smith’s marriages to other men’s wives (which the essays contend may not have included sexual relations); Smith’s concealing most of his plural marriages from his civil wife, Emma Hale; Smith’s and the church’s carefully worded denials regarding the practice of polygamy; the church’s “civil disobedience” in performing the illegal marriages; and the church’s clandestine attempts to keep plural marriage alive for a decade or more even after publicly disavowing it in 1890. 

The essays recognize that the church cannot explain away to everyone’s satisfaction the many inconsistencies, misstatements, and contradictions that accompany the history of plural marriage. In fact, the essays’ candor is sometimes jarring. Clearly, the authors believe that “hard facts” are a more effective palliative than spin. 

As past managing editor of Dialogue: A Journal of Mormon Thought, Bergera’s perspective on the potential limitations of these essays is worth noting. To wit: 

“The essays risk falling short in three areas. First, the essay on polygamy during Joseph Smith’s lifetime reflects an emerging apologetic argument that seeks to portray Smith as a reluctant polygamist who had to be coerced by an angel into engaging in sexual relations with his plural wives. Such a position misrepresents Smith’s zest for life and self-perception as Heaven’s lawgiver, while imposing on him a particular brand of morality that was foreign to him. ‘That which is wrong under one circumstance, may be, and often is, right under another,’ he taught (History of the church, 5:134). He also stated that there were ‘many things in the Bible which do not, as they now stand, accord with the revelation of the Holy Ghost to me’ (Words of Joseph Smith, p. 211).” 

“Second, for reasons not stated, the essays fail to mention, even in endnotes, some of the most important scholarship on Mormon polygamy. These omissions include, but are not limited to: Martha Bradley and Mary Woodward’s Four Zinas: A Story of Mothers and Daughters on the Mormon Frontier (Signature Books, 2000), a groundbreaking study of women and polygamy; Lawrence Foster’s Religion and Sexuality (University of Illinois Press, 1981), an early important work by an eminent non-LDS historian; George D. Smith’s Nauvoo Polygamy (Signature Books, 2nd ed. 2011), a work especially valuable for its statistical and genealogical data (apparently cited in one endnote without reference); and D. Michael Quinn’s truly groundbreaking discussion of post-1890 polygamy, ‘LDS Church Authority and New Plural Marriages’ (Dialogue, Spring 1985). Granted that space in the church’s essays was limited, still the failure to credit these, and other past, researchers for their contributions seems deliberate.” 

And “Finally, the essays cite primary manuscript sources held by the church that are not available to the general public to consult. This makes it appear that access to the church’s vast archival holdings is more open than is actually the case. These documents include the diaries of George Q. Cannon, Francis M. Lyman, Heber J. Grant, Matthias F. Cowley, and others. Historians and other researchers can only hope that such records may one day be as accessible as the essays imply.” 

Bergera concludes that “There is much to recommend the LDS Church’s new essays on Mormon polygamy. There is also much still left to be done in narrating as fully and as accurately as possible the tumultuous history of the church’s distinctive, controversial practice.” (Salt Lake Tribune, 11/2–3/14) [IT 6.2, 2015] 

Head of Polygamist Cult Ratzon Sentenced to 30 Years in Prison 

Before his 2010 arrest and indictment in the Tel Aviv District Court on many charges that include multiple counts of rape, sodomy, molestation of minors, fraud, and spiritual enslavement, cult leader Goel Ratzon had 21 wives and more than 40 children from those wives who were part of his cult over a period of about 30 years. In late October 2014, Ratzon was sentenced to 30 years in prison on his convictions for sex crimes and financial fraud. 

The fraud charges against him described Ratzon as defrauding his wives out of their money and manipulating them into serving as his slaves. And although his conviction with the 25-plus years of jail time remaining means he, at 64, may not emerge while still alive, some of his ex-wives were disturbed that he was acquitted on the spiritual enslavement charge. (He has been credited for the more than four years he has already been in prison while the trial proceeded.) (Jerusalem Post, 10/28/2014) [IT 6.2, 2015] 

Mysterious “Tent City” Springing up in FLDS Towns 

A massive “tent city” is springing up in the polygamous border towns of Hildale, Utah and Colorado City, Arizona as an apparent response to a threat of eviction by the court-controlled United Effort Plan (UEP) Trust in a long-running land war. A source gave FOX 13 a series of photographs that show the construction of the giant white tents being built behind a huge wall with “no trespassing” signs all around it. The tents appear to be able to shelter hundreds. The source said no one is living in the tents yet. 

In 2005, a judge in Salt Lake City’s 3rd District Court took control of the UEP amid allegations that FLDS leader Warren Jeffs mismanaged it. Recently, the UEP began evicting people for not paying a $100-a-month occupancy fee to stay in their homes. Jeffrey L. Shields, the lawyer for the UEP’s court-appointed fiduciary, said he believed the tents are the FLDS leadership’s response. 

Tonia Tewell, whose nonprofit group works with people in need in the polygamous communities, called the situation there a “humanitarian crisis.” Hundreds have left or been excommunicated by Jeffs, leaving the church with nothing (members consecrate most of their property to the FLDS church). Jeffs still controls the church from his Texas prison cell, where he is serving a life sentence for child sex assault related to underage “marriages.” 

If the courts start evicting people en masse, Tewell said it will strain social service providers’ ability to help. The Utah Attorney General’s Office said it was monitoring the situation and urged people in need to contact social-service providers. (fox13now, 12/15/14) [IT 6.2, 2015] 

Family Settles Polygamist Towns’ Lawsuit for $3M 

A family that was awarded a $5.2 million judgment over a denied water hookup by the two polygamous towns of Hildale, Utah and Colorado City, Arizona because they’re not members of the Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints has settled for less to avoid an appeal. Ronald and Jinjer Cooke will get about $3 million from insurers and utility companies representing the towns, according to a private agreement obtained by The Salt Lake Tribune. 

In addition to the $3 million, the settlement stipulated the cities must provide water access to the Cookes. The cities already had made electricity and sewer connections but refused to provide water. Evidence from the case could be used in an ongoing US Department of Justice lawsuit over housing discrimination in Hildale and Colorado City, but the settlement bars the Cookes from participating in that lawsuit. (ABC News, 12/12/14) [IT 6.2, 2015] 

Polygamy Group Investigates Abuse Allegations 

Estimated to be the second-largest organized polygamy group in Utah, the Apostolic United Brethren (AUB) has said it is investigating an allegation that its leader, Lynn A. Thompson, molested one of his daughters, Rosemary Williams of TLC’s My Five Wives. Williams wrote in a blog posted last November that she was molested more than two decades ago by her father when she was 12 years old. Thompson told The Associated Press the allegations were not true, and state and local authorities in Utah are unaware of any formal complaints against him. (ABC News, 12/3/14) [IT 6.2, 2015] 

Kenya “Miracle-Healer” Scandal Hits Deep Faith in Churches 

Last October, the investigative news program Inside Story exposed self-styled Kenyan prophet Victor Kanyari, who ran the Salvation Healing Ministry, as a charlatan. The exposé revealed the exploitation of poor people by Kanyari, a “miracle healer” who has attracted thousands to his Nairobi “church” with claims of being able to cure everything from childlessness to HIV/AIDS. 

Among other things, the program portrayed the elaborate playacting by Kanyari and devoted followers who helped perpetuate his claims through false testimonies and so-called healings in front of the congregation. A former assistant claims Kanyari used the chemical compound potassium permanganate, which turns red when it comes into contact with water, when washing the feet of congregants to convince people that his prayer was causing blood—and the illness carried in it—to leach out of their bodies. His assistants also hid needles in their hands, which they then dumped into the footbaths to add to the illusion. 

John Masinde, a Pentecostal pastor in Nairobi, said, “In an economy like this one, you’ll find … millions of people who live on a meal a day who cannot afford good medical care, who have gone to school but don’t have a job. Those scenarios are fertile for people to come up and offer a miracle cure.” 

Oliver Kisaka Simiyu, the deputy general secretary of the National Council of Churches of Kenya, the umbrella organization representing mainstream Christian churches, says that many Kenyans hold churches in high esteem, unlike government, media, and unions. “No one expects someone coming in the name of the church to do this.” He argued that the government is ultimately to blame because “…there is a culture of misuse of opportunity and power in this country … that … is taking advantage of the powerless.” For mainstream Christians, the case raises concerns that faith in the honesty of most religious outlets will decline. 

Many Kenyans are outraged that Kanyari easily exploited this widespread trust in church institutions and targeted the poor, many of whom are desperate and willing to pay small fees to get the aid he promised. The case has spurred a bid for new regulation, and the attorney general has announced an indefinite ban on registering any new churches. 

All religious institutions in Kenya are supposed to register with the government, but the process church leaders describe is lax. Mainstream Christian, evangelical, and Catholic churches each have umbrella organizations to represent their members. But only a fraction of the churches in Kenya are members, and the mainstream leaders have no authority to enforce standards or stop malpractice, including the proliferation of “miracle healers.” 

Kanyari has denied the allegations. He hasn’t been legally charged and seems to be practicing as usual. (Christian Science Monitor, 11/20/14) [IT 6.2, 2015] 

The Church of Scientology Buys Land for $37 Million to Build New Headquarters 

The Church of Scientology has quietly purchased a large tract of land on Sydney, Australia’s North Shore where it hopes to build a new base for the religion in the southern hemisphere. The land will be the site of a sprawling new facility called the Ideal Advanced Organization and Continental Base for Australia and the Asiatic region. 

David Miscavige, the chairman of the International Association of Scientologists (IAS) and former best man of Scientology poster boy Tom Cruise, spoke publicly last October about the organization’s plans to kick-start a “golden age” in Sydney. 

The vast new facility will overlook Lane Cove National Park and be open 7 days a week as both an administrative and theological operation and a place for public worship. (The Daily Telegraph/Sunday Telegraph, 11/2/14) [IT 6.2, 2015] 

Expert Contends that Scientology Membership Numbers are Dwindling 

In November, several thousand foreign Scientologists took part in courses and received guidance in Copenhagen, while another 2,000 or so work permanently in Copenhagen, according to the organization. Peter B. Andersen, a professor in religion sociology at the University of Copenhagen, says this stream of foreigners into the organization’s European Headquarters in Denmark is essential. 

Yet according to Peter Åkerbäck, a religion historian at the University of Stockholm, Scientology’s membership numbers are in decline even as the organization applies more pressure on its members than before. “My impression is that Scientology is experiencing problems because a lot of high-profile members have left the organization over the last 5 years,” Åkerbäck said. “It’s happening in all countries, but especially in the US.” 

The head of communication at Scientology Denmark, Anette Refstrup, doesn’t agree with the experts’ opinions. She says Scientology memberships numbers “are actually on the rise.” (The Copenhagen Post, 11/24/14) [IT 6.2, 2015] 

Drug Rehab Center Based on Scientology Teachings to Open in Heathfield, UK 

Narcanon, the drug-rehabilitation group that offers counseling based on the controversial teachings of the Church of Scientology and up until now has operated mainly out of the United States, is to move its UK base to The Grange in Maynards Green Road, Heathfield. Project director Sheila MacLean said work has already started on the center to provide 18 beds, but no date had been set for its opening. 

Michael Bustard, a local resident said: “My view is there are people who have drug problems and anything that can be done to help them out of that situation is good. But as a local resident one is worried about what it is going to be. Let’s keep our minds open, but they need to communicate … to tell the community what it is Narconon wants to do, not make a secret of it.” (Kent and Sussex Courier, 10/23/14) [IT 6.2, 2015] 

Top Scientology Leaders Caught in Videotaped Verbal Assault At LAX 

A former executive of the Church of Scientology said three members of the church’s top management, Marc Yager, Dave Bloomberg, and Jennifer Linson Devocht, who report to church president David Miscavige, ambushed him at Los Angeles International Airport last October, and that he has video footage to prove it. In the video, the first public glimpse of the secretive church’s top management in 4 years, the leaders are seen yelling obscenities. 

Mark Rathbun, a former senior executive and outspoken critic of the Church since he quit in 2004, said he had just cleared security at the airport when the three ambushed him. The footage reportedly shows them yelling at Rathbun to “get a life,” that his criticism of the church has had “no effect,” and “nobody gives a f*** about you.” 

Rathbun said a recent lawsuit by his wife against Miscavige charging that she was harassed by the church for 4 years may have been the trigger for the latest incident. He said this wasn’t the first time he had experienced intimidation tactics by church executives, who “…know how to discern our travel plans in advance … we have been confronted by or … overtly tailed … nearly every time we arrive in another city at the airport.” (International Business Times, 10/21/14) [IT 6.2, 2015] 

Documentary Draws Ire from the Church of Scientology 

Alex Gibney’s new documentary about the Church of Scientology and renegades who left it behind, Going Clear: Scientology and the Prison of Belief, became available on HBO on March 16. In describing the film to the International Business Times, Mark “Marty” Rathbun, former senior executive of the Church of Scientology who participated in the documentary, said “that America’s most accomplished modern documentarian has now weighed in raises the stakes against Scientology continuing to carry on business as usual. We are hopeful … that the light’s increasing intensity causes Scientology to cease their domestic terrorism operations.” 

The documentary is based on the 2013 book of the same name written by Lawrence Wright, a producer of the film Going Clear…, a movie built heavily around on-camera interviews with Paul Haggis, Marty Rathbun, Michael Rinder, Jason Beghe and other former adherents who have painted a picture of declining membership and abusive practices within the church. 

The film also describes the life of Scientology founder L. Ron Hubbard, including a first-person account from his late second wife Sara Northrup. It provides personal details about some Church celebrity members, including Tom Cruise and John Travolta. It also contains rare photographic and historical film footage such as the Church’s Sea Organization aboard the Flagship Apollo, the home of L. Ron Hubbard; Miscavige in his office with Rathbun; and extended cuts from the Church’s announcement that its “war” with the federal government was over after it received tax-exempt status in 1993. 

The Church of Scientology attacked the film before its premiere in an ad campaign in The New York Times. And in a statement released after the screening, the church reiterated its stance, saying the accusations made in the film “are entirely false” and “alleged without ever asking the Church.” 

Mr. Wright engaged extensively with Scientology officials while writing his book, partially in response to the organization’s scathing 2011 How Laurence Wright Got it So Wrong documentation of what it called “falsehoods” (www.lawrencewrightgoingclear.com/) in his accounting. Like the book, the documentary relies on interviews with Scientology dropouts whose filmed accounts mostly track with Wright’s earlier descriptions of claimed abuse, both physical and emotional. (The New York Times, 1/15/15; International Business Times, 1/26/15) [IT 6.2, 2015] 

Feds Fund Scientology-backed Detox Program for Vets 

A detoxification program in Annapolis, Maryland supported by the Church of Scientology is treating veterans suffering from chronic Gulf War-related conditions. Funding is by the US Department of Defense through a $633,677 grant issued in September 2010, according to Pentagon officials. The money was awarded to researchers at the University of Albany in New York state, with David O. Carpenter, the director of the school’s Institute for Health and the Environment, as the chief applicant and investigator. Carpenter described the program as a “preliminary study” to find out whether a scientific basis exists for the therapy L. Ron Hubbard developed for the Church’s detoxification program. He said the study is the first of its kind to be done by “independent people … in a fashion that’s rigorous and objective.” 

The program gets additional help from the Heroes Health Fund (a nonprofit organization chaired by actor and Scientologist John Travolta), which has funded similar programs for public-safety officials nationwide who responded to the 2001 World Trade Center attacks. The Heroes Health Fund website gives estimates of more than 1,000 men and women who became ill during 9/11 rescue and recovery operations who have received such services since 2002. 

Veterans and public safety workers interviewed by The Capital who completed the program said it did not encourage them to take an interest in Scientology as a religion. Many said they were unaware of the program’s origins when they learned the treatment was available. Participants have said the connection to Scientology did not deter them, even if that was not made apparent at the start. 

Carpenter said no one involved in conducting the study is a Scientologist, and that the Annapolis program’s goal is simply to find out whether it works. The grant will cover treatments for 30 Gulf War veterans with the chronic illness. Carpenter said, “If there isn’t [scientific evidence of long-term benefits], then [the program is] dead in the water.” (CapitalGazette.com, 12/14/14) [IT 6.2, 2015] 

Scientology Group Offers Antidrug Programs at City Schools 

The Foundation for a Drug-Free World (FDFW), a group backed by the Scientology church, has announced on its Facebook page that it’s offering “free drug education events” to elementary, middle-, and high-school students in all five boroughs of New York’s city schools. Megan Fialkoff, Spokesperson for the group, said they don’t push religion on the kids. Individual schools can partner with outside organizations as long as it does not violate any laws or department regulations, a school official said. They’re in the clear, as long as there’s no religious instruction. Sources said the Scientologists likely were invited by the principals. But some parents were still outraged. 

Fialkoff, who says she is both Jewish and a Scientologist, said they have nothing to hide and “any person can view or order our full curriculum online. The program is sponsored by many different organizations including the Church of Scientology,” she said. “It’s a secular, nonprofit program. Anything that anyone says about it is just someone trying to make this into something that it’s not, and that’s just unfortunate.” 

FDFW claims on its website that there’s an urgent need for its services. “Young people today are exposed earlier than ever to drugs,” the website reads. “You probably know someone who has been affected by drugs, directly or indirectly.” 

The foundation also boasted it has worked with NYPD youth programs and has even trained school safety agents. But a high-ranking NYPD source said that the department has no direct relationship with the group, which has asked police to come to various dinners and events to speak about drug-prevention programs. The source told the Daily News they have done this “for many years … for any group that asks for it.” (New York Daily News, 1/28/15) [IT 6.2, 2015] 

Twelve Tribes Defends Use of Sticks to Discipline Children 

The Winnipeg-based Twelve Tribes has defended its physical disciplining of children using a type of stick, even though using anything other than one’s hand in this context can be considered assault in Canada. The group’s spokesperson Maurice Welch said the law interferes with parental authority. 

Manitoba’s child-welfare authorities are looking into the group after CBC’s story in late October. A Winnipeg man, Michael Welch (no direct relation to Maurice Welch), who counted some of the community’s members as friends, also has raised concern about the group and joined it undercover for more than six weeks last summer to investigate for himself. 

Michael Welch said he knew he was deceiving the group in his efforts to learn the truth about how they treat their children. But “if the allegations … were true, then I owed it to Stephanie [his friend], her children and anyone else who may have entered this arena to ascertain the truth,” he wrote in an opinion piece for CBC. 

Michael said it didn’t take long to find the instruments that allegedly were used on children. He said he found 20 rods, slender wooden sticks about 60 centimeters long, in numerous locations over the course of his stay. He said he never saw children being disciplined with the sticks firsthand, but he was sure it was happening. “Tribe members have admitted to me that spanking takes place,” he wrote. “I came close on two occasions to catching them in the act…” 

In an interview with CBC, Michael maintained the children and adults in the community are at risk. “The kids seem very closed off from the wider world, so if there was something happening in the community I’m not necessarily satisfied that it would be dealt with in a responsible way,” he said, even though he also said the people were kind to him. 

The sect has been around some 50 years and has about 70 members in Winnipeg, 20 of whom are children. They live in two homes in Armstrong’s Point and they own in a farm outside of Winnipeg as well as a shop on Des Meurons Street. 

Maurice Welch was asked whether he realized the group could be breaking the law by disciplining children with a stick. “We are aware of that,” he said. “But we are basing on what we do on the word of God. And the scriptures make it very clear.” He said Twelve Tribes welcomes a Child and Family Services investigation. He maintains the group answers to a higher authority and has no plans to stop using rods to on its children. (CBC News, 10/22/14) [IT 6.2, 2015] 

Three-Masted, 1700s-style, Tall Ship Docks at Peanut Island 

For a few short days in February, a 150-foot-long, three-masted, tall ship planned to call a dock outside Peanut Island’s maritime museum home. The vessel, called the Peacemaker, first launched in 1989 and has a mast that towers 126 feet above the water. Inside, it boasts brightly colored stained-glass windows, mahogany-finished staterooms, and custom finishings, and it houses a garage in the stern that’s meant for storing a helicopter. Originally built as a personal yacht for a Brazilian industrialist, it’s now owned and run by the Twelve Tribes communal religious group, who purchased it in 2000 from the private owner. By 2007, they were setting sail for the first time. Since then, many visitors have toured it in cities around the country, according to news reports about the ship’s travels. 

The group sails the ship in the old-fashioned way to ports across the United States and opens it to visitors eager to get a look inside. “To see something like this that looks the way it was back in the 17th century is fascinating for a lot of people,” said Anthony Miller, the director of Palm Beach Maritime Museum, which sits on Peanut Island. “You can see exactly how they used to run these boats, and these boats used to join together all the continents.” Added Peacemaker Capt. Lee Philips, “There’s just something about these kind of ships that draw people.” 

The Twelve Tribes members on board don’t push their beliefs on guests, but will discuss them if asked, they said. “The ship is something that serves us well,” Clinton said. “We like to let others enjoy it, too.” (Sun Sentinel, 2/6/15) [IT 6.2, 2015] 

Families Urge Pope to Intervene in Cult Case 

The parents of so-called nuns with a Spanish sect have called on the Pope to help convince the young women to leave The Voice of the Serviam order, whose leader, Feliciano Miguel Rosendo da Silva and his right-hand woman, self-proclaimed nun Marta Paz Alonso, were detained on December 11th on charges that included sexual abuse, money laundering, and crimes against moral integrity. The nuns are self-ordained without the blessing of the Catholic Church. Rosendo Da Silva’s arrest came after former members of the sect spoke out about the alleged abuse by the two leaders. One of the women said that Rosendo da Silva claimed that “his semen contained the body of Christ, and this way he would purify her,” according to Spanish media reports. 

The sect was previously called the Mandate and Order of Saint Michael Archangel, with Rosendo da Silva changing its name after he was expelled from the Roman Catholic diocese of Tui in Galicia for “inappropriate behavior.” The sect had around 400 members at its peak in 2011. Most members then left the group when Rosendo Da Silva was expelled from Tui and moved to Madrid, but some 40 or so have remained faithful to the sect even after its leaders’ arrests, prompting the concerned parents to ask for help. The parents maintain that the sect continues to receive economic help, including from three priests from Madrid. 

The families have received a letter from the Vatican’s ambassador in Spain, Renzo Fratini, who offered his support and put himself at their disposal. This support, together with the veto by the Archbishop of Madrid against all activities by The Voice of Serviam, has given the families hope of rescuing their daughters. (The Local.es, 12/18/14) [IT 6.2, 2015] 

Church Members Indicted for Kidnap and Assault of Gay Man 

Five members of Word of Faith Fellowship (WOFF) in Spindale, North Carolina have been indicted on kidnapping and assault charges for allegedly attacking and beating a fellow church member, who is gay. Matt Comer at QNotes reports that a grand jury has indicted the men on second-degree kidnapping and simple assault charges. A woman was also indicted on second-degree kidnapping, simple assault, and assault-by-strangulation charges. 

The indictment stems from allegations made by Matthew Fenner, 21, who said a many as 15 to 20 male church members attacked him because he is gay, allegedly threatened him with confinement for 2 days, and slapped, strangled, and verbally assaulted him to “free” him from “homosexual demons.” The assailants purportedly were screaming and shaking him, punching his chest, and grabbing his head, while telling him to repeat certain phrases. Fenner said, “I honestly thought I was going to die.” He also claims local officials did not take his allegations seriously at first, and hesitated to let him file a complaint. 

WOFF, which also runs an unaccredited school, has faced numerous accusations of abuse and cult-like behavior over the three decades in Rutherford County, North Carolina. It has been at the center of child-custody disputes over the years, as well. The group was the subject of a 1995 Inside Edition exposé that first revealed church practices, including “blasting,” which involves members surrounding another member, whether child or adult, suspected of demonic possession and screaming to exorcise the demons. The practice was sometimes hours-long and at times involved tying those suspected to chairs. The Department of Social Services and the State Bureau of Investigations examined the allegations but found no wrongdoing. 

Most recently, in 2012, church member Michael Lowry alleged he was attacked and confined because of his sexual orientation. His allegations spurred a Department of Justice hate-crime investigation, and he was placed under FBI supervision. Lowry later recanted his story but now says he was coerced into recanting. 

The church’s attorney told WSPA News that the accused members were innocent of the charges and that “we are adamant that no one ever physically harmed Mr. Fenner. … The church does not target members who are gay.” (Southern Poverty Law Center, 12/11/14) [IT 6.2, 2015] 

Guru Had Sex with Teens but Punished Married Couples 

In December 2014, the Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse, sitting in Sydney, Australia, heard from numerous witnesses in its current investigation into complaints of sexual abuse made against the Satyananda Yoga Ashram north of Sydney and its former spiritual leader Guru Swami Akhandananda Saraswati in the mid- to late-1980s. Key witnesses in the investigation included former child resident Alecia Buchanan, now 48; “Shishy,” the ashram’s mother figure who lived with the guru; Henry Sztulman, a GP who lived at the ashram for 10 years and denied allegations by witnesses that he prescribed morphine regularly for minor ailments; and other former child residents who recounted in vivid detail their stories of abuse. 

Ms. Buchanan, who lived there from the age of 13, said her mother thought the ashram was an idyllic place where children could roam free, but that the reality was something else. She described falling under the spell of “Shishy,” who reportedly procured teenage girls to have sex with the guru and had a “fierce temper” that led to her slapping the children over the face with the “full force of her hand.” Ms. Buchanan said she worked hard to emulate everything about Shishy, believing “she was perfection itself… I never for a second doubted her or saw through her trickery.” 

Ms. Buchanan said that when she was 16 the swami asked her to leave school and work for him in the office, where he began to have sex with her. A couple of years later, Shishy suddenly packed up and fled the ashram overnight, leaving the youth with Akhandananda, who became increasingly strange, with a gun in his room, and who continued to sexually assault the teenage girls. 

Earlier, the Royal commission heard that while their gurus preached chastity and abstinence, behind the scenes at their isolated Mangrove Mountain ashram, children as young as three were sexually assaulted and beaten. Swami Akhandananda Saraswati is alleged to have beaten them with a wooden staff known as a Kundalini stick while Shishy lined them up in a group from oldest to youngest and slapped them across the face one by one. 

And while Akhandananda, who died aged 69 in Cairns in 1997, was having sex with his teenage followers, he encouraged children to spy on their parents and report back to him if they had sex. Then he would strike the parents with a stick as punishment because sex, even between married adults, was discouraged. 

All this happened at what was Australia’s first ashram north of Sydney where some followers believed that Akhandananda had spiritual powers “and could look into a person’s soul and know exactly what was right for that person,” the commission was told. The ashram’s mission was to spread the message of yoga espoused by Guru Swami Satyandanda Saraswati, the spiritual head of the Satyananda Yoga movement in India, who taught that those who followed him and became Sanyasins “should practice abstinence, chastity, and austerity and would not clutter their minds with such worldly pleasures as sexual intercourse and alcohol,” according to one witness. 

Satyananda was revered around the world and preached celibacy as a way of life for Yoga swamis in his ashrams. At the same time, the ashram was given tax-exempt status as a charity and the parents of some of the children signed over their pension checks and also legal guardianship of their children to Akhandananda and Shishy. 

In 1987, Akhandananda was charged with the sexual abuse of four children after one of them left the movement and told her father, who was a police officer. He was convicted of some of the offences and jailed for a minimum of 12 months; but the sentences were overturned by the High Court because at the time there was a 12-month limitation for laying child sex charges. 

Earlier this year as the ashram celebrated 40 years, a number of former residents posted details of the sexual abuse on the Facebook page but were sent legal letters warning of “considerable legal consequences” if they did not stop. The ashram is now under new management, and a spokesperson for the commission said it will “explore whether the philosophy, teaching, and management of the ashram is sufficiently changed from what it was in Akhandananda’s time to ensure that children attending there are safe from the risk of abuse.” (The Daily Telegraph, 12/2/14; NEWS.com.au, 12/11/14) 

[IT 6.2, 2015]Court Appoints Receivers to Liquidate Financial Empire of Agape Doomsday Cult 

After years of legal battle, a court has placed the financial empire of fugitive doomsday cultist Rocco Leo in the hands of receivers. District Court Judge David Lovell has appointed insolvency firm BRI Ferrier as liquidators of Agape Ministries’ properties, including its former compound at Kuitpo. The ruling ends the 4-year Agape saga and ensures that the Australian Taxation Office and disabled former Agape worshipper Sylvia Melchiorre will receive all they are owed by Leo. 

Agape was to sell its properties to pay those debts but failed to do so. In June, Judge Lovell gave the cult one final chance to settle its own affairs but, despite a series of auctions, the properties failed to sell. (The Australian, 9/4/14) [IT 6.1 2015] 

Violence Among the Amish 

The Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals has overturned a 2013 hate-crime conviction against 15 members of an Amish separatist group who forcibly cut the beards of others in their faith. Two judges on a three-judge panel upheld counts of conspiracy, obstruction of justice, and lying to the FBI, but said the attacks didn’t meet the standard of a hate crime. 

The specific reason the court didn’t see the attacks as hate crimes turned on a linguistic distinction made by the Supreme Court this year in Burrage v. United States, which clarified the legal meaning of the word “because.” According to the Matthew Shepard and James Byrd, Jr., Hate Crimes Prevention Act of 2009, the statute used in the case, a hate crime happens when someone “causes bodily injury to a person … because of [that person’s] actual or perceived … religion. … But in this case, “because of” has to meet the Supreme Court’s “but for” standard: But for religion, the Bergholz attacks would not have happened. 

Since the original jury was instructed to evaluate whether religion was a “significant motivating factor,” and because the Supreme Court ruling hadn’t happened yet, the “but-for” standard wasn’t considered. Ultimately, the Sixth Circuit judges said they didn’t think the attacks met the clarified “but for” standard, since there were nonreligious motivations for the crime. The dissenting judge, Edmund Sargus Jr., however, argued there was little evidence that nonreligious motivations were involved and that, either way, religion was part of the motivation for and nature of the attacks. (The Atlantic, 9/2/14) [IT 6.1 2015] 

Aum’s Successors Remain Dangerous, Intel Agency Says 

The Aum Shinrikyo doomsday cult (now called Aleph) and the offshoot Hikari no Wa (Circle of Rainbow Light) splinter group might remain under surveillance for at least the next 3 years, the Public Security Intelligence Agency said Monday. Saying the two groups remain dangerous, the agency filed a request with the Public Security Examination Commission to extend the surveillance period after the current mandate expires at the end of January 2015. 

Although the group has introduced external auditing by individuals such as Yoshiyuki Kono, a survivor of an Aum sarin gas attack in 1994 in Matsumoto, Nagano Prefecture, the auditing system has not resulted in the group going straight, the agency said. And they retain antisocial traits and teach their followers that the sarin gas attack was justified. (The Japan Times, 12/1/14) [IT 6.1 2015] 

China Sentences Two Cult Members to Death for Murder at McDonald’s 

As a follow-up to previous reports, the Yantai Intermediate People’s Court of China has sentenced to death a daughter and her father who are members of the banned religious cult Quannengshen, the Church of Almighty God, for intentional homicide in the murder of a woman in a McDonald’s restaurant. Members of the group attacked the woman in May in the eastern province of Shandong for refusing an attempt by the group to recruit her. The Court sentenced another member of the group to life in prison and two other members to 10- and 7-year prison terms, respectively. 

Following the McDonald’s murder, state media reported that Chinese authorities had arrested 1,000 more cult members in addition to the 1,300-plus members arrested in 2012 on other charges. “The suspects … seized since June … are allegedly involved in more than 500 cases,” Xinhua state news agency said. “Among them are nearly a hundred ‘high-level organizers and backbone members.’” (Reuters, 10/11/14; Washington Post, 10/15/14) [IT 6.1 2015] 

Chinese Christians Under Pressure From Anticult Campaign 

Members of China’s “house church” movement—an officially illegal but generally tolerated community of tens of millions of Christians—claim their members have also been caught up in the police action related to the Church of Almighty God. One unnamed Christian leader from Guizhou province said authorities were “using the crackdown on cults as an opportunity to crack down on house churches.” Other Christian leaders said they believed poorly trained police were targeting orthodox congregations they had confused with potentially dangerous cults. 

Since the anticult crackdown began in May, there has been a spike in reports of raids on house churches across at least nine provinces or regions, including Guizhou, Shandong, Yunan, and other regions in northern China. Pastors reported unannounced police searches without warrants, harassment, and detention and retention of parishioners without due cause and labeling some churches as cults “without investigation.” 

Beijing unveiled plans for more severe punishments for those involved in proscribed cults this week. Under new draft laws, a person will face three to seven years in prison for organizing “a religious institution or cult organization” that spreads “superstition to undermine national laws or regulations.” In more severe cases “such as acts resulting in a mass incident or causing the death or serious injury of others” sentences will range from seven years to the death penalty, the China Daily reported. (The Telegraph, 10/30/14) [IT 6.1 2015] 

Sect Leader Who Raped Thousands Sparks International Arrest Warrant 

An international arrest warrant has been issued for self-titled spiritual guru Jaroslav Dobes, 43, who reportedly raped numerous women and had sex with many more devotees between 2002 when he set up his for-women-only convent, Poetrie, in the city of Zlin in Czech Republic’s Moravia and when he went on the run in 2007. Dobes and his assistant, Barbora Plaskova, are believed to have fled to Asia. 

In his absence, a Czech court now has found Dobes guilty of eight counts of rape and sentenced him to 10 years for the sex attacks. Plaskova, 40, also was sentenced to 9 1/2 years in prison. Czech officials reportedly have heard both Dobes and Plaskova are now living in Asia, where Dobes set up a new sect and is still offering sex for sale to his disciples. 

Dobes, who started out as a self-proclaimed guru in 1996 and calls himself Guru Jara, Om, or the Uber Alpha Male, was charged with raping at least eight women at the convent, but the real number is probably far higher. Prosecutor Yvetta Eichlerova said Dobes had sexual intercourse with as many as 350 of his female clients, some probably willingly, but many others who had been put in a position in which they were unable to defend themselves. He told the women sex would heal them spiritually, and he charged them thousands of pounds for the service. 

Guru Jara’s defense lawyer Libor Knott urged the court to throw out the charges, saying that all of the women had gone into the sex act with the sect leader willingly. He said, “The women knew what would happen so it was not a crime.” 

Dobes, who also claims to be a photographer, writer, traveler, and mountain climber, is offering books and photographs, and also personal consultations on his website. A 3-day session with Guru Jara costs 108,000 Czech Koruna (£3,085). (Daily Mail, 10/8/14) [IT 6.1 2015] 

In an event designed to raise awareness of child abuse linked to faith or belief, police officers and clergy in London were advised how to recognize the signs of abuse suffered by children accused of witchcraft or spirit possession. The event followed a year in which the Metropolitan Police Service received a record 27 allegations relating to ritual child abuse ranging from child neglect through common assault, actual bodily harm, administrating noxious substances, and sexual-assault offenses. 

Out of the 27 investigations, only one case resulted in an arrest for rape and one in a charge for rape. Examples of the referrals include a child forced to drink unknown substances to rid the child of demons; someone dunking children in a bath to wash away evil spirits; a pastor who swung a child around, banging the child’s head to drive out the devil; and parents taking children from school and out of the country to attend an exorcism ceremony to remove evil spirits. Other examples in previous years include chili peppers being rubbed into a child’s eyes to remove the evil spirit. Officials and agencies believe the form of abuse linked to witchcraft and spirit possession is rarely reported and is a hidden crime kept within families and faith communities. 

Attendees at the central London event were given a checklist of signs to look out for: Children accused of spirit or devil possession or of witchcraft have displayed behavior “consistent with distress.” Such signs may include their appearing isolated, quiet, withdrawn, and sad. Many come to teachers’ attention because of signs of neglect—being hungry, unkempt, dirty, and in unlaundered clothes. And some show injuries, have aggressive behavior, or are truant. 

Kevani Kanda, a survivor of ritual abuse and presenter of the BBC Three documentary, Branded a Witch, said that “As a survivor of ritual abuse I have witnessed at first hand the harm which belief-related abuse can result in. Globalization means that paranoia over witchcraft and spirit possession is no longer confined to developing nations. Mass migration has made this a pervasive problem worldwide. … Belief-related abuse can result in significant physical [and] emotional harm, neglect, sexual abuse, and even death.” (Christian Today, 10/8/14) [IT 6.1 2015] 

Cisco Won’t Face Claim It Abetted Torture in China 

A federal judge has ruled that group of Chinese and US citizens cannot continue with their lawsuit that alleges that Cisco Systems abetted the torture of Falun Gong practitioners in China by collaborating with the government on a customized security system. According to the ruling, “Plaintiffs state that the Golden Shield is not an ordinary crime control system, but … the designs include individual features customized and designed specifically to find, track, and suppress Falun Gong … specifically to enable the suppression of the religious group.…” However, US District Court Judge Edward Davila found that Cisco’s “…creation of the Golden Shield system, even as specifically customized for Chinese authorities and even if directed and planned from San Jose, … does not show that human rights abuses perpetrated in China against plaintiffs touch and concern the United States with sufficient force to overcome the ATS’s presumption against extraterritorial application.” Furthermore, among other specifics in the ruling, Davila pointed out that the Cisco product can be used for many crime-control purposes in China without permitting torture or other human-rights abuses. (Courthouse News Service, 9/9/14) [IT 6.1 2015] 

Freemen Follower Loses His Ride 

Jean-Marc Paquin, of Laval, Quebec, a proponent of the Freemen On The Land movement that rejects political and judicial authority, bought a Porsche Cayenne in 2011 and agreed to pay $1,166 a month for it. But after 7 months, he stopped making payments, informing the bank by letter that its “promissory note” was invalid and he was legally and constitutionally justified in not paying for the car. 

The bank seized the car in February 2014, after which Paquin requested $1.4 million from the bank for unlawful confiscation. He maintained in court that private property was protected under the US and Canadian constitutions, and that the bank had trespassed against his property. 

But a November 2014 news report notes that Judge Henri Richard’s ruling in a Quebec court called Jean-Marc Paquin’s defense “ill-founded in all ways” and declared Bank of Nova Scotia the sole owner of the vehicle. Judge Richard ordered Paquin to pay the bank legal costs of $16,685 and damages of $10,000. The judge called Paquin’s legal maneuvers abusive and his arguments “frivolous.” He said the growing abuse by Freemen followers of the legal system and the rights of contracting parties “must be denounced and eradicated,” adding that the ideology is disconnected from “earthly reality and the rules of law of our society.” (Montreal Gazette, 11/3/14) [IT 6.1 2015] 

Judge Will Not Remove Cops in Polygamous Towns 

In a rare win for the FLDS in a lawsuit, a federal judge will not disband the police force in the polygamous towns of Hildale, Utah and Colorado City, Arizona, home to the Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints (FLDS). James A. Teilborg, who presided over a related trial earlier this year in Phoenix, said booting the towns’ marshals and replacing them with sheriff’s deputies and court-appointed monitors would be burdensome for the towns and the state of Arizona, and that the burden would continue “into potential perpetuity.” 

In his ruling, Teilborg stated that “The Court does not doubt that the disbanding of the local law enforcement and the appointment of a monitor would be effective at preventing future discrimination by Defendants”; but he instead ordered the town governments and the related utilities not to discriminate for 10 years, and to pay the state of Arizona a combined $200,000. (The Salt Lake Tribune, 9/6/14) [IT 6.1 2015] 

Idaho Polygamous Sect Follower in Plea Deal Over Child-Injury Offenses 

A follower of the Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints (FLDS) sect and son of high-ranking FLDS member Merril Jessop, Nathan Jessop, 49, was expected to plead guilty to child-injury offenses in a plea agreement under which he is scheduled to serve 90 days in jail (another 360 days were suspended) and 2 years of probation. 

Jessop came under public scrutiny after eight boys, ages 13 to 17, for whom he was the assigned caretaker in his so-called repentance home in Idaho were taken from the home in a police raid. The boys had been banished from the FLDS for alleged infractions of church rules. Jessop’s job was to “reprogram” the teens for the FLDS, and to remove them from a flock where they might compete with older men for young women wanted as wives. Two of the eight boys seized from Jessop’s home were placed in foster care, and six others were returned to their parents. 

In an update, Nathan Jessop has gone to jail to begin serving his 90-day term. (Reuters, 9/3/14; Vancouver Sun, 10/2/14) [IT 6.1 2015] 

Israeli Cult Leader Convicted of Sexual Crimes 

Some 4 and a half years after he was first indicted in June 2009 following a complaint of abuse from one of the women, 64-year-old Israeli cult leader and polygamist Goel Ratzon has been convicted of numerous sexual offenses. The list includes aggravated rape, sexual offenses against family members, sodomy, and indecent assault over “many years” against six of the seven victims who testified against him, most of whom were minors and included some of his daughters. 

Prosecutors had alleged that Ratzon, 64, whose first name means “redeemer,” kept 21 wives and 38 children under his spell in various homes around Tel Aviv for years. Ratzon had denied the allegations. The verdict, distributed by a closed-door panel of judges of the Justice Ministry, indicated that victims included some of his daughters. His sentence will be handed down later. 

The court found Ratzon not guilty of the charge of holding people in conditions of slavery. According to the charges, Ratzon’s wives saw him as “omnipotent and possessing the powers of healing and destruction.” But one of his wives, Maayan, harshly criticized this part of the court’s ruling, saying, “There is no law and there is no judge in the State of Israel. I was in complete slavery. If the State of Israel had not released me, I would have been serving a life sentence.” 

Measures that Ratzon imposed on the women in his family, which were found in a rule book, included restrictions regarding marriage, verbal and physical attacks on each other, questioning of another’s whereabouts, and the requirement that all conversation be restricted to only the living room, with talk of nonsense forbidden. Infractions resulted in personal fines ranging from the Israeli currency NIS 100 to NIS 2,000 “to be paid into the family kitty.” (Haaretz; Reuters, 9/8/14) [IT 6.1 2015] 

Ernest Angley’s Grace Cathedral Rocked by Accusations 

During recent months, a tear has ripped through the 3,000-seat Grace Cathedral auditorium in Cuyahoga Falls, Ohio. One longtime associate pastor resigned, telling friends and family he felt he had been inappropriately touched by legendary television evangelist Ernest Angley for 7 years. 

Accusations about Grace Cathedral and its leader abound, with some describing the church as a dangerous cult that encourages pregnant women to have abortions and childless men to have vasectomies. And Angley, 93, who preaches vehemently against homosexuality, has been accused of being in fact a gay man who personally examines the genitals of the male parishioners before and after their surgeries and turning a blind eye to sexual abuse by other church members. In a recent open service lasting more than two hours, Angley and two other supporters addressed the situation, which one attendee recorded and shared with the Beacon Journal.­ 

Angley said, “I’m not a homosexual. God wouldn’t use a homosexual like he uses me. He calls me his prophet, and indeed I am. … But you can’t stop the people’s lies.” During a separate 90-minute interview in his office, Angley said he doesn’t push for abortions and only suggests vasectomies. 

The Beacon Journal talked individually with 21 former church members who have spoken out. They insist Angley has been running a cult and say he consistently threatens and intimidates his flock into following his instructions, bullying them into life-changing decisions that often split up families. They say he controls virtually every aspect of their lives, and that simply the excessive amount of time they are urged to spend at the church enables him to limit outside interference. 

Some former members believe Angley has an ulterior motive in trying to prevent his parishioners from having children. Greg Mulkey says Angley “…doesn’t want people to have kids because it would take their time and money away from [the church]. He really forced people into abortions through scare tactics…” and said that vasectomies were force-fed, as well. 

Angley and other top church officials say the wave of members who left the church this summer was part of a conspiracy to take control of the ministry, and that the former members are lying about virtually everything. But many former members, some who departed 25 years ago and some only a few months ago, scoff at those assertions. (Akron Beacon Journal, 10/14/14) [IT 6.1 2015] 

Megachurch With a Beat Lures Young Flock 

The Hillsong church has become a phenomenon, capitalizing on and even shaping trends in evangelicalism and Christian youth culture. Hillsong’s worship style is charismatic, emphasizing the Holy Spirit and divine healing, although there is little of the speaking in tongues seen at more conventional Pentecostal churches. The Australian Pentecostal megachurch is spreading worldwide to establish its first outpost on America’s West Coast. 

In the United States, Hillsong is nondenominational; in Australia, it is associated with the Australian Christian Churches, which is an affiliate of the Assemblies of God. Hillsong has churches in Amsterdam, Barcelona, Berlin, Cape Town, Copenhagen, Kiev, London, New York, Paris, and Stockholm, in addition to multiple campuses in Australia and now an emerging congregation in Los Angeles. 

Hillsong was founded by Brian Houston and his wife, Bobbie 30 years ago. For a time, Mr. Houston, now senior pastor of the Sydney-based empire, was the head of the denomination. In 2000, he fired his father, Frank Houston, who was serving at another church, after the elder Mr. Houston acknowledged having abused a boy decades earlier. 

The Hillsong empire, with its multimillion-dollar enterprise that draws large crowds to arena concert performances, might appear to be a musical force first and a church second. Its richly orchestrated music, with its simple harmonies and catchy lyrics, has evolved over time and often has been viewed as “spiritually anointed.” This successful recording label dominates Christian contemporary music and gives Hillsong a vast reach—by some estimates, 100,000 people in the pews each weekend, 10 million followers on social media, and 16 million albums sold, with its songs popping up in churches from Uzbekistan to Papua New Guinea. “They are without a doubt the most influential producers of worship music in Christendom,” said Fred Markert, a Colorado-based leader of Youth With a Mission, a Christian organization. 

But Hillsong’s many critics scorn the megachurch as hipster Christianity. R. Albert Mohler Jr., president of the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, characterizes Hillsong with “a minimization of the actual content of the Gospel, and a far more diffuse presentation of spirituality.” Hillsong has critics from the right and the left who monitor speakers at its conferences and utterances by its leaders for deviations from Christian orthodoxy to evidence of social conservatism. Australian news media have scrutinized its finances, and a critical blog tracks its preaching. And this year, Mr. Houston issued a clarification after being criticized by other evangelicals for suggesting that Christians and Muslims serve the same God. 

The organization’s target is young Christians in big cities, and it has become a magnet where it has churches. Hillsong chooses cities both for their population density and for their impact on culture. Said Brian Houston, “We want to be strategic, and really impact cities of influence, so that the influence can reach far beyond.” (The New York Times, 9/9/14) [IT 6.1 2015] 

Have Jedis Created a New Religion? 

An ideas festival at Cambridge University recently looked at new religious movements such as Jediism, which has evolved over the past decade or so, and how adherents of Jediism have developed increasingly complex doctrines and scriptures in an attempt to build a coherent religious code. Beth Singler, a researcher in Cambridge’s Divinity Faculty, estimates that about 2,000 people in the United Kingdom are “very genuine” about being Jedis. That’s roughly the same number as UK adherents to the Church of Scientology. And 2011 census data suggests many thousands more Jedi followers both in the United Kingdom and in other parts of the world including Australia, Canada, the United States, and the Czech Republic. 

Described by Singler as a patchwork quilt of Taoism, Buddhism, Catholicism, and Samurai, Jedi ideas offer a simple dualism of good and evil, light and dark. The Temple of the Jedi Order in the United States has three tenets: focus, knowledge and wisdom. 

Patrick Day-Childs, a 21-year-old video-games journalist in Southampton and a council member of the UK’s Church of Jediism says the church has 200,000 people around the world who are active online, although not all are necessarily believers. Day-Childs describes Jediism as “an actual religion” which “at its absolute core …[is] about helping people.” 

Jediism has no divine being, and its members are permitted to have more than one religion. There are no physical Jedi temples, with the large online forum constituting much of the sense of community among members. The church’s founder, Daniel Jones, has written scriptures that deal with how a Jedi should live, including an initial requirement that members wear the Jedi hood in public places. But that doctrine has occasionally proved controversial and has since been modified. People who join must learn key tenets of the faith. The church has a code made up of five statements, including one that reads, “There is no Passion there is Serenity—We can like things but we must not become materialistic and obsessed by them.” 

A central question of Jediism for those in the traditional religious community is at what point does a belief system of philosophy become a religion? The Anglican Bishop of Manchester, the Right Reverend David Walker, describes this as a “very difficult question … We’d want to look at the Jedi for quite some decades before accepting them, [as a religion].” 

Naysayers should perhaps pause for thought: “If you strike me down,” Obi Kenobi tells Darth Vader, “I shall become more powerful than you could possibly imagine.” (BBC News Magazine, 10/24/14) [IT 6.1 2015] 

Latest Sex-Abuse Suits Target Jehovah’s Witnesses 
From the 1990s to early 2000s, the Roman Catholic Church was rocked by allegations of rampant sexual abuse by priests and paid millions of dollars in settlements to victims. Now a string of lawsuits against Jehovah’s Witnesses suggests sex-abuse problems may be nondenominational. 

Three siblings and another woman are suing the East Spanish Congregation of Jehovah’s Witnesses New Haven and the Watchtower Bible and Tract Society of New York, saying they were sexually assaulted by Orlando Afanador, who held a leadership position in the New Haven congregation for 5 years beginning in 1988. One of the attorneys representing the Connecticut plaintiffs who plan to pursue the cases in state court said church leaders loosely asserted priest-penitent privilege to get around legal obligations to report suspected sexual abuse to authorities and stretched the privilege to the point that “everything is confidential.” 

The lawsuits allege that the abuse began in 1988 after Afanador migrated from another Connecticut congregation to the East Spanish congregation, and a mother in the previous congregation claimed he had molested her children. The other congregation reportedly sanctioned but did not expel him, which enabled him to move on to East Spanish, where he quickly rose to a position of ministerial servant. 

The suit states that Afanador and his wife met and soon moved into the home of the Almovodor family in New Haven to help babysit the children Sybelle, Evelyn, and Ferdinand after the parents divorced. Afanador first enticed 8-year-old Sybelle into sexual acts that younger sister Evelyn observed. He also sexually abused Ferdinand more than 25 times. The Almovodor family claims the abuse finally forced them to move back to the Dominican Republic. They told church leaders there what had happened, but nothing was done. They filed lawsuits after they realized they weren’t the only victims of Jehovah’s Witnesses leaders. 

Afanador’s abuse of Martinez allegedly began shortly after her family moved to Connecticut in 1989, into the apartment building where Afanador lived. Martinez, then 9, often visited Afanador’s apartment to play with his son; one day she encountered Afanador instead, and the abuse began. 

Similar accusations of other Jehovah’s Witness leaders go back more than three decades. In previous lawsuits, Witnesses elders have been criticized for discouraging reports of suspected sexual abuse by church members and leaders in hopes of limiting lawsuits and negative publicity. The Connecticut lawsuit is more specific, saying the church’s “two-witness rule” allowed Afanador’s conduct to go unquestioned. The two-witness rule requires either that an accused person confess to sexual abuse or that two witnesses to the act come forward to file a formal complaint. 

One of the defense attorneys said church leaders have given the two-witness rule priority over state law that requires clergy to report known or suspected instances of child abuse, and that it is preposterous to think an abuser would ever allow someone else to witness a sexual act with a child. “Imagine the scenario: ‘I’m about to abuse this 10-year-old child. Can I get a volunteer [to] please watch me?’” He thinks more victims will step forward once they realize the church’s reputation is not “more important than justice and their own healing.” At a news conference in New Haven, the second attorney concurred, saying, “This is an insidious problem, an epidemic problem … within this organization that … seems more concerned about protecting its reputation from scandal than about the children.” 

The Connecticut lawsuit also attempts to explain how the church hierarchy and practices may lead to the cover-up of abuse, noting that little is done without the approval of Watchtower, the organizational elders who advise congregational leaders through secret handbooks that cover everything from routine church operations to how to respond to allegations of sexual abuse. The church was to be served with the lawsuit on Oct. 13, and so far it is not known whether the church has retained counsel. (Connecticut Law Tribune, 10/10/14) [IT 6.1 2015] 

Human Rights Court Faults Georgia for Treatment of Jehovah’s Witnesses 

The European Court of Human Rights in early October 2014 found that Georgia violated the human rights of the Jehovah’s Witnesses community in the country. The judges found that in the case of Jehovah’s Witnesses in Begheluri and in other cases vs. Georgia there were violations of the convention’s Article 3 about prohibition of inhuman and degrading treatment, Article 14 about prohibition of discrimination and Article 9 about freedom of thought, conscience, and religion. Applicants comprised 99 people, all but one Jehovah’s Witnesses. The court found violations of different articles in the cases of different applicants. The highest number of violations, against 88 applicants, were found with regard to Article 9. 

The court found that the conduct of the Georgian authorities at that time was inappropriate and that sometimes state officials even participated in attacks on Witnesses. As a result of the ruling, Georgia has to pay each of the applicants who were subject to violations a 350-euros compensation, and an additional 15,000 euros to cover the expenses of the trial. Although the events the court studied took place in 2000 to 2001, Jehovah’s Witnesses are still targeted in Georgia, but with less brutality and intensity than in the times of Shevardnadze. (Democracy & Freedom Watch, 10/12/14) [IT 6.1 2015] 
Mormons Embrace Social Media to Push Back Against Official Church Teachings 

Like many conservative Christian denominations, the 15 million-member Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (LDS) officially bans homosexual activity and considers it grounds for exclusion from Mormon rites, rituals, and the afterlife. But today, many people who identify as both Mormon and LGBT are gaining acceptance within the wider LDS church and culture. And 2 years ago, following backlash from its support of California’s Proposition 8 that banned gay marriage, the church launched a new website exploring the relationship between its LGBT members and the broader church. 

Many credit Mitch Mayne, 43, with fostering this change. In 2011 Mayne became the first publicly gay Mormon executive secretary and held the post for more than two years in a church with an all-volunteer, all-male clergy. Referring to Facebook, Twitter, and the popular blog he started when he became executive secretary to chronicle his experience as both gay and Mormon, Mayne explains that “social media has enabled us to coalesce and create informed allies inside the Mormon faith and build the recognition that how we respond to LGBT individuals is everyone’s concern. I have great faith in Mormons. They really want this change.” 

Several other Mormon factions also have taken to Facebook, Twitter, and the blogosphere to push back against church norms and a culture they consider unfair, outdated, and at times hateful. Feminists have been among the most active, using social media to support gender equality in the church, including opening the priesthood to women, and relaxing dress requirements to allow Mormon women to wear pants to church. 

A 2014 church survey of about 1,000 randomly selected members suggests these campaigns are prompting responses, if not clear change, in the church. John Gustav-Wrathall, a senior vice president of Affirmation, an independent organization that supports LGBT Mormons and their families, credits the Internet with the fact that “We are starting to see a significant disconnect between what the church is telling people to believe about same-sex marriage and homosexuality and what people actually believe and accept.” 

Mayne agrees. “For [church leaders] to put up the website is phenomenal. … If you look at the web there is gay Mormon stuff everywhere, and 5 years ago that wasn’t the case. … The Internet has broken the bonds of silence.” 

But church officials say their doctrine is guided only by revelation and Scripture, not by popular opinion. “There has been no change whatever in the Church belief that homosexual sex is sinful,” LDS spokesman Eric Hawkins wrote in response to emailed questions. “What has changed—with Church encouragement—is how to respond to those who struggle to stay in the Church and at the same time maintain that doctrinal position.” 

At the least, Mormons’ attitudes toward social media are in flux. Last year, Elder M. Russell Ballard, a member of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles, the church’s second-highest presiding body, warned church members of the persuasive powers of the Internet. Yet in August, Elder David A. Bednar, also a member of the Quorum, suggested Mormons take to social media ”to sweep the Earth as with a flood.” (Religion News Service, 9/15/14) [IT 6.1 2015] 

Will Development of New Magdala Center Help Legionaries’ Recovery? 

The Legionaries of Christ may be seeing a turn in fortune following the unresolved consequences of a disgraced founder with the development of the Magdala Center at the Sea of Galilee in the Holy Land. The order is conducting a major fundraising drive to cover the projected $100 million cost of the complex, with newly discovered ruins of a synagogue Jesus may have visited, and the planned archaeological park, women’s institute, media center, and luxury hotel the Legion will own. The center’s assistant director said the Legion has raised $40 million from benefactors toward the finished work. 

The Legion’s Holy Land expansion is a stark contrast to what has been called the “fire sale” of assets in the Americas sparked by the fallout from the line of scandals involving the Legion, and occurs against the backdrop of ongoing legal problems in the United States. For example, the order took a $16 million loss on the sale of its Thornwood, New York center. Meanwhile, the downsizing in other parts of the world has been extensive, with major sales of properties and closure of order schools, academies, and seminaries worldwide in recent years. 

And a Vatican property under Legion control for 49 years, the Pontifical Notre Dame of Jerusalem Center, with a library, five-star hotel accommodations, conference space, and a hospitality school for Arab Christians also is a huge asset as a required stop for any papal visit because the Vatican owns it. All revenues to Notre Dame of Jerusalem reportedly go back into operations. 

In contrast, the Legion of Christ, not the Holy See, is in charge of Magdala Center. A Jesuit canon lawyer, Fr. Gianfranco Ghirlanda, was recently appointed as a special adviser to the order for this ambitious new venture in the midst of so much legal action and such internal chaos currently reflected in the order. The Legion has yet to receive approval from Pope Francis for reworked constitutions, which were submitted to him months ago. 

In a side note to the development of the new center in Israel, a booklet intended to promote it, Magdala: God Really Loves Women, contains material that demonstrates the hold the order’s founder, Fr. Marcial Maciel Degollado, still has on certain top-ranking Legionaries in spite of the prolonged scandal in recent years about him and its negative impact on the organization. The booklet compares Maciel to Mary Magdalene and portrays Maciel as harshly judged. (National Catholic Reporter, 8/26/14) [IT 6.1 2015] 
John-Roger Dies at 80; Founder of Controversial New-age Church 

John-Roger, 80, a coal miner’s son who founded the controversial new-age Movement of Spiritual Inner Awareness church in the 1970s, which had thousands of followers, multimillion-dollar enterprises, and celebrity endorsements, has died in Santa Monica, California. John-Roger had been in frail health for several years and died of pneumonia, said MSIA board member Mark Lurie. (Los Angeles Times, 10/22/14) [IT 6.1 2015] 

Probation for Old Order Mennonite Woman Who Used Cattle Prod on Children 

An Old Order Mennonite woman, Louisa Bauman, 57, who previously pleaded guilty to two counts of assault with a weapon and admitted to disciplining two young children with an electric cattle prod, was sentenced in a Brandon, Manitoba, Canada courtroom to 3 years’ supervised probation. During the term of her probation, Louisa Bauman will be required to live with a brother in Ontario and have no unsupervised contact with children under 14. 

Of particular note in this case, both victims told police Louisa treated them better when her husband wasn’t present. “People close to Louisa Bauman believe she is the victim of emotional abuse by her husband,” attorney Nicole Roch said. Roch told the court that Bauman’s husband, Enos Bauman, holds no authority within the church but wields great authority in the local community and is its de-facto leader. 

The Baumans had various children from the community living in their home, “in the context of what was purported to be counseling,” according to Roch. Enos Bauman introduced the cattle prod as a disciplinary tool, and other adults in the community adopted it to correct what they saw as “extreme misbehavior on the part of the children.” Considered innocent in this case, Enos Bauman remains before the court facing several charges. (Winnipeg Sun, 9/12/14) [IT 6.1 2015] 

Immortality Eludes People Unlimited Founder 

Charles Paul Brown, a Scottsdale preacher and leader of People Unlimited (formerly known as CBJ or the Church of the Eternal Flame), the group he began in Scottsdale more than 30 years ago, died in October at age 79 of complications from Parkinson’s and heart disease, according to the website for People Unlimited. 

Brown was supposed to live forever, along with disciples in a half-dozen countries all over the world who embraced his philosophy of physical immortality. Now the community he founded is left without its figurehead, and with an apparent contradiction to reconcile. In an email, communications director Joe Bardin confirmed Brown’s death, writing that “While the ideas of immortality burned brightly within him, the living of it often eluded him. … Too much stress and not enough exercise undoubtedly contributed to the heart disease and Parkinson’s from which he suffered. …To honor his memory, we re-dedicate ourselves to living the life he envisioned and so compellingly spoke of to so many — a life free of death.” (The Republic, 11/16/14) [IT 6.1 2015] 

Utah Will Proceed With Polygamy Appeal 

With a notice of appeal already filed in US District Court in Salt Lake City, the Utah Attorney General’s Office will proceed to the 10th US Circuit Court of Appeals in Denver with a formal appeal of a federal judge’s ruling in the Sister Wives case that strikes down part of the state’s polygamy ban, according to Fox 13. Last year, a federal judge struck down the cohabitation prong of Utah’s antipolygamy law, essentially decriminalizing the practice. In an order clarifying his decision, US District Court Judge Clark Waddoups preserved a portion of the statute that makes it illegal to seek multiple marriage licenses. Earlier in the week, Utah abandoned its fight against same-sex marriage after the US Supreme Court refused to hear its appeal. (fox13now.com, 10/9/14) [IT 6.1 2015] 

Satanists Say They’re a Peaceful Sect 

The Satanic Temple this week marked the launch of its first of 15 chapters to be announced in coming weeks outside New York. This new chapter is in Detroit, with about 20 local members. 

To be clear, leaders say they don’t worship Satan, and they don’t practice cannibalism, or sacrifice people or animals. Jex Blackmore, 32, local leader and part of the temple’s executive ministry, said “It’s peaceful. The idea of sacrifice specifically is to appease some demon or some god, and that’s a supernatural belief that we don’t subscribe to.” The group’s tenets include free will, compassion toward all creatures, respect of others’ freedom—including freedom to offend—and beliefs supported by scientific understanding. 

Charles Haynes, a senior scholar at the First Amendment Center in Washington, DC, said the Satanists reflect the increasing diversity in America, a country founded on religious freedom, as protestant Christianity’s influence has lessened. “Groups that feel that the government often privileges the majority faith are trying to find new ways to correct that, and to address that,” he said, adding that the Ten Commandments illustrate Christians’ effort to preserve their culture. “A lot of the culture war fights can be traced back to the notion of ‘losing our country.’” (USA Today, 9/7/14) [IT 6.1 2015] 

ECHR Recognizes Scientology Church As Legal Entity in Russia 

The European Court for Human Rights (ECHR) has ruled to officially recognize the Church of Scientology as a legal entity, over strong opposition by Russian authorities. The church had applied for such recognition six times between 1995 and 2003, but St. Petersburg authorities either rejected or ignored the applications. The church had been deemed a legal entity by a district court in St. Petersburg in 2003, and the decision was upheld on appeal in 2006. The church then contested the rejections by St. Petersburg authorities before the ECHR in November 2006. Confirming that the rejections of recognition violated freedom of religion, the ECHR ruled to legally recognize Scientology and awarded the church €7,500 in compensation for moral damages. In 2009, the ECHR found that Russia discriminated against the Church of Scientology by barring the church’s attempts to re-register as an organized religion; then in 2011, Russia banned the main texts of Scientology. (JURIST, 10/2/14) [IT 6.1 2015] 

Former Scientology Couple to Sue Over “Faustian Deal” 

The Church of Scientology South Africa has been hit with a R5.8-million lawsuit by two former members, who allegedly provided millions to the church over the past 40 years. Wealthy Johannesburg couple Gaye and Ernest Corbett are behind Century Property Developments, whose portfolio includes the luxurious Waterfall Estate in Gauteng and the five-star Tintswalo Safari Lodge bordering the Kruger National Park. 

The Corbetts have taken their former church to the high court in Johannesburg, demanding it repay R5,850,000, which they claim they loaned the church 7 years ago; they also want interest dating back to December 2007 at 15.5% annually, to bring the figure closer to R16 million. They say the loan was to allow the church to buy a former Durban hotel for church activities. In court papers, the Corbetts claim that church director Alex Faust negotiated the oral loan agreement in October 2007, including a promise that the church would repay the amount by the end of the following month. That date came and went, but the Corbetts had agreed not to sue the church as long as they were members. 

By the end of October 2013, the couple had left the church, which opened the door for them to sue. In May 2014, they issued summons to demand the capital amount plus interest. 

In September 2014, the church, registered as a nonprofit company, defended the lawsuit and denied it owed the Corbetts a cent. In the church’s response to the suit, Faust denied any part in a loan agreement and said that the Corbetts or one of their entities lent approximately R5 million to church member Peter Cooke. Faust admits the money was paid into the account of the attorneys dealing with the transfer of the Durban property, but he denies this meant the loan was for the church. Further, he said that even if such a loan had been made, the debt would have prescribed by now, that the couple’s claim “lacks a foundation in fact,” and they should be hit with a punitive-costs order. 

The Corbetts refused to comment on the case but claim in a November 2013 letter published on a blog that while they belonged to the church certain fellow members, including Faust, were “constantly hammering and begging for money.” A spokesperson for the church also refused to comment on the case, and the matter is set to return to court in 2015. (Times LIVE, 10/13/14) [IT 6.1 2015] 

Judge Orders State to Turn Over Investigative Report on Narconon 

In the latest ruling related to an ongoing multiagency investigation of Narconon Arrowhead, associated with the Church of Scientology, a Pittsburg (Pennsylvania) County judge has found that a “compelling” interest exists and has ordered the state to turn over an investigative report that allegedly recommends a shutdown of the Narconon drug rehabilitation center (located northeast of McAlester, Oklahoma) following three patient deaths at the facility during 2011 and 2012. 

The order requires that the report be provided only to attorneys for the plaintiffs who are suing Narconon and to the rehab center, not to the public. Narconon’s attorney asked for a 10-day delay before the Department of Mental Health surrenders the report, in case the defendants want to appeal. (Tulsa World, 9/24/14) [IT 6.1 2015] 

Man Who Left Portland Church of Scientology Sues for $30,000 

Robert Dietz no longer wanted to be a member of the Church of Scientology of Portland and had requested a refund of $30,340 that he had prepaid toward his future religious education at the church. The church has not refunded his money, and he is suing to get it back. The lawsuit filed in Multnomah County Circuit Court states that in 2013 Dietz “decided to cease membership in the Church for personal reasons which are not germane to this suit.” According to his Portland attorney, Dietz had been a member of the church for 23 years. 

The suit states that “…to advance within the Church of Scientology organization, members are required and encouraged to purchase various training packages, products, and counseling services from the Church. Plaintiff was encouraged by the Church to prepay for the Church’s goods and services by placing funds on deposit with the local organization, on the understanding and agreement that any such funds not used would be returned to plaintiff should he decide to forgo further offerings by the Church pursuant to longstanding Church policy.” It also asserts that the money was separate from any charitable donations Dietz might have made to the church. (The Oregonian, 10/1–2/14) [IT 6.1 2015] 

Police Raid St. Petersburg Scientology Church As Part of Fraud Probe 

According to the police authority for St. Petersburg and the Leningrad region of Florida, police have searched the premises of the St. Petersburg Church of Scientology as part of an investigation into suspected large-scale fraud by the chief executive of a construction company. The searches resulted in “evidence confirming the existence of financial relations” between the suspect and the Scientologist church, the authority said in a statement. Investigators claim that the chief executive handed over to the church about 9 million rubles that were allegedly investments from customers. According to the statement, “Documents were seized in the course of the searches that confirm the transfer of about 17 million rubles to the religious group via a commercial organization controlled by them for donations and instruction,” and the investigation is continuing. (Interfax-Religion, 9/29/14) [IT 6.1 2015] 

Scientology Starts Collecting $1 Million Judgment From Longtime Challenger 

Armed with a court order, the Church of Scientology has begun collecting a $1.07 million court judgment from one of its chief challengers, Tampa lawyer Ken Dandar, who has waged high-profile legal fights against Scientology off and on for 17 years. The recent move caps a long and bitter court battle, highlighted by a senior Pinellas Circuit Judge’s ruling in March 2014 that Dandar had formally agreed in 2004 never to sue Scientology again (covered in detail in previous IT news items), which Dandar continues to deny. 

The total bill, including legal fees and other costs, is $1,068,156.50. In papers recently filed in federal court, Dandar said the garnishment via the bank account of the law firm where he and his brother Thomas have practiced together for years is “effectively shutting down the law firm.” 

Dandar had previously forestalled the church’s efforts to collect by filing a flurry of appeals and other actions in state and federal court. He said the church erred in garnishing his firm’s account because it impacts his brother’s ability to practice law, and that his brother was not a party in the second wrongful-death suit. If he opens a new account at another bank, the church can garnish it; and according to Farnell’s order, he can be jailed if he doesn’t comply. (Tampa Bay Times, 10/3/14) [IT 6.1 2015]

SCOAN Leader Accused of Construction Tragedy, Bribery 

Some members of the Synagogue Church of all Nations (SCOAN) have cautioned the public against taunting their spiritual leader, Prophet TB [Temitope Balogun] Joshua, over the September 2014 collapse of a church guesthouse under construction at the Lagos headquarters of the SCOAN. Conflicting reports range from 67 to 80 South Africans having died in the tragedy. Joshua has become the focus for someone to be held responsible for the deaths, but he insists the collapse was the result of a planned attack on him. 

SCOAN members worldwide have condemned the alleged celebration of the calamity on blogs and other social-media platforms, and in debates about whether Joshua was a fake prophet since he didn’t prophesy the disaster. One man insisted that the clergyman was not God but just “an ordinary human being” like his critics, and that Nigerians instead should ask God why the tragedy befell his church. 

In the midst of this recent publicity, investigative journalist Jacques Pauw also accused Joshua of bribery. Pauw, author of Profit of Doom, an expose on Joshua’s church, says Joshua once tried to bribe Pauw’s entire television crew when he accompanied the late Blue Bulls rugby team lock Wium Basson to Lagos for healing and also conducted an interview with the preacher. “Basson was dying of liver cancer and … the prophet refused to pray for him. … and then he handed an envelope full of $100 notes to me and the sound person. We told him we couldn’t accept it and he said it was a gift from God,” said Pauw, who described Joshua as a “soft spoken and very charismatic person,” and one of Africa’s most influential men. 

He simultaneously noted that “It was difficult to find out where he [Joshua] comes from, how much money he has and how much power he wields. …after we broadcast the documentary, there was a campaign against us in Nigeria. On their [the church’s] website, we were described as the disciples of the devil.” Pauw said that he and his crew were incarcerated in the church for almost three weeks after their arrival and were not allowed to leave the compound. 

Joshua founded the church in the late 1980s with only eight members; currently from 15,000 to 20,000 people attend his Sunday sermons in Lagos, and there are branches in South Africa, Greece, Ghana, and the United Kingdom. Joshua also owns a TV network, Emmanuel TV, through which his Sunday sermons are broadcast live to millions of viewers around the world. Africa Report magazine recently named Joshua as one of the 50 most influential people in Africa, noting that “His net worth is estimated at around R170 million. The God business has been very good for him.” (Punch, 9/15/14; EWN, 9/18/14) [IT 6.1 2015] 

Former Psychotherapy Commune Leader Permitted to Practice Again 

Helen Fogarty, 73, a former leader of a 1970s psychotherapy cult, the Sullivan Institute for Research in Psychoanalysis (often called the Sullivanians), who counseled patients to sever ties with their families, controlled access to their children, and ordered them to have sex with her husband and each other, has had her psychology license reinstated by the state of New York. Fogarty was once married to Saul Newton, the charismatic cofounder of the Sullivan Institute 

Although officials who reviewed Fogarty’s petition for reinstatement were divided about whether it should be granted, the state placed her on 2 years’ probation and restored her license with the condition that she practice only under supervision. Fogarty, who applied to have her license reinstated in 2009, now claims to have no interest in practicing again and is focused on being a grandmother. (LoHud/The Journal News, 9/6/14) [IT 6.1 2015] 

UFO Religion Wants to Hand Out Pamphlets at Florida Schools 

Following an earlier report that the Satanic Temple plans to hand out its literature to public school kids in Florida on the heels of an Orange County School Board decision to allow an Evangelical Christian group to hand out Bibles, a UFO religion known officially as the International Raelian Movement is encouraging members to now go and do likewise. 

Much like the Satanic Temple, the Raelians want to spread a message of openmindedness to Florida’s youth. Donna Newman, spokesperson for the Raelian movement in South Florida tells New Times that “It’s about equality for all. If society is just leaning towards just one specific doctrine, it’s not fair. Why can’t they open up their doors to other beliefs? Let the children choose, not just pound one doctrine into their heads all their lives.” 

Still, Newman is aware of how people might perceive their group handing out literature to children. “The Satanic Temple, on the surface, seems dark and furtive, you know. … But, we truly believe children should not be forced into any one doctrine. That they are not pressured. That they decide on their own path when they become adults.” (New Times Broward-Palm Beach, 9/19/14) [IT 6.1 2015]

Pilgrimage to Welsh Mountain to Impart Spiritual Energy 

Dozens of members of The Aetherius Society, who believe Jesus and other historical figures including Buddha, Krishna, Confucius, and Laozi were aliens, will climb Carnedd Llewelyn in Wales this summer to transmit spiritual energy from a mountain they say is packed with Martian power. Society members think 19 global peaks were charged with alien energy after London cabbie George King was ordered by “cosmic intelligence” in 1954 to climb them. 

Group secretary Richard Lawrence said, “The purpose of going up is to send out spiritual energy for world peace and to pray for the betterment of humanity. … He explains that King climbed 18 of the 19 peaks specified, and that on each ascent “…was zapped by ETs.” Richard has “…been on 10 of the mountains around the world. I have always experienced a burst of energy on them. The climbs are quite demanding … at the top we raise our hands and join in prayer.” 

Richard said The Aetherius Society believes Jesus and Buddha were from Venus but Krishna was from Saturn—the “most advanced planet,” and that all the “great religions” are from one “cosmic source.” The Society believes that these “advanced beings [were] coming to help us and give certain teachings in some cases … to help humanity without interfering with us too much.” The Society believes a messiah will one day visit earth in a flying saucer. Richard said his religion might not be everyone’s thing: “It’s unusual, is it not?” (Contacts With the Gods From Space, by George King and Richard Lawrence, is published by The Aetherius Society.) (Wales Online, 5/25/14) [IT 5.3] 

Catholics Say We Need More Exorcists 

The decline of religious belief in the West and the growth of secularism have “opened the window” to black magic, Satanism, and belief in the occult, the organizers of a 6-day conference in Rome on exorcism have said. The meeting aimed to train about two hundred Roman Catholic priests from more than thirty countries in how to cast out evil from people who believe themselves to be in thrall to the Devil. The conference, Exorcism and Prayers of Liberation, also attracted psychiatrists, sociologists, doctors, and criminologists in what the Church called a “multi-disciplinary” approach to exorcisms. About 250 priests have been trained as exorcists in Italy, but many more are needed, conference organizers claimed. 

Giuseppe Ferrari, from GRIS, a Catholic research group that organized the conference, said there was an ever-growing need for priests to be trained to perform exorcisms because of the increasing number of lay people tempted to dabble in black magic, paganism, and the occult. “We live in a disenchanted society, a secularised world … where religion is being thrown out….” The abandonment of religion “inevitably leads people to ask questions about the existence of evil and its origins.” 

“Just in the dioceses of Rome, around a third of calls that are received are requests for the services of an exorcist,” said Fr. Cesar Truqui, a priest and exorcist from Switzerland and a member of the Legionaries of Christ, a conservative Catholic order. The Church tries to play down the more lurid associations often made with exorcism but at the same time insists that the Devil exists and must be fought daily. “Exploring the theme of demonic possession does not mean causing general paranoia, but creating awareness of the existence of the Devil and of the possibility of possession,” Fr. Truqui told Vatican Radio. 

Pope Francis has frequently alluded to the Devil in his homilies and addresses since being elected to succeed Benedict XVI last March. In a recent homily, he said the Devil was behind the persecution of early Christian martyrs, who were murdered for their faith. The “struggle between God and the Devil” was constant and ongoing, he said. (The Telegraph, 5/8/14) [IT 5.3] 

The Family’s “Living God” Fades to Grey, Estate Remains 
Although she can walk and talk, according to former cult members, Anne Hamilton-Byrne, Australia’s most notorious cult leader, doesn’t talk much, and her once-plentiful assets and properties are being sold, transferred, or given away. At 84, Hamilton-Byrne is frail and isolated, cared for inside the dementia-care wing at Centennial Lodge nursing home at Wantirna South, a long way from the messianic figure who ruled The Family in Melbourne through three decades from the 1960s. 

Cult member Stevenson-Helmer, who is related to former governor-general and prominent Melburnian Sir Zelman Cowen, is poised to lead what is left of the cult, together with Geoff Dawes, the son of former senior cult member Leon Dawes and former cult “aunty” Helen Buchanan. Stevenson-Helmer saw Hamilton-Byrne recently and said she was “stable” and that “it is always wonderful to be with her.” He claims not to know anything about her assets. Dawes and a fellow cult member from Gembrook, Helen McCoy, a wildlife campaigner and principal of a school in Wheelers Hill for disabled children, control Hamilton-Byrne’s affairs. (The Age, 5/17/14) [IT 5.3] 

Dispute Over Legal Fees Prolongs Polygamy Custody Case 

What is being called a landmark custody case isn’t over yet for Lorin Holm, a former member of the Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints (FLDS), who in March won legal custody of his nine minor children from his former wives Lynda Peine and Patricia Peine, active polygamists and current FLDS members. Under Utah code 30-3-3, paragraph 1, which states that in a child-custody case the court may order one party to pay the other party’s legal fees if there is a financial need, regardless of who wins the case, Holm now faces the potential of paying his ex-wives’ legal fees of more than $76,000. 

Holmes’ attorney Hoole said the statute makes sense in many cases to ensure equality when an impoverished spouse and a wealthy spouse are engaged in a custody battle, but Holm’s wives had good legal counsel throughout the case and demonstrated no financial need before the ruling. Enforcement of the statute also would place a burden on the hundreds of other ex-polygamous fathers who have been similarly ejected from the FLDS community and severed from their families, many of whom also would like to gain custody of their children. Six former FLDS men who watched Holm’s court case with interest have filed declarations with the court on Holm’s behalf to show that his former wives and others still living within the FLDS community have the ability through the church to pay their own legal fees. 

The apostate church members are told by the FLDS to repent of their often-unspecified sins before they can return. “These are men who have given everything they own to the church and they got pushed away, thrown out,” Hoole said. “They’re sent away, …told to write letters of repentance and …just beat themselves up writing anything and everything they can possibly think of,” Hoole said. “In the meantime, their families are poisoned against them.” According to Hoole, the most commonly stated reason men currently are being sent away is for killing unborn children. He said he doesn’t know if that relates to FLDS members using birth control or something else. “These men have no idea what that means.” 

The conclusion of Holm’s 3-year-long custody case was the last ruling handed down by Judge James Shumate, who recently retired. The legal-fee-payment matter is being handled by Judge G. Michael Westfall and hasn’t been submitted for a decision yet. Ultimately, the fees issue for attorneys will come down to a ruling and possibly an appeal. In the meantime, although Holm has physical custody of his children now, Hoole said that getting them back mentally and emotionally will be a longer process. “They’re coming around slowly,” he said. (Dixie Press Online, 5/17/14) [IT 5.3] 

Hare Krishna Gets Evangelical 

The International Society for Krishna Consciousness arrived in the United States in 1966; by 1980, many Americans considered the faith a cult. Today’s Hare Krishna temples, which currently support claims of 250,000 US devotees, have been sustained over the years by Indian immigrants; they host mostly Indian congregations and sing mostly Indian music. But devotee Howard Resnick, who helped lead Hare Krishna at its US peak, along with others who include devotee Emily Penny, intend to reverse that trend. Westerners such as Resnick and Penny want to bring founder Swami Pradhupada’s teachings to Americans again by removing the group’s increasingly Indian overtones so Westerners can connect directly with Krishna. 

As a white American from North Carolina, Penny originally struggled to find a place in the community dominated by Indian immigrants. She says, “The music is Indian. The dress is Indian. The food is Indian.” But “Krishna never told us to wear saris.” 

But Pradhupada wanted to separate Hare Krishna from traditional Indian Hinduism and even created a specific translation of the Bhagavad Gita, the Hindu holy book, for his followers. Sarvatma Dasa, a 34-year devotee and Hare Krishna priest, supports the evolution, noting that “I have a lot of friends who are still caught up in the details of the ethnicity instead of the broad philosophy. There are universal principles that are easily understood, and then there are local customs that I couldn’t care less about.” 

Resnick and his organization, Krishna West, imagine a temple without saris. Prasadam could be Italian, Brazilian, or Chinese if correctly offered to Krishna. But what drives Krishna West is more a profound evangelical spirit than just a desire to adapt. Resnick says, “We’re seeking intelligent people who want to help change the world. If Krishna wants it to work, it’ll work.” 

Resnick and Penney believe Hare Krishna can bring peace to American lives. Devotees believe chanting Hare Krishna, much like prayer, brings divine energy into the chanters, which they can then use to better their community. “Pradhupada came because there was an emergency in our culture,” Penney said. “And it’s not better than it was 40 years ago, it’s worse.” (OnFaith, 6/16/14) [IT 5.3] 

Jehovah’s Witnesses to Hand Over Top-Secret Manual 

Finland’s Jehovah’s Witnesses were to give their religious rule book to the Minister of Justice and the Minister of the Interior in mid-May so that it could be inspected to ensure that it’s in line with Finnish rule of law. Until now, only senior members of the Jehovah’s Witnesses Committee have had access to the congregation’s secret book of rules. 

The disciplinary activities of the Jehovah’s Witnesses Committee have been criticized for violating human rights. Anna-Maja Henriksson, Finland’s Minister of Justice, and Interior Minister Päivi Räsänen met with Witnesses leadership in Helsinki the day before the planned delivery of the book for inspection. According to Witnesses representatives, committee practices have changed recently and the committee no longer addresses or interferes in member matters that are considered to go against church guidelines. (YLE News, 5/16/14) [IT 5.3] 

Human-Rights Commission to Study Handling of Lev Tahor Case 

The Quebec Human Rights Commission will study what went wrong in the case of the ultra-Orthodox Jewish sect Lev Tahor last November after approximately two hundred members fled the Laurentians town of Sainte-Agathe-des-Monts and relocated in the Ontario city of Chatham-Kent to avoid a hearing in Quebec’s youth court. Sect members had been due in court to respond to allegations of child abuse and neglect made by Quebec’s Department of Youth Protection. 

After several hearings, the Ontario courts have ruled it would not be in the best interests of the children to execute a youth-court order to return 14 children to the province and place them in foster care. Chatham-Kent’s Children’s Services has also refused to execute a still-outstanding warrant the Quebec court also issued in November to remove all 127 children from the community. 

The commission will examine whether police, youth-protection officials, the school board, the health sector, and the legal system in Quebec had the proper tools to deal with the situation, and if they used them properly. “We’re not going to make a judgment about the Lev Tahor intervention, but rather to examine whether we’re well-equipped” to deal with youth-protection cases as they relate to sects and different cultures, said Camil Picard, the commission’s vice-president who deals with youth-protection matters. “The commission has to assure that all young people in Quebec in all communities see their rights respected. We want to know that the actors have what they need to intervene in assuring children’s rights are protected.” He added that the study, to be completed by the end of the year, will rely on testimony from police officers, officials at the department of youth protection, and their counterparts in Ontario. The study also will look into other high-profile cases, such as the murder of four members of the Montreal-based Shafia family by their parents and brother in 2009. (The Gazette, 5/14/14) [IT 5.3] 

A Split From NXIVM 

Kristin M. Keeffe, former legal liaison for NXIVM [neks-ē’-ŭm] founder Keith Raniere, has broken with Raniere’s life-coaching enterprise and fled with her young son from his inner circle, according to court papers filed as part of a federal lawsuit. Raniere has been identified in court cases involving NXIVM litigation as the founder of the “rational inquiry” curriculum and philosophical movement. He is referred to reverently by NXIVM students as Vanguard. He has been identified in court documents from adversaries in sharply critical terms. 

Email messages purportedly sent by Kristin M. Keeffe and quoted in court papers filed by New Jersey attorney Peter Skolnik include the statement that “I have completely left NXIVM and New York” and numerous other allegations. They also refer to Keeffe’s turning over to the authorities “evidence of massive criminal conduct” by Raniere as well as NXIVM President Nancy Salzman and Clare Bronfman, who oversees the group’s operations. In the petition, Skolnik inserted parts of recent electronic communications he said he has had with Keeffe since her disappearance from Saratoga County at some point in the past few months. 

Skolnik also is the lawyer for Rick Ross, leader of an organization called the Cult Education Institute. Ross has been sued by NXIVM, which denies that it is a cult, for publicizing portions of its training program. Ross has countersued Raniere, Salzman, and Keeffe for invasion of privacy. 

Skolnik filed a petition on April 26 in U.S. District Court in Newark, New Jersey to dismiss Keeffe from the countersuit. Skolnik’s filing includes a passage in which Keeffe purportedly calls the district attorneys’ offices in Saratoga and Albany counties “compromised” regarding NXIVM. Skolnik said his filing speaks for itself. In responding to Crockett’s appeal to seal his letter, he wrote that Ross “now views Ms. Keeffe and her child as victims of the very organization whose objectives she previously served.” 

The court filing indicates that Keeffe cannot communicate easily. She asked Skolnik, in the purported email, to thank Ross for applying “pressure” on her. Without it, she wrote, “me and my son would have been lost forever. … You need to know now the reality of what the trainings and Keith do … He is so dangerous you would not believe it. … He has gotten way more lethal in the last 4 years too.” In an interview, Ross said he believes the emails came from Keeffe. 

Ross has studied NXIVM, which has training outlets in New York, Mexico, and elsewhere. He said he is writing about the organization in a book he is planning to self-publish later this year. “Of all the people to think of Keith Raniere losing—that would turn against him, that would reject him, that would spurn him—probably near the end of my list was Kristin Keeffe,” said Ross. “…she must know a great deal. She was absolutely in the inner circle.” 

Lawyers representing NXIVM, Bronfman, Raniere, and Salzman had no comment or did not respond to email messages from the Times Union. (Albany Times Union, 5/10/14) [IT 5.3] 

Extremist Group Drops Worship-Hall Plans 

The conservative Christian group known as Exclusive Brethren or Plymouth Brethren Christian Church and described by former Prime Minister Kevin Rudd as an extremist cult has walked away from plans to build an 800-seat hall in the Perth Hills of Australia. Mundaring Gospel Trust, acting for the sect, has withdrawn its plans for a meeting hall in Parkerville. Whether the trust will look at an alternative site is not clear, with a spokesman saying the group was “considering its options….” 

The 13-month dispute began in April last year when the shire rejected the proposed hall, arguing it would breach the shire’s proposed planning scheme, was inconsistent with its existing scheme, and would “have a detrimental visual impact.” The trust appealed to the State Administrative Tribunal and wrote to Acting Planning Minister Bill Marmion. Mr. Marmion initially moved to relax the council’s restrictions on allowing places of worship in residential areas, but subsequently endorsed a scheme that was not compatible. Once it was determined the trust’s proposal would not be allowed under the shire’s scheme, the SAT provisionally dismissed the application and the trust withdrew its application. (The West Australian, 5/26/14) [IT 5.3] 

Secrets, Lies, and Sex Abuse As Former Sect Leader Chooses Life on the Inside 

Chris Chandler was a leader of the secretive Bible sect known as Friends and Workers, or the Two by Twos, who have 2,000 members in the state of Victoria, Australia. When he recently drove to the Melbourne Magistrates Court from his property on French Island to turn himself in, Chandler had already admitted his guilt in eight charges in a Gippsland court, including unlawful indecent assaults, indecent assaults, and gross indecency on three young female victims. Chandler had baulked at his sentence of a year’s jail with a nonparole period of 3 months; he told his lawyers that, while he was guilty, he wasn’t guilty to that extent. But then he decided he wanted to go to jail. 

The Friends and Workers/Two by Two sect is an offshoot of the Cooneyites, founded by Irish Protestant evangelist Edward Cooney. The sect adheres strongly to Bible sections of Matthew 10 to do with Jesus sending out disciples to cleanse “impure spirits.” The group does not have church buildings or headquarters, and it has no written policies or doctrines. Travelling missionaries live with sect families for extended periods. Television, radio, movies, dancing, and jewelry are banned. The sect holds five Victorian conventions a year at various locations throughout Victoria. 

Ex-member “Ruby” said Chandler had sexually assaulted her at the beach in 1989 when she was 10. Her allegations led to one of the eight charges against him. She said the sect had a “culture of secrecy” and distrust of outsiders. Sexual abuse of young people and children was common. She said Victorian and Tasmanian leader of Friends and Workers, David Leitch, visited her before she went to police and told her there wasn’t much the police could do if she went to them. Ruby said Chandler had told her in a Facebook message that he was molested as a child, had a different memory of the beach incident, and was not a pedophile. 

The sect was linked to the 1994 suicides of adolescents Narelle and Stephen Henderson. In her suicide note Narelle said they “…committed suicide because all our life we were made to go to meetings. They try to brainwash us … and have ruined our lives.” 

A Fairfax Media investigation last year established that sect leaders knew of allegations against Chandler but still promoted him in 1991 to the senior position of “worker,” or minister. Until 2004, he still was staying in private homes in locations throughout Victoria, and he later positioned himself as a counselor and sect contact for child sexual-abuse victims. 

A WINGS (online group of former sect members) submission to the Victorian parliamentary inquiry into the handling of child abuse by religious groups said the sect has been ‘‘haphazard’’ in dealing with sexual-abuse allegations. Leader David Leitch, who is known to be close to Chandler, would not comment. A former-sect source claimed Leitch, who sacked a sect leader for reporting sexual abuse in 2013, has a file on alleged sexual offences by Chandler, which he has not given to police. (The Age, 7/28/14) [IT 5.3] 

Arizona Attorney General Asks Judge to Shut Down Polygamous Towns’ Police Force 

Pointing to statements town marshal Helaman Barlow made in April admitting that law-enforcement officers discriminated against residents who do not belong to the Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (FLDS), Arizona Attorney General Thomas Horne has asked a federal judge to disband the police department of the twin cities of Colorado City, Arizona and Hildale, Utah. Barlow recounted numerous incidents in which deputies tried to thwart legal action against FLDS members and harm nonmembers. 

Barlow made the statements in April, contradicting his testimony from a civil-rights trial less than a month earlier, according to documents the Attorney General filed in federal court. Barlow described such actions as secretly recording meetings with Texas and federal investigators about Warren Jeffs; ignoring illegal marriages of young girls in Hilldale and Colorado City by FLDS men; not reporting the doctoring of “numerous” police reports that otherwise would have reflected poorly on the marshal’s office; and giving advance warning to local residents when outside law enforcement planned to interview those residents. Barlow allegedly said that the FLDS church often directed activities at the marshal’s office, selected members who would attend the police academy, had access to municipal security cameras, and conducted meetings with Barlow to plan “how best to protect our church or church members.” 

In March, a jury awarded non-FLDS residents Ronald and Jinjer Cooke $5.2 million at the trial of their discrimination lawsuit, finding that the two towns had denied them access to utilities for years. After the police department put Barlow—no longer an FLDS member himself—on paid leave, he secured immunity from state and federal prosecutors and admitted to falsely denying discrimination by deputies in the Cooke trial. According to Horne, Barlow said he had been afraid to testify truthfully at the Cooke trial because “it could have jeopardized his employment and his associations within the community,” where the “Marshal’s Office has operated for decades, and continues to operate, as the de facto law enforcement arm of the FLDS Church in support of the FLDS Church’s discriminatory policies.” 

Barlow’s statements “[lead] to the inescapable conclusion that the disbandment of the Colorado City/Hildale Marshal’s Office is the only remedy that will stop the FLDS-controlled towns … from using their willing participant Marshal’s Office as a tool to perpetuate their historical discriminatory pattern and practice of interfering with the … rights of non-FLDS people.” (Salt Lake Tribune, 6/17/14) [IT 5.3] 

Charges Laid Against Bountiful Leader Winston Blackmore After Judge Rules Charter Should Not Protect Polygamists 

Polygamous sect leader Winston Blackmore, who has exercised power and control for decades over some 500 souls from his Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (FLDS) stronghold in Bountiful, British Columbia (BC), recently fought the tax man and lost. A Tax Court of Canada judge agreed last year with an earlier ruling finding that Blackmore had underreported his private company’s income by $1.8 million over 6 years. The judge slapped him with $150,000 in penalties and dismissed claims that his community is a “religious communal congregation” and thus tax exempt. 

Mr. Blackmore is also being sued by the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints for alleged trademark violation. The church, which represents mainstream Mormons, wants nothing to do with Mr. Blackmore or Bountiful and its polygamous ways. 

But these are the least of his worries as he now faces criminal prosecution. BC’s Criminal Justice Branch (CJB) recently announced that, on recommendations from the RCMP and the advice of a special prosecutor appointed by the province’s Attorney General, Mr. Blackmore and another man, James Oler, have each been charged with one count of polygamy. 

Crown prosecutors now have access to a lengthy and detailed analysis of Bountiful, its polygamous practice, and the law. Written in 2011 by BC’s Chief Justice Robert Bauman, the document is described in Bauman’s own words as “the most comprehensive judicial record on the subject ever produced.” 

Bauman was asked to declare whether Canada’s longstanding but seldom-used antipolygamy law is consistent with the freedoms guaranteed by the Charter. He heard from dozens of expert witnesses and former sect members over 5 months, and then described in his report what really goes on at Bountiful. He dismissed claims that the divided community is free of abuse and harm. Instead, harm is what the Bountiful question is all about, Chief Justice Bauman concluded. “Harm to women, to children, to society and to the institution of monogamous marriage.” 

Specifically, he found that women in polygamous relationships “are at an elevated risk of physical and psychological harm. They face higher rates of domestic violence and abuse, including sexual abuse.” And children in polygamous families “face higher infant mortality. … They tend to suffer more emotional, behavioural and physical problems, and … lower educational achievement than children in monogamous families.” He wrote that early marriage for girls, frequently to older men, is common. 

Chief Justice Bauman listened, reflected, and then determined that any Charter breaches caused by Canada’s antipolygamy law are “demonstrably justified in a free and democratic society,” and that the prohibition on polygamy “is consistent with, …further, Canada’s international human rights obligations. … In my view, the salutary effects of the prohibition far outweigh the deleterious.” 

With this document in hand, BC’s CJB are proceeding with the criminal prosecution of Blackmore and Oler. The two men are scheduled to appear in a provincial courtroom in Creston, BC in October. When the trial begins, prosecutors might point to evidence that Mr. Blackmore gave at an unrelated civil trial in Salt Lake City earlier this year. There, he acknowledged to having wedded on different occasions three 15-year-old girls. “I never touched anyone before they were 16,” he testified. (National Post, 8/14/14) [IT 5.3] 

Seized Children Returning to Manitoba Mennonite Community 

Twenty-three of the children taken from the Manitoba, Quebec Old Order Mennonite Community by welfare officials last year are now home, according to Jay Rodgers, CEO of the General Child and Family Services Authority in Manitoba, and he expects almost all will be back in the community by the end of summer. 

A number of adults were charged with multiple counts of assault, including assault with a weapon, between July 2011 and the end of January 2013. The charges stemmed from how the children were disciplined. The youngest of the alleged victims at the time was less than a year old, and the oldest was 17. 

The province’s child and family services authority removed all children but one while the matter was investigated. “It’s been a process of working with these families around parenting capacity, parenting techniques, learning about child development, learning about appropriate discipline approaches,” said Rodgers. 

Many of the charges have now been stayed, but a community member told CBC News that seven people still face charges. Nobody from the community, or its location, can be named to protect the identity of the children who were apprehended. 

“We desperately want to do things differently,” a man from the community told CBC. “We are very committed to trying to stay here, build here and put our community back together again,” the man said. (CBC News, 6/19/14) [IT 5.3] 

“…an embassy to welcome the Elohim back to Earth!” 

The Raëlians recently have thrown open their doors to the cameras for the first time, after presenter Darren McMullen travelled to Croatia to meet the sect members living there. And as Glenn Carter, the man responsible for the UK’s Raëlian population reveals, there’s more to Raëlian life than alien ancestors. Like Scientology, Raëlianism is considered a “UFO religion” with similar theories on intelligent design and extraterrestrial life. Unlike the Scientologists, however, Raëlians are famous for espousing sexual freedom and scientific development, and they even claimed in 2002 to have produced the world’s first cloned human baby. 

According to Raëlian Glenn Carter, “The main goal of Raëlians at this stage is to create an embassy in order to facilitate and welcome the return [to Earth] of the Elohim,” who they believe record every human memory and DNA on an advanced supercomputer. In preparation for that day, the Raëlians are in the process of creating an extraterrestrial embassy, which they hope to build in Jerusalem, to welcome the Elohim back to Earth. (Daily Mail, 5/9/14) [IT 5.3] 

Harvard Students Cancel Satanic Black Mass After Outcry 

Harvard University extension-school students planning a satanic black mass canceled the event after an outcry by administration, students, faculty, and community religious leaders. The Harvard Extension Cultural Studies Club had decided to move the event off campus after widespread objections but found no other location willing to host it. 

The university had decided not to block the event, even though President Drew Faust said she opposed it. “Vigorous and open discussion and debate are essential to the pursuit of knowledge, and we must uphold these values even in the face of controversy,” Faust said. “Freedom of expression, as Justice Holmes famously said long ago, protects not only free thought for those who agree with us but freedom for the thought that we hate.” 

Harvard students, faculty, and alumni signatures were among those on about sixty thousand online petitions protesting the black mass. The Archdiocese of Boston and a group of Harvard chaplains also opposed the ritual. Francis Clooney, a Roman Catholic priest and Harvard Divinity School professor, said that while Harvard is committed to freedom of expression, it’s clear that there are limits to its latitude. “If this had been a reenactment of a Nazi rally or a lynching, the university would have stepped in quickly and stopped it,” he said. “I’d be concerned that the university is saying we just allow student groups to do what they want.” 

In an earlier statement, Robert Neugeboren, the extension school’s Dean of Students and Alumni Affairs, said the club was hosting the black mass as part of a series of events to explore other cultures. The school’s administration had worked with students to ensure that no consecrated host, the sacramental wafer that has been blessed by a priest and is used in the Eucharist ceremony, would be used to reenact the black mass. (Bloomberg News, 5/12/14) [IT 5.3] 

Lawsuits Target Scientology Rehab Center in Nevada 

Narconon’s Caliente, Nevada drug-and-alcohol rehab facility is considered the last hope for some families, with its promise of a 76% success rate to get addicts off drugs. But several federal lawsuits now target the unlicensed Narconon program, whose patients and families say the rehab center isn’t curing addictions but instead trying to recruit people into Scientology

Patients say they were exposed to mold, lice, and treatments that forced them to try to lift objects with their mind, while Narconon’s own unverified videos show a clean, safe rehab center. Current Nevada law considers private facilities exempt from inspection, and an effort the health department made to state lawmakers through Senate Bill 501 to close what they called a loophole in the law would have allowed state inspections inside Narconon. But the bill did not pass before the session ended. 

Las Vegas attorney Ryan Hamilton now is taking Narconon to federal court on behalf of multiple families nationwide in a series of federal lawsuits, with “the fraud claim being that we were promised drug and alcohol rehabilitation treatment, but instead … received Scientology.” So far, the families suing Narconon are from Massachusetts, Texas, Florida, and Virginia. 

Narconon recently changed its name by adding “Fresh Start” or simply calling itself Rainbow Canyon Retreat. Narconon’s advertisements mention nothing about Scientology, and families claim in the federal lawsuits that recruiters never mentioned the word Narconon, even though Scientology’s own guidebook devotes an entire chapter to its controlling role in Narconon. In legal filings, Narcanon claims the federal lawsuits should be dismissed, saying through its attorneys that the complaints against it were not “simple” and “direct” enough. Hamilton has filed two new federal lawsuits against Narconon Fresh Start. These lawsuits focus on facilities in Colorado. (KLAS-TV, 5/12/14) [IT 5.3] 

Narconon Faces Federal Lawsuit 

In the latest update, a federal lawsuit against Narconon and the Church of Scientology seeks an immediate injunction to prevent unauthorized use of counseling certifications, trademarks, and logos along with compensatory, statutory, and punitive damages, plus attorneys’ fees. The lawsuit filed by the National Association of Forensic Counselors (NAFC) at the Eastern District Court of Oklahoma in Muskogee names Narconon International, the Church of Scientology International, and 80 other Narconon-related defendants. NAFC is the only organization to offer an accredited Certified Chemical Dependency Counselor certification on a national level and has never delegated the authority to provide such certifications to any of the named defendants, according to the lawsuit. 

The suit alleges that NAFC has suffered by the “repeated abuse and misuse of the NAFC logos, trademarks, and certifications,” and that more than “400 Narconon-associated websites contained the purported certifications of staff members that, in reality, have had certifications that have been suspended, revoked, or never existed.” The lawsuit also alleges that a Narconon facility advertised affiliation with an NAFC board that is no longer in existence. 

Among other allegations, the lawsuit charges that “as recently as March 2013 Narconon Arrowhead falsely advertised that the National Board of Addiction Examiners recognized Narconon Arrowhead for their facility location and for their world class staff… Specifically, Plaintiffs claim that the misuse was calculated to increase the credibility of the Narconon Treatment Centers and the affiliated counselors, and to expand the reach and profitability of the Church of Scientology International to Plaintiffs’ detriment.” 

The Oklahoma Arrowhead facility has been under investigation following the deaths of three Narconon clients, all found dead at the facility within a 9-month span. A fourth died while at a local hospital. The deaths spurred legislation that was signed into law in 2013. Since then, several wrongful-death lawsuits, along with a number of other lawsuits alleging that Narconon’s counselors traded drug for sex and other allegations, have been filed in Pittsburg County (Oklahoma) District Court. The County Sheriff’s Office, the Oklahoma State Bureau of Investigation, and the District 18 District Attorneys continue to investigate the four deaths, according to Sheriff Joel Kerns. (McAlester News-Capital, 5/22/14) [IT 5.3] 

Lawsuits Allege State Suppressed Narconon Report, Fired Investigators 

Two lawsuits against the state of Oklahoma’s Department of Mental Health and Substance Abuse Services (ODMHSAS) claim the agency “buried” an inspector general’s report recommending that Narconon Arrowhead be shut down after three patients died there. The lawsuits state that Department fired Kim Poff, it’s inspector general, and Michael DeLong, an investigator, last year after they objected to the agency withholding the Narconon report. 

A multiagency investigation of Narconon Arrowhead, the flagship branch of an international drug-rehabilitation organization, began after a patient died from a drug overdose at the facility in July 2012. Her death followed the deaths of two other patients in 2011 and 2012. 

Following these deaths, state lawmakers passed legislation to give the state more regulatory authority over the facility. Then Narconon Arrowhead sought certification as a residential substance-abuse treatment center but withdrew its application before Department of Mental Health site visits. The facility has now applied for certification as a substance-abuse halfway house, defined by state law as one that provides “low intensity substance abuse treatment in a supportive living environment to facilitate the individual’s reintegration into the community.” 

Poff sued the agency for wrongful termination, civil conspiracy, and other claims in Oklahoma County District Court on August 4. DeLong filed a similar suit on July 30. Both lawsuits name the department’s CEO, COO, general counsel, and HR director, in addition to the state and board of directors for the Department of Mental Health, as defendants. 

An attorney representing Poff and DeLong “…were retaliated against for speaking out about wrongdoing.” Ms. Poff’s lawsuit states that she “…and her investigators determined that Narconon violated numerous state laws and recommended that the facility be shut down by ODMHSAS. … Despite this recommendation and the finalization of the reports, leadership at ODMHSAS … repeatedly” took the position “that the investigation was still pending…” and thus “…failed to protect the interest of Oklahomans at the facilities…” and also was key in their decision to terminate Poff and DeLong’s employment. 

The World reported that a multicounty grand jury is investigating the facility and has called state officials and at least one former Narconon Arrowhead executive, Eric Tenorio, to testify. The investigation reportedly revolves around insurance fraud. The Department of Mental Health did not respond to a request from the World for comment on the lawsuits’ allegations. (Tulsa World, 8/20/14) [IT 5.3] 

Commissioners Approve Mediated Settlement Over Narconon Expansion Plans 

Hernando County, Florida commissioners on Tuesday accepted a mediated settlement awarding $1.97 million to Narconon, the operator of a Scientology-affiliated drug treatment center in Spring Hill. The settlement apparently ends the legal fight that erupted when the commission turned down the Suncoast Rehabilitation Center’s proposal to expand from 22 to 54 beds in 2009. However, several commissioners then indicated they had further questions and concerns about a story published almost simultaneously with the mediation settlement in the Tampa Bay Times. According to that story, Narconon had expanded anyway after being turned down by the county, renting three properties elsewhere in Spring Hill. None of the sites was licensed, as state law requires, until after the Times sought comment from operators about their licensing status. The Center director subsequently applied for one site license, which the DCF issued on a probationary basis. 

Narconon and Toucan Partners, owner of the Cessna Drive property, had sued the county in June 2011 for more than $6 million, alleging it intentionally discriminated against the facility, violating the federal Fair Housing Act. The jury found the county liable for discriminating against Narconon and awarded $74,490 in damages. Narconon appealed and won a new trial. The parties went to mediation several weeks ago and reached the settlement. The county’s insurance will pay all but a $5,000 deductible, which the county paid some time ago. 

The Florida Department of Children and Families, which has licensed the center at 8231 Cessna Drive since it opened in 2008, has not decided whether to conduct a formal investigation into Narconon’s leasing of off-site properties. (Tampa Bay Times, 8/26/14) [IT 5.3] 

Lawyer Clobbered on Verdict for Scientology 

Issues of state vs. federal jurisdiction continue to influence ongoing litigation between Florida attorney Kennan Dandar and the Church of Scientology. In May, a federal judge refused to enjoin the $1 million judgment against Florida attorney Kennan Dandar, who represented the estate of Lisa McPherson in a suit against the Church of Scientology in federal court in 2009, despite a 2004 settlement agreement in a related civil suit that barred Dandar from pursuing any other claims against Scientology. 

Dandar first sued Scientology’s Flag Service Organization in state court in 1997 for damages on behalf of McPherson, a member of the Church of Scientology, who died of a pulmonary embolism in 1995 while under the care of the Flag Service Organization in Clearwater, Florida. First ruled a negligent homicide, the cause of McPherson’s death was later changed from “undetermined” to an accident. Subsequently, criminal charges against Scientology were dropped. 

McPherson’s family pursued civil claims against the church. Attorney Dandar alleged that Scientology’s attorneys had used their political connections to influence the outcome of the proceedings in state court. In 2004, Dandar agreed to a settlement that dismissed the McPherson lawsuit and barred him from pursuing any other claims against Scientology. 

But Dandar filed another wrongful-death lawsuit against the organization in 2009, this time in federal court, and Scientology sought to enforce the settlement agreement against him. A Pinellas County judge ordered Dandar to withdraw from the new wrongful-death lawsuit, and a state appellate court affirmed his decision. 

Dandar failed to withdraw from the action, and the state court held him in civil contempt and ordered him to pay damages to Scientology. The federal court presiding over the new wrongful-death lawsuit enjoined the state-court proceedings, but the 11th Circuit (federal) Court reversed and vacated that injunction in July 2011. A few months later, Dandar withdrew from the wrongful-death action. 

Conflicting jurisdictional rulings between state and federal courts, new suits by Dandar against Scientology and its legal representatives, and appeals of related decisions against Dander had been ongoing up to the May 28 ruling by U.S. District Judge Virginia Hernandez Covington. In her ruling, Covington included various findings related to the complexities of the related state and federal rulings and unresolved issues. 

Covington ruled that federal courts could not interfere with state-court proceedings where the state court had not yet entered a final judgment, and that Scientology’s state-court action was a civil proceeding involving “orders uniquely in furtherance of the state court’s ability to perform its judicial functions,” which warranted abstention under principles of federalism. The May 28 order states that interfering with a state court’s ability to impose sanctions and fees for a party’s failure to comply with court-ordered mediation agreements is an exceptional circumstance that bars federal courts from interfering. She also ruled that, given Dandar’s attempt to enjoin the execution of the March 2014 final judgment, the state matter remains pending despite the entry of that judgment. 

The court again stayed Dandar’s claim for damages under Section 1983 pending the resolution of the state-court action, noting that federal courts have a duty to assume jurisdiction where it properly exists. (Further details regarding the actions and counteractions between Dandar and Scientology and its legal representatives leading up to this recent judicial decision are available online at courthousenews.com/2014/06/04/68449.htm). (Courthouse News Service, 6/4/14) [IT 5.3] 

Judge Rules Scientology Leader Not Required to Give Deposition 
Church of Scientology leader David Miscavige has sidestepped giving a deposition in a high-profile harassment lawsuit filed in Texas by Monique Rathbun, wife of vocal church critic Marty Rathbun. A Texas appeals court this week overturned December’s ruling by Comal County, Texas District Judge Dib Waldrip, who had ordered Miscavige to submit to questioning. 

Church attorneys argued from the outset that Waldrip’s court had no jurisdiction over Miscavige because he lives in California and has no connection to church activities in Texas. Miscavige has guided the church since founder L. Ron Hubbard died in 1986 and has testified a handful of times. 

Monique Rathbun alleges in her 2013 suit that Miscavige directed a 3-year campaign of harassment, spying, and intimidation aimed at her and her husband that began soon after Marty Rathbun, who had worked closely with Miscavige before leaving the church in 2004, spoke critically of Miscavige to the Tampa Bay Times and national media in 2009. The suit also names as defendants the Church of Scientology International, three private investigators, and a Scientology parishioner. 

Church officers and attorneys do not contest that the Rathbuns were targets, suggesting that those who watched and confronted the couple were investigating Marty Rathbun’s antichurch activities and delivery of Scientology services without church authorization. 

In its latest ruling, Texas’ 3rd District Appeals Court agreed that Miscavige is protected by Texas “apex deposition doctrine,” which shields high-ranking executives from being pulled into burdensome, harassing depositions. However, with additional questioning of church representatives and further review of church records, Rathbun’s team could demonstrate that a Miscavige deposition is necessary, the court said. 

Rathbun’s lead attorney, Ray Jeffrey, said striking the deposition was a blow. Likely next in the case, he said, is a decision on the church’s appeal of Waldrip’s order in March that denies Scientology’s motion to dismiss the suit altogether, which could come by year’s end. 

Church officers in Los Angeles did not respond to a request for comment. (Tampa Bay Times, 7/18/14) [IT 5.3] 

Scientologists Accused of Brainwashing French Company’s Employees 

French prosecutors are investigating the Church of Scientology for alleged harassment of employees of a company whose boss had joined the organization. The 12 employees of Arcadia, based near Paris, claim that Scientologists became “omnipresent” in the business after their boss turned to the cult in 2000. In 2008 he restructured the company following the advice of alleged Scientologist trainers. 

The plaintiffs say they were forced to undergo a “training routine” by Scientologists that amounted to psychological harassment and an effort to brainwash them. The plaintiffs’ lawyer, Olivier Morice, also told the AFP news agency that “the Scientologist trainers infiltrated the company with the sole intention of financially pillaging it for their personal profit and that of Scientology.” He estimated that between one and two million euros had been embezzled. Sources confirmed that prosecutors in Versailles are investigating the charges. 

Scientology claims to be a religion but is classified as a cult in France, where an appeals court confirmed fines of 200,000 and 400,000 euros in 2013 on the organization’s bookshop and “Celebrity Centre” in Paris for organized fraud. (RFI, 7/24/14) [IT 5.3] 

China’s Crackdown on Sects Concerns Mainstream Churches 

A recent campaign by China’s government to crack down on fringe sects concerns many mainstream churches. With voices muted by censors, human-rights advocates and some mainstream religious leaders in China say the latest anticult campaign is misguided and frequently violates Chinese law. Teng Biao, a defense lawyer who has represented Falun Gong members in the past, said the most recent roundups were politically motivated by the government’s deeply rooted fear of organized religion, especially of groups it cannot control. “This is an effort to eradicate an entire group of believers, not just the ones who committed crimes,” he said. 

Likewise, New York Times contributing columnist Murong Xuecun suggests that the antireligion campaign “is not borne of concern for public security stemming from a horrific murder,” but is instead “a concerted effort to bring independent churches and their followers into line, … the government’s way of strengthening its control of society.” 

On May 28, a woman named Wu Shuoyan was beaten to death in a McDonald’s restaurant in Zhaoyuan in China’s Shandong Province while people stood idly by. The state broadcaster closed-circuit TV (CCTV) announced that Wu Shuoyan’s murderers were members of the Church of Almighty God, or Quannengshen, also known as Eastern Lightning, a Christian sect, and implied that the killers’ faith had to do with their act. 

Soon after the killing, the Xinhua news agency reported that authorities had rounded up about fifteen hundred cult members. Xinhua’s report said that among those arrested, 59 had already been handed prison terms of up to 4 years. The agency said those arrested included members of another Christian group known as Disciples Sect, and it appears many of those were arrested as early as 2012. 

Then, on June 1, Pastor Wang Yi of the Early Rain Reformed Church in Chengdu, China was arrested as he distributed leaflets against forced abortion and was held briefly. Three days later, Mr. Wang was detained again; arresting officers released him after 12 hours of interrogation. 

A few days later the government published its list of 20 active “cults.” Since then, Chinese TV channels and newspapers have issued warnings about the dangers of “evil cults,” which community organizations, authorities, and schools have been supporting. 

The anticult campaign extends to more-mainstream religious practices, including a barrage of attacks on China’s underground Christian churches. As a perceived “foreign” religion, Christianity and the growing numbers of Christians in China make the Chinese leadership particularly nervous. A September 2012 policy document on the Religious Affairs Bureau’s website stated that unlawful religious groups are “threatening China’s national security.” 

2010 government figures put the number of Christians in China at 23 million. A Pew Research Center 2014 estimate is that Christians account for around 5.1 percent, or 67 million of the Chinese population, with 58 million Protestants and 9 million Catholics. 

“Legal” and “Illegal” Christians. China has two classes of Christian churches: The legal group consists of state-approved congregations. The illegal group includes “home churches” or “underground churches,” independent congregations that operate without state approval. 

But even legal churches are fair game for the government in this latest crackdown. Churches once treated as legal now face persecution, and at least ten of them have had crosses destroyed or have been completely demolished. After decades of antireligion propaganda, many Chinese people remain ignorant about religion and are easily manipulated into viewing foreign faiths as evil sects. 

A June 1 CCTV report outlined the “six characteristics of evil cults,” which a legal “expert” said included the cult of personality, immorality, and restrictions of individual and spiritual freedom. As many Chinese people took to the Internet with renewed antireligious fervor to thank the government for exposing the true nature of “evil cults,” columnist Murong Xuecun commented that “the name of the biggest cult is hidden in plain view: the Communist Party.” (The New York Times, 6/11/14; 6/17/14) [IT 5.3] 

China Arrests “Nearly 1,000” Members of Illegal Cult 

In a recent update according to the state news agency Xinhua, Chinese authorities have arrested “nearly a thousand” members of the religious group, Church of Almighty God or Quannengshen, the latest in a series of official moves against a group that China has outlawed as an illegal cult. China has sentenced dozens of followers since the murder of a woman at a fast-food restaurant by suspected members of the group in June sparked a national outcry. 

Among those currently arrested were 100 “high-level organizers and backbone members,” Xinhua said, citing a statement from the Ministry of Public Security. The murder trial is set to open on Thursday, Xinhua said. (Reuters, 8/19/14) [IT 5.3] 

Insufficient Evidence Ends Investigation of Devon Community 

In October 2013, officers started working with Devon County (England) Council to “thoroughly review” information received about the Twelve Tribes community, which runs the Common Loaf Bakery at Dunkeswell in East Devon. At the time, police confirmed they had received no allegations and there was no formal investigation. 

However, a team of council officers visited the commune on a number of occasions and spent a day with the families and the children alone. 

The investigation followed concerns raised to officials at the county council’s Children’s Services by the National Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Children (NSPCC). The children’s charity approached the council after a national newspaper reported the Twelve Tribes community’s belief in the right to use the cane as a form of punishment and following the removal of 40 children from two of its communities in Germany after an undercover reporter’s investigation. 

Tony McCollum, manager of Honiton Market where the group has a bread stall and leaflets about it are available, said in October that the investigation came as a surprise to him, adding that “You couldn’t ask for nicer people. They seem very family orientated—I find it hard to believe they would mistreat their children.” 

The information the Council officers gathered on their visits led the Council and police officers to conclude there was insufficient evidence to take matters any further at this time. A council spokesperson added, “The council takes all allegations of abuse extremely seriously. … If any further allegations are made to us, we will look into them.” (Exeter Express and Echo, 5/29/14) [IT 5.3] 

Tony Alamo Church Empire Dismantled 

While Tony Alamo, whose Christian-ministry empire stretched from California to Arkansas, was living in the small town of Fouke, Arkansas, his crimes landed him behind bars. Alamo is now 79 years old and serving out his 175-year sentence in Tucson, Arizona for a long list of offenses that include battery, false imprisonment, and marrying his victims, including children as young as 8 years old. 

In 2008, the dismantling of Alamo’s million-dollar ministry began. FBI agents raided his home and seized seven girls, later believed to be Alamo’s child brides. A year later, he was sentenced to life in prison. The women were awarded more than $1 billion by an Arkansas judge. Alamo also owes $30 million to two men who were beaten, starved, and denied education while being raised in the ministry. 

Several of Alamo’s properties have already been sold to help satisfy the court judgment including his church building in Fouke. Prosecutors say some of Alamo’s property sold for as much as a quarter of a million dollars. The individual who bought the Fouke church building donated it to the Sanctuary of Hope Church in Fouke. Judy Frazier, a longtime Fouke resident and member of the nondenominational church,says that when the Tony Alamo Christian Ministry signs are taken down in Fouke next month the whole community will be celebrating. “…I never dreamed that one day He would put that property into our hands.” 

In an ironic twist, one of the properties belonged to former Judge Jim Hudson, who presided over the child-custody hearings. After Hudson’s death in 2009, prosecutors say Alamo followers purchased the home. Now it’s being sold, and the money will go to Alamo’s victims. 

The city of Fouke has found some closure with these properties sold, but unfortunately Alamo, who is still in prison, has followers in other places. “Tony Alamo is still preaching his word from prison and his message is still getting out because his followers are able to obtain that material,” said Jeanne Philyaw, a member of the group Partnered Against Cult Activity (PACA). She actively spoke out against Alamo during his trial, calling him the worst kind of predator, using the name of God to abuse children. “As long as that kind of hatred can be put out, there will always need to be prayer and people watching,” said Philyaw. (KTBS News, 8/13/14) [IT 5.3]

Members of Alamo Christian Ministries are reportedly gutting six of the organization’s Fort Smith, Arkansas, properties in anticipation of a public sale of the properties to pay judgments against the organization. Lawyers for victims of the ministry who are supposed to benefit from the sale have persuaded the court to bring in the U.S. Marshals Service to secure the properties and their contents. (Texarkana Gazette, 12/20/13) [IT 5.2]

Circuit judge Kirk Johnson has entered a default judgment in Miller County, Arkansas and ordered imprisoned evangelist Tony Alamo individually to pay more than half a billion dollars in damages to seven women he sexually and physically abused. Six of the women were taken by Alamo as “spiritual wives” when they were children. The seventh was being groomed to be a wife in Alamo’s polygamous home when she ran away at age 15. Alamo is serving a 175-year federal prison sentence for bringing five of the women across state lines for sex when they were minors. 

Alamo had failed to respond to a civil lawsuit filed by the women in Miller County, and his silence allowed Texarkana lawyer David Carter to seek the default judgment and damages award. The judgment is identical to one Johnson levied last month against Twenty First Century Holiness Tabernacle Church, an arm of Alamo Ministries. The judgments against Twenty First and Alamo are the largest personal injury judgments in Arkansas history, Carter said. Johnson’s docket entry in the case against Alamo states the judgment against the polygamist pastor will mirror the one against Twenty First. 

At the end of the hearing, Johnson mentioned the multimillion-dollar judgment against Twenty First. “The court has previously held that $525 million is an appropriate damages award for their acquiescence to these heinous acts,” Johnson said. “The court has read each and every one of the psychological evaluations of the young ladies in this case … the abuse and underage marriages.” (Texarkana Gazette, 3/21/14)

Ahmed al-Shayea, who became Saudi Arabia’s poster boy for a jihadi deprogramming initiative aimed to discourage Saudis from rejoining al-Qaida, has reportedly appeared in Syria as a member of the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL), an al-Qaida franchise. Several other Saudis, among hundreds who went through the program, have also returned to their jihadi groups, and the efficacy of the deprogramming is now being questioned. But the president of the think tank Quilliam says that only 80 to 100 of the 4,000 to 6,000 who have been deprogrammed have resumed either fighting or their jihadi ideology. The Saudi program, he said, “has been largely successful, but it has not—as Saudis have tried to claim in the past—been magic, with no cases of people returning to jihad.” (The Observer, 1/18/14) [IT 5.2]

In the PBS documentary The Amish: Shunned, a member of an Amish community alleges that shunning, which can include excommunication, is calculated to stimulate repentance among community members who refuse to conform to strict Amish ways, and to prevent them from negatively influencing the rest of the congregation. Several leavers explain how and why they left the church, and how shunning affected relationships with their families. An Amish man says, of the shunned, “They wanted something that was not allowable so they just moved on.” Naomi, who left the community, says that during a visit to Florida, where she worked in a nursing home, she decided to go to college to train for the nursing profession, but that higher education was forbidden by her brethren. Her anguished decision to leave the Amish was rewarded with a nursing degree. And she, like a number of other leavers, has helped departing Amish in their transition to mainstream society. (The Christian Post, 2/6/14) [IT 5.2]

John Friend’s “feel good” Anusara Yoga empire, with 1,500 licensed teachers and more than 600,000 students worldwide, crashed in 2012 following accusations against Friend of financial mismanagement, having affairs with married students, receiving marijuana in the mail, and engaging in Wiccan rituals. Nonetheless, Friend is staging a comeback, in Denver. “I get to start over with something better than I had before,” he says, as he develops a new yoga posture system called Sridava, in collaboration with sisters Desi and Micah Springer, co-owners of Vital Yoga. (Houston Press, 1/15/14) [IT 5.2]

Bikram/“hot yoga” pioneer Bikram Choudhury is under fire, defending his yoga empire in the midst of lawsuits women claiming sexual misconduct have filed against him. Five women in the past year have filed civil lawsuits against Bikram, one of the richest, most successful yoga gurus in the world. All five women accuse Bikram of sexual assault, and four accuse him of rape.

The appearance on ABC News’ Nightline of plaintiff Sarah Baughn, together with two other women who are pursuing lawsuits against Bikram and his Yoga College of India, is the first time the alleged victims have detailed their claims on camera. Baughn, a former yoga champion, told Nightline’s David Wright that she met Bikram in 2005 when she attended his demanding 9-week teacher-training course, which costs thousands of dollars and is the only way to become a Bikram yoga teacher. Twenty at the time, Baughn said Bikram took an immediate interest in her and repeatedly made unwanted sexual advances, which she rebuffed. She said she rebuffed him and reported at least one incident to a staff member, but the unwanted advances continued. Determined to complete the training, she said he eventually appeared to get the message and backed off. Baughn went on to compete in yoga competitions organized by USA Yoga, founded by Bikram’s wife, Rajashree, who also is named as a defendant in the lawsuits. Baughn said she eventually felt comfortable enough to visit Bikrams’ Beverly Hills mansion for feedback on her routine before a pending competition. But Bikram’s unsolicited advances resumed there: “…he told me that the only way I could ever win the yoga competition was if I had sex with him.” Baughn told Nightline she fought her way free and competed in the 2008 competition, where she placed second. One of the judges told ABC News that hers was the strongest routine and that Bikram likely overturned their decision to award her top honors. Baughn said a different judge had told her after the competition that “she was robbed.” That judge told ABC News he stood by the integrity of the judging and disputed ever telling Baughn she was “robbed” of the title.

The other former Bikram students who spoke with Nightline are making similar accusations. Larissa Anderson said she was once a devoted disciple and a member of Bikram’s inner circle until he “raped me.” She said Bikram’s wife and children were sleeping upstairs when the alleged assault took place. She claims there’s a pattern of vulnerability among the women he targets. A third woman who spoke with Nightline, identified as Jane Doe No. 3 in her lawsuit, asked that her name be withheld. She claims Bikram raped her three separate times in 2010. Because she was financially dependent on Bikram and believed her career as a yoga teacher was on the line, she said she kept the alleged rapes to herself until she agreed to be a part of a civil suit against him. Mary Shea, the attorney representing the women, said that like Anderson and Baughn, Jane Doe No. 3 did not file any police reports until several years after the alleged incidents.

The Los Angeles district attorney declined to bring any criminal charges against Bikram. All of the current cases are in civil court. Through their attorneys, Bikram and his company declined a request from Nightline for an interview and issued a statement categorically denying the allegations. It said, “The defendants strongly dispute the allegations at issue and intend to vindicate themselves in court. They do not intend to try this case in the media.” (ABC News, 2/26/14) [IT 5.2]

Recent scandals involving yoga franchises developed by Bikram Choudhury(Bikram yoga) and John Friend (Anusara yoga) indicate that even though they call themselves teachers rather than gurus,

the game remains very much the same: match a charismatic teacher with eager and often vulnerable students, add a touch of human ego, and just enough mysticism that students won’t question any dodgy practices too closely. Wait a few years, then watch the whole thing end up in court cases and recriminations.

(Daily Life, 2/5/14) [IT 5.2]

Actress Michelle Pfeiffer says that when she first went to Hollywood at the age of 20, she got involved with a “very controlling” couple who introduced her to Breatharianism and put her on a diet that dispensed with food and water and relied solely on sunlight for nourishment. She says she realized that she was in a cult when she helped her husband research a movie about the Unification Church, in which he was cast: Both the church and the Breatharian couple practiced psychological manipulation. The Breatharians

were very controlling. I wasn’t living with them, but I was there a lot, and they were always telling me I needed to come more. I had to pay for all the time I was there, so it was financially very draining.

(Telegraph, 11/2/13) [IT 5.2]

Four lawsuits by female former patients alleging that the St. Louis Castlewood eating-disorder clinic implanted in them false memories of sexual abuse and satanic cult activity are about to be dismissed and appear on the way to being settled “favorably for both sides.” Some twenty-five to thirty families that formed Castlewood Victims Unite said the settlement was disappointing because former Castlewood director Mark Schwartz and other staff members will not be compelled to testify under oath. (Columbia Daily Tribune, 12/16/13) [IT 5.2]

Church of Bible Understanding (COBU)leader Stuart Traill, an eccentric since high school, dropped out of Lehigh College when, after persuading US Steel and General Electric to donate parts for a cyclotron he said he’d build, his professors realized he really had very little scientific knowledge. When he became a father, he decided there was a higher power, and chose to become a Christian, although he was convinced that his co-religionists misinterpreted the Bible. Saying that the Bible was written in a code only he could understand, he preached his version of the Gospel on street corners in Greenwich Village, focusing on repentance, retribution, grace, and forgiveness. His followers, from the 1970s, could be found in many cities around the country. At meetings, he gave brutal and relentless critiques of attendees, ex-members say. He bullied followers to continue their self-criticism and mutual bashing when he wasn’t there, saying their salvation depended on it. A former assistant said Traill was a “master manipulator” and a genius at using the weakness of others against them. The clinical coordinator of Ohio’s Wellspring Retreat and Resource Center for cult victims says Traill is

one of those rare people leading a group like this who is not terribly sincere … His thing started as a con, and I think he’s come to believe some of his own con, but he’s not sincere at all.

(Scranton Times-Tribune, 12/18/13) [IT 5.2]

Former members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints(Mormons) Becky McKinnon, 33, a Federal Aviation Administration engineer, and her boyfriend Timmy Chou, 56, who was once a Mormon missionary, hand out cards wherever they go, even in Utah. The cards say, “Are you questioning the Mormon church? Thinking about leaving the Mormon church? Already left the Mormon Church? YOU DON’T HAVE TO DO IT ALONE.” The cards list six websites, including PostNoemon.org, an online community for ex-Mormons that has 9,275 registered members. (Newsweek1/30/14) [IT 5.2]

In Britain, former Mormon Tom Phillips has sued the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints, alleging that the church employed false teachings to defraud members. Consequently, a British magistrate ordered the Mormon president, Thomas S. Monson, to appear in court to defend against the charges. On behalf of two disaffected Mormons, Phillips says that they were induced to tithe based on “untrue or misleading” claims, including the belief that the Book of Mormon was translated from ancient gold plates by [church founder] Joseph Smith, and that the book “is the most correct book on earth and is an ancient historical record.” Legal experts are puzzled by the magistrate’s decision to go forward with the case, which is based by Phillips on a British law that forbids false representations to secure financial gain. They say the legal action, which seems aimed to make an anti-Mormon point in a country with a historical strain of anti-Mormonism, will never come to court. (The Daily Beast, 2/8/14) [IT 5.2]

Herbert and Catherine Schaible of Pennsylvania, who believe in faith healing, have been sentenced to between 3 and one half and 7 years in prison following the death in 2013 of their 8-month-old son, Brandon. At the time of Brandon’s death, the couple was on 10 years’ probation following a jury conviction in 2011 of involuntary manslaughter in the death of their 2-year-old son, Kent, who died of untreated bacterial pneumonia in 2009. The 2011 decision included orders for them to seek medical care if any of their other children got sick.

The Schaibles are third-generation members of a small Pentecostal community in northeast Philadelphia, First Century Gospel Church, which teaches that to call on the help of a doctor is a sin. In a 2013 police statement, Herbert Schaible said, “We believe in divine healing, that Jesus shed blood for our healing and that he died on the cross to break the devil’s power. … [Medicine] is against our religious beliefs.”

Testimony at the couple’s preliminary hearing described Brandon’s symptoms of diarrhea, vomiting, and breathing difficulties, and the prosecution has described both boys’ symptoms as “eerily similar.” Although Catherine Schaible’s lawyer said her client had tried to feed Brandon and had applied baby powder to keep him comfortable when he was ill, the parents had requested a church pastor to come pray with them in their home as they rocked him instead of taking him to the doctor. Philadelphia Deputy Chief Medical Examiner Dr. Gary Collins’ testimony at the preliminary hearing indicated Brandon’s death was the result of dehydration and bacterial pneumonia, which he could have survived if he had received antibiotics and fluids.

The couple expressed remorse for violating the earlier court order and not seeking medical care for Brandon. In November 2013, they pleaded no contest to third-degree murder charges in his death. Their pastor Nelson Clark has said the Schaibles lost their sons because of a “spiritual lack” in their lives, and he insisted they would not seek medical care even if another child appeared near death.

After they complete their sentences, the couple will face 30 months of probation. The Schaibles have 7 surviving children, 6 of whom are under the age of 18 and are now in foster care. (Huffington Post, 2/19/2014) [IT 5.2]

Retired British clinical psychologist Katharine [sic] Mair has written Abused by Therapy. “There is an ongoing campaign by groups and clinics,” she says,

to spread the notion that various psychological disorders are always caused by childhood abuse… The therapists encouraging these ‘memories’ genuinely believe they are helping and, being in a position of authority, are able to convince clients that these visions [of sexual abuse] really did happen.

(Daily Mail 2/10/14) [IT 5.2]

A Justice Department civil-rights lawsuit alleges that the Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints (FLDS), rather than elected leaders, runs the towns of Hilldale, Utah, and Colorado City, Arizona, and that this violates the separation of church and state demanded by the Constitution. The suit documents requests by the mayor of one of the majority polygamist towns for detailed advice on governing from jailed FLDS leader Warren Jeffs. The mayor, for example, asked the imprisoned Jeffs who he thought ought to be police chief and who should be sent to the police academy. The suit, as well as statements of former church members, provide a great deal of evidence to support previous allegations of a wide range of illegal links between church and state: The town allegedly withheld water services from a nonchurch family; it practiced housing discrimination; and it developed intimate fiduciary relationships with the FLDS. (Salt Lake Tribune, 11/3/13) [BS 2-11-14] [IT 5.2]

The District Attorney of Pittsburg County (Oklahoma) alleges that “the entire church body of the Jehovah[‘s] Witness[es] Church” of the town of McAlester concealed crimes of child molestation allegedly committed by former church elder Ronald Lawrence, 76, who was charged last November with felony counts of lewd molestation, forcible sodomy, and rape by instrumentation, all committed decades ago. Lawrence told police he had confessed his crimes to the church at the time he committed them so the elders would take him back into the fold. The DA also alleges that the church prevented the victims from telling police what Lawrence had done to them. Lawrence’s lawyers, invoking the statute of limitations, want the case dismissed because the crimes were not reported until 2013. (McAlester News Capital, 2/4/14) [IT 5.2]

In her $40 million lawsuit against him, former Kabbalah International Centre student Jena Scaccetti alleges that Centre Rabbi Yehuda Berg [who succeeded his late father, Moses, as leader of the organization] plied her with Vicodin and alcohol, tried to have sex with her, and threatened to kill her if she told anyone. Scaccetti says that Berg has treated other women similarly. (Courthouse News, 1/21/14) [IT 5.2]

The Legionaries of Christ recently elected new leaders and formally apologized to victims of their disgraced founder, the late Fr. Marcial Maciel Degollado. A statement representatives released in late February expressed “deep sorrow” for Degollado’s “reprehensible and objectively immoral behavior,” including “abuse of minor seminarians,” “immoral acts with adult men and women,” “arbitrary use of his authority and of material goods,” “indiscriminate consumption of addictive medicines,” and plagiarism. In ongoing efforts to redress these wrongs, the extraordinary general chapter members comprising 61 priests from 11 countries admitted and apologized for a “long institutional silence” in response to the accusations against the late friar.

These are the latest actions in a process of reform that began in 2009, following Maciel’s death in 2008, when the Vatican ordered an apostolic visitation and investigation after learning about at least one illegitimate child Maciel had fathered and minors he had sexually abused. In 2010, Following a Vatican statement that Maciel had been guilty of “seriously and objectively immoral behavior” and “real crimes” and had lived a “life devoid of scruples and of genuine religious meaning,” Pope Benedict XVI named Cardinal Velasio De Paolis to supervise the Legionaries’ reform.

The chapter has elected Mexican Fr. Eduardo Robles Gil Orvananos to suceed German Fr. Sylvester Heereman as its general director, who will now serve as general councilor. The Legionaries’ statement says they will change leaders more frequently and appoint advisory councils to “prevent potential arbitrary behavior and abuses of authority.” Chapter members also expressed a desire to maintain “friendship and fraternal dialogue” with former Legionaries, and that they have been learning to “freely debate” the governance of their congregation.  The Legionaries’ statement also includes data on changes in Legionaries membership numbers and other details (see http://ncronline.org/news/faith-parish/legionaries-christ-elect-new-leaders-apologize-founders-victims).

Before adjournment at the end of February, the chapter was to approve a revised constitution, which Pope Francis also must approve before it takes effect. (Catholic News Service, 2/6/2014) [IT 5.2]

Although the scandal-ridden Legionaries of Christhas elected a new superior and governing council, the Holy See apparently does not trust the Legion’s choices and has appointed two reformist priests to serve on the order’s governing council. The Rev. Eduardo Robles Gil [Orvananos], the new general director chosen by the Legionaries, was a favorite of the organization’s disgraced late founder, the Rev. Marcial Maciel. Priests who have left the order call Robles Gil a “spiritual son” of Macial and say his election does not represent a break with the past. (AP, 2/6/14) [IT 5.2]

The radical Jewish group Lev Tahor, led by Rabbi Shlomo Helbrans, allegedly exerts strict control over members’ liberty and finances while raising children in wretched conditions. According to financial filings, the group accumulated more than six million dollars in assets while operating as a charitable organization based in a secluded community in Ste-Agathe-des-Monts, north of Montreal. Lev Tahor says it receives donations from its own charities and from supporters in Canada, the United States, the United Kingdom, and Israel. An Israeli source says community members survive mainly on government welfare payments that are given to the leadership, which then rations it among the forty or so resident families. Fourteen children from two families who fled Lev Tahor in November were ordered into foster care after child-welfare workers found evidence of neglect, poor hygiene, and psychological abuse during visits to the community. (The order has not yet been enforced.) Arnold Markowitz, a social worker and psychotherapist with New York’s Jewish Board of Family and Children’s services, says Lev Tahor members come from the orthodox Jewish community. (Toronto Star, 12/7/13) [IT 5.2]

Leaders and members of the ultra-orthodox Jewish community Lev Tahor continue to deny allegations of child abuse after members left Quebec in advance of the court hearing in November 2013 that resulted in the temporary removal of 14 children from the community. Lev Tahor continues to rebuild in Chatham, Ontario. In February 2014, an Ontario court upheld the Quebec ruling for the temporary removal of 13 of the 14 children from the sect. Lev Tahor plans to appeal the decision. If that appeal fails, one of the leaders, Rabbi Shlomo Helbrans, says members are prepared to leave Canada to protect their way of life.

Lev Tahor’s particular interpretation of Judaism permeates every aspect of their lives, from their diet to their Yiddish language. Curriculum for both boys and girls focuses on religious scripture and Jewish law; girls also study some math and English, and learn household management skills. “We try to learn practical things, what they can use in life. We also had a class of sewing, a class of cooking.” Lev Tahor is similar to other ultra-orthodox groups in some ways, but orthodox Rabbi Reuben Poupko believes the group takes things to an extreme and displays strong cult-like tendencies. Members argue they are being persecuted for their religious beliefs, and leader Uriel Goldman says accusations that the group is a cult are “ridiculous.”

Denis Baraby with Quebec’s Youth Protection has concerns about the group beyond education. “We discovered houses that were dirty, garbage all around. The children, they slept 4 or 5 in each bedroom, some [on] mattresses that were full of urine.” He and his organization say the children were growing up in extreme isolation, and most had no toys or the chance to play.

Concerns over the Lev Tahor allegations have sparked debate in Israel, where the group has been highly criticized (Lev Tahor believes the Torah prohibits the existence of a Jewish State). The Knesset (Israel’s legislature) is holding hearings into Lev Tahor, while family members urge their members of Parliament in Quebec to work with Canadian officials to intervene. Israeli families say their loved ones have been brainwashed into joining Lev Tahor and are unable to escape.

Fearing a backlash from Lev Tahor, former members interviewed by Global News’ 16×9 refused to go on camera with their comments. (Global News, 2/20/2014)

An investigation by the Canadian Broadcast Corporation’s (CBC’s) the fifth estate raises concerns with the refugee claim of Lev Tahor’s Rabbi Shlomo Helbrans, including worries with the testimony of a former member and an allegation that testimony from a former kidnapping victim was bought for $5,000.

The decision to grant refugee status to Helbrans, leader of the controversial ultraorthodox sect, was based in part on testimony the sect paid for, according to what a boy involved at the hearing, Shai Fima, told investigators. In 1996, Helbrans was convicted of kidnapping while the group was living in New York. He was sentenced to 6 years in prison and served 2 years. Fima was the boy he was convicted of kidnapping. Fima, 13 years old at the time, was brought to the rabbi by his mother, who was seeking to prepare him for his bar mitzvah, according to the documentary. He disappeared for 2 years. The sect, and Fima himself, said he ran away of his own volition, but a court found otherwise.

According to the investigative report, the boy says he was paid $5,000 in 2003 to appear on the videotape, in which he denied he had been kidnapped and said the leader was being unfairly persecuted. The 2003 video was part of Helbrans’ successful refugee application that claimed he was being targeted in Israel for his anti-Zionist beliefs.

Fima, who did not want to appear on camera, now says it was a lie and that he was indeed kidnapped. According to the documentary, sect spokesman Uriel Goldman also testified at the Immigration and Refugee Board hearing, saying that when he served in the Israeli Defense Forces (IDF), he was ordered to infiltrate the sect. The IDF told e fifth estate they had no record of Goldman. Former refugee board commissioner Gilles Ethier remembers Goldman’s testimony as being an important factor in the decision to grant Helbrans refugee status. Helbrans and Goldman deny all of the allegations in the program.

The documentary supports other allegations reported previously that include “underage marriage, the use of physical discipline, and forced medication,” which Quebec social workers also have detailed in court. Helbrans called allegations of abuse by former sect members “lies.” He stated that the pills they had witnessed others taking were simply vitamins; he also acknowledged that the sect never allows illegal marriages of girls under 16, but that he had performed ceremonies for three couples who were married in Missouri, where it is legal for girls as young as 15 to wed.

Members of the sect have been under investigation by Quebec police and child-protection authorities in Quebec and Ontario for years. An appeal of the order issued in Quebec in November calling for the removal of 14 children from the sect is scheduled to be heard in Chatham on March 5. (Toronto Star, 2/28/14) [IT 5.2]

Girish Chandra Varma, chairman of the Maharishi Vidya Mandir schools group, was released on bail after spending almost a month in Bhopal Central jail. He has been charged with raping a former schoolteacher at one of his schools over a period of 15 years. (Times of India, 2/1/14) [IT 5.2]

Manitoba welfare authorities have begun a process of returning to their parents children of an Old Order Mennonite community who were taken into foster care following allegations of child abuse. Most of the parents have not been charged, but a few will have to answer in court allegations that they assaulted children with a cattle prod or strap. All of the families in the community have promised to change their disciplinary practices. They are also taking parenting courses on how to comply with current societal norms and Manitoba law. They agreed not to “pinch, pull hair, sit on, slap faces, pull or pinch ears, burn, withhold food, or have children sit or stand for long periods of time as punishment/correction.” (CBS News, 11/1/13) [IT 5.2]

In an update to police charges of assault last November against 15 adults in a Manitoba Old Order Mennonite community (which remains anonymous to protect the identity of its children) that alleged the adults were subjecting children to “extreme discipline,” the court has recently dropped the charges against four of the men originally charged, and the charges against others are expected to be stayed if they agree to undergo counseling and sign peace bonds.

Child and Family Services (CFS) has now returned six children to two families, but 36 remain with other Mennonite caregivers. One father of nine children, whose charges have been stayed, said he is hopeful his community can rebuild. “I’m very happy to have the charges resolved, and hopefully that’s a big roadblock out of the way to the return of the children.”

The four men who signed 1-year peace bonds to have their charges dismissed this week did not admit to any criminal misconduct. Also this week, the charges against one other man and two women, one of whom is the only teacher for the community’s one-room schoolhouse, were moved to Winnipeg court; the three are also expected to sign peace bonds and have their charges stayed. Three women still face assault charges in relation to alleged abuse, but it’s not clear whether the court system will offer them peace bonds or some other diversion. Crown attorney Nicole Roch said the decision about whether these events will speed up the return of children to their homes is up to CFS. (Brandon Sun, 2/12/2014) [IT 5.2]

The Raëlians, who believe extraterrestrials created human beings so that mankind could experience joy, including sexual satisfaction, have established a clitoral-restoration hospital in Burkina Faso that is scheduled to open in March. The group already supports a San Francisco clinic whose surgeons claim they can restore sexual feeling and orgasms, although some physicians dispute this contention. The Raëlian nongovernmental organization (NGO) Clitoraid says it has a waiting list of 300 women from African countries where genital mutilation is practiced. (Herald Sun, 2/11/14) [IT 5.2]

Elizabeth Kunze, who spent 16 years as a consecrated celibate in Regnum Christi, has denounced the order and says the Vatican effort to reform it was faked. Kunze, who reviews her involvement in Regnum Christie and the recent history of the organization, calls it a “cult,” adding, “People inside the Legion have not been given clear information about what has happened. There is fear to speak openly or to question.” Father Peter Byrne, now leaving the order, reports more than sixty dissident priests have already done so, and hundreds more have left their training before reaching the priesthood. (National Catholic Reporter, 12/27/13) [IT 5.2]

The United Nations Committee on the Rights of the Child has accused the Vatican of turning a blind eye to sexual abuse of children by Roman Catholicpriests, imposing a “code of silence” on clerics, and shifting abusers from parish to parish “in an attempt to cover up such crimes.” The Vatican said the report that contains the charges was “distorted” and “unfair,” and ignored steps taken in the past decade to protect children. (Reuters, 2/5/14) [IT 5.2]

In the past two years there have been several apparently ritual murders of young people involved in small satanic cults in the Johannesburg area. A clinical psychologist has offered a number of possible reasons that youth have become associated in such groups. (Destiny Connect, 11/11/13) [IT 5.2]

Hollywood writer Skip Press, while detailing his long-term and high-achieving membership in Scientology, recommends John Atack’s new book, Let’s Sell These People a Piece of Blue Sky. Press says the book is better than Lawrence Wright’s recent fine book on the church because ”Atack was actually involved with the cult and lived it.” (Morton Report, 11/7/13) [IT 5.2]

Comal County (TX) District Judge Dib Waldrip has ruled that Scientology leader David Miscavige must submit to a deposition in a lawsuit filed against him and two church entities by Monique Rathbun, the wife of prominent church critic Murray Rathbun. The suit describes an alleged 3-year campaign of surveillance and harassment of the Rathbuns. The issue is whether or not Miscavige supervised these actions. The reclusive leader has testified in only a few cases during his 27 years as head of Scientology. (Tampa Bay Times, 12/13/13) [IT 5.2]

Following the judge’s ruling in a landmark Supreme Court legal battle, Louisa Hodkin and Alessandro Calcioli, both 25, were married in late February in the first wedding in a Scientology chapel in England. Miss Hodkin had taken legal action after the registrar general of births, deaths, and marriages refused to register a central London Scientology chapel under the 1855 Places of Worship Registration Act because it was not a place for “religious worship” because Scientology does not believe in a supreme deity. In 1970, the Church of Scientology launched a similar case. At that time, the Court of Appeal ruled that Scientology did not involve religious worship because there was no “veneration of God or of a Supreme Being.” Miss Hodkin argued that the 1970 ruling should not be binding because Scientologist beliefs and services had evolved during the past four decades. She said services were “ones of religious worship,” and she likened Scientology to Buddhism and Jainism. David Hodkin, the bride’s brother, had been married at the Church of Scientology in Edinburgh after Scientology ministers were authorized to perform wedding ceremonies by the Scottish registrar general in 2007.

Five Supreme Court Justices, who considered the issue at a hearing in London in July, upheld Miss Hodkin’s challenge. They said religion should not be confined to faiths involving a “supreme deity” and that the Church of Scientology was a “place of meeting for religious worship” because it held religious services. A government source stated at the time of the Supreme Court ruling in December that it could “open the floodgates” to other groups that claim to be religions for tax purposes.

After what the couple described as “a long, five-year battle to achieve a simple freedom—the right to marry in our own church,” the Church of Scientology said it was “delighted” and that this would be “the first of many weddings,” and that people living out of the country were planning to come to London to get married. “This is an historic day for religious equality and freedom for all in the UK.” (The Independent, 2/23/14) [IT 5.2]

After more than thirty years as member of the Church of Scientology, Leah Remini made headlines last year with her decision to leave the religious organization behind. Now Remini has revealed that her 9-year-old daughter, Sofia, was her motivation for the move. “She was getting to the age where the acclimation into the Church would have to start,” she explained, and memories of her own early years in Scientology made facing that prospect difficult. “We were working from morning until night with barely any schooling,” she said of her experience. “There was no saying no. …There was only ‘Get it done,’” whatever the size of the task. Those tough times damaged Remini’s relationship with her own mother, who was often too busy with her role in the Church to be there for her child. …But my mom thought she was doing something good; she thought she was helping the planet. That’s what the Church tells you.”

Ultimately “The Exes” actress didn’t want history to repeat itself. “In my house, it’s family first — but I was spending most of my time at the Church,” she said. “So, I was saying ‘family first,’ but I wasn’t showing that. I didn’t like the message that sent my daughter.”

Remini didn’t want history to repeat itself, so she ended her affiliation with Scientology and inadvertently with many longtime Church members. But her relationship with her mother just got stronger. “The fact my mother stood by me after all her years in the Church totally took away any resentment I may have been harboring,” she said. “When it mattered the most, my mother was there for me.” (Today.com, 2/27/14) [IT 5.2]

Attorney Paul Morantz has written Escape: My Lifelong War Against Cults, which begins by recounting the attempts by Synanon to suppress and kill him in 1978 for exposing the group’s treatment of followers and critics. Morantz goes on to document his 30-year campaign to publicize the destructive nature of numerous other cults, including the Manson Family, the Symbionese Liberation Army, the Unification Church, and Scientology. (Santa Monica Daily Press, (11/29/13) [IT 5.2]

Douglas Christopher, 59, a member of the Tony Alamo Christian Ministries, has been sentenced to life imprisonment for transporting three young girls, all minors, across state lines for sex. The girls were the daughters of a woman Christopher married in 2000. Tony Alamo is serving a 175-year sentence for similar crimes. (Texarkana Gazette, 1/13/14) [IT 5.2]

Forty children taken in September from two Twelve Tribes farming communities in Germany following charges of child abuse remain in custody, although doctors who examined the children found no evidence to support the allegations. The Tribe advocates disciplining children with a “thin rod,” finding support in the Bible for the policy. In Germany, spanking children is against the law. Babies and 2- or 3-year-olds are among the children in custody, with whom parents have been allowed very little contact. After 4 months in foster homes, some of the children do not even recognize their biological parents. Several teenagers in custody have tried to escape but were captured. The Youth Services (Jugendamt), which is in charge of the case, is an independent and autonomous agency more powerful than the police. (Worldwide Religious News, 2/7/14) [IT 5.2]

Approximately twenty-five hundred identically dressed Unification Church couples, many of mixed nationality who had met only days earlier, were married in Gapyeong, South Korea in February. This was only the second mass marriage since the death of the church’s founder, the Rev. Sun Myung Moon.Traditionally, the Rev. Moon matched the couples; now, the parents choose. (Independent Online, 2/12/14) [IT 5.2]

Some young people in the Haida community on the island of Haida Gwaii, off the coast of British Columbia, say that the healing group they attended, Earth People’s United (EPU), is a cult. Laura Duthiel said peer pressure and shaming, combined with hallucinogenic drug use, enabled leader Erik Gonzales to control her. Other Haida youth have been to EPU’s 1,700-acre Deer Mountain Center in northern California, and to the organization’s compound on the shore of Lake Atitlan, Guatemala. Raven Ann Potschka, who confirms that EPU healing ceremonies include peyote, ayahuasca, amanita, and psilocybin, says, “We are doing things as a family … we are doing these ceremonies together for support and we are also learning together … I benefited greatly.” Haida leader Guujaaw, who leads healing ceremonies of his own, says that the drugs involved are valuable medicine and relatively benign compared with alcohol and cocaine. (APTN National News, 11/9/13) 

Members of the cult Eastern Lightning, who believe that Lightning Deng, a resident of New York’s Chinatown along with founder Zhao Weishan, is the reincarnation of Jesus Christ, are recruiting among the uneducated and unemployed in rural China. As alleged by leaders of Christian groups there, bizarre proselytizing methods include “flirty fishing” by women in the group to convert Christian men. The cult infiltrates China’s underground house churches, gains parishioners’ trust, and then allegedly seduces, kidnaps, bribes, or blackmails them into joining Eastern Lightning. One Christian leader says they brainwash the people they kidnap. Eastern Lightning calls the Communist Party of China Satan incarnate, and says the party’s rise presages the end of the world. The government is attempting to suppress the cult, sometimes violently interrogating Christian house church members to identify Eastern Lightning followers. Pastor Dennis Balcombe, recently released from government house arrest, says Eastern Lightning is after money: 

They’re like the Mafia. They’ve extorted 100 million renminbi ($16,453,755) from mainly poor, rural people… It’s like a criminal element infiltrating your church. Leaders of Christian house churches have also been offered huge sums of money—like 150,000 renminbi ($24,670)—to bring their followers and themselves into the cult. The government believes they have funds coming from outside of China.

He adds that the cult, by training leaders over Skype, has spread throughout Asia from a base in Hong Kong. The head of one of the largest Christian ministries in Asia told Balcome that he, like many former Lightning followers, was afraid to speak against the group, fearing it would target him. Outside of China, Eastern Lightning operations have not been so aggressive, and its representatives say critical stories about the group come from the Chinese government. (Vice, 8/2/13) 

Two California business owners have sued the Kabbalah Centre, alleging that the spiritual organization has defrauded them by misusing money they contributed to a building fund and charitable causes. Real-estate broker Carolyn Cohen, who is the president of the Solana Beach Chamber of Commerce, says she lost $810,000 in contributions and interest on loans she secured to cover her giving. Charles Wax’s suit claims he lost $326,000, and both say that Kabbalah Centre employees pressured them “to give money until it hurts” in order to receive the “light” and gain favor with the Centre’s leaders, Karen Berg and her sons Yehuda and Michael. The suits, which seek a total of $40 million in damages, allege that the Centre has a history of raising money for projects it never carries out. (Los Angeles Times, 12/3/13) 

Russian authorities are investigating Andrei Papov’s Kuzya-the-God sect after members allegedly attacked an inquisitive TV crew with corrosive chemicals. Followers believe Papov is the reincarnation of both Jesus Christ and the Virgin Mary. The Russian Orthodox Church moved against Kuzya-the-God when it learned that sect followers, pretending to be Orthodox monks and priests, were collecting thousands of dollars in donations at Orthodox fairs. (RIA Novosti, 12/2/13) 

Leslie Wagner-Wilson, now 56, says the stigma of surviving the Jonestown disaster of the Peoples Temple has blighted her life. She reports “going through hell” after her escape from Guyana, including drug addiction, three failed marriages, and considerations of suicide, all of which she discussed in her 2009 memoir, Slavery of Faith. “Twenty years I was in denial,” she says. “So as time wore on I’ve got through the post-traumatic stress, I’ve moved past the survivor’s guilt, depression.” (Grio, 12/4/13) 

Reviewing the history of the Peoples Temple and the Jonestown disaster, one finds that 75% of Temple members were African American, and that a majority of these were women. As the population with the greatest investment in the philosophy, ethos, and mission of the Peoples Temple, these members were “the backbone” of the church and also its primary victims. It’s troubling, then, that few women survivors have written book-length accounts of their experiences. (The best articles by women followers appear on the Alternative Considerations of Jonestown and Peoples Temple website.) A 2012 Kaiser Foundation/Washington Post poll suggests that the preponderance of women is explained by the finding that black women are among the most religious people in the country. Temple leader Jim Jones exploited this religiosity. (Religion Dispatches, 11/18/13) 

Laura Duthiel describes her therapy sessions with Psychology of Vision, an unlicensed service operating on the British Columbia island of Haida Gwaii under the direction of Lency and Chuck Spezzano, as a horrible experience. She says she witnessed people crying and throwing up, and that 

Your personal boundaries, they are breaking that down… Like an addiction, you gotta go. And just never ending, you almost got dependent on it. You begin to realize you don’t have any other friends, just the friends that were in that group. You leave your family behind to go be with this other family.

Spezzano calls one of his healing methods an “original mind download” and a “blessing” that “provides some wholeness. Where there was a split mind or conflict or something like that, it brings peace.” The Spezzanos say they are a great help to the Haida people of Haida Gwaii, and add that wherever POV goes there is a cultural renaissance in the community. (APTN National News, 11/9/13) 

Dan and Fran Keller have been released from prison in Texas after serving 21 years of a 48-year sentence for sexual assault and other forms of abuse of children in daycare therapy sessions during America’s “satanic panic” era. The Travis County district attorney agreed that the trial jury was swayed by the faulty testimony of an expert witness. Fran Keller’s lawyer argued that the state presented misleading evidence and relied on both a false witness confession and the testimony of a “quack” satanic abuse “expert.” He also maintained that suggestive interview techniques had encouraged the children to make “fantastical false statements.” A psychology professor at the University of Texas-El Paso says the daycare abuse panic was a 20th century manifestation of witchcraft fever of the kind that infected Salem, Massachusetts, in the late 17th century. (Guardian, 12/5/13) 

The British Supreme Court has ruled that Scientology’s London Church Chapel is “a place of meeting for religious worship.” The decision means that the marriage of Scientologists Louisa Hodkin and Alessandro Calcioli, when it is celebrated, will be recognized by the state. A lower court, relying on the 1855 Places of Worship Act, had held that the Scientology facility was not a place for religious worship. The Supreme Court also said that religion should not be confined to faiths involving “a supreme deity.” The local government minister and certain members of Parliament are concerned that the decision may make Scientology eligible for tax relief. (Belfast Telegraph, 12/11/13) 

Psychiatrist Vyacheslav Vesnin, 47, leader of the Self-Improvement Foundation in Orenburg, southern Russia, was sentenced to 9 years in jail for psychologically pressuring his followers, who numbered in the hundreds, to take part in sexual orgies, and for indoctrinating minors in sexual promiscuity. It is said that Vesnin, who called himself a master and guru, held a magnetic attraction for women. Followers included government officials, bankers, lawyers, and security officers. Several of Vesnin’s female followers also received jail sentences. (Daily Mail, 11/6/13) 

Idealistic Australians Mark and Rosemary Ilich’s involvement in the Twelve Tribes religious cult began in 1996 when, with their two young children, they attended the Sydney Newtown Festival. Their story details the couple’s recruitment and assimilation into the regimented lifestyle of the group’s commune, where they took new, biblical names; regularly confessed their sins; learned the rationale for beating their children; and studied the evils of materialistic mainstream society—all the while working for nothing in the Tribe’s businesses. They studied the teachings of Twelve Tribes founder Gene Spriggs, called Yoneq, who has said, among other bizarre pronouncements, that “submission to whites is the only condition by which blacks will be saved,” and that Martin Luther King was evil. When Mark and the couple’s son Abraham would not fully conform to the Tribe’s regime, it sent them away to a remote settlement; and when this did not succeed in reforming them, they were sent to the tribe’s New Zealand branch. “They just wanted us out,” Mark says. This was 2009, and Mark decided to leave; when he phoned Rosemary with his decision, she said, “My life is with you. I’ll come with you.” But their daughter, who was set to marry a Tribes member, refused and even now will not to speak to her parents and bother. (Sydney Morning Herald, 12/14/13) 

Rabbi Nachem Rosenberg, a Brooklyn-based member of the Satmar sect of the Jewish Hasidic movement, says there is “a child rape assembly line” among his and other Ultra-Orthodox [Haredi] sects. He relates how in 2005 he came across an old man in a Jerusalem mikva [ritual cleansing house] calmly raping a young boy. “I had heard of such things for a long time,” Rosenberg says, “but now I had seen.” In New York, and in Orthodox communities in London and Israel, allegations of child molestation and rape by figures of male authority are rampant. Rosenberg, now a blogger on sex abuse in his community, estimates that about half of young males among Brooklyn’s Hasidim have been victims. But Ultra-Orthodox Jews who speak out about such abuse are reviled, ruined, and exiled. Like the Catholic establishment, Ultra-Orthodox rabbis, who dominate an ignorant and largely poverty-stricken flock, work hard to cover up the crimes. Michael Lesser, who has investigated Ultra-Orthodox sex abuse and represented victims, said that the Hasidic community has not always been this way. He discussed the political, sociological, and demographic developments of recent decades that explain the phenomenon, which he thinks could get worse before it gets better. (Vice, 11/11/13) 

The Unification Church founder Rev. Sun Myung Moon, a family-values crusader who inveighed against “free sex,” was himself a philanderer with at least one illegitimate son. Sam Park, now 47, lives in Arizona, having been raised by Bo Hi Pak, the founding president and publisher of Moon’s Washington Times. Park’s mother, Annie Choi, an early Moon follower when he was building his church in Korea, says that Moon kept a number of young women in religious thrall so that he could purify them through sex. Moreover, it is clear from a consideration of the lives of Moon’s many children that his family lived far from the ideal he preached. (Mother Jones, 12/9/13) 

Arvind Balakrishnan, 73, known as Comrade Bala, leader of London’s Workers’ Institute of Marxism Leninism Mao Zedong Thought and said by a former member to have controlled followers by claiming he was Jesus Christ, has been accused of holding three women hostage for more than thirty years. A community worker who attended Balakrishnan’s lectures said that Comrade Bala was “approachable and charismatic. His flaw was that he was 100 percent revolutionary. If people said he was brainwashing others, he said he was clearing their brains. His followers were committed to becoming revolutionaries.” (Independent, 11/28/13) 


Loyal followers of Tony Alamo have filed claims of joint ownership of six properties that a judge previously said could be sold to partially satisfy a $30 million suit brought by two former members of the Alamo organization. The former members’ lawyer said the loyal members’ move is “a continuation of the “shell game directed by Alamo and implemented by his followers” to shield him from being held financially accountable for his “misdeeds.” (Texarkana Gazette, 5/5/13)

Based on the evidence from a recent on-site inspection of the group’s headquarters, Aum Shinrikyo still hates the Japanese government: photographs of high-ranking members of the Public Security Intelligence Agency, police officers, and lawyers displayed in front of an alter and stabbed with a 10-inch knife. Aum, now with about fifteen hundred followers—up 150 from 2011—is still close to jailed founder Shoko Asahara, who remains on death row. Members, who celebrate his birthday, are required to pray that his life is prolonged. (Japan Daily Press, 7/4/13)

Two former students of millionaire yoga guru Bikram Choudhury have separately sued him, alleging that he raped them and that his followers recruit women, knowing that he wants to have sex with them. The suits follow one earlier this year by another female student that alleged sexual harassment. One of the new complainants accuses Choudhury and 25 members of his inner circle of sexual battery, false imprisonment, discrimination, and harassment. This complainant says there is a cult-like environment in Choudhury’s studios, where [franchise] owners and instructors enroll attractive, vulnerable young women to practice a form of Hatha Yoga in a 105-degree atmosphere for a brutal 9-week program at a cost of $13,000. Students, she says, must abjure sex and are taught that Bikram Yoga can cure cancer and other diseases, and that Choudhury is “akin to God.” Her extremely detailed complaint contends, among other things, that “every moment of a student’s day is controlled by a schedule set by Bikram Choudhury. The day usually starts at 7:00 am and ends between 2:00 am and 3:00 am.” What they eat, drink, and wear—no green, but tight and skimpy; their facial expressions; what they say; and even the positions of their bodies are all controlled. The aim, she claims, was to “break down her body, will, and spirit” and brainwash her with Choudhury’s “vision and teachings.” According to the lawsuit, her life unraveled when she returned home—“Her long-term relationship fell apart; and she went into a severe depression, attempted suicide, started drinking, doing drugs, engaged in uncharacteristically impulsive behavior, quit her job, and cut off communication from almost everyone in her daily life … and lived in constant fear” that Choudhury would come to her home and attack her. She also claims that some students who come to the United States illegally are made to serve Choudhury for no pay, or for very little, and are forced to submit to his sexual assaults. (Courthouse News Service, 5/8/13)

Peter Moses, Jr., the leader of a Durham, North Carolina, group that claims to be affiliated with the Black Hebrew Israelites, was convicted of murdering 4-year-old Jadan Higganbothan because Moses, whom his handful of followers called “lord,” believed the child was gay. Moses, who received two life sentences, is said to have shot the boy in the garage of the group’s home while Jadan’s mother watched and a recording of the Lord’s Prayer in Hebrew played in the background. Moses reportedly decided that Jadan was gay when the toddler hit another boy on the buttocks. Moses was also convicted of having Antoinetta McKoy killed when he learned she could not have children and that she had said she wanted to leave the group. It is likely that Moses’ previously diagnosed bipolar disorder—for which he was receiving treatment while in jail—contributed to his violence. His attorneys said the murders occurred after Moses lost his Medicaid benefits, and that his untreated illness “made him do something monstrous.” (Christian Post, 7/5/13)

Lloyd Hardial, whose sister died in the Branch Davidian conflagration, still wonders how his college-educated sister, Sandra, who had a good job with the Manchester (England) City Council, got mixed up with David Koresh, who persuaded her to give it all up to follow him. Sandra was a devout Seventh Day Adventist preoccupied with the Book of Revelation, who felt that the end times were at hand. Sandra had heard Koresh during one of his visits to England in the late 1980s, and she made a pilgrimage to the United States in 1990 to learn more about his teachings. In 1992, she went to the United States for good, but called the family often and seemed fine. Then, the conflagration… (Fort Worth Star Telegram, 4/18/13)

Religion scholars and historians agree that understanding the tragedy of the Branch Davidians (who broke away from the mainstream Seventh Day Adventist church in the 1920s) requires a nuanced approach, and that religious literacy is critical to peacefully enforcing the law in a pluralistic society when one is dealing with apocalyptic groups such as the Davidians. A scholar of religion says, “They [authorities] kept calling this a hostage situation. But these people were protecting their home. They didn’t want to leave.” Regarding their unwillingness to come out of their compound, he said they believed only God could tell them when to leave. “Obedience to God was more important to them than submission to human authority—when the two were in conflict, God was to be obeyed.” (Deseret News, 4/18/13)

Four women have filed separate lawsuits in St. Louis County Circuit Court against Castlewood Treatment Center and its head, Mark Schwartz, alleging that he hypnotized and brainwashed them into believing they were members of Satanic cults. They say he implanted in them false memories of sexual abuse. Schwartz is no longer leading the Center and seems not to be involved in its daily operation. A Castlewood spokesman calls the allegations “spurious” and said the center will “defend this case vigorously.” Castlewood—which specializes in dealing with eating disorders—employs a therapy called internal family systems, which encourages patients to counteract their destructive qualities; according to some experts, this is not the standard of care for eating disorders because patients treated with this mode become malnourished and vulnerable to psychological damage. (St. Louis Post Dispatch, 5/29/13)

The head of the Chinese State Administration of Religious Affairs, Wang Zuoan, acknowledged recently that although religion could be a force for good, the ruling party aims to help people take a scientific view of aging, sickness, and death, as well as fortune and misfortune. However, the process to achieving an atheist worldview will be a long one, he said, adding that

Religion has been around for a very long time, and if we rush to try to push for results and want to immediately “liberate” people from the influence of religion, religion can become a lure, then it will have the opposite effect and push people in the opposite direction.

China has generally avoided extreme repression of religious groups, and has even tried to co-opt them in recent years. Wang concluded,

Religion basically upholds peace, reconciliation, and harmony … and can play its role in society. But due to various complex factors, religion can become a lure for unrest and antagonism. Looking at the state of religion in the world today, we must be very clear on this point. (Reuters, 4/21/13)

Tsering Namgyal, a writer from Tibet living in New York, says, “In an abrupt and unexpected reversal of policy, Chinese officials have told monks in some Tibetan areas that they can stop criticizing the Dalai Lama; they are now free to ‘worship’ him as a religious leader.” Namgyal describes the policy as an “experiment.” China hopes to separate the Dalai Lama’s religious and political roles. The new policy seems an expression of Beijing’s growing accommodation to Tibetan culture to help ensure stability in the country. (IHT Rendezvous, 6/27/13)

The Chilean Supreme Court has authorized a judge’s request to seek the extradition from Germany of Dr. Harmut Hopp, a former official of Colonia Dignidad, who was convicted and given a 5-year sentence on charges that he was an accomplice of sect leader Paul Schäefer in the rape of four boys and the sexual abuse of 16 others. The court recommended that if Germany continued to refuse to extradite Hopp, Chile should ask that he serve his sentence in a German prison. (New York Times, 7/8/13)

The Oakland-California-based Family Radio of Harold Campion, famous for his end-of-the-world predictions, is on hard financial times. It lost more than $100 million in assets from 2007 to 2011, with those numbers falling to $29.2 million; and it had to sell three of its largest radio stations. At one time, Family Radio had 66 full-service stations, 100 FM broadcast relay stations, and a few television stations. Campion, 91, who suffered a stroke after his most recent failed prediction, says he is no longer interested in making any more. (Tennessean, 5/15/13)

Philadelphians Herbert and Catherine Schaible, members of the First Century Gospel Church, who are now serving a 10-year probation for involuntary manslaughter in the 2009 death of their toddler—they treated his illness solely with prayer—are being investigated in the recent death of their 8-month-old son, Brandon. Prosecutors wanted the couple jailed, but a judge let them remain free because their seven other children had already been placed in foster care. The DA said the judge “feels they are a danger to their children—not to the community.” Their church says, “It is a definite sin to trust in medical help and pills; it is real faith to trust on [sic] the name of Jesus for healing.” (Huffington Post, 4/24/13)

The Schaibles have now been charged with third-degree murder in Brandon’s death. In their reliance solely on prayer, the couple violated the terms of their probation in the 2009 death of their 2-year-old son Kent; they had been ordered to seek medical attention in similar circumstances in the future. An assistant district attorney said, “How many kids have to die before it becomes an extreme indifference to the value of human life…? It was our assessment that the murder charges were appropriate.” Catherine Schaible’s lawyer responded, “To suggest that Catherine was indifferent to her children’s lives and health couldn’t be further from the truth. This is a woman who is a completely devoted mother.” Church pastor Nelson Clark has said that the children died because of their parents’ “spiritual lack,” and in the wake of Brandon’s death he urged parishioners to remain steadfast as outside groups tried to “dissolve our faith.” The Schables’ remaining seven children have been placed in temporary foster care. (Philadelphia Inquirer, 5/24/13)

A former member of Philadelphia’s First Century Gospel Church, who asked to remain anonymous because she still has relatives in the church, calls it a cult. She says members are prohibited not only from seeing physicians or getting vaccinated, but also from owning property, buying insurance, and attending college. “They think that if they don’t do everything exactly the way they’re taught in church … they’re going to burn in an eternal lake of fire and it’s never going to end.” Telling her personal story of growing up in the church, she said that when she was sexually abused as a child, she was told, “If something bad happens, you pray about it and then you don’t talk about it. If you talk about bad things, you’re giving Satan glory when you should be giving God glory.” Another former member, an African American, now 52, who left 35 years ago estimates that blacks once comprised 25 percent of the congregation. He says that church leaders did not always lived by the rules they set for parishioners, and “Just like any false teaching or any other cult, they cut you off from the outside world.” (Philadelphia Inquirer, 6/14/13)

Former prominent FLDS member Willie Jessop has purchased two parcels of land in FLDS-dominated Hilldale, Utah—a school, a row of apartments, a warehouse, and three large homes. His offer of $3.6 million was a credit bid based on the $30 million judgment he obtained against FLDS leaders when they failed to respond to his lawsuit alleging that they orchestrated a late-night break-in of his business. Jessop led a tour of community members inside one of the buildings, where he pointed to walls more than a foot thick and said they were to provide soundproofing while leader Warren Jeffs had sex with underage girls. He said the compound was to have been like the group’s Yearning for Zion ranch, in Texas, where FLDS leaders sexually abused young girls taken as plural wives. (Salt Lake Tribune, 4/26/13)

Zach Bowers, now 18, three years ago joined the continuing exodus of teenagers from the FLDS enclaves of Hilldale, Arizona and Colorado City, Utah, where he grew up the son of a man who married two sisters and raised 32 children. Zach, and many other young people who fled the authoritarian confines of the FLDS, have been welcomed into the homes of mainline Mormons in Saint George, Utah. Zach’s new home, with the Hofhines family, serves as “a cultural crucible where the former sect members witness life in mainstream society. They’ve learned about the intimacy of a nuclear family, how to spend fun time with parental figures—off-roading, seeing movies, even taking a cruise.” Adjustment has been difficult: “When you get out,” Zack says, “with everything they told [you] you can’t do, now you say, ‘Just watch me.’” The head of a nonprofit that assists kids like Zach says, “They’re akin to a refugee population, except they were born in the U.S.” Zach’s father agreed that the Hofhines should have Zach’s power of attorney, and they have now adopted him. (Los Angeles Times, 5/8/13)

Members of the Brown family, who appear on TLC’s Sister Wives, say they are consenting adults living a life they have chosen, one without the sexism and child abuse commonly attributed to polygamy. The wives took part recently in a University of Nevada Las Vegas forum that included antipolygamist former plural wives who painted a different picture. Willie Steed, from the documentary Breaking Polygamy: the Reeducation of Willie Steed, spoke about his experiences with child labor, an abusive father, lack of education, and hiding from federal authorities because of his family ties to FLDS leader Warren Jeffs. “My experience of polygamy was hell,” he said. “They say this life is about free agency. This was not free agency. Children really take a beating in polygamy.” Christine Brown, in contrast, spoke of growing up with her father’s sister wives and desiring the same for her own children. Kollene Snow, once a member of the Mormon Kingston Clan, said her family’s sister wives hated each other. Kristyn Decker, author of Fifty Years in Polygamy: Big Secrets and Little White Lies, spoke of her heartbreak at having to share her husband. Also commenting at the forum was Christine Maria Katas, who founded Voices for Dignity, which is against legalizing polygamy. Kody Brown maintained that ”Secrecy is a Petri dish for abuse. We have a transparent family. Our experience isn’t your experience.” He accused critics of stereotyping and said that “real crimes”—abuse and neglect—should be prosecuted, “not polygamy.” (Las Vegas Weekly, 5/1/13)

A federal judge in June ruled that Justice Department fair-housing claims against the FLDS-dominated towns of Colorado City, Arizona and Hilldale, Utah are appropriate at this time because it has not been shown that the claims were not brought beyond the time allowed by the statute of limitations. The suit alleges that public officials in the towns—including the police and people running the utilities—have colluded with FLDS leadership to discriminate in various ways against citizens who are not church members. The Justice Department says, for example,

Defendants have denied non-FLDS members access to housing in the cities, and they have coerced and intimidated, threatened and interfered with housing rights of non-FLDS members[,] … inappropriately used [their] state-granted law enforcement authority to enforce the edicts of the FLDS[,] … and misdirected public resources in the service of the FLDS. (Courthouse News Service, 6/19/13)

In a neighborhood just inland from Queensland’s Sunshine Coast, former computer systems engineer and property developer Alan Miller leads some 100 followers who believe he is the reincarnation of Christ. Members of Miller’s God’s Way of Love also believe that the planet will soon suffer cataclysmic events in which billions will die. Miller, who has made such a prediction several times, only to revise the date, uses the apocalyptic 2012 film starring John Cusack in his online seminars about “end times.” Followers include 68-year-old grandmother Joy Harris from the Gold Coast, who spent 18 years and $100,000 following the American self-help guru Tony Robbins. Asked if she thinks Miller may not be Jesus, she says, “It’s possible, but it’s not likely.” (He says he is Jesus’ reincarnation, and he has persuaded his wife that she is the reincarnation of Mary Magdalene.) Another follower is Louise “Luli” Faber, a 39-year-old neuroscientist who worked at the University of Queensland Brain Institute; she owns the house in which some followers live. Others reside in properties surrounding Miller’s own modest abode, where he appears to live a simple but comfortable life, sustained by donations from followers that allow him to fly overseas on recruiting missions.

Miller believes that, by examining traumas experienced in both present and past lives, one can get closer to a perfect relationship with God. Illness, failed relationships, cancer, drug addiction, and more are caused by malign spirits that make us act in “unloving” ways, which distance us from God. He will lead his present flock to God through the performance of good deeds and spiritual exercises. Miller, who grew up a Jehovah’s Witness and was a full-time proselytizer for that sect, had a beautiful first wife, two children, and a business. But his long suffering from harrowing memories of a prior life as the historical Jesus—he literally felt the physical suffering of the Crucifixion—led him to an epiphany at the age of 40 in which God revealed Truths to him. Miller’s philosophy, in the end, appears to be copied from the Padgett Passages, received by Texan James Pagett, who in 1914 claimed to be receiving messages from his recently deceased wife that he recorded using a technique called automatic writing.

Former follower Dean Alan Sims began to have doubts about Miller, and concern especially about the guru’s telling some couples, even married ones, that they were not soul mates and would be unable to achieve happiness if they remained together. Other former acolytes say Miller controlled the group by ordering a disobedient partner shunned if the partner did not conform to his wishes. (Sunday Morning Herald, 5/1/13)

Members of the Israelite School of Universal Practical Knowledge (ISUPK), a Hebrew Israelite group based in Upper Derby, near Philadelphia, are conducting weekly protests outside shops at Liberty Place, in Center City. Protesters shout, “The white man is the devil,” and other epithets, which Israelite leader Commander General Yahanna calls “shock treatment.” He says, “You white people can rest assure [sic]. We’re not going to riot. We’re not gonna burn down your cities. What we are going to do, though, is fix Black and Hispanic people.” (NBC Philadelphia, 7/19/13)

A 17-year-old Jehovah’s Witness suffering from a lethal cancer, who has been accepting chemotherapy, has refused a blood transfusion, a decision overruled by a New South Wales Supreme Court justice, who said the young man had been “cocooned in faith.” The boy will soon turn 18, however, and the court will no longer be able to overrule his refusal. Justice Gzell said, “The sanctity of life in the end is a more powerful reason for me to make the orders than is respect for the dignity of the individual. X is still a child, although a mature child of high intelligence.” (Sydney Morning Herald, 4/18/13)

New York high-risk pregnancy specialist Eve Karkowski, explaining that all Jehovah’s Witnesses do not treat the issue of blood transfusions the same way, tells of a patient in her practice who, when confronted with the possible need for transfusion during a delivery, said, “I want my cousin”—who was not a Witness—“to be my deputy,” to decide whether to transfuse, or not, if during the operation the patient could not speak. It seemed clear to Dr. Karkowski that the patient was choosing someone who was not a Jehovah’s Witness, someone who would not make a Jehovah’s Witness choice but who would allow the physicians to save her life. “As a former student of Talmud, this scenario felt very familiar,” said Karkowski. “In Jewish law, because you are forbidden to turn on the light on Shabbat, a friendly gentile can perform that service—the Shabbes Goy.” Karkowski thought this approach would work with other Jehovah’s Witnesses. It did not, and Jehovah’s Witnesses officials have refused to discuss the matter with her. (Slate, 6/25/13)

The Wisconsin Supreme Court has affirmed the state Court of Appeals’ refusal to consider the request of a 15-year-old Jehovah’s Witness to rule on the issue of whether or not the state recognizes her right, as a mature minor, to make medical decisions—in this case, to deny life-saving blood transfusions—and whether the appointment of a guardian—who approved the transfusions—violated her constitutional rights. The Supreme Court acknowledged that the case “undoubtedly presents issues of public importance…[,]” but “We deem it unwise to decide such substantial social policy issues with far reaching implications based on a single fact situation in a case that is moot” (the statute of limitations having run out). (Courthouse News, 7/12/13)

Pope Francis has confirmed that the Legionaries of Christ, in support of the reform of the organization ordered by the Vatican, will convene a general assembly in early 2014 to elect new leadership and approve a revised set of constitutions. These would be, the Pope said, “fundamental steps in the path toward authentic and profound renewal.” Many of the order’s priests are convinced that “no reform is possible when the founder of a religious order has been so discredited and when the essential spirit guiding it is so undefined.” A former member of Regnum Christi [a lay organization associated with the Legionaries] suggested that the reform process has thus far been cosmetic and has not addressed the cult-like dynamic that created the order’s problems. “They misled the church before,” she said, “and that same duplicity is so deeply embedded in the congregation that they can proceed in no other way.” (Yahoo News, 6/26/13)

Marlon Gary Hibbert, head of the Life Centre Word of Faith Ministries, has been charged in Toronto, along with two associates, with using a Ponzi scheme to swindle millions of dollars from parishioners to fund a luxurious lifestyle. Many of the victims were not well off; some lost their homes in the process, and others put their life savings into the scheme. (National Post, 5/3/13)

There are many kinds of “sects” in Poland—religious, economic, therapeutic, educational—that appeal to older people as well as to youth, according to Dariusz Pietrek, founder of the Silesian Information Centre, in Chorzów, which is concerned with sects and “psycho-manipulative” groups. Indeed, different sects address themselves often to particular stages of life. The elderly and ill, for example, are especially open to therapeutic sects. People suffering from emptiness and looking for a new lease on life are more likely to be influenced by religious sects. Neither the Polish state nor the Catholic Church is doing much education about such groups, however. Priests say the problem doesn’t exist anymore. But it does. The media simply don’t speak about it. Parents should pay attention to the people their children associate with and the organizations in which they become involved. Getting children to leave a sect often requires changes in the way a family operates. Deprecation and ridicule will not work; rather, such responses to the involvement will even strengthen one’s attachment to the sect. The answer is to get counsel from someone with experience in the process of sect exit. (Sunday Catholic Weekly, 6/13/13)

Louis J. Soteriou, who attended the Ramtha School of Enlightenment in a quest to transport himself through time and space, pleaded guilty in US District Court in Rutland, Vermont, to defrauding hundreds of people who invested in the unfinished movie, Birth of Innocence. Mac Parker, Soteriou’s partner, whom he met at the Ramtha School, had earlier entered a guilty plea to similar charges for what is described as perhaps the largest fraud scheme in Vermont history. Parker agreed to raise money for the film, which was aimed to get people to embrace their “inner, innocent selves.” Parker, a well-known Vermont story teller, also agreed to provide $4.3 million over 10 years to support Soteriou’s quest to transcend his earthly body. Parker raised $28 million between 1999 and 2009 by promising to pay investors double-digit interest rates. By the terms of his plea deal, Soteriou faces up to 7 years in prison and Parker 6 years. (Burlington Free Press, 4/18/13). JZ Knight, the head of the Ramtha School of Enlightenment, says, “I send my condolences to those who were victimized by the misleading actions of the two men behind the film project.” (Burlington Free Press, 3/28/13)

The new “blasphemy bill,” due to take effect in Russia in July, calls for criminal prosecution of abuse of “religious feelings.” The legislation, stimulated by Russian Orthodox believers reacting to the performance of the punk band Pussy Riot in Moscow’s Christ the Savior Cathedral last year, is aimed, say human-rights activists, at dampening criticism of the Orthodox Church and the Kremlin while supporting President Putin’s program for a unified Russian patriotism. Experts believe that the law won’t apply to other religious groups, which will increase violence against, and repression of, minorities. Opponents argue that “offending the feelings of religious believers” as a legal criterion is too vague, and that much of what the law prescribes is already covered by existing statutes. A spokesman for the Jewish Community Center said,

There is a catastrophe waiting to happen in this bill. Its implementation will be like a witch hunt in the Middle Ages, and every punishment will be seen as a convergence of the church and the state and an attempt to strangle freedom of belief. (Moscow Times, 6/13/13)

Islam is to violent Islam as Christianity is to white supremacy, the Ku Klux Klan, and countless other misuses of religion for violent purposes. Penalizing or judging all Muslims for the violence of self-proclaimed jihadists like the Tsarnaev brothers in Boston is like blaming all Christians for the Spanish Inquisition and for Protestant persecution of Catholics in medieval England.
(Washington Post, 5/8/13)

Steve Jobs told his biographer, Walter Isaacson, that commune leader Robert Friedlander “turned me on to a different level of consciousness” when he introduced the future founder of Apple to the reality distortion field. Mac software designer Andy Herzfeld told Isaacson how the concept applied to Jobs: “The reality distortion field was the confounding mélange of a charismatic rhetorical style, indomitable will, and eagerness to bend any fact to fit the purpose at hand.” The first Mac team manager, Debi Coleman, said Jobs “reminded me of Rasputin. He laser-beamed in on you and didn’t blink. It didn’t matter if he was serving purple Kool-Aid. You drank it.” Apple cofounder Steve Wozniac has said,

His reality distortion is when he has an illogical vision of the future, such as telling me that I could design the Breakout game in just a few days. You realize that it can’t be true, but he somehow makes it true.

Mac graphic designer Bill Atkinson, in contrast, told Isaacson, “He can deceive himself. It allowed him to con people into believing his vision, because he has personally embraced and internalized it.” Isaacson concluded, “At the root of the reality distortion was Jobs’s belief that the rules didn’t apply to him. He had the sense that he was special, a chosen one, an enlightened one.” (Skeptic, 7/11/13)

The cult of Santa Muerte, which centers on a Halloween-type shrouded skeleton and was originally popular among criminals and people living on the fringes of society, is now almost mainstream, “reincarnated in pretty robes of white gauze, pink silk, shimmering velvet, and bright sequins.” At the Santa Muerte shrine in downtown Mexico City, people recite traditional rosaries, and “young men crawl on their knees for blocks cradling the holy skeleton in their arms. Instead of lighting incense, they exhale smoke from marijuana cigarettes for the Muerte to inhale.” A Vatican official recently called Santa Muerte, which has no hierarchy or structure, “a blasphemy against religion”; he gives it special attention because it borrows a great deal from traditional church ritual, even though followers still see themselves as devout Catholics. The Vatican official’s statement is not an official condemnation: “it may be that Rome is anxious not to alienate millions of practicing believers who might worship a different kind of saint on the side.” (National Geographic News, 5/12/13)

Oklahoma governor Mary Fallin has signed a bill giving the state oversight of all drug-rehab facilities, including Scientology’s Narconon Arrowhead establishment. One of the bill’s sponsors said he wrote it because of deaths at Narconon Arrowhead. (McAlester News Capital, 5/7/13)

King of Queens actress Leah Remini has reportedly left the Church of Scientology because of “corrupt management.” Remini expressed her views in a “Knowledge Report”—the kind of report Scientologists are told to make when they see something that goes against church rules—to Scientology following her return from the Tom Cruise-Katie Holmes wedding in Rome. Following her complaints, Rimini was ordered to Scientology headquarters in Clearwater for “thought modification,” interrogation, the “Truth Rundown,” and “security checking”; the latter process becomes brutal as the questioner digs into the member’s private life in an attempt to learn whether the subject has negative thoughts about Miscavige or Scientology. Former Scientologist Mark Bunker, a filmmaker, says the Truth Rundown aims to persuade the subject that any unethical or bad behavior she witnessed was simply a delusional product of her own evil intentions. Remini rescinded her report and remained a church member, but continued to criticize it, asking questions about reports of mistreatment of members and refusing to “disconnect” from family and friends. Friends in the church dropped her, but her family—her mother and father are high-achieving Scientologists—have stood by her. (Underground Bunker, 7/8/13)

Twelve Tribes members passed out newsletters filled with “religious craziness” following a Bob Dylan concert in Charleston, South Carolina in early May. The cult’s obsession with Dylan seems to stem from an interview the singer did with Spin in 1985 in which he speaks of the coming Messianic Age. The Tribe’s literature [cited at length here] interprets the lyrics of Dylan’s songs as prophesies of that age. The group is “pretty open about being racist, anti-Semitic, sexist, and homophobic.” (Vince Johnny Lambo, 5/8/13)

An overview of the history, economy, and communal life of the Twelve Tribes concludes:

As awkward as the public feels about that which is different and as ugly as any controversy can be, inhabitants of The Community appear to be a happy and peaceful lot—including women with whom I have the pleasure to interact. Despite what they could very well view as persecution, The Community still chooses to contribute positively towards society by providing wholesome products and services and administering to those in need. (San Diego Reader, 3/10/12)

Ross Haynes Sandwell, 42, was given a 45-day jail sentence by a British Columbia provincial court in July for possessing child pornography. He told British Columbia police in 2011, unasked, that he had viewed child pornography online, and indeed they found images of child pornography on his computer. Sandwell said at the time that he was sorry for his crime, which he said stemmed from a “depraved way of thinking.” An elder of the Twelve Tribes with whom Sandwell now lives told the judge that they believe he was changing his way of life, “from his thoughts to his personal habits,” and that going to jail would “remove the one in need from the people who care enough to help him.” (Prince George Citizen, 7/3/13)

Trois-Riviere Québec’s Mendy Pape goes by the pseudonym Nick Parker on Facebook to avoid hostility from the ultra-Orthodox branch of Judaism, from which he began to break away as a teenager. “You’re coming from a community where every action, from the moment you wake up to the moment you go to sleep, is calculated, with no access to computers, TV, or newspapers,” he said. Yet Pape, whose mother has excommunicated him, believes ultra-Orthodoxy to be a wholesome way of life, just not for everyone. The Hillel organization, which supports ultra-Orthodox leavers, says about four hundred—out of a population of 13,000—cut their roots annually. Local Chabad leader Yisroel Bernath facilitated Pape’s transition, as he has that of many other young people who have rejected the ultra-Orthodox life. Pape’s experience reflects the New York YouTube movement—It Gets Besser—that employs social media to support ultra-Orthodox youth who are contemplating separation from their community. (Gazette, 5/3/13)

Israeli parliamentarian Dov Lipman, an ultra-Orthodox Haredi Jew, is one of the leaders of a movement to pass laws that would push more ultra-Orthodox men into the conscript army—they have traditionally been exempt from military service so they can study religion. The government also wants to diminish Haredi social-welfare benefits and reform their archaic religious schooling. The proposals express an Israeli belief that the ultra-Orthodox must contribute more to the country’s economic well-being and national cohesion, rather than focus solely on religious studies and the maintenance of an 18th-century fundamentalist Hasidic lifestyle lived out in modern ghettos. The government says it’s going to cut child welfare for large families to encourage the Haredi to seek jobs, and that it will withhold funds from schools that fail to broaden their curriculum and prepare students for the workplace. Some in the ultra-Orthodox community—which accounts for 10 percent of the Israeli population and is growing very fast as the result of a high birthrate—violently object to the government’s plans. In May, ultra-Orthodox men took to the streets in Jerusalem and threw stones at police. One man said, “It’s a joke. They founded a state 65 years ago and they want to reform people who keep a thousands-year-old tradition.” A passerby shouted to him that it was blasphemy to speak with reporters. Young Haredi men who have joined the army face a great deal of hostility from their community and try to keep their secular occupation a secret. (Reuters, 6/6/13)

Ayala, who grew up in the ultra-Orthodox Haredi sect in Israel, reveals the life she lived as a repressed young wife in an arranged marriage in which her husband controlled virtually every aspect of her life. While he studied the Torah 14 hours a day, she remained cloistered at home, cut off from friends and family. When the couple sought counseling, the rabbi told her to soldier on. “It is customary [among the Haredi] not to complain,” she says, “certainly not against one’s husband … they [the Haredim] sweep everything under the carpet.” Ayala helped her spouse with his exams, but when she began asking questions about Maimonides’ Guide for the Perplexed, “he said I was crazy, that women do not ask questions.” When she delivered a stillborn baby, he told her as they left the hospital “to smile and show everyone all is from heaven and for the best.” Nonetheless, she joined the Internet forum “Haredi Against Their Will” and began doing secular things such as listening to nonliturgical music and going to the library. But when she won an Open University scholarship, the Haredi community ostracized her. And when her husband learned of her involvement in the forum, he demanded a divorce; a private investigator hired by the families of other forum members had photographed her at a forum outing. The Haredi rabbinic court and community have since used means fair and foul to drive her from the community and alienate her children. When her offer to return to the fold was denied by the rabbinical court, Ayala petitioned the High Court to order the case removed from the rabbinical court. She also asked that the children be taken from their father, and for a neutral social worker to be appointed to examine both parents. Her petition does not ask the court to decide between the parents, “but to appoint an objective individual to examine the fitness of the mother and father, to examine the situation, and to arrive at sensible decisions.” (Haaretz, 6/6/13)

The late Rev. Sun Myung Moon’s utopian community-eco resort—he saw it as a model for the world on 1.5 million acres in the remote Pantanal wetlands of Paraguay—has not thrived. Despite massive dormitory buildings, guesthouses, an Olympic-size swimming pool, sheds for mechanical repairs, fully stocked fish farms, and more, only 10 people, including the visitors’ Japanese host, who is a church missionary, now live here. All of the other Unification Church ‘Messiahs’ who helped build the community have returned to Japan. One dedicated resident, who has a wife and family back in Japan, said he came to Paraguay because life in the city as an English translator was meaningless. “We’re risking our lives for this cause,” he said. “That is doing something worthwhile. We have continued to stick with this.” The death of Rev. Moon has not affected this man’s resolve to keep working toward the model sketched by Moon, nor have the consequent squabbles among Moon’s heirs diminished his dedication. “It’s been a hard year,” the host says. “A lot of things have died because they were three months under water.” (Outside, 2/20/13)

David Keene, former president of the National Rifle Association, has become the opinion editor of [the Unification Church-owned] Washington Times. The newspaper also recently hired as a weekly columnist Ben Carson, a former pediatric neurosurgeon at Johns Hopkins Hospital who in March equated same-sex marriage, bestiality, and pedophilia. (DCist, 7/15/13)

The 8th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals has rejected Tony Alamo’s appeal of his conviction on charges that he ordered the beatings of two young boys in his ministry. He is now serving a 175-year prison sentence for taking young girls across state lines for sex. (San Francisco Chronicle, 11/13/12)

Leading experts on the Amish say the Discovery Channel’s new show—Amish Mafia, which purports to offer an inside view of the men who police the Amish community in Lancaster [County], Pennsylvania—amounts to “foolishness and stupidity and lies” about Amish culture. (Gleanings, 12/11/12)

The Japanese Public Security Intelligence Agency reports there is a record number of new followers of Aleph, the renamed Aum Shinrikyo of subway-gas-attack infamy, and of Circle of Rainbow Light, which subsequently broke away from Aleph. Aleph is considered the more mainstream of the two. Together, they count 255 members, triple the number in 2008. The two groups have been under government surveillance since 2000 and must submit quarterly records on the number of followers and assets. Aum is recruiting on University campuses, employing posters that don’t specifically name Aum. (Japan Daily Press, 12/24/12)

Bikram Choudhury, one of the world’s most successful yoga gurus, has reached a settlement in his suit against former protégé Greg Gamulcio, who has agreed not to teach, in his own studios, the sequence of 26 Asana poses and dialogue known as Bikram’s Beginning Yoga Class, or “hot yoga.” Gamulcio had challenged the belief that traditional yoga methods could be copyrighted, as Bikram has done to protect his lucrative brand. The U.S. copyright office said informally that, while choreography per se can be copyrighted, choreography that purports to have medical benefits might not be subject to copyright. (ABC News, 12/3/12)

China has begun a crackdown on Almighty God, a group the government says is a cult that has called for a “decisive battle” to slay the “Big Red” dragon—the Communist Party—and establish the kingdom of Almighty God. Sect followers reportedly distributed leaflets saying the world would end in 2012. China, obsessed with stability, has focused on groups it considers cults, which have multiplied in recent years; demonstrators have been put down with force and some leaders executed. (NBCNews.com, 12/14/12)

The nationwide suppression of the Church of Almighty God (Eastern Lightning) has seen the arrest of some 1,000 followers of the quasi-Christian group, one of China’s most aggressive millenarian sects. Followers believe that Christ has been reincarnated as a woman in central China and is on a mission to lead the faithful against the government. Recruitment focuses on disenfranchised people in the poorest rural areas and in underground house churches, as well as on members of state-sanctioned Catholic and Protestant congregations. The government estimates that Eastern Lightning followers number close to 1 million. The sect uses songs set to Communist anthems and is said to provide small loans and even sexual favors as inducements to join. According to a member, who is also a government spy, “This religion is extremely hard to smash because they often only have single points of contact between separate levels. It’s actually very similar to the Communist party during its underground revolutionary phase.” (Financial Times, 12/20/12)

Billy Graham has been criticized by certain Christian evangelicals for removing language from a Billy Graham Evangelistic Association Web site that characterized Mormonism as a cult. Removal of the offending language followed Graham’s meeting with presidential candidate Mitt Romney, a member of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints (Mormons), after which Graham told Romney, “I’ll do all I can to help you. And you can quote me on that.” One evangelical said a result of the episode “will be the acceptance and approval of Mormonism as a legitimate Christian ‘denomination’ or faith group. The blurring will only increase if Mitt Romney is elected president.” (Deseret News, 10/28/12)

Rodney Stark and his colleagues studied the growth of the Mormon church in order to learn what factors, beyond those accounting for the typical exponential increase in membership over time, may explain the explosive growth of new religious movements historically. The researchers concluded that nearly all early conversions to the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints came through family ties and a few close friendship links. This style of growth continues in a church that now counts 13 million followers. (Washington County Observer, 10/27/12)

The Gray County (Ontario) police are investigating allegations of polygamy and abuse in the allegedly “cult-like” Jesus Christ Restored church in rural Chatsworth. Carol Christie, 59, claims she suffered sexual, physical, and psychological abuse while she was a member of the church for almost forty years. Christie reports that church founder Stanley King, whom followers called “The Prophet,” had a “harem” of wives, including her. She says that her mother, totally devoted to the church, brought her to other church members at the age of 18, and they beat her into agreeing to marry Stanley King. “I don’t know if my spirit was broke, or what, but that was it. There just seemed to be no way out.” He was not violent with her, she says, and was good with children—she saw this on missions to orphanages in India, for example—but he was a sexual predator in his church back home. “Your faith is based on fear,” Christie said, “because you’re terrorized psychologically. Everything you think, do and say is done out of fear.” When King died, according to Christie, his son, Fred King, took over the church, and the wives. She said members were taught to believe the outside world was hostile, that they would never survive it, and that if they left they’d be damned eternally. But Christie did leave on the death of Fred King, in 2008, shortly after he beat her in church on Easter Sunday; and she eventually joined several other leavers in an ongoing multimillion dollar suit against the church. Christie went to a lawyer and the media instead of the police because attempts to involve them in the past had failed. She is now writing a book about her experience in the church; any proceeds will be dedicated to helping the remaining 35 church members reintegrate into society. (Owen Sound Sun Times, 12/3/12)

Former members of Faith Christian Church (FCC), a campus ministry at the University of Arizona at Tucson, call it an overcontrolling and manipulative “cult.” But Michael Langone, executive director of the International Cultic Studies Association, characterizes FCC as a “high-demand or high-control group.” He explains, “One of the problems with the term ‘cult’ is, in the minds of a lot of laymen, it has lot of connotations as something sensational. You know, weird groups, weird people who suck blood from cats in cemeteries.” Rather, Langone added, FCC uses persuasion over time to establish its authority. A former member says FCC doesn’t use professionally trained pastors because it believes that “seminaries equal cemetery,” and “they [FCC] would just say that [outside logic] wasn’t aligned with the Bible, and that everything Steve Hall preached was aligned with what the Bible said.” The former member called this a form of brainwashing, but Langone said that the change does not happen overnight. It’s “a gradual process, it’s like a wearing away of someone’s autonomy and capacity to think independently and critically. That’s what makes it insidious.” The school administration has not received any formal complaints about FCC, which was formerly called Maranatha Christian Church of Tucson. (Arizona Daily Wildcat, 10/10/12)

The antigovernment Freeman on the Land movement has become a “major policing problem” in British Columbia and several other Canadian provinces, according to the Security Intelligence Service. Adherents come from both the left and the right politically, but the core belief is that “government operates outside of its legal jurisdiction and therefore Freeman members do not recognize the authority of national, provincial, or municipal laws, policies or regulations,” according to the agency report. Freeman causes include environmentalism, anticapitalism, antiglobalization, and far-right racism. Freeman supporters reject violence, but law-enforcement officials are not convinced. Freeman on the Land resembles the “sovereign citizen movement” in the United States. (Victoria Times, 12/30/12)

The Eldorado, Texas, settlement of the Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints (FLDS) is now virtually abandoned, and the state is attempting to seize it in a forfeiture action. Fear of the church has subsided, and Schleicher County Sheriff David Doran says that it is a “non-issue for this community.” (Reporter News, 12/3/12)

Having gained legal control of the FLDS property trust that holds the houses and land where thousands of its members live and work, the state of Utah has begun to discuss with residents how to deal with the property. This will be difficult, given the community’s polygamous history, the excommunication of many from the sect, and the deep divisions within it. The crowd of about 150 at a first meeting with Utah Attorney General Mark Shurtleff to discuss the issue did not appear to contain any of the thousands of FLDS members still loyal to jailed leader Warren Jeffs. Winston Blackmore, head of the breakaway FLDS community in Bountiful, British Colombia, attended; the Canadian property is held by the trust. One possible solution, returning the property deeds to the people who live on the trust, would not be easy.

Who, for example, would be given a home built by a man who was excommunicated and left his family behind? … The man who built the home is one possibility, but the family—still faithful to Jeffs, and possibly no longer speaking to their apostate husband and father—needs it.  (Salt Lake Tribune, 12/1/12)

Russian President Vladimir Putin says laws governing the activities of totalitarian cults, now proliferating across the country, should be tightened. Totalitarian religious groups are involved in “a hunt not only for souls, but also people’s property,” he said. He noted a Muslim group that spent 10 years in a catacomb, and another group that lived in a shelter waiting for the apocalypse, in 2008. (RT.com, 10/25/12)

The French government recently created an agency to monitor the separation of church and state, saying it will deport foreign-born imams and disband hard-line traditionalist Catholics if the government’s new surveillance scheme indicates that these people suffer “religious pathology” and might become violent. “The aim,” said the Interior minister,

is not to combat opinions by force, but to detect and understand when an opinion turns into a potentially violent and criminal excess. The objective is to identify when it’s suitable to intervene to treat what has become a religious pathology.

Traditionally secularist left-wing parties are concerned that some Muslims, Jews, and Catholics are lately stressing their unique identities within the wider French culture. Groups that especially worry the government include not only Salafi Muslims, who recruit among disaffected youth, but also Civitas, which is close to the far-right National Front, and the rebel Society of Saint Pius X. The Interior minister said the government had a duty to combat religious extremism because it was “an offense to the republic” based on a negation of reason that puts dogma ahead of the law.” In his view, religious extremists include creationists in the United States and in the Muslim world, radical Islamists, ultratraditionalist Catholics, and ultraorthodox Jews who want be separate from the modern world. (Reuters, 12/12/12)

Believers say that the vision of the late Orthodox Christian mystic Elder Paisios—who saw “great disruption and confusion” followed by hunger and political turmoil—was a prescient, Nostradamus-like glimpse of the current situation in Greece. The monk has become a popular sensation: Hundreds of pilgrims kneel at his shrine—he died in 1994—and ask for help finding jobs, paying bills, and surviving. Bookstores stock dozens of Paisios-related titles; there is even a Paisios diet guide as well as a children’s book. Newspapers carry accounts of his miracles, and even nonbelievers are caught up in the craze. A former military officer visiting the shrine remarked, “He foresaw the crisis. But he also said it would get better, that we will overcome and that prosperity will return. He helped a lot of people.” A local university sociologist said, “Figures like Paisios represent the shaman, the magician of the tribe. They are the incarnation of a transcendental, invisible power.” A particularly resonant Paisios prophesy declares, “The people will be so disappointed by the politicians of the two big parties that they will get sick of them.” He also believed that a cabal of five people secretly rules the world, and he predicted that Greece would defeat Turkey, rule Constantinople [Istanbul], and take part of Albania. (Wall Street Journal, 12/3/12)

The lawyer for Micah Moor, a member of a small group associated with the International House of Prayer (IHOP), says that his client’s statement to police that he and several other members of the spiritual community killed Bethany Ann Deaton, the new wife of leader Tyler Deaton, was a fiction born of a fragile mental state induced by Bethany Ann’s suicide and the removal of Tyler Deaton from the close-knit religious community. Moore had said that he and the other men who lived with the Deatons drugged and sexually assaulted Bethany over several months. They killed her, he said, because they were afraid she was going to tell her therapist about the abuse. Community members first got together at Southwestern University, in Georgetown, Texas, and moved to Kansas City to participate in the IHOP “end times” evangelical mission base that has drawn thousands of young people from all over the world. Tyler Deaton has not been charged in Bethany’s death, but he and others in the group are being investigated. Three of the men whom Moore implicated told police that they had long-term sexual relations with Deaton, which were kept secret from his wife. (Kansas City Star, 11/29/12)

Wayne Beasen warned in May that something was seriously amiss at Mike Bickle’s International House of Prayer (IHOP) in Grandview, Mo. The IHOP group is an

aggressive, militant, angry, fundie [sic] cult growing under your [Kansas City exurb’s] nose… It is an ideal incubator for young narcissists with Messiah complexes who fancy themselves prophets… Nothing had freaked me out as much as my evening at IHOP. The young people there were nothing short of zombies… disconnected from the world… If this weren’t scary enough, it appears that IHOP is attempting to take over the city of Grandview and turn it into a hotbed of fundamentalism.

IHOP bought 125 acres adjacent to I-49 and plans a $30 million phase-one investment that includes a new Mission Base with a 2,500-seat, 24/7 prayer room, a 5,000-seat weekend church and conference facility, and apartments for students and missionaries. (Huffington Post, 11/21/12)

The Masons, believing that the public and potential members do not know much about their organization—save to think that it’s very secretive—now have Facebook pages, Web sites, and TV ads, all calculated in part to reverse falling membership—from 4 million in 1959 to 2 million today, but now attracting younger men, and growing. (Wall Street Journal, 10/11/11[sic])

The 2002 murder in Philadelphia of John Gilbride, former husband of MOVE matriarch Alberta Africa, remains unsolved. Gilbride, who had been involved in a child-custody dispute with Africa, claimed in divorce papers that “my attitude toward my wife was going to cause a situation that would involve my death.” Following a domestic dispute over their son that led Gilbride to call police, Africa testified, “Jack was not pushin’ me because he wanted Zack, because he knew that MOVE belief would not allow me to give him Zack.” Gilbride intended, she said, to “drive me and Zachary into a situation where we’re confronted by cops and court orders and warrants. And he knows because of 1985, May 13, 1985, he knows what a situation like that could cause.” (The date was a reference to the armed confrontation that led authorities to bomb MOVE’s West Philadelphia base, killing 11 members and destroying 60 homes.) (Philadelphia Inquirer, 9/20/12)

Jack Gilbride, the late John Gilbride’s father, has written a memoir, A Father’s Sacrifice, a 109,000-word manuscript dedicated to John’s son Zach, now 16 and living with MOVE matriarch Alberta Africa. Jack Gilbride says the boy is being groomed to become MOVE leader. The manuscript details John Gilbride’s long relationship with MOVE and Alberta Africa, during which John was allegedly “subjected to mental cruelty meted out by MOVE” and “nearly paralyzed by an overwhelming sense of guilt and fear.”

According to the columnist reviewing this memoir, “‘South Jersey Friends of MOVE’ distributed statements accusing me and The [Philadelphia] Inquirer of ‘harassing’ the group about the ‘supposed murder’ [of John Gilbride].” (Philadelphia Inquirer, 9/17, 20/12)

The German Bundesrat has voted to file a complaint with the high court seeking to ban the far-right National Democratic Party (NPD). Sixteen states have already agreed to support the measure. One governor said that the NPD had created the intellectual breeding ground that produced the National Socialist Underground, the neo-Nazi terrorist cell allegedly responsible for the murder of nine small business owners of Turkish and Greek origin, and a police officer. The NPD is described as anti-Semitic, racist, and xenophobic by the German domestic intelligence agency. An earlier attempt to ban the NPD failed in court, and many, including political leaders opposed to the party, fear that a ban attempt might again fail constitutional muster, or that a legal ban could actually strengthen the NPD or be rejected by the European Court of Human Rights. (Spiegel Online, 12/14/12)

Psychologists Alex Haslam of the University of Queensland and Stephen Reicher of the University of St. Andrews offer a more nuanced understanding of the relationship between loyalty and evil actions than that offered by the classic “obedience experiments” of Stanley Milgram in 1961 and the Stanford Prison Experiment of 1971. Both earlier studies propagated the belief that people will tend to blindly follow authority figures and become cruel and abusive when placed in positions of power. Haslam and Reicher argue, in the open-access journal PLoS Biology, that people will, indeed, comply with the questionable demands of an authority figure, but only if they strongly identify with that person and agree with the beliefs that underlie the actions they are asked to take. We can conclude, then, that we are not unthinking automatons with evil potential waiting to be tapped. Rather, we are simply “more susceptible to psychological manipulation than we may realize.” This is the conclusion of the two psychologists’ BBC Prison Study. Studies of recruitment into the Nazi tyranny and the motivation of suicide bombers—even a close look at Millgram’s study—reach the same conclusion. A corollary to this more nuanced view, however, is that believers who buy fully into a worldview work harder to achieve a leader’s goals. (Pacific Standard, 11/25/12)

The British charity tribunal has given permission for witnesses to give evidence anonymously to a hearing that will consider the appeal of a Plymouth Brethren (formerly Exclusive Brethren) congregation protesting a Charity Commission decision not to grant it charitable status. Some former Brethren members want to testify about the harm they say the Brethren did to them and their families, but to do so anonymously to spare themselves harassment and to prevent family members who remain in the Brethren from being victimized. A representative of the charity solicitors Bates Wells & Braithwaite said there was little case law that would help the tribunal balance evidence of public benefit provided by a charity against evidence of harm it inflicted. “How much harm counteracts how much benefit?” (Third Sector Online, 12/7/12)

Several Labour members of Parliament sponsored a motion congratulating the Charity Commission for its decision to deny charity status to the Exclusive Brethren (now known as Plymouth Brethren), noting, among other things, “the sect’s doctrine of separation, which has divided families and excludes Brethren from society to the extent that members refuse to live in semi-detached houses for fear of contamination from non-Brethren.” There is considerable sentiment in the House of Commons against denying charitable status to the Brethren and similar religious groups. (Civil Society Media, 12/21/12)

Until the Charities Act of 2006, there was a presumption that “advancement of religion” was in itself a public benefit. But the Act removed that presumption and required religious charities, like those with other legally defined charitable purposes, to demonstrate explicitly how their activities made a positive contribution to the community. The difficult challenge now is to determine what constitutes “a positive contribution,” and the Plymouth Brethren situation is a test case. The Commons committee inquiring into the regulation of charities was asked why the Druid Network had charitable status while the Brethren did not. The Commission replied that this was in part because the former did not support events or organizations that were “exclusive.” Supporters of the Brethren now marshal evidence to illustrate Brethren charitable work in the wider community. (Guardian, 1/3/13)

Traits common among psychopathic serial killers—a grandiose sense of self-worth, persuasiveness, superficial charm, ruthlessness, lack of remorse, and the manipulation of others—are shared by people who are not violent—for example, politicians, world and business leaders, high-achieving professionals, and other extremely accomplished individuals from all walks of life. “There is a spectrum of psychopathy along which each of us has our place, with only a small minority of A-listers resident in the ‘inner city.’” Psychological studies and studies of brain physiology, detailed here, support this conclusion. (Scientific American, 10/10/12)

Doubting her Catholicism, Diane Brisbois found the Raëlian Movement in 1976 and has since become a leader in the group with responsibilities in Ontario and Manitoba. Raëlians believe that the human race was created by extraterrestrials, called Elohim, who sent prophets from time to time—such as Jesus, Buddha, Muhammad, and Joseph Smith—to start new religions in order to help people survive and prosper. They say their founder, journalist Claude Vorhilon, is the latest prophet and the savior of mankind. Susan Palmer, a sociologist at Dawson College, prefers to call the Raëlian Movement a new religion rather than a cult. Brisbois, a human resource worker, says, “Raël said it is possible to become eternal if you do good things for humanity.” Michael Kropveld, who heads Info-Cult, which provides information on new religious movements, says,

I think you have a cult leader that probably believes in the adage “No publicity is bad publicity.” I think he likes to be talked about and so if you look at a lot of the things they do, they’re very provocative and often geared towards getting media attention.

For example, Vorhilon claimed several years ago that scientists with the Raël-associated company Clonaid had cloned a human child. The movement operates a vast network of ancillary groups, many of which, like Clitoraid, promote women’s empowerment. (Fringe, 12/7/12)

Long held in disdain on the island, Rastafarianism is growing in Jamaica, more than 20% in the past decade, to 29,000 followers (in a country of 2.7 million). The real number is 8% to 10% of the population, according to Julani Niaah, a lecturer at the University of the West Indies. “The contemporary appeal,” he said, “is particularly fascinating to young men, especially in the absence of alternative sources for their development.” Some Rastafarians live a highly regimented transforming way of life in the isolated Bobo Ashanti commune, alienated from modern existence until the fulfillment of the prophecy that they will return to Africa. They believe that their founder was the black incarnation of Christ. Other Rastas follow a more secular lifestyle characterized by fervor for social justice, reggae music, and the ritual use of marijuana. Discrimination against Rastas is said to be fading, and the first dreadlocked member of Jamaica’s Parliament was elected last year. Meanwhile, Rastafarianism is growing in the United States as a result of jailhouse conversions. (AP, 11/28/12)

The Roman Catholic Church has set up an exorcist hotline in the diocese of Milan and doubled the number of exorcists over the past 15 years in order to cope with the high demand. An official said the rising number of parents who have difficulty controlling disobedient teenagers might explain the increase in the number of suspected possessions.

Usually, the parents call [because they are] concerned about a child who won’t go to school or who’s taking drugs or rebelling. In reality, it’s not a demon, but when they’re 18-years-old, young people don’t want to be told what to do.

He said that many young people were vulnerable to charlatans. “The real diabolical phenomena, at least in my experience, are very rare. Mental phenomena, mental and psychiatric disorders” are often the cause of unusual behavior. Father Gabriele Amorth, who was the Vatican’s chief exorcist for 25 years and claims to have dealt with 70,000 cases of demonic possession, said that the church’s sex-abuse scandals proved that “the Devil is at work inside the Vatican.” He also believes that yoga practice is “satanic; it leads to evil just like reading Harry Potter.” (Independent, 11/29/12)

Statues of the skeletal Santa Muerte first appeared in Ciudad Juarez, Mexico in 2009, when drug-related violence began to devastate the town and people started to look to her for protection. The Mexican Catholic Church denounces Santa Muerte as a cult. According to Santa Muerte priestess Yolanda Salazar, “people pray for protection, but also health, and for love.” On a visit, Salazar’s sanctuary in the city displayed 100 various-sized statues of Santa Muerte as 25 worshippers ate and danced to mariachi music. Her weekly prayer vigil draws a congregation similar in size to one for a Catholic mass. Members of the drug cartels have long been Santa Muerte followers; they make offerings in return for protection in their illegal activities. Salazar says that even police go to Santa Muerte for protection. (NBC Latino, 12/31/12)

Rabbi Nechemya Weberman, of the Satmar sect of Hasidim in Brooklyn, has been found guilty of sexually abusing a young girl he was paid to counsel, and now he faces 25 years in prison. The victim, 18, testified that he forced her to perform oral sex and reenact porn scenes during closed-door counseling sessions ordered by her religious school principal, beginning when she was 12. The school referred her to the Rabbi when she asked probing questions about the existence of God. Weberman’s office turned out to be a flophouse for wayward teenage girls. (New York Daily News, 12/10/12)

The girl’s mother testified that her daughter was told to get counseling from Rabbi Weberman because the open button on her shirt indicated she was immodest.

It was hard on her. They were busy with pointless things like very thick tights. They had to go touch the tights to see what quality it was. The principal called her a heretic… When my husband went to the synagogue to pray [after Weberman was charged] they would scream at him.

She said her 5-year-old granddaughter was not allowed back to school, and that her husband’s business had suffered. (AFP, 12/3/12)

Four spectators were arrested during Weberman’s trial and charged with criminal contempt for taking pictures of his accuser while she was on the witness stand. The girl told how she and her family had faced a pattern of intimidation from the Satmar community following her accusation that Weberman had sexually abused her. Earlier, four men were charged for attempting to stop her participation in the case by offering her a $500,000 bribe. Prosecutors say victim intimidation is common in the ultra-Orthodox community because going to secular authorities with charges against another Jew is considered treasonous. (New York Times, 11/29/12)

After rabbi Weberman’s conviction, Satmars told customers to boycott the parents’ businesses—their restaurant is now closed—pulled advertising dollars from an Orthodox radio show, and spat on an antimolestation activist. Meanwhile, “the pervert’s posse” took out a two-page ad in the Williamsburg-based Satmar community’s largest newspaper in an effort to raise $1 million for an appeal. It is said they want to hire Alan Dershowitz to represent Weberman. (New York Daily News, 12/14/12)

The family of a man who died while in Narconon’s Arrowhead drug treatment center in Oklahoma has sued the [Scientology-associated] facility, alleging negligence and wrongful death. It is the third such suit against Arrowhead. Three other deaths at the center spurred a multiagency investigation, which continues. (Tulsa World, 10/24/12)

Private investigators Paul Marrick and Greg Arnold, who sued Scientology for unpaid work, which included investigating former high Scientology official Marty Rathbun, have dropped their legal action against the church. Rathbun said it’s likely the two reached an out-of-court-settlement, and that this follows a pattern in lawsuits between the church and its critics. It has usually been the case that Scientology uses litigation as a club to force a settlement that includes an agreement to criticize no longer. In this case, however, it was the critics who sued Scientology and got a settlement. (Corpus Christie Caller Times, 11/29/12)

Clearwater Beauty Salon owner Travis Wilkinson has put a sign up in his window reading, “Notice: This is one of the only spas in downtown Clearwater not owned by a Scientologist.” He says he thinks many potential customers are avoiding his shop thinking he must be a Scientologist because Scientology’s headquarters is nearby and many surrounding salons are, indeed, owned by Scientologists. He reports that his business is up since the sign went up, and he’s encouraging other businesses to follow his example. The President of the Clearwater Regional Chamber of Commerce says, “I don’t think, in this day and age, that this type of comment is appropriate. It really doesn’t serve the business community well. The Church of Scientology is not going to go away.” (Tampa Bay Times, 11/30/12)

Attorney Kenneth Dandar in Clearwater has failed to block a hearing to determine if he will pay more than $1 million to the Church of Scientology for violating a settlement agreement. Dandar originally sued Scientology in 1997 on behalf of the estate of Lisa McPherson, a Scientologist who died in 1995 while in the church’s care. Criminal charges were dropped, but McPherson’s family, assisted by Dandar, pursued a civil suit against the church that was eventually settled, with a proviso that barred future claims against Scientology by the litigants. But in 2009, Dandar brought a wrongful death suit against the church, an action that has led to the hearing to determine what he must pay. (Courthouse News Service, 12/7/12)

The Australian Federal Magistrates Court has ordered a grandfather not to treat his developmentally delayed grandson using Scientology methods. His daughter, the boy’s mother, said she suffered an “intrusive and abusive” upbringing, that she was bullied at school and underwent 2 years of “emotional release therapy” from her father, who employed Scientology techniques, including “reliving her birth.” Her father said he did not treat his grandson until the lad was 14, and that he cured his son-in-law of perspiration. A doctor said the grandfather had poor personal boundaries and an idiosyncratic belief system that he “imposed on the mother in the past, to the detriment of her mental health.” Magistrate Robyn Sexton said she did not believe that either the mother or grandmother was able to stand up to the grandfather to prevent him from “practicing his treatment,” so she banned the grandparents from having the boy in their sole care. (Herald Sun, 12/17/12)

The Georgia Department of Community Health has notified Narconon, the Scientology-associated drug treatment program, that it intends to revoke the license of the program’s Norcross clinic for misrepresentation and functioning as a residential facility. The state action came following the fourth probe of the facility this year. Narconon told an out-of-state drug court manager that its services included 24-hour supervision, false information that harmed the “health and well-being” of the client the court was placing; he died of a drug overdose. (Atlanta Journal-Constitution, 12/26/12)

The family of jailed South China Church preacher Gong Shengliang has asked the government to release him after he apparently suffered a stroke. The banned church attracted some 100,000 followers before a government crackdown. When police put pressure on the church, Gong’s aids beat followers-turned–informants, which led to his arrest in 2001 and a sentence of 19 years for encouraging the beatings and the raping of at least two followers. (Fox News, 12/23/12)

Family members of victims of the disastrous Sedona sweat lodge ceremony in 2009 have complained about the numerous delays in sentencing James Arthur Ray, convicted of negligent homicide; he promoted and ran the event and remains free on bail. Connie Joy, author of Tragedy in Sedona—My Life in James Arthur Ray’s Inner Circle, has donated some of the trees that are planted at a memorial to the victims at the Angel Valley Spiritual Center, where the sweat lodge was held. (Daily Courier, 10/7/11[sic])

Following the failure of the Mayan calendar prediction, the Sword of God Brotherhood in England announced a new date for doomsday: January 1, 2017. The Brotherhood says it heard this from the Prophet Gabriel, who also said sect members would be the only survivors; everyone else will perish in hellfire. (ANI, 12/23/12)

Thierry Tilly, now known as the guru of Monflaquin, was recently tried in Bordeaux for taking over the lives of the French aristocratic Védrines family for a decade and brainwashing them to cede their estimated $6.2 million fortune to him. The prosecutor said, “The affair is extraordinary for its time span and for the atypical form of the manipulation that was practiced.” A family lawyer called Tilly “a rare mixture of Rasputin and Machiavelli,” a remark that apparently flattered Tilly, who stated on the stand, “I gave a copy of Machiavelli to the Libyan ambassador, who gave me a version of the Koran that he dedicated to me.” As he said to an investigator, “Everything I have told you is eighty percent true; please forgive me for the twenty percent that is fantasy.” In the courtroom, “This noble French family [living together in a chateau], with its evident sophistication, cultivation and education, seemed so very at odds with the collective lapse of judgment that had brought them here today.”

One of France’s leading psychiatrists explained that Tilly had followed the master manipulator’s guidebook: Identify and prey on each family member’s weakness; cultivate a paranoiac siege mentality; have an answer for everything; dismantle strong bonds to better enslave victims; and induce family members to doubt aspects of their personal lives, for example, their spouse’s fidelity. Describing the process by which Tilly insinuated himself into the Védrines’ lives, the prosecution noted Tilly’s claim that his job as a computer expert was only a cover, and that he was really “a special agent in the service of France,” with NATO connections. When family member Jean Marchand called Tilly a pervert and a charlatan, his wife divorced him—on email orders from Tilly—told him he was an agent of evil, and took the money out of their joint accounts. (They remarried, in 2010, after Tilly’s arrest.) “Some couples,” said Marchand, “have car accidents, others have health problems. For us, it was a guru accident.” Said Diane de Védrines, “Psychosis is a glass that fills every day, drop by drop. In the beginning it was the Freemasons; at the end it was everybody who walked their dog. Tilly put a psychological pistol to our heads.” Pointing out that the door was never locked, she added, “To leave meant to betray the family.”

Tilly’s greatest achievement, however, was that he organized and ran everything from his home in the UK; nobody in the village near the chateau remembers ever seeing him. Moreover, he moved the entire family to Oxford, where they were even more isolated. The gynecologist in the family worked as a gardener, the children as waitresses or shop assistants. Even after Tilly was arrested, he had a psychological hold on most of the family, and they underwent “exit counseling,” a method pioneered in America by a former member of the Unification Church. Yet 3 years after they were freed, five family members are still receiving psychiatric treatment. In the end, Tilly and his accomplice, Jacques Gonzalez, were found guilty of “brainwashing” the Védrines, kidnapping, and torture with acts of barbarism. Tilly was sentenced to 8 years in prison, Gonzalez to 4 years, and together they were ordered to reimburse the family more than $6.2 million. (Age, 12/15/12)

The Maharishi Free School in Lancashire, a government-supported school where students practice Transcendental Meditation (TM) twice daily and receive “consciousness-based” education, has been reprimanded for failing to have any of its pupils take compulsory national curriculum tests. The school Web site says, “Creativity and intelligence are systematically developed with a few minutes of transcendental meditation at the beginning and end of the school day.” (BBC News, 12/13/12)

Regarding Robert Schneider’s defense of his Transcendental Meditation paper: “A trial with barely 200 patients cannot be expected to provide broad answers about the health benefits of a novel intervention.” And why did the “Archives of Internal Medicine … withdraw the paper only 12 minutes before its scheduled publication”? Moreover, how can there be “a new and improved version” in 2012 of the original 2007 paper,

unless there were serious flaws in the earlier version? … I am deeply concerned about the way this trial [of a TM heart disease treatment mode] will be used, or misused, to “sell” the brand of Transcendental Meditation in the broadest possible population, ie, [sic] everyone.

TM may reduce heart disease risks for healthy people as well as those with heart conditions, and meditation may help the latter, “but it will never be a cure for heart disease and won’t replace other treatments.” [The article concludes with a technical response by Sanjay Kaul to the foregoing critique, written by Larry Hurston.] (Forbes, 11/25/12)

North Korea’s Pyeonghwa Motors Corp., a car manufacturer jointly owned by the Unification Church and the North Korean government, is closing. The company, which assembled cars from knockdown kits imported from China and Italy, has rarely been profitable. (Wall Street Journal, 11/27/12)

According to Unification Church president Hyng Jin Moon, speaking at a Bay Area town meeting, ex-gay maverick Richard Cohen is a member of his church. Cohen, whose “gay cure” techniques range from beating pillows with a tennis racquet to cradling his male patients like babies, admits to having been a member but has denied repeatedly that he is now affiliated with the church. (Ex-Gay Watch, 10/31/12)

The mayor of Bridgeport, Connecticut, Bill Finch, remains hostile to the Unification Church (UC) 20 years after it bought the University of Bridgeport (UB) out of bankruptcy. “It’s just sad,” says Christopher Shays, a Bridgeport resident and former Republican congressman who delivered the university’s 1997 commencement address. “It’s personal and counter productive for the good of Bridgeport.” Finch avoids the campus and leaves official relations with the university to subordinates. A UB spokesman said, “We would be in an even better place than we are [if the mayor endorsed the university]. We can do it [develop] without him, but having the mayor as your advocate is by far better.” Following the recent death of UC leader Sun Myung Moon, the mayor seems to be softening his approach to the university. (Danbury News Times, 11/23/12)

Sookyeong Kim Sebold, a former bookkeeper for the Korean Cultural and Freedom Foundation (KCFF), a nonprofit dedicated to promoting cultural exchange through sponsorship of the Universal Ballet Company (founded by Sun Myung Moon and the Unification Church), has been convicted of embezzling more than $800,000 from KCFF and failing to report the income on her tax returns. (Connection Newspapers, 12/17/12)

Former Word of Faith Fellowship Church member Michael Lowrey, 22, has filed a complaint with police in Spindale, North Carolina, alleging that he was kept in a church dormitory for months in 2011 after telling church members he was gay. He said members knocked him unconscious as they read from scripture.

The pastor said to find out what my darkest secret was, and I was like, ‘I’m never telling.’ They hit my head with fists and I was on the floor. They held my hands and feet down and were pushing on my chest and I could barely breathe.

The church has been accused in the past of abusing a congregant—the conviction was overturned—and it successfully sued the Department of Social Services over child-abuse charges, gaining a $300,000 settlement. “As far as the church being against gays,” said Jane Whaley, one of the church’s pastors, “that’s absurdity. There are 18 people in this church who have been delivered, they’re not homosexual anymore, but if they were, they could still stay in the church.” (ABC News, 10/22/12)

The New Zealand chapter of the Aetherius Society, a UFO religion, says that rising numbers of unidentified-flying-object sightings across North Island could be explained by the fact that the group is holding a conference in Auckland this week. (Auckland Now, 5/28/12)

Fifteen members of the Ohio Amish breakaway group led by Sam Mullet, Jr., have been found guilty of hate crimes; they carried out beard- and hair-cutting attacks, planned by Mullet, on fellow Amish. All face prison terms of at least ten years. Sociologist Donald Kraybill told National Public Radio’s Barbara Bradley Haggerty last year that Mullet acted like a cult leader. “He’s not accountable to anyone. He’s not in fellowship with other Amish groups. He thinks he’s invincible. So, under the guise of religion, he is trying to protect himself so he can do whatever he wants to do.” Mullet argued that the haircutting was protected religious activity. Defense lawyers claimed the incidents were aimed to bring wayward members back to God and true Amish ways. (NPR, 9/20/12)

When Mullet ordered the haircutting of Amish leaders, he was responding to an Amish bishop’s veto of his shunning certain members of his own small community. The bishop’s veto also may have stemmed, in part, from reports that he was an authoritarian who brainwashed followers. (Huffington Post, 9/15/12)

Mullet’s Bergholz, Ohio community—40 adults and scores of children—remained “tightly bonded and unwavering” in their belief in his teachings as they waited for the judge’s sentencing following the beard-cutting convictions. Some were afraid that their children would be taken away and given to relatives in other Amish communities. They resent the government’s portrayal of Bergholz, and they’re tired of being treated like zoo animals by outsiders. They say the attacks had nothing to do with religious feuds, but rather family arguments, a theory the federal jury rejected. Says one of Mullet’s sons, “We’re doing what the old-timers did for years. We’re going to keep going. We are not going to disperse. We’ll deal with whatever happens when we get to it.” In 1995, Sam Mullet left the Amish community in Frederickton, Ohio, seeking to lead an ultraconservative group in Bergholz, where he farmed 800 acres, founded a construction company, and saw the town grow. The men of Bergholz said they allowed their own beards to be cut in acknowledgment of their wrongdoings. (Religion News Service, 10/23/12)

While the perpetrators of the Amish beard cutting deserve to be punished, they should not have been charged, as they were, with committing a federal hate crime. Originally, the hate crime law was intended to punish violence that interfered with a federally sponsored act—preventing blacks from voting, for example. But following subsequent Congressional action, “it has become a purer hate-crimes law, aimed simply at violence motivated by bias.” But, having expanded the law, we mustn’t extend it to heinous conduct that isn’t a hate crime in the “classic sense of the term.” The recent targeting and murder of six Sikhs “seems to be an archetypal hate crime,” but “Amish believers attacking others to make a point about the nature of their shared religion is trickier to classify.” Indeed, intrachurch violence would be “ripe for federal intervention,” and over time the law “designed to protect religious groups against bias could easily become a sword with which to prosecute them.” (The Herald via Bloomberg News, 9/11/12)

Amma (Mata Amritanandamayi), on her recent North American tour, gave her blessing hug to thousands at her Ashram in San Ramon, a suburb 35 miles north of San Francisco. The embrace of the so-called “hugging guru” is described by admirers as “a transformative event—an infusion of pure, unconditional love that works on you like an elixir, cleansing the soul and bringing about a higher state of consciousness.” The diverse crowd included “aging hippies, earthy suburban yuppies, square-jawed businessmen, macrobiotic hipsters, plenty of toddlers and teenagers, and a smattering of Indian immigrants who are on hand wherever Amma sets up camp.” Some follow Amma from hugging event to hugging event. Her ashram in India, where she was born in what was then a very small village, is now a city with high-rises, 5,000 residents, and 15,000 visitors a day. Amma’s Embracing the World charity finances projects that serve the poor; the hugging tours have a fundraising element: the organization sells everything from T-shirts and CDs to jewelry that Amma has blessed—an $800 silver bracelet, for example—as well as dolls that look like Amma—$45, $90, and $180, depending on the size, which provide “a kind of cosmic hotline to Amma when not in her presence.” Gail Treadwell, a former member of Amma’s inner circle, is writing a book entitled For the Love of God: A Memoir of Faith, Devotion, and Pure Madness. It will say that Amma is a different person when out of the public eye, that she is physically abusive, and that she has enriched her relatives. (Rolling Stone, 8/16/12)

Kansas commune leader Daniel U. Perez, accused of living off of the insurance payoffs of dead members, will now be tried on a charge of first-degree murder in the 2003 death of Patricia Hughes, 26, at his Angels Landing compound, in Valley Center, Kansas. A woman who was 12 at the time of Hughes’ death says that Perez, calling himself a seer, told Hughes that she would die of drowning; and he assured her she would come back from the dead. The woman says Hughes believed that she would, indeed, die of drowning. (Prior to Perez’s indictment, it was thought that Hughes died accidentally while attempting to save her daughter during a swimming pool incident.) Perez is also charged with rape, sodomy, criminal threat, sexual exploitation of a child, and lying on life-insurance and auto credit applications. The prosecutor says, “The insurance money is what Perez lived off of. He doled it out as he saw fit, when he saw fit.” (Houston Chronicle, 6/7/12)

Eric Michael Johnson argues at length and in detail that Ayn Rand’s ideas about human nature, which led her to deny the existence of altruism and promote uninhibited capitalism, are incorrect. (Scientific American, 10/5/12)

Alleged Black Hebrews leader Peter Lukas Moses, Jr., pleaded guilty in June, in Durham, North Carolina, to murdering a woman and a 4-year-old boy in 2011. Moses avoided a possible death penalty by agreeing to testify against his codefendants. It is said they shared a home with other adult members of the group and their children, and that they practiced polygamy. It is believed that one of the deceased—both were buried in the back yard—was killed when trying to escape, the other because Moses thought the boy was gay. (Herald Sun, 6/11/12)

Jacques Gonzales, head of the Quebec-registered Blue Light Foundation, and his associate, David Tilly, are on trial in Bordeaux for taking over the lives of the aristocratic, 11-member Védrones family for a decade and defrauding them of more than $6 million. The indictment alleges the family lost its grip on reality under Tilly’s influence and sank into paranoia and squalor while he used their money and lived in expensive sections of London and Manhattan. The indictment says, “It is an extraordinary affair by its length and the unusual type of manipulation it involved.” Tilly got in with the not-very-well-knit family when he offered cleaning services, in 1999, then pretended to be a secret agent, and eventually began to play members off against one other, feeding their insecurities, jealousies, and resentments amidst feuds over inheritance. He persuaded them that their problems arose from a plot by Freemasons, Jews, and Rosicrucians. “Gradually, he created a climate of terror,” explaining that everything the family did was watched, and that they were wiretapped. Tilly persuaded them to shun suspicious friends and relatives; one broke up with her husband, urged by Tilly, who said her husband was a threat to their children. Three generations of the family lived for 7 years, like hermits, in their ancestral chateau, still managed by Tilly, in absentia, through daily phone calls and emails. “They were so fearful for their safety and that of their relatives that they complied with everything he asked him to do,” according to the indictment. They sold their furniture, jewels, and silverware and gave the proceeds to Tilly—even wedding rings, because they believed the stones were hidden Freemason signs. It seems that the Quebec foundation, never active in the province, was an empty shell. In 2008, Tilly persuaded the family to sell the Chateau and move to Oxford, England, where one member worked as a cook, and her husband, once a gynecologist, worked as a gardener. (Globe and Mail, 9/16/12)

Church of The End Times leaders David and Dennis Stanley face charges of disturbing the peace and resisting arrest in Uxbridge, Massachusetts. Police tried to serve a restraining order on Dennis, which was brought by his wife, Beth, who explained: “When your husband brings home 10 girls and tells you to sleep downstairs while he sleeps upstairs with them—you realize it’s the end.” The police say that when they came to the house, the brothers shouted that “they did not recognize our authority,” and they were “not bowing to men.” The next day, police evicted 7 teenage girls from the house. David Stanley later said that he’s just trying to minister to troubled young people and not cultivate a cult following. The brothers’ mother says, “I just don’t know what to do except try to bring the church down.” Local critics of the church, which Beth describes as once pure and Christian, say it has become perverted and now includes brainwashing. Dennis says Beth is lying about the church in order to gain leverage in their divorce conflict. “She’s trying to get the house, the money—and everything else.” (WBZ-TV, 10/5/12)

Prosperity preacher Creflo Dollar was arrested and charged with allegedly assaulting his daughter, 15, during an argument following his refusal to let her attend a party. The girl suffered superficial injuries. “Dollar is one of the most disciplinary, judgmental prosperity preachers on the circuit. He blames everybody in his congregation if his finances are not ‘right.’ … Dollar has crossed a line in disciplining his daughter.” One of his congregation wrote on Dollar’s Facebook page, “I [don’t know] the details and I don’t really need to because the glory of God has displayed [sic] throughout your life the whole 11 yrs I have been at your church.” (Religion Dispatches, 6/8/12)

A case involving the Westcountry branch of the Exclusive Brethren (aka Plymouth Brethren) may determine how far the Charity Commission is allowed to influence religious practice in faith organizations. The Brethren, as well as thousands of other religious groups in Britain, face losing their charity status unless they admit nonbelievers to their services. (This is Cornwall, 7/31/12)

The number of Exorcists in Poland has risen from four to more than 120 in the past 15 years, according to Father Aleksander Posacki, a professor of theology and a leading demonologist and exorcist. He says the increase is due partly to the shift from atheist communism to free-market capitalism, which “creates more opportunities to do business in the area of occultism,” thus increasing the incidence of spiritual harm. He believes that psychology and psychiatry cannot deal with the extreme behaviors of possession. Evil spirits, he says, “are chased out using a guide of ritual prayers approved by Pope John Paul II in 1999.” Another priest-exorcist reports that they work with psychiatrists to make sure that a victim is not suffering simply from a mental illness rather than possession. The first issue of the monthly publication Egzorcysta, selling for $3, had a first run of 15,000 copies. (Express Tribune/AFP, 9/12/12)

A search warrant filed in US District Court in Sacramento alleges that several Fellowship of Friends members traffic in marijuana. The named members say they use the money to pay their tithe to the religious organization. The warrant describes the Fellowship, located on 1,250 acres in Oregon House, as “a sect of Mystical Fourth-Way Christianity based on the teachings of G. I. Gurdjieff” and founded by Robert Burton in the 1970s. One member is alleged to have, routinely, more than $100,000 in cash at his home from marijuana sales. Fellowship president Gregory Holman denies the allegations, which he says ”may even border on religious hate crimes.” (Appeal-Democrat, 10/16/12)

Regarding the 2007 raid by Texas authorities on the Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints (FLDS) Yearning for Zion Ranch, two questions arise: Has the state protected the children whom it temporarily separated from their families, or has it left the victims in the care of abusers? And does anyone know where the children are today, and whether or not they are safe? Attempting to answer these questions, this article reviews leader Warren Jeffs’ reasons, taken from his extensive journals, for establishing “places of refuge” for his followers. (Texas Observer, 10/1/12)

The history of the state raid on the FLDS Yearning for Zion Ranch, and the subsequent investigation of the community and its leaders, its treatment of children, and the nature and effects of the state’s intervention are reviewed at length in the Texas Observer, 10/1/12.

The Utah Supreme Court has, for the second time, ruled that the FLDS waited too long to challenge a 2005 court-ordered takeover of its community finances. The decision might help settle conflicting rulings by state and federal judges over whether Utah had the power to seize the community trust. A US District Judge last year ordered Utah to give the trust back to the church, saying that the seizure violated its constitutional rights. (San Angelo Standard-Times, 10/4/12)

The British Columbia government hasn’t protected children in the Bountiful community of the FLDS. Since January, a number of boys have been banished; 40 children have been taken away from their fathers and given to “new” “dads” after their biological fathers were deemed unworthy and expelled by the church. There are reportedly only 30 men left, still taking orders from the jailed Warren Jeffs, who has said only 12 to 15 resident men are worthy of impregnating FLDS women and girls. He is also said to have forbidden all but minimal physical contact between mothers and their remaining children, and warned that fathers will be deemed adulterers if they so much as hug a toddler. Play and recreational activity are forbidden, and it looks like the community will be allowed to staff the local elementary-secondary school with unaccredited teachers, by agreement with the Education Ministry, thus saving taxpayers $1.1 million. Ironically, this apparent ceding of certain state controls follows the determination in a reference case by Chief Justice Robert Baumann that polygamy is so harmful to children, women, and society that limiting religious freedom and freedom of association is justified. (Vancouver Sun, 9/10/12)

The FLDS compound near Pringle, South Dakota, which has been in a continuous construction mode for some time—with 22 structures completed—now has four buildings underway, one with a 100-foot by 120-foot foundation. The permit for the building states that it’s for storage. The others include a chicken coop and milking barn that could house hundreds of residents. (Keloland.com, 9/13/12)

Antonio Dumala Faeinar, leader of the Global Empire of the Divine Government, has been found guilty in Manila of raping several minors recruited to the “sex” cult from as far away as Mindanao. He was earlier convicted and sentenced to 40 years in prison for locking up minor members of his congregation at his headquarters. (ABS-CBNews.com, 6/26/12)

Bosnian-born Harun Mehicevic (aka Abu Talha), a Salafist Muslim said by other Melbourne Muslims to be the spiritual leader of a very conservative group of men who congregate at the al-Furqan Islamic bookstore, led a demonstration outside the Global Atheist Convention in September that called for Christopher Hitchens to “burn in hell!” Twelve days earlier, federal and state police raided properties across Melbourne linked to the bookstore, looking for evidence of “terror-related” offenses. One of Mehicevic’s followers was at the time in jail, charged with collecting documents “in connection with the preparation of a terrorist act.” Mehicevic reportedly broke with another hard-line Muslim leader in Melbourne not long ago and began to “assume power he was neither qualified nor entitled to wield,” including the issuance of fatwas (judgments) against people he accused of not being true Muslims. Islamic community sources say he is a “cult leader … charismatic, but totally delusional.” He leads a multiethnic group of 20 to 30 fiercely loyal young men. Some families were concerned enough about his control of their children that they moved out of the country to get them away from his influence. (Sydney Morning Herald, 9/24/12)

Recent scientific studies indicate why certain people are more susceptible to hypnosis than others, and that one tenth of people are highly hypnotizable—although it is not entirely clear why—one third are not hypnotizable, and the rest fall somewhere in between. (San Francisco Chronicle, 10/23/12)

According to credible reports, some of David’s followers hail him as the “Second Coming Christ [sic],” and over the past 5 years ministries and organizations founded by him or connected to him have become influential in the global evangelical movement. Some evangelical organizations severed ties with Jang in reaction to the Second Coming Christ claims; others have reconfirmed their ties to him after their investigations cleared him. But as Jang’s businesses and ministries continue to expand in the United States, Christian leaders are asking questions about the man, his affiliated organizations, and their theology.

Critics in Korea, Japan, and China say Jang was involved in the Unification Church. Critics and supporters alike agree that he was an ordained Korean Presbyterian minister. Documents from his early teaching suggest that followers do not believe he is the Second Coming of Christ, but rather someone who will complete Jesus’ mission. This view is similar to the teaching of Unification Church founder Sun Myung Moon about himself. In 2008, Christianity Today reported on Jang’s work with college students—through Apostolos Missions—to target top universities, especially in California, and persuade students to transfer to his own college. Several former members of Jang-affiliated groups say the “lessons” college student prospects were encouraged to take seemed designed to lead to a “confession” that Jang was the Second Coming Christ, a role Jang has explicitly denied. The lessons also taught a doctrine of “Three Israels”—the first, a national Israel; the second, composed of Christians; and the third, constituted by Jang’s movement. (Christianity Today, 10/16/12)

Ten Jehovah’s Witnesses in Chuvashia, Russia have been characterized as members of an ”extremist community” and accused of inciting hatred by distributing banned literature that allegedly “spreads ideas of exclusivity and superiority and brands those with alternative religious beliefs as inferior.” Human-rights activists are concerned about the allegations. Reportedly, 29 Witness groups in Russia have recently ceased activities, through personal choice or because of “state intervention.” (Moscow Times, 7/30/12)

A Rhode Island Superior Court judge has dismissed a case alleging that the Legionaries of Christ defrauded a wealthy widow, the late Gabrielle Mee. He said Mee’s niece did not have the legal standing to sue. Nevertheless, Judge Michael Silverstein said, “The transfer of millions of dollars worth of assets—through will, trust, and gifts—from a steadfastly spiritual woman to her trusted, but clandestinely dubious spiritual leaders—raises a red flag to this Court.” The judge’s 39-page ruling details how the Legionaries manipulated and influenced Mee. Silverstein’s decision also reviews the order’s questionable fundraising tactics. The results of their appeals for money are much diminished in the wake of the sex scandal involving the order’s founder, Marcial Maciel Degollado, who himself was brought into the process to persuade Mees to give her millions to the organization. (National Catholic Reporter, 9/17/12)

The New Mexico Supreme Court, reversing the decision of an appeals court, has upheld the conviction of Wayne Bent (who calls himself Michael Travesser), founder of the Lord Our Righteousness Church. He is serving a 10-year sentence for sexual misconduct with teenage followers. Church members live in a compound they call Strong City, in rural northeastern New Mexico. Travesser said that his lying in bed with a naked 14-year-old girl, and with a 16-year-old on another occasion, were spiritual exercises only; he maintains that he touched their sternums and not their breasts. (San Francisco Chronicle, 10/22/12)

Maharaj Ji (aka Prem Rawat) in September flew into Queensland, where his worldwide global peace enterprise will hold a 5-day love-in. Four thousand people from 60 countries, each paying up to $3,200, are expected to attend. The 55-year-old guru first visited Australia as a teenager. A devotee said that although Prem Rawat’s transcendental meditation teachings were easily misunderstood, and that “it can sound like a cult … it absolutely isn’t.” A local mayor says he welcomes groups promoting peace, but a staunch opponent of the guru says plans by Prem Rawat’s representatives to rent out their center to schools and organizations face “a huge hurdle.” (Courier-Mail, 9/14/12)

Christina Papadopoulos—the wife and associate of Stefan Molyneux, the self-described Internet philosopher who gives psychological counseling advice online—has been found guilty of professional misconduct by the College of Psychologists of Ontario. She counseled people over the Internet to emulate her and sever ties with their families, a practice she and her husband call deFOOing. British and American families have said that when their children consulted Freedomain Radio, run by Molyneux, they became estranged from their families. The College of Psychologists said that although family separation is sometimes appropriate in cases of abuse, Papadopoulos didn’t assess properly the situations of the people whom she was counseling. She has pledged to give no more online psychological advice. (Globe and Mail, 11/1/12)

Walter Kirn, in “Confessions of an Ex-Mormon,” tells of his father’s mental breakdown and how his family was brought to Mormonism. The popular image of Mormons as brainwashed robots is wrong. In fact, Mormonism is “our country’s longest experiment with communitarian idealism, promoting an ethic of frontier-era burden sharing that has been lost in contemporary America.” Providing insights into Mormon lifestyles and rituals, Kirn says that the Mormons are not “straight-laced.” Mormon mythology strained his belief, and he became skeptical of its doctrine; but the reason he left the church, after many years, was that he could no longer bear the responsibility of caring about other people and trying to help them, whether or not they were Mormons. After leaving, he happily became involved in a quasicommunitarian group in urban Southern California. (New Republic, 7/13/12)

The US State Department decision to remove the Iraq-based Iranian Mujahedin-e Khalq (MEK) from the Foreign Terrorist Organization (FTO) list was a good one, probably made

because Hillary Clinton understands that one of the outcomes of leaving 3200 brainwashed foot soldiers of a dangerous cult in their Camp Ashraf might be mass suicide. In return for delisting, the MEK will disperse from Iraq, in small groups. (Huffington Post, 10/1/12)

Cardenas Cruz Salgado, leader of the Nueva Jerusalen community in Michoacan, Mexico has been detained following the destruction of public schools there. Members of the 5,000-strong sect oppose secular education and believe that the town will be the only place saved in the coming apocalypse. They say they are acting on instructions from Our Lady of the Rosary about how to live: abjure nonreligious music, alcohol, tobacco, television, radio, modern dress, and nonreligious education. (Province Associated Press, 10/18/12)

A lawyer for NXIVM has been charged with professional misconduct for allegedly intimidating witnesses by threatening them with criminal arrest, among other things, if they testified in a bankruptcy case brought against NXIVM by former member Barbara Bouchey. (Albany Times Union, 9/17/12)

Prakashanand Saraswati, the Hindu guru who fled his Barsana Dham ashram in Texas following his conviction and sentencing to prison on 20 counts of indecency with a child, is now in India. A US marshal said that Saraswati’s escape, via Mexico, “is the most sophisticated scheme I’ve ever seen as far as fugitive investigations go,” adding that it is likely that some of the guru’s supporters “will be charged with harboring a fugitive, aiding and abetting an escape or making false statements to a government agent.” (Austin Statesman, 9/24/12)

Scientology, called “creepy, maybe even evil” by Rupert Murdoch, is still battling psychiatry, using classic propaganda techniques, despite the defections of its leader’s father and the founder’s granddaughter. Scientology’s Citizens Commission on Human Rights (CCHR) undermines public support for mental health treatment, “especially in countries with unsophisticated [elected] representatives, gullible media, and admittedly deficient mental health facilities.” An example of an unjustified attack on the mental health profession in the United States concerns psychologist Allen Childs. CCHR accused him—as reported in a four-part series in the Austin American Statesman—of conducting research using what Scientology termed a “dangerous” form of electrotherapy without proper certification from his hospital’s review board. The reporter and readers believed the accusation, although “all public evidence suggests nothing of the sort occurred,” albeit Dr. Childs made real errors of judgment and practice. Despite Scientology’s fanatical opposition to the use of electricity in mental health treatment, it is expanding. (Atlantic, 7/2/12)

At the opening of Scientology’s Washington lobbying office in September, Rep. Danny Davis, D-IL, praised the church for its work on criminal justice reform issues. Rep. Dan Burton, R-IN, and Rep. Sheila Jackson-Lee, D-TX, also attended the event. In 2004, Rep. Davis carried a pillow upon which rested a crown that was placed on the head of Rev. Sun Myung Moon, who in his address called himself “humanity’s Savior, Messiah, Returning Lord and True Parent.” (Washington Examiner, 9/13/12)

Scientology lawyers say that the exposé in the August issue of Vanity Fair, claiming that Scientologist Tom Cruise took part in a wife-auditioning process, exhibited “shoddy journalism, religious bigotry, and potential legal liability.” The magazine says it stands by the story. (Huffington Post, 9/17/12)

Scientology-related Applied Scholastics International, having won Colorado state approval 6 years ago, is now tutoring low-income students from struggling public schools. Since 2008, three districts have paid more than $150,000 in federal money for Applied Scholastics to tutor nearly one hundred twenty students. A recent state review of all providers found that Applied Scholastics failed to improve student performance. A professor at the University of Colorado School of Education says Scientology founder L. Ron Hubbard’s theory of barriers to study has “no scientific or empirical foundation,” and that evidence of student growth provided by the organization “does not appear to have been compiled by an independent entity or have any record of publication or peer review.” (Denver Post, 8/8/12)

Martin Padfield tells the story of his recruitment into Scientology as a 19-year-old and his experiences during 31 years as a member. Now 50 and married with two children, he wants rank-and-file Scientologists to know that their movement is “a dangerous, corrupt and sinister cult” so that others can escape it, as he has done. (London Evening Standard, 10/19/12)

Oregon labor officials have ordered Bend dentist Andrew W. Engle to pay nearly $348,000 to settle allegations that he threatened to fire a dental assistant unless she attended a Scientology-related training session. She felt that attendance would conflict with her Christian religious beliefs. He also refused her request to be allowed to attend secular training. (The Oregonian, 10/4/12)

The board of directors of Scientology’s Narconon affiliate in Georgia recently wrote the producers of a WSB TV (Atlanta) Channel 2 investigative series to say that the Narconon drug rehab program

is not about religion. … The worn out and false allegations that you aired are also repeatedly stated by members of the “anonymous” group, made up of individuals who, like WSB News, have never had any personal dealings with Narconon.  (www.wsbtv.com/news/news/local/letter-narconon-georgia-board-directors/nSTZ9/)

Scientology leader David Miscavige, referring to the Holocaust, says that “The bureaucracy, the methodology, even the ideology of mass murder, sprang fully-armed from the forehead of German psychiatry,” and that “psychiatric euthanasia centers had already claimed 70,000 lives by 1939.” He was speaking to 3,000 who attended the organization’s 28th International Anniversary Event in East Grinstead. Former Scientologists demonstrating outside told of their destructive experiences in the cult. (The Sun, 11/1/12)

Scientology founder L. Ron Hubbard appears to have inspired the character of the central figure in a recently released film. “Beautiful to look at, strangely hypnotic and utterly original,” The Master—starring Joaquin Phoenix, Philip Seymour Hoffman, and Amy Adams—

examines cult dynamics through the ‘50s-era misadventures of a violent ex-sailor with horrible posture and zero impulse control. … Writer-director Paul Thomas Anderson’s film hits home as a period-perfect examination of a perpetually recurring truth: When people hanker for a know-it-all authority figure who will tell them what to think, self-appointed “masters” will be more than happy to oblige. (Wired, 9/20/12)

Peruvian shaman Jose Pineda Vargas has confessed to burying 18-year-old Kyle Nolan to cover up the American’s death during a spiritual retreat at Pineda’s Shimbre Shamanic Center in the Madre de Dios region of the Amazon basin, where Nolan reportedly drank extracts of psychedelic drugs. A growing number of tourists to Peru want to try ayahuasca, a traditional hallucinogenic drink, derived from vines and shrubs, that is employed in healing rituals and to communicate with nature and ancestors. A Center Web site describes Pineda as Master Shaman Manculoto and says he helps initiates “open their minds to deeper realities, develop their senses and intuitive capabilities, and unlock the person’s untapped potential.” (Chicago Tribune, 9/12/12)

The Vatican plans no more reintegration talks with the Swiss-based Society of Saint Pius X, which broke with Rome in 1988 and refused to accept the reforms initiated by the 1962-to-1965 Second Vatican Council. Since becoming Pope, Benedict has promoted the old Latin Mass favored by the Society of Saint Pius X and lifted excommunication bans imposed on the group’s bishops when they accepted ordination against Vatican orders. The lifting of the ban engendered great protests from Catholics, Jews, and Germans in 2009 when it was learned that one of the bishops who was taken back into the Church was a notorious Holocaust denier. (Irish Times, 10/6/12)

The Society of Saint Pius X has expelled Bishop Richard Williamson, of Britain, who is a Holocaust denier and opposed to recent efforts to reintegrate the Society back into the Roman Catholic Church. Williamson has called the murder of Jews in gas chambers “lies, lies, lies” and insisted that no more than 300,000 European Jews were killed during the Nazi era. (Jerusalem Post, 10/25/12)

“Salvation Road,” a new play about the cult experience, by D. W. Gregory, was to have been staged at the New York University Steinhardt School of Education Theater from October 26 to November 4. The plot concerns a teenager’s quest to learn why his smart and talented sister disappeared into a fundamentalist church and cut him out of her life. The play was also scheduled for production at Walden Theater, Louisville, Kentucky, from November 8 to 18. (International Cultic Studies Association, 10/15/12)

The Twelve Tribes, characterized by an ex-member as “a total control religious cult mixed with Jewish Old Testament and the Christian Gospel,” is running the Yellow Deli restaurant in Vista, California. The servers all had unnatural vacant smiles and dopey grins. A glance at the group’s Web site says that women must be submissive and that slavery is the only way that some people can be useful to society. They beat children who aren’t quiet and obedient, and don’t allow them access to TV, the Internet, or libraries. (San Diego Reader, 9/12/12)

There are reports of family rifts in the wake of Unification Church (UC) leader Sun Myung Moon’s death. Even earlier, son Preston Moon came into conflict with his mother, Hak Ja Han, the late leader’s wife, over her use of funds taken from a business he ran and given to her charity. Preston is no longer in charge of any church operation. Another Moon son, Kim Heung-soo, who teaches the history of Christianity at Mokwon University, believes that his father’s death might expose more family schisms, and that “internal discord will deepen.” A professor of religion at Busan Presbyterian University—who says that the UC is not a religious organization but rather a corporation made up of people with similar religious beliefs—thinks that the church will likely survive its founder. Key to the church’s future is US-born, Harvard-educated Rev. Hyung-jin-Moon, 33, the son who succeeded Sun Myung Moon as church leader several years ago; he is more fluent in English than Korean and gives his sermons in English, which are designed to appeal to the next generation of followers. Older brother Kook-jin Moon (Justin) heads Tongil Group, the church’s business arm. (USA Today, 9/3/12)

The Unification Church and Sun Myung Moon were “the most notorious public face of a cult scare” that included “the mythology of the time that such groups found converts by deploying secret psychological techniques that instilled instant obedience.” Although many lives were destroyed, the cult problem was much smaller than the media, religious leaders, or the government suggested. And the low cult retention rate suggests their ability to brainwash was limited. The media obsession with cults pushed more benign developments in the world of religion to the back of public consciousness. (Wall Street Journal, 9/6/12)

Those who do not believe in religion tend to have seen Sun Myung Moon as “a kook who took advantage of stupid, poor, or otherwise vulnerable people. Believers [in religion], on the other hand, “prefer to reduce their opponents [like Moon] by way of idolatry, sin, or deception by demonic forces.” But “I must take Moon seriously, as if he were, well, an actual human being who tried to pursue happiness and avoid suffering, and who probably succeeded and failed at both in equal measure.” (Religion Dispatches, 9/5/12)

The death of Reverend Sun Myung Moon hopefully ends one of the strangest chapters in the United States “security industrial complex” history [sic]… He was ultimately a front in the United States for friends in the CIA like George Herbert Walker Bush.

“[Moon’s] shadowy, cultish, right wing network” rescued George W. Bush in South Carolina in 2000 by spreading Moonies, “his Zombi-like followers,” throughout the state. Among other close connections between Moon, the first president Bush, and US politics over the decades [noted here], the 1997 investigation of the Unification Church, led by Congressman Donald Fraser, revealed that Moon’s church was a creation of the Korean Central Intelligence Agency and aimed to help influence US foreign policy. (Scoop, 9/5/12)

Vasalia Calvary Church pastor Bob Grenier and his wife have sued their son, Alex, 40, accusing him of defamation and bullying. Alex set up a Web site 2 years ago and posted accusations that his father committed felony child abuse against him and his three brothers. Says the father, “Alex has orchestrated a cyberbullying campaign against me, his mother, our church, and our movement.” The son—adopted at age 3—replies, “He frames it as a hate campaign. It’s not defamation. We’ll prove it in court… The stuff I’m alleging is true.” (Fresno Bee, 10/18/12)

Four children—siblings—in Marbial, Haiti died after being abusively treated by a Voodoo witch doctor attempting to expel their demons. (Herald Sun, 8/4/12)

There is concern and fear in Zambia that some among the numerous emerging religious sects employ “unconventional methods of worship that border on heresy” and that they “prey on the minds of their gullible converts who have become captives of their newly discovered Messiahs.” Despite the suspicion such sects arouse, “government will have to measure its actions against the freedom of worship that is a fundamental liberty enshrined in Article 19 of the Constitution.” (AllAfrica.com, 8/2/12)

The Australian Taxation Office says it will increase its civil claims against fugitive Agape Ministries leader Rocco Leo, who has allegedly failed to pay $1.7 million in income tax for 2010. According to the same court documents, his associate, Joseph Veneziano, owes $700,000 and Agape Ministries itself owes $1.6 million. Defendants’ lawyers say they want to meet with the tax office to determine whether the Ministry is a religious institution and whether it must pay taxes. (ABC News, 6/5/12)

Amish sect leader Sam Mullet accuses Ohio prosecutors of trying to prejudice the jury in his upcoming trial by including in the indictment descriptions of conduct not mentioned in the charges against him, which allege that he committed hate crimes when he cut off beards of fellow Amish. The descriptions to which he objects refer to his sexual practices—he sleeps with members’ wives to teach them how to be sexually satisfied in marriage—and to corporal punishment and self-deprivation practiced in his community. (Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, 5/11/12)

Naoko Kikuchi, a former member of Aum Shinrikyo who assisted in the 1995 nerve gas attack on the Tokyo subway, was arrested in June after 17 years on the run. She said she’s relieved because she doesn’t have to hide her identity anymore. Nearly 200 Aum members have been convicted of involvement in the gas attack and other crimes, and only one remains at large. (klfy.com, 6/4/12)

The whereabouts of Prakashanand Saraswati, founder of the Barsana Dham ashram and temple in Texas, are still unknown a year after he disappeared in the wake of his conviction on 20 counts of “indecency with a minor by sexual contact.” Texas authorities continue to search for him in Mexico. (Austin American-Statesman, 3/5/12)

Wiley Brooks, founder of the Breatharian Institute of America, says that, under proper conditions, a person can live without food, as he claims to have done for 30 years. “If food is so good for you, how come the body keeps trying to get rid of it? Eating is an acquired habit… all of the constituents we need [in order to live] are taken from the air we breathe.” However, based on a consultation with Brooks, for which the minimum fee is $10,000, living without food requires reaching a certain spiritual level. (Montreal Gazette, 7/2/12)

In Australia, Ellen Greve’s Cosmic Internet Academy, which teaches that “pranic nourishment” is the answer to world hunger, charges $2,000 for enlightening seminars on eliminating all food—except, in Greve’s case, tea and an occasional bit of chocolate or ice cream, which she eats when she needs what she terms a “taste orgasm.” (Montreal Gazette, 5/25/12)

Following the demise of Colonia Dignidad in 1997, more than one hundred of the cult’s survivors, repatriated from Chile to their ancestral roots near Duesseldorf, are now pressing for a German investigation into the activities of Dr. Hartmut Haupt, who they say sexually abused 25 children in the cult before he fled to Krefeld, Germany. They plan to sue the Chilean and German states for failing to protect them despite decades of warnings about life in Colonia Dignidad, detailed here in the testimony of former residents who suffered under the authoritarian and sadistic rule of the late Paul Schaeffer. Today, Colonia Dignidad, renamed Villa Baviera, is a tourist destination administered by the Chilean government, which provides compensation to the cult’s victims. Aging survivors who still reside there now relax and watch television, which was forbidden in Schaeffer’s time. (Reuters, 5/9/12)

Deepak Chopra’s writings on mind-body medicine represent a belief in faith healing, which modern science for a very long time has discredited. The key components of Chopra’s philosophy [analyzed at length and critiqued in this article] are two:

First, he views the body as a quantum mechanical system, and uses comparisons of quantum reality with Eastern thought to guide us away from our Western, Newtonian-based paradigms. …he then sets out to convince us that we can alter reality through our perceptions, and admonishes us to appreciate the unity of the universe. If we allow ourselves to fully grasp these lessons, … we will then understand the force of intelligence permeating all of existence—guiding us ever closer to fulfillment.  (eSkeptic, 6/6/12)

Bishop Brian Tamaki, head of the multicongregation Destiny Church in New Zealand, has called on his followers to leave homes, jobs, even family members, and join him in a “City of God” he’s building in South Auckland. Cult expert Mark Vrankovich commented, “Saying that the church family is more important than your physical family, saying that you must go with the spiritual family, is a classic cult idea. This will put great pressure on families, and break up families.” Vrankowich believes that Tamaki will press followers to give him the money from their house sales so that he can achieve his dream of becoming mayor, or king, of what he calls the “new Jerusalem.” Tamaki has said that God spoke to him through the Book of Hebrews and told him to build a city. (Auckland Now, 5/3/12)

Falun Gong representatives in San Francisco say there have been eight assaults against their members in the past 8 months during the group’s demonstrations against the Chinese government. They suspect the attacks have originated within the local Chinese Consulate-General organization. (San Francisco Examiner, 6/26/12)

Former member Wallace Jeffs says that his brother, Warren Jeffs, jailed leader of the Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints, has excommunicated some fifty members in recent weeks, some for having had sexual relations, which he has banned—even between spouses, and then for using contraceptives, which he calls the “murder of unborn children.” Moreover, according to Wallace Jeffs, church leaders loyal to Warren have halted church meetings until the “lifting up” (the end of the world).

Excommunication usually means that the expelled must leave their homes and families—while their wives and children can be assigned to other men. Former FLDS official Willie Jessop says midwives, a doctor, and a dentist are among those recently excommunicated. He believes this is dangerous for the community and especially for pregnant women. And when pregnancies occur, he adds, couples feel they must keep the fact a secret. “They cover up the medical health of the wife [and] don’t get prenatal care. It’s the women and children and most innocent who are the most vulnerable and pay the ultimate price of abuse.” Meanwhile, the U.S. Department of Justice has filed a civil rights lawsuit accusing the FLDS-dominated police and major utility companies in Colorado City, Arizona and Hildale, Utah of religious bias toward nonmembers. The suit, which does not contain criminal charges, accuses municipal authorities of “operating as an arm of the FLDS” for at least twenty years. (Salt Lake Tribune, 6/28/12)

Radio Evangelist Harold Camping says his erroneous prediction that the world would end last May 21 was “incorrect and a sinful statement,” and that his ministry is now out of the prediction business. “We have learned the very painful lesson that all of creation is in God’s hands and he will end time in his time, not ours!” Camping added that people continue, nevertheless, to wish for another prediction. (Religion News Service, 3/8/12)

A lawsuit filed in India in 2001 that is soon to be brought before the Supreme Court pits two factions of the International Society for Krishna Consciousness—Iskcon-Mumbai and Iskcon Bengalaru—against one another concerning how the society should function and who should succeed the late A. C. Bhaktivedanta Swami Prabhupada as leader. (Zeenews, 1/22/12)

Amanda Qualls of Kingman, Kansas, formerly a bookkeeper for Franchise Strategies, is suing her employer, Stanley Stover, alleging he fired her because she stopped attending their Jehovah’s Witnesses church. She says he told her that membership in the church was a condition of employment. He also said, she alleges, that she would be “disfellowshipped” if she didn’t marry her fiancé, and he repeatedly called her a “filthy fornicator” for not doing so. (Courthouse News Service, 5/9/12)

Following an investigation into “some allegations of gravely immoral acts and more serious offenses,” the Legionaries of Christ has concluded that “seven [of the allegations] had a semblance of truth” and has forwarded them to the Vatican. The accused priests have been restricted in their ministries for the duration of the investigation. (The New York Times, 5/11/12)

Audry Chator, for years associated with FAIR, the British cult education group, and now head of The Family Survival Trust, has written Cults—Who Is Vulnerable? (Quain Publishing). The book aims to educate the public, educational institutions, and government about the problem and to advise families of the cult-involved. (FAIR News, April 2012)

A number of land trusts in Delhi, Chattisgarth, and Madhya Pradesh founded by Maharishi Mahesh Yogi were “illegally sold off” by some trust members without any authorization from the trust, this according to rivals who claim to be the real trustees and disciples of Maharishi. The trusts became “non-functional” following the death of their founder in 2008. (Daily Pioneer, 1/23/12)

Jerry McCarter of Richmond, Virginia, is carrying out a one-man crusade to ban Planet Aid. He says that the international nonprofit, which maintains collection boxes around the city, is a “get-rich scheme” linked to Amdi Peterson, a Dane, and his Tvind organization. (Richmond Daily News, 5/25/12)

The Santa Clara County (California) civil trial of William Lynch, 44, will judge whether he is guilty of beating Rev. Jerold Lindner, an aging Jesuit Priest of the Roman Catholic Church, whom Lynch accuses of sexually abusing him and his brother during a camping trip more than thirty-five years ago. Lynch has refused a plea bargain, saying he wants to try Lindner in the court of public opinion.

I don’t want to go to jail [but] I’ve come to realize that this whole thing is really bigger than me and the way that I’ve chosen to handle this is to make a statement. I’m prepared to take responsibility for anything I’ve been involved in…. I think it’s a small sacrifice to get Father Jerry into court…. He still comes into my dreams now.

It is not likely, although it is possible, that jurors’ judgment of the assault charge will be prejudiced in favor of Lynch because of the original abuse allegations. (The brothers settled with the Jesuits of the California province for $625,000 in 1998.) (Independent Mail Associated Press, 6/20/12)

The Bombay High Court has dismissed charges of misappropriation of funds against members of the Shirdi-based Saibaba Sansthan Trust. The trust’s management committee, which runs the wealthy Sai Baba temple in Ahmednager, represents a political alliance in the coalition that rules Maharashtra. The court ordered the formation of a new management committee, failing which the government will take over administration of the trust. Committee members allegedly faked travel expenses, exaggerated other expenditures, and made appointments as political favors. (MSN, 3/14/12)

British libraries have been warned by the Museums, Libraries and Archives Council to be wary after the discovery that one quarter of the books on religion in some British libraries are about Scientology and are donated by Scientology. (Daily Telegraph via FAIR News, 12/20/11)

A French appeals court imposed suspended sentences and fines on five Scientologists who had been convicted of pressuring recruits to pay a great deal of money for questionable [health] remedies. American Scientology leaders said the ruling was “a miscarriage of justice.” (The Independent via FAIR News, 2/4/12)

The daughter of the famous British World War II-era singer Dame Vera Lynn said neither she nor her 94-year-old mother knew that Scientology had organized the concert the elder Lynn attended as an honored guest in October 2011. The event, held at Scientology’s Sussex establishment, was hosted by Scientologist Kirstie Alley, the American actress. (The Daily Mail via FAIR News, 10/21/11)

Former long-time Scientology administrator Marty Rathbun says he believes church officials employed Scientology doctrine to turn Nicole Kidman’s children against her while she was married to Tom Cruise. Rathbun told Brian Williams on NBC’s Rock Center (on the episode that was scheduled to air July 17), “It was more than implied … [Kidman] was somebody that they [the children] shouldn’t open up to, they shouldn’t communicate with, and they shouldn’t spend much time with.” He says officials suggested to the children, 6 and 9 years old, that their mother was a “suppressive” person, the kind of person whom Scientologists are advised to shun. (Rock Center, 7/11/12)

Former high Scientology official Debbie Cook, who greatly disturbed the church earlier this year when she sent an email to thousands of members urging them to protest certain Scientology practices, is set to move with her husband to the Caribbean island of Guadeloupe. The couple took $50,000 each from the church in 2007 when they left the organization, in return for a promise to say nothing about its operations. Following the recent emails, Scientology sued, asking for $300,000 in damages and for the nondisclosure contracts to be enforced. But following a hearing at which Cook described being physically abused and held against her will by church staff—at Scientology leader David Miscavige’s direction, and the threat of additional damning testimony, the parties agreed on a settlement that includes the couple recommitting to the 2007 nondisclosure contracts. (Tampa Bay Times, 6/120/12)

The [unnamed] presenter of a financial empowerment seminar, who now faces prosecution by the SEC for defrauding investors of more than $11 million in a Ponzi scheme, highlights the problem of spiritual abuse, a term that describes a person in spiritual authority who mistreats another person, manipulates religious words or acts for personal gain, and misuses Scripture to twist the truth. One can see the archetype of such abuse in the biblical serpent’s distortion of God’s words to seduce the first couple into taking the fatal bite. Examples of spiritually abusive relationships include

● Church leaders who use guilt or greed to compel attendance, financial giving, or service

● Spiritual leaders who take emotional or sexual advantage of others in the name of “comfort or compassion”

● Religious people who accuse those who disagree with them of rebelling against God

● Ministry leaders who demand absolute, unquestioned obedience no matter what … whether reasonable or not … whether biblical or not (para. 8)

One can ask a number of questions to determine whether or not a group may be spiritually abusive. Does it/do they

“…exalt someone as an irrefutable authority in the group?”

“…demand your absolute allegiance?”

“…discourage your questions?”

“…shame people publicly?”

“…insist on making major decisions in your life?”

“…have a long list of rules related to dress, hairstyle, diet or activities?”

“…judge those who do not keep their list of rules?”

“…consider themselves the “only true church?”

“…consider those who leave the group ‘apostates,’ ‘backsliders,’ or ‘doomed’?”

“…teach that godly people should give more financially so that they will receive more?”

(Christian Post, 6/30/12)

Lovin’ Life Ministries was founded in the United States in 2009 as a ministry of the Family Federation for World Peace and Unification, more widely known as the Unification Church, which is now headed in America by In Jin Moon, daughter of founder the Rev. Sun Myung Moon. When a reporter visited in May, the Lovin’ Life congregation in Philadelphia consisted of nearly forty people—children, teenagers, and adults—seated in a chapel watching a sermon broadcast from church headquarters in New York.

The atmosphere for growing up and living as a Unificationist has changed dramatically since the 1970s, when the “first generation” joined the movement. University of Pennsylvania religious studies professor Stephen Dunning, who taught the course “Understanding the Cult Controversy,” says conflict arose when families felt “they were being robbed of their children and their children believed their families were being irrational and not letting them choose their religion the way they wanted to.” (Daily Pennsylvanian, 5/10/12)

A London jury in the Old Bailey has heard testimony that Kristy Bamu, 15, drowned in a bath after he was tortured by his sister Magalie, 28, and her partner Eric Bikubi, both of Congolese extraction, because the couple believed the boy was bewitching other children. Belief in “Kindori,” or witchcraft, is said to be common in the Congolese community [in Britain] and to pervade Congolese societies. The accused were charged in 2008 with forcing a 19-year-old woman to go without food and cutting off her hair “to release witchcraft.” (Daily Telegraph, 1/6/12 via FAIR News, April 2012)

A circuit court in April ordered the Golden Temple of Oregon food company turned over to a court-appointed administrator and ruled that the management must return more than $30 million in bonuses and perks to the Sikh Dharma religious community, founded by the late Yogi Bhajan. The judge did not remove any of the managers, who had earlier been found to have breached their fiduciary trust to the religious community by transferring to themselves, for a pittance, 90 percent of the company. Referring to the conflict between the for-profit and religious elements of the organization, the court said,

Whatever the merits of the religious corporate structures and governance adopted by the yogi, the court will not restructure essentially religious organizations along lines that might seem more democratic to the court, or that might seem fairer to elements within the religious community.  (Sikh News Network, 5/16/12)

A judge in Eugene, Oregon has ruled that the CEO and four other executives who illegally took over the Yogi Bhajan-inspired Golden Temple food company—now known as East West Tea Company—must return $36 million to a receiver appointed by the court. (Albany Democrat Herald, Associated Press, 6/19/12)

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